Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Look for the Australian premier screening of Twittamentary at GovCamp QLD

A few weeks ago I became aware of a very interesting documentary project, Twittamentary, a movie that  explores the intersection and interplay of peoples' lives on Twitter.

Directed by Singaporean filmmaker and Tweeter, Tan Siok Siok, the documentary takes a grass roots approach, looking at how Twitter has connected, affected and influenced individuals across America.

Twittamentary touches on social policy, privacy, trust and collaboration - themes that should resonate with government policy makers. It demonstrates the diverse range of uses that Twitter and, by extension, many other social networks can be put to to support and empower citizens and communities.

The documentary was itself created in a 'social' way, with social media stories submitted and voted on via Twitter, social media and the Twittamentary web site. The production team were sourced via Twitter and other social networks and the final narrative was developed using the concept of 'beta screenings'.

This involved a series of discrete 'tweetup' screenings organised via social media to get feedback on the latest rough cut of the documentary. Viewers could interact in real-time with the Director, the cast (all real people) and each other via Twitter during the screening.  Feedback from each of these beta screenings was used to help evolve a new iteration for the next beta screening, resulting in the final documentary after 15 iterations.

Twittamentary has already screened in the US, UK, China, Malaysia and Singapore, has received positive media reviews and has been submitted to a number of international film festivals.

Now, with the permission of the documentary's producers, I'm pleased to announce that Twittamentary will premier in Australia at GovCamp Queensland on Saturday 3rd March, following with a screening at BarCamp Canberra on Saturday 17th March.

If you're attending either of these events, look for the Twittamentary room. The screening takes about an hour and is totally free - though you are invited to donate toward the production and streaming costs of Twittamentary (as it was produced .

Note this isn't simply a passive experience, though there's a lot to enjoy and learn from simply sitting back and watching Twittamentary.

If you're on Twitter, the Director and Producers of the documentary ask that you tweet about it using the hashtag #twittamentary during the screening. Your tweets will become part of the permanent record for Twittamentary, part of the evolving experience of the movie.

To learn more visit the Twittamentary website or watch the teaser video below.

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What may geolocational services mean for your organisation's security?

The US Army has released a very interesting - and frightening - presentation looking at the risks of geolocational services on smartphones and some social media services in relation to national security.

Essentially it raises (and addresses) the issues of what can happen when people share photos or content tagged with their physical location (whether they realise they are sharing or not).

If someone knows where you live and work and has insights into your schedule, activities and home life there are risks that some of this information may be used against you, or your employer, for political or commercial gain.

I have embedded the presentation below, but wanted to flag that the risks - and mitigations - highlighted are not limited to armed forces.

They apply for anyone with a secure or sensitive role, that access commercially or politically important information or that may be at risk of blackmail - which covers a LOT of people, both in the public and private sectors.

The recommendations from the US army are to be alert, not alarmed, and to take appropriate steps to understand the devices and services that you use, ensuring that the only information you share is what you are choosing to share.

This, of course, doesn't even touch on the risks of facial recognition (for identifying undercover police officers or simply identifying staff for a particular agency) or of location recognition - recognising the location of a photo which has no geotagged information from other publicly available photos that do.

We are moving into a time where, even without widespread CCTV, it is becoming possible to track people's movements and activities through facial recognition in publicly available photos, with time and location (geotag) data providing a picture of what they do, when and with whom.

Does your organisation have a high level officer tasked with monitoring, understanding, educating staff (at all levels) and providing advice on mitigation of these types of risks?

Does your organisation have a policy on taking photos at the office, in your carpark or at office functions?

Does it advise you of the risks you might be taking when you become the public FourSquare 'Major' or equivalent of your local coffee shop - publicly highlighting the times and places you'll be and, potentially, your office's location (if secure) and what you look like?

Have you advised or educated your organisaton on risks they are unaware of?

Frankly I think that these risks - real risks - with digital and social media services often get neglected through lack of awareness and understanding. Often executives focus on popularised fears and myths reported in the media, which may be less damaging, more easily mitigated or simply not a risk at all, such as staff time wasting via social media, inappropriate behaviour online and negative citizen comments.

What do you think?

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

You can't expect citizens to engage with you if you don't engage with them

I am proud of how far many Australians governments have come in their online use over the last few years. A number of agencies have begun embracing the new tools available to communicate with the public.

They are blogging, tweeting and facebooking, bypassing traditional media to share their news publicly with the Australian community.

Next however is the hard challenge - ongoing engagement.

Many agencies have Twitter accounts (over 390 at my last count), however more than two thirds of them use Twitter simply as a one-way broadcast channel. Over half of the 'blogs' in government that I have checked do not allow user comments. While most government Facebook pages support fan comments, the number that actually acknowledge or respond to them consistently is much lower.

While there are good examples of government using talkback radio to answer questions and engage in conversations, barely any agencies do the same on Australia's leading online forums - some of which have more 'listeners' than the most well-known radio commentators.

It is no longer enough for governments to simply talk at citizens and communities in a generic and impersonal fashion. It is no longer enough for governments to build online community tools - groups, forums and blogs - and sit back, saying "we've done our part, it is now up to the Australian community to embrace and use them."

I have built online communities since the mid-1990s and the formula for success has not changed.

To create engagement by the community the one with the greatest stake in the community, its creator, must engage.

As agencies, we must become active in starting and continuing conversations. Talk about issues and encourage discussion. Teach people how to converse with us and support them by demonstrating that these are safe and welcoming online 'homes'.

Certainly there are risks and fears agencies must face. What if no-one responds, what if too many people respond, what if something slips through the approvals and gets published, what if we get criticized!!!

All are good arguments for a wallflower at any dance. Don't put yourself out there in case you might get rejected or attract unwanted attention. It is so much easier to sit on the sidelines (even if you arranged the dance) and avoid the risk of engaging with others.

However while you can people watch, you cannot truly understand the dance until you participate.

One of the biggest concerns with governments today is how out of touch they are with communities. How remote, seemingly uninterested, how unemotional and disconnected.

We can't expect the support of the community if we hold ourselves separate from the community. We can't successfully do our jobs without understanding communities and being in a position to influence them. We can't afford to let the relationship break down, to drift away like a ship in the night.

Not engaging risks calling our own governments into disrepute, damaging our governments' ability to support the will of the people and create positive change, ultimately rendering us ineffective.

The signs of this are growing all around.

And so engagement becomes the least risk strategy. Actually talking with real people, within certain constraints, in real conversations. Not just holding short-term consultations, but appointing 'citizen engagement officers', like 'stakeholder engagement officers', whose role is not customer service but citizen understanding. People who engage through online fora, traditional media and offline events to bridge the gaps between citizens and government at all levels. (Of course everyone in the public service should be able to do this - but one step at a time.)

So, in conclusion, let's build better engagement with citizens by building engagement, not just by building tools for engagement and hoping we can sit on the sidelines and watch.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Join the global Service Delivery JAM in Canberra (hosted by the Department of Innovation)

The Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education is holding the Canberra component of the Global Service Jam from 24-26 February 2012 as part of their efforts to support and foster innovative thinking across the Australian Public Service.

This is part of a 90 plus city global event where people who are interested in service and using a design-based approach to problem solving and creativity will meet all over the globe. In a spirit of experimentation, co-operation and friendly competition, teams will have 48 hours to develop brand new services inspired by a shared theme. On Sunday at 3pm, they publish them to the world.

Due to a change in venue to the newest purpose-built design thinking centre in Canberra (INSPIRE), the Department of Innovation has more space for jammers and has put out an invitation to public servants (and their friends) to join the jam.

Throughout the weekend jammers will work in teams, supported by innovation and design experts and mentors, to develop services that address key challenges and issues facing the public service and Australian community.

If you wish to help solve real issues, meet interesting and engaged peers from across Government and learn new techniques for problem solving that you can apply back in your own agency, please consider going along.

Even better, attendence is free!

For more information contact Mikaela or Wayne on psi@innovation.gov.au or by phone on (02) 6213 6613 or (02) 6213 6232.

And if you can't attend, you can follow the event on Twitter using the hashtags #GSJ12 and #servicedesign or via APS Innovation's @psinnovate account (note that you don't need a Twitter account to follow) 

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Monday, February 20, 2012

We need to stop talking about social media disasters and talk about management failures

I am beginning to get a little tired of all the headlines in the media about 'social media disasters'.

A social media disaster is when Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Blogger or another social media service goes offline for an extended period of time, has user account information stolen or loses data.

These are all situations where millions of people are inconvenienced or worse due to a social media platform not 'just working' as we expect it to.

However what the media generally talks about when referring to a 'social media disaster' is when an organisation or individual behaves unwisely or inappropriately and is caught out by its customers.

Whether it is Vodafone, 2DayFM (Kyle Sandilands), Qantas, Woolworths, Westpac or the latest 'victim' Curtin University, the 'social media disasters' these organisations have all faced are management and communication issues.

Their issues are due to decisions or choices the organisations have made which have been communicated poorly and viewed unfavorably by customers and the public.

Certainly people are now using social media to express their outrage and concern, however this is because social media allows the public the ability to express their views in ways not previously possible.

Social media services do support light-speed dissemination, which can amplify issues. In particular social media has proven an excellent tool for connecting people together - including those with concerns that otherwise organisations could dismiss as 'isolated incidents'.

However social media is rarely creating legitimate concerns. Qantas grounding its fleet, Westpac sacking staff and raising interest rates, Vodafone having network issues, Kyle Sandilands abusing people on air and Curtin University giving an honourary degree to a hated figure all occurred regardless of the existence, or not, of social media.

If organisations wish to succeed in a world where the public has a louder voice than ever before they need to stop blaming Facebook and Twitter for their troubles and look at their own management and communication strategies.

They need to stop considering social media and their customers as 'the enemy' and instead treat them with respect. Listening to what they want and executing accordingly - or developing effective communication strategies to explain why they didn't execute in the way people wanted.

Organisations need to stop fearing the tools and embrace them. Join conversations, acknowledge their faults and move discussions into constructive areas - engage, engage, engage in multi-way dialogues.

So let's all stop talking about social media disasters and focus on the reasons organisations get into trouble (online or offline). Let's have a long hard look at who is making management decisions and the process used to inform them. Let's carefully consider how organisations communicate and the strategies and tactics that underpin them.

Focus on what is controllable and practical - an organisation's management and communications strategies - not the response of the public online AFTER the organisation has already made a decision.

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Friday, February 17, 2012

Victorian government launches inquiry into the use of social media in the house to reflect on the office of Speaker, by parliamentarians and public

Reading the eGovernment Resource Centre's newsletter this morning, the Victorian government has launched an inquiry into the use of social media to reflect on the office of the Speaker, looking at use while parliament is sitting by both parliamentarians and the public galleries.

The Legislative Assembly Standing Orders Committee is considering:

(1)    Should any restrictions, or guidelines, apply to members’ use of hand-held electronic devices in the Chamber and committees, including accessing social media to comment on the proceedings?

(2)    Should any restrictions, or guidelines, apply to the public and media using social media from the galleries to comment on proceedings or committee hearings?

(3)    Do the Assembly’s procedures and rules need modernising to reflect the opportunities and challenges provided by social media?

(4)    Is the current rule, preventing any reflections on the Office of Speaker, other than in a formal motion, still appropriate? If so, should the rule still apply to reflections made outside the House and to reflections made on social media?
The inquiry raised some interesting questions for me. Firstly whether it is actually practical or worthwhile to attempt to prevent comments regarding a particular individual or office, when they can be made worldwide, by anyone at any time.

Also whether any jurisdiction can place any kind of global gag in place. Certainly the parliament may be able to require anyone physically present in the chamber at the time to not use social media. However if the proceeds are broadcast, or if anyone in the chamber communicates with anyone outside the chamber, preventing comments placed in social media by those not in the room and potentially not in the same country is impossible.

It will be intriguing to watch this inquiry unfold and how its outcomes will influence other jurisdictions and, potentially, how technology will develop to 'route around the damage', to bypass any laws or procedures put in place to limit the spread of information.

If you wish to contribute to the inquiry, for details visit the Parliament of Victoria's website.

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Guest post from Pia Waugh: Vivek Kundra and some lessons learnt about tech in gov

Today I am publishing a guest post from Pia Waugh, a well known open government and open source advocate who recently left Senator Lundy's office as her IT Advisor to take on a mystery role in the APS.

Pia attended the presentation and dinner with Vivek Kundra on Tuesday (which I also attended). Vivek is the former US CTO who spent two years implementing the IT and open government reforms advocated by President Obama. He is an internationally renown speaker, now a fellow at Harvard and recently took on an evangelical role for salesforce.com. Pia wrote about the event and discussion on her blog - and keep an eye out for the video of her interview.

Pia's post:
Last night I heard Vivek Kundra speak about innovation, technology and Gov 2.0 at a dinner hosted by AIIA and Salesforce. It was a fascinating talk in that it exceeded my expectations significantly.

I had reasonable expectations that his experience as CIO of the US Federal Government and his insights to the US open government agenda would be interesting, but he also talked about the “epic war between the status quo and progress”, the inertia in government, the major shift in power from gov to the people, how tech in enabling a new form of democracy, the need to hire great people (and get rid of those not on board) and how issues like SOPA demonstrate that the people can overturn traditional power broker agendas through grassroots efforts.

He also spoke about the need to reform gov IT procurement practices to demand good services from the sector, to put them on notice and to engage smaller innovative players in the market. It was fascinating to see someone who was so senior in government take that strong a stance, but it makes sense. Government is the number one purchaser of tech, so how it engages the market has a profound impact. And as a huge customer, government should be able to demand the best possible service. At the same time, without great people internally who are empowered and incentivised, it’s hard to drive progress.

When asked how to actually drive tech innovation in government, policy, procurement and workforce reforms were very important, but fundamentally workforce. Vivek said that there needs to be rigour in hiring practices, a culture of getting the best people into the public service, a culture that rejects blockers and gets rid of those who don’t get on board with progress.

Some comments from Vivek that I thought useful and thought provoking (as captured by live tweeting on #gov2au from the evening):

The danger is to not move, to play safe. It’s vital to move and be thoughtful but bold to use the opportunity. Often Gov collaboration is stalled by an us vs them attitude. This needs to be overcome. It is now easier to innovate and compete due to new tech, and those that innovate dominate, as they fill the space. Indian gov drove aggressive FOI changes, results of the transformation was short term pushback and issues, but longer term transparency and improvement of gov. NBN is an enormous and exciting opportunity for Australia and for open government and Australia can play a leadership role. I have to say, it was very interesting and stimulating. It kicked off some great discussions in the group too.

I have seen a few people respond to the Vivek coverage quite negatively. There is, of course, a lot of hype and fluff out there around Gov 2.0 and “cloud”, but it doesn’t mean you don’t listen critically, research what people say and come to your own conclusions. I am constantly surprised by people who insist on loudly voicing blatant cynicism, pessimism and general negativity, seemingly oblivious to the fact that this establishes a narrative that undermines the (often) valid and good points they are trying to make, whilst making it harder for other people to get actually get things done.

I would like to put out there that the more leadership shown by everyone in the tech community, especially the Gov 2.0 community and the media, the better a chance we all have of achieving great things.

Be the change you want to be, and all that

I highly recommend people check out Vivek’s talk from the AIIA Summit on Cloud. It was a good example of thought leadership by a person who has actually got things done, a change agent who has made a difference. I’ve been told you should be able to watch it and all the summit talks online here tonight.

Thank you to Loretta form AIIA and Phil from Salesforce for agreeing to have Vivek speak to the Gov 2.0 community. A big thanks to Vivek too, it was great to meet you People can follow Vivek on @vivekkundra on Twitter.

It is worth mentioning that neither the AIIA nor Salesforce asked for anything in return for doing a Gov 2.0 discussion with Vivek, Salesforce paid for the dinner after the talk, and in the interview below I spoke with Vivek off the cuff without any direction from AIIA or Salesforce.


Pia: So I’m here with Vivek Kundra, he’s here in Australia touring around and talking to a lot of people and I just thought I’d take the opportunity to ask him a couple of questions for the Gov 2.0 community peeps out there, around Australia.

So, hi, welcome to Australia.

Vivek: Thanks for chatting with me, I appreciate it.

Pia: Yeah, that’s cool. Can you just give us a bit of an overview about your ideas on driving tech innovation in government. What you see to be the core things you need to do?

Vivek: Well obviously it always starts with the people and one of the most important things that needs to happen in government, around the world, is they need to be able to hire the right kind of people to drive innovation and be change agents. You can’t legislate and you can’t essentially mandate innovation itself so it starts with that.

Secondly I think you need need bold leadership. If you look at what President Obama did, he made technology a central part of how his administration was going to achieve some of the policy objectives that he had set out.

And the third, you need to be able to distrupt the status quo by making sure that you have a culture that celebrates failure. That doesn’t actually go out there and punish those that are at the bleeding edge.

Pia: And, I mean, if you’ve got that leadership  at the top level and you’ve got your, you’ll always have your enthusiastic geeks at the grassroots level, how do you drive that change in that rather large middle level?

Vivek: I should think it’s easier if you have a number of people on the front lines. The geeks kinda banding together trying to find a new way. But you’ve got to be able to make sure is that the middle management, unfortunately a lot of times you have people who are incentivised by the number of dollars that they manage and the number of years they’ve been in the job and that’s where from a political leadership perspective it’s very very important to make sure that you’re reaching out and embracing those that are on the front lines that understand the issues and understand the innovation that must be driven, and frankly reward those managers that are going to support, encourage and embrace that notion and that culture and those people.

At the same time the reality is, and we don’t talk about this often, we also have to be able to make the hard choices. If there are managers or people that are getting in the way, the Dr No’s, they are basically in deleriction of their duty. And what I mean by that is that’s not what the people of a country expect of their government. They’re basically putting their personal interests over the interests of the people.

Pia: OK, and finally ‘cos we don’t have a lot of time, what are your observations and thoughts about what is happening in Australia and some of the opportunities and challenges for Australia? Seeing you’re here and seeing what’s going on.

Vivek: Well I’m actually very excited. I think it’s amazing country with an entrepreneurial culture, to the number of meetings I’ve had and meeting people like you who are doing some amazing work in the public sector, whether it’s been public participation, fundamentally rethinking what a modern democracy looks like.

I’ve also seen some of the really really bold steps that are being taken to invest in strategic infrastructure. So the National Broadband Network is one example. You look at what’s happening as far as the government’s concerned. You’re seeing some of these technologies come into the goveernment.

But the fear I have is that you want to make sure you continue on that trajectory. It’s very easy for those people in the government who want to preserve the status quo to win out. And I think there is an epic battle going on between the past and the future. And it’s really really important that, from a policy perspective, that there are appropriate incentives for those who are architecting the future, to be the ones that are driving the country.

Pia: And do you think that epic battle presents a bit of a power shift from small groups of people to the broader community to engage…

Vivek: Well absolutely, it’s clear. We see it every day, whether it’s in Australia or anywhere else in the world. Therre is this shift in power from a few government officials behind closed doors to the masses, it’s real. And technologies that didn’t exist before exist today that have made this possible in terms of the very structures that are needed.

So the ability for anyone with a front row seat to their government with a mobile device. That’s amazing! We don’t think about it, we take it for granted, but now every citizen can be a co-creator. Every citizen can be a watchdog and hold their government accountable. Every citizen can actually go out there and be part of the digital public square and that is what I think is super exciting about the time we are living in.

Pia: Yep, sure. Well thank you very much.

Vivek: Thank you.

Pia: And I look forward to next time you come to Australia.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The perils of legislating channels (and the issue of website filters)

The Australian Parliament House recently released their new website - a major step-up from the previous site.

However in reading an article about it on ZDNet I discovered that the APH had, in the process, decided to block an entire top-level domain (.info) from view by the Parliament and the thousands of people working at Parliament House in order to prevent access to potentially malicious websites.

I haven't been a fan of the internet filtering systems used in government. At varying times I have seen the websites of all the major Australian political parties blocked, preventing access to their media releases, blog posts and announcements - often vital information for public servants writing policy or briefs.

These filters can be quite indiscriminate and are often controlled by commercial parties outside government. That's right, commercial entities, often foreign owned, can be broadly controlling what is allowable for Australian public servants to view online. This could affect government information inputs and potentially influence policy decisions. This is a situation that leaves me vaguely uncomfortable.

Some of the individual categories of content blocked can be equally problematic. For example many filters block access to generally to 'blogs', which may include the Australian Public Service Commission's blog-based consultation of public servants last year, 'video sites', including, for Immigration, their own YouTube channel, social networks (including those used by citizens to discuss specific policies) and, in a range of other cases, 'political' content from citizens and stakeholder groups that could otherwise be influential in the development and implementation of good policy.

One of the biggest issues I have personally found is that you don't know what you don't know. Could a blocked site be vitally important for the decision you need to make? You cannot assess this if you can't look at it.

Some systems allow specific blocking by group of employee - which sounds useful and often is (for example when I worked at ActewAGL I was one of the few allowed to view adult (soft porn) sites, needed in my role of preparing website schedules and analysing the competition for the adult channel TransACT displayed). However when implemented poorly staff may not be able to access the information their managers direct them to use.

In certain cases public servants may be required to use their personal devices to rapidly access critical content blocked by these filters. This is one reason why, for the last four years, I have carried my own Internet-connected device with me while working in government agencies. It makes me more productive in meetings and in preparing business cases when I can access and refer to critical material immediately, rather than not being able to even see if a site may be valuable or not and then waiting for a site to be unblocked so I can access it on a work PC.

It can be time consuming and, in some cases, impossible to request opening sites up. In many cases public servants can ask for specific exceptions, however when you have 48 hours to finish a minute to your Minister in response to public stakeholder or citizen comments on an important piece of proposed legislation, it can be impossible to do the job properly. Identifying which sites you need to see, receiving senior approval, requesting and having IT teams or filtering companies make access available, can take weeks, or even months.

This damages the ability for departments to do their jobs for the government and the public and, quite frankly, delegitimizes those citizens and stakeholders who choose to use forums, blogs, Facebook, YouTube and similar social tools or sites to discuss their views.

Blocking an entire top level domain, as in the APH case, comes with additional risks.

A little known fact is that Australian legislation requires the use of info.au for the Quitnow website, an ongoing major component of the Australian Government's campaign to reduce the instance of smoking.

Quitnow.info.au is advertised on all material for the quit campaign, including on all cigarette packets in Australia.

Now in practice the Department operating this site automatically forwards anyone who types 'Quitnow.info.au' to 'Quitnow.gov.au', so it is not noticeable to citizens. However this is a technical translation (if x go to y) - the domain that citizens see on advertising material still says Quitnow.info.au

If .info.au domains, as well as .info domains, were automatically blocked by the APH (I don't know if this is the case), anyone who tried to go to Quitnow.info.au would arrive at a "you cannot access this site" page and not be forwarded to the Quitnow.gov.au site.

Fortunately the APH does allow staff to request access to specific sites (apparently at least 60 have been opened up to access) and I don't have specific information on whether the APH blocked .info.au sites alongside .info sites, so this specific problem may not exist. However it does demonstrate the risks of blocking entire top level domain groups.

Personally I don't think legislation should specify domains or specific communication channels, in most cases. Technology changes too fast and governments don't want to be caught spending exorbitant funds in supporting defunct channels after the community moves on.

For example, the tabling of documents in parliament should not specifically require a paper copy to be presented and there should be no legislation that requires that a citizen present their claims or complaints via a particular device - postal, phone, fax or web.

Equally governments should not be constrained by legislation to communicating with citizens via postal mail, email, fax or a specific form of written communication (as some legislation does now).

The information transmission and reception mechanisms should simply need to meet levels of modern usage and veracity.

This would prevent agencies from having to spend large amounts of money on preserving and using old technologies where communities have moved on and reduce the time and cost of updating legislation to meet community needs.

Is there a downside of not specifying channels (such as that Quitnow.info.au domain) in legislation? I don't think so. Specification, where required, can happen at the policy level, making it easier and more cost-effective to review and change when the environment changes.

This would remove any potential embarrassments, such as if a government agency does block staff access from an entire domain group (such as .info.au) and accidentally block access to its own legislated websites.

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Monday, February 13, 2012

What's the value of your social media followers?

Social media followers and fans are not particularly good metric for judging the success or ROI of a social media campaign and I'd advise strongly against measuring success through these numbers alone.

However as businesses attach a commercial value to their mailing and email lists, as a corporate asset, I thought it would still be interesting to look at what might be the value of a social media following.

While it may not be legal to sell such an asset, it can contain value in providing a cheap way to reach part of your audience quickly and conveniently. In fact, I have railed before about organisations who pour money into building a social media following for a campaign, then throw their investment away by closing it down or neglecting it - just as they are used to doing in traditional media when renting eyeballs.

So as a starting point for calculations of social media value I put together a little spreadsheet on Google to allow you to calculate a value based on several key social media networks and blogs. It uses research figures that have been calculated to average out the value of an individual follower or fan.

Just plug in your numbers in the boxes provided and see what you get.

Feel free to extend the spreadsheet as well.

If you cannot edit the embedded sheet below, try this link.

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Sunday, February 12, 2012

Living on the edge in social media - two case studies of Australian social media issues

Back in November 2010 I attended a Garner conference to speak about Gov 2.0. I was also able to attend a workshop about social media use in the banking industry.

At the time I estimated that the banking industry was 2-3 years behind government in their social media effectiveness.

That impression has been reinforced this weekend with the reaction of Westpac to negative comments on their Facebook page - and how effective the bank's strategy has been.

Westpac has been taking heat for two decisions, to cut staff and to raise variable home loan interest rates by 0.1%.

Both staff and customers have vented their concerns on Facebook, commenting on Westpac's page.

The reaction from Westpac, as reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, has been to delete negative comments, with the company claiming that,
''partisan views'' could deter customers from researching its financial products on social media sites.
This strategy is fraught with risk. Deleting comments only incenses people and can cause them to escalate legitimate concerns through other channels, which can be more damaging for an organisation.

In fact this has already happened for Westpac, with the Financial Services Union having established their own Facebook page, Save Westpac Jobs, where Westpac's customers and staff can voice their concerns.

It is important for organisations to remember that the channels they create or manage are not the only place people may gather and discuss issues. If a company pushes people away from the channels they control or influence, they lose influence over their customers, who might end up in a far more extreme place.

Given the conversation on Westpac's Facebook page, the company appears to have stopped deleting these comments - which is a good sign. The question now is what should they do with upset customers.

I think there's a good opportunity here for Westpac to learn from Laurel Papworth's 8 ways to deal with negative comments in online communities.

The strategy I would select for Westpac would be to Educate - deflect concerns into a separate channel where they can be addressed separately to the discussion Westpac wishes to have on its Facebook page.

Handled correctly, Westpac could listen closely to upset customers and discuss with them possible solutions - refinancing, different loan types or other approaches that would result in a win-win for the bank and the customer. The same approach can be used with staff.

A second example of a dangerous decision in social media was by Woolworths, as highlighted in Mumbrella's article, This weekend Woolworths can’t wait to give everyone an opportunity to give them a massive kicking.

Apparently Woolworths thought it would be a good idea to run an event on Facebook asking people to complete the statement,
"Happy weekend everyone! Finish this sentence: this weekend, I can't wait to: ____________"
This is similar to Qantas's recent QantasLuxury competition on Twitter, where Qantas basically gave an opening to people to unleash their repressed concerns at Qantas grounding its fleet and any other concerns they had with the company.

Equally, and predictable, that's what happened to Woolworths. With 472 comments and climbing, there's a range of viewpoints, with many negative towards the company.

Organisations need to be careful when giving the public openings like this. They need to consider what other influences are at work, media coverage about their company and any current sources of customer concerns reported through other channels.

Organisations can, and should, participate with customers online via social media. However they should consider social media in light of other channels and customer engagements and not expect their online customers to exist in a vacuum.

These emerging case studies both have some time to run before we see how they end up, however they already demonstrate lessons for other organisations - including for government.

Don't shut down negative conversations, engage, educate and be constructive.

Treat social media within the framework of all your communications and current events. Be careful inviting customer views when they will be shaped by major events or perceived issues with your brand.

Most of all, keep listening and talking to your customers and stakeholders. Being absent from a discussion only removes your influence.

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Thursday, February 09, 2012

Have a drink with Vivek Kundra in Canberra

Vivek Kundra, former CIO of the US government, is in Australia next week and thanks to the efforts of Pia Waugh there's an opportunity for public servants and others working in Gov 2.0 there's an opportunity to meet him.

For full details, see Pia's post on the Gov 2.0 Google Group.

Of course, if you already subscribed to the Group, you'd have had a head start :)

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Share your public service war stories online anonymously

Everyone has war stories, observations and experiences working in or dealing with government agencies or departments.

These aren't necessarily whinges or complaints, they may be positive or learning experiences, or examples of where small changes could lead to large productivity gains.

Previously there was't really any way to share these stories, except by speaking with colleagues. They may have been a 'suggestion box' mechanism in your agency, but nothing designed to share experiences and learnings across the APS.

Now there's a place to do so, sharing them anonymously, so they can be recognised and learnt from, thanks to work done by Steve Davies, OzLoop founder and former public servant.

To learn more, and to share your stories visit https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/PXT9F3T

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Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Many national laws are increasingly irrelevant - how will governments adapt?

Facebook decides whether photos of nursing mothers are allowed to be displayed in its site (including in Australia and other nations where such photos are legal).

Google leaves China to avoid complying with its national censorship laws.

Gaming and gambling websites base themselves in jurisdictions where they are legal while attracting most of their customers from nations where such services are regulated or illegal.

Shoppers flock to buy online from countries where prices are cheap and the range is good, incidentally avoiding paying GST or sales taxes on goods and, to compete, retailers, such as Harvey Norman, open online stores based in foreign jurisdictions to avoid charging GST.

People at home use proxies to bypass copyright restrictions on viewing certain content on services like Hulu and establish overseas postal addresses with mail forwarding services to avoid copyright restrictions that only allow certain physical products to be sold in some jurisdictions.

Online pharmacies sell cheap drugs from Canada or Mexico to the US and pornography distributors sell their wares to consenting adults anywhere in the world, regardless of local laws.

Optus in Australia is legally allowed to distribute free coverage of sports events, provided they are received by customers' televisions, delayed 90 seconds and rebroadcast to customer mobile phones - meaning that mobile sports rights have almost become worthless overnight.

Electronic games, books and movies banned in Australia are available for purchase online.

People in countries with restrictive media laws use online proxies and software freely distributed by the US government to learn what is happening in their own country and the world.

Movements even work together globally to circumvent government ordered internet shut-downs or strong censorship in nations, such as Egypt and Burma to allow protesters to organise and citizens to remain informed and inform the world.

Around the world many laws created by governments are under pressure from the growth of the internet.

Laws were originally designed by societies as formal codes to guide, manage or restrict the behaviour of people, conduct of organisations and disposition of assets attached to a particular geographic location.

These 'laws of the land' worked well in a world where the majority of people lived, worked and played in a geographically limited area, where movement between areas was tightly controlled and where assets were easy to recognise and tax but hard to transport.

This remains true in many respects. Minerals, animals and offices are found in geographic locations and can be difficult, if not impossible, to relocate. We largely live and work in geographically defined areas, allowing geographically based laws to be implemented and enforced.

However with the arrival of the internet and mobile technologies certain assets, cultural values and behaviours began to drift beyond the control of any geographic nation.

Any content that can be digitalised or product that can be transacted online may fall outside of national borders, or cross many nations between creation and consumption.

Content that was previously scarce and controlled by national interests, such as news, education and research, can now be made freely available online for anyone anywhere in the world. Products that were previously shipped enmasse by a relatively small number of agents (import/exporters) are now transported by millions of individuals in much smaller quantities, making taxation and border control checkpoints difficult to enforce.

Movies, music, books and electronic games are easy and cheap to replicate, transport and share, despite the wish of copyright owners to lock them in vaults and dole them out to keep prices artificially high, as deBeers has managed diamonds.

Governments and courts are struggling to understand and re-interpret old laws in light of new technologies. Some laws and precedents date back hundreds of year, before the creation of the internet, television, radio, planes, cars or trains - all of the technologies that shape modern life.

Some of these laws and precedents remain influential in legal decisions, square blocks twisted and jammed into round holes to band-aid the legal system in the face of modern technology.

How should government and society reconcile discrepancies between new technologies, modern life and law-makers, law enforcers and laws that have demonstrably not kept up with the pace of change?

Should policy makers ignore reality in favour of legislation shaped to favour aspirational ideals? Should police forces consider all citizens guilty of crime unless they can prove their innocence?

This struggle keep broadening, from copyright, to retail, to gambling and human rights.

To attempt to retain control, governments have filled their streets with cameras to watch for criminal activity, legislated for ISPs retain an online history of website visits for their customers (just in case law enforcement agencies might need it, regardless of privacy risks), maintained secret blacklists of content that their citizens are not entitled to see, or even know what is on the list and secretly develop legislation to protect corporate copyright owners at the expense of citizens.

All of these steps have occurred in liberal western democracies. Autocratic regimes have gone even further to harass and arrest online commentators and shut down parts of the internet.

Many nations appear to have become obsessed with watching their own citizens to catch the slightest infringements at the behest of the fearful, the political and the corporate interests.

I have not yet seen discussions over the relevancy and enforceability of national and state laws in the face of new technology occurring broadly in Australian society or public service in a measured and thoughtful way. There are hall corridors and conferences but little research and mixed knowledge.

The question of how to reconcile the geography of the physical world with the expanding frontiers of limitless and jurisdictionally challenged cyberspace should be integral to many policy conversations. Even seemingly unaffected industries and people are touched, subtly, but profoundly, by modern technologies as their impact continues to ripple outwards.

Just as we require the human rights of citizens and the needs of Australia's region to be considered in legislation, we need to begin considering the workability of geographical laws in the face of modern technology.

In some cases our police and courts will need to work closely with other jurisdictions, even those with diametrically opposed views, in order to detect crimes and detain criminals

In other cases we need to debate how far legislation needs to restrict our own citizens in order to protect corporate non-citizens.

We need to review all of our laws in the face of modern technology to decide which remain workable, cost-effective and practical and determine which require improvement, international agreements or are just plain unenforceable.

And we need to do this regularly as technology keeps moving.

For any geographic state to retain pre-eminent in meeting the needs and wants of its citizens, constraining behaviours that society does not wish propagated and protecting the body, person and interests of individuals, governments need to move to the front-foot regarding modern technology, to stop treating it as the 'other' or a special case.

Governments need to recognise and internalise that our civilisation is technological by its nature. Our culture, values and behaviour are continually shaped by what is possible with technology and what technology has unlocked. 

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Saturday, February 04, 2012

How easy is it really to source information from Australian governments?

On behalf of a friend I've been looking into the contact information for Freedom of Information (FOI) requests across Australia's Commonwealth and state/territory governments.

While I believe that Australia has good Freedom of Information laws (though I know some would disagree), the real tests of this are whether people are aware of their rights and how difficult it is to identify the right FOI contacts and the complexity of the processes to release information.

Working in government, I have contributed to FOI processes from the inside and studied the legislation and processes of some agencies, however I've personally never asked a government agency for information.

From my brief look into sourcing information, and from my friend's perspective, while legislation is in place and even recognising the internal cost and resourcing challenges of FOI, there's a lot still to be done to create a standard and usable framework for people to find out about FOI and contact agencies at both state and federal levels.

For example, only two states or territories (WA and VIC) have an obvious central FOI site for their governments. foi.wa.gov.au and foi.vic.gov.au.

Queensland has a similar site, at www.rti.qld.gov.au reflecting their 'Right To Information' legislation. While this is internally logical, it doesn't make sense in a broader usability context. At least if you do try to go to foi.qld.gov.au it does redirect you to the site.

The other states and territories hide their central FOI sites away behind strange and convoluted web addresses in agencies that make administrative sense within government, but may not be as obvious to the public.

For example, the site that appeared to be the central FOI information source for NSW has the web address of: http://www.ombo.nsw.gov.au/complaints/freedominfo.html (though I could be wrong - which also points to an issue) and Tasmania appears to uses http://www.ombudsman.tas.gov.au/right_to_information2/rti_process

None of these sites is actually the central repository of information released by these governments - which would also be immensely useful. Instead they are informational sites which push people to contact individual agencies for specific FOI requests.

If I were asked I would recommend that all state and territory governments - and the Australian Government - use a standard FOI website address, and cross-link them for people who end up at the wrong one. Regardless of legislation name or the organisation which centrally administers FOI legislation, these sites should be found at foi..gov.au (or for the Commonwealth at foi.gov.au).

These sites should also become the central release points for FOI information, using modern web technologies such as APIs, or even ATOM/RSS to aggregate FOIed information from all agencies. The information could be retained by agencies, but have the central FOI site as a searchable directory of FOI releases pointing to individual agencies - like data.gov.au's role for public sector information (open data).

From there I'd also advocate that agencies similarly apply a standard approach to FOI, using foi..gov.au and foi...gov.au for state and territory agencies.

This consistency would, at least, mean that people could be educated consistently on where to go to find out their rights and exercise them.

Moving on to individual agency contact information, I've looked into whether there is a single list at Commonwealth level for all FOI contacts across all agencies.

I did find that the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet maintained a list of agencies with FOI Contact Officer phone numbers - an excellent start. However as it was last updated in September 2011 it had not yet captured the machinery of government changes in the last Ministerial reshuffle.

The list did not, however, provide website or email addresses - channels most people today prefer to find government information (as AGIMO's latest report on Interacting with Government ‑ Australians’ use and satisfaction with e-Government Services 2011 will tell you).

Fortunately, via Twitter, @Maxious let me know that OpenAustralia had compiled a spreadsheet of Australian Government FOI contacts based on the agencies and Ministers subject to FOI from the Office of the Information Commissioner FOI Annual Report for 2010-11 (released in July 2011) and updated for the machinery of government changes last December.

This spreadsheet contained 12% more agencies and Ministers than the list provided on the website of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. However while it contained email and website addresses, the OpenAustralia spreadsheet didn't containcontact phone numbers.

So I spent about an hour matching the two lists and have released the combined information as a Google spreadsheet, FOI contacts for Australian government agencies.

This spreadsheet contains FOI contact details for 355 Australian Government agencies with varying levels of details (phone numbers for 86%, email addresses for 66% and FOI web pages for 60%).

It also contains information for state and territory central FOI agencies.

If anyone out there is interested in FOI I would appreciate if you added to the list, filling in any gaps :)

Looking at the list, there is enormous variability in the email addresses and web addresses used for FOI contacts. Surely the Australian Government could mandate for a standard foi@.gov.au for email and foi..gov.au for websites.

Also agencies could ensure they have appropriate search strategies in place to make this information easily findable in their sites - creating a google site map (which has many other agency benefits) and adding rules in their site's internal search engine to ensure that searches for 'FOI', 'Freedom of Information', 'Information', 'My Information', 'Right to Information' and similar terms (drawing from internal search reports) have the FOI page as their top or preferred result.

These steps would be far more useful in helping Australians locate and access FOI information than many more expensive and difficult activities.

Also, surely someone in government (perhaps the Office of the Information Commissioner) could maintain a public list of FOI contacts - set-up in such a way that agencies could maintain their own information and receive regular automated emails every six months or so to confirm their information remains correct.

This could even draw from the list I've compiled from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and OpenAustralia lists to start it off.

State and territory governments could do likewise - and perhaps link their lists to the Australian Government's list, so that the public - who often have no idea whether they need to go to a state/territory or Commonwealth agency for certain information - have a better chance of figuring out who they should first contact.

Freedom of Information is important and necessary for any democratic society. However simply having the legislation in place is not enough.

Governments need to take steps, such as I've suggested above, to make it easy to discover who to contact and explaining the process of how to contact them and what information may be released.

Without these steps, 'Freedom of Information' or 'Right to Information' become meaningless catchcries.

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Friday, February 03, 2012

How should agencies moderate their online channels?

While government agencies often have limited options in the approaches they choose to use for moderating third-party social media channels, there's a number of ways they can choose to moderate channels under their control, including blogs, forums and wikis.

There's limited official guidance, and no real mandates or instructions for particular moderation approaches available across Australian government (no my knowledge). This is partially a good thing, as agencies need to consider what works for their goals and the sensitivity of their engagements, not merely follow a central line.

I have been asked a number of times by various people about the best approaches to moderation and how other agencies choose to moderate, however I only recently put together a quick review, based on a request in my job.

As this is public information - something that can be observed when visiting any particular blog or forum, and there is widespread interest as agencies look at what each other is doing and why to help inform their own decisions, I thought it worth publishing the list and allowing other agencies to add to it, so government agencies can both share this important information and collectively learn from it.

The spreadsheet, Australian agency moderation of online social channels, is available for viewing and editing here.

I also thought it worthwhile to provide some basics on moderation, what is it, how it can work and why it's done.

In my mind moderation differs from censorship or approval, it is a conversation management technique based on used to influence conversations to keep them on track and at a 'Goldilocks' temperature - not too hot (for example people yelling at the top of their voices) nor too cold (for example people speaking in icy tones).

Other purposes for moderation include risk management, particularly around legal considerations of defamation, copyright and the publication of inappropriate/offensive material and guiding the culture of an online space. Just as organisations develop cultures, so do online spaces. These may be positive, supportive, respectful and engaging or abusive and demeaning, depending on the management approach.

Where an owner or manager of an online space fails to have mechanisms like moderation and community guidelines in place upfront to help shape and underpin the culture they wish to support, there is significant risk of the culture developing in unintended directions and being difficult to manage once a given audience moves in.

Censorship and approval, on the other hand, are control techniques used to enforce the owner's views and beliefs over those of the community. Both provide broader control over conversations, not simply influencing them but actively constraining them to what the online space's owner feels is appropriate.

In these regimes often the reasons behind why comments are not published are highly subjective or based on the internal beliefs of the online space's owner rather than on objective guidelines for conversation. Censorship in particular is about prohibition of content, which can limit conversations to politically correct lines of thought - not good for a robust discussion or the debate of 'left field' ideas - whereas approval of content risks enshrining a user's views as being somehow being endorsed or supported officially by the space's owner, which may not be the case.

As the owner or manager of an online space, when moderating you have to allow views that disagree with you be published, provided they are not abusive or defamatory. However when censoring or approving you may choose to only selectively publish views which disagree with you or not publish them at all.

Obviously moderation can be more uncomfortable, particularly in political environments, as you can be more readily challenged. However the outcome is far more inclusive, encourages a broader level of participation and provides opportunities to influence and be influenced.

When it comes to how organisations moderate, there are several different approach to choose from.

The first place people commonly go is pre-moderation. This means that, as the manager or owner of an online space, you read and review every comment as it comes in against your moderation guidelines before you allow it to be published. As this process suggests, it becomes resource intensive in active communities and doesn't scale well, hence it is not used by the owners of services such as YouTube, Facebook, TripAdvisor or other large community or social sites.

Pre-moderation offers the illusion of greater control and lower risk, as you check everything, however there are often legal factors at play which mean that a court could hold the online space's owner to a higher standard and consider therefore that, by pre-moderating, they are more responsible for the comments from users than if they explicitly did not pre-moderate.

Therefore unless you have highly trained moderators (with an in-depth understanding of defamation, copyright, discrimination and other applicable laws) pre-moderation can risk greater legal liability for an organisation. However don't take my word as a non-lawyer on this (I am not offering legal advice), please consult your lawyers regarding your agency's circumstances.

Pre-moderation has another major negative - it kills conversations. While it may be a suitable technique for a blog, where comments are usually in reaction to the original post, in forums, wikis, social networks and other conversational online spaces, pre-moderation is usually the kiss of death for a community. It is simply not possible to have a timely or coherent conversation when a minder at your shoulder is screening each of your words before they are heard.

I like to compare this to the process for holding town hall meetings. Sure you may vet who is allowed in the door and manage the flow of conversation in the room by laying down ground rules and limiting time per statement or question, even closing down or ejecting abusive or defamatory speakers. However you cannot effectively have a spontaneous open discussion if each speaker is required to pre submit all of their questions or comments for moderation - why hold the town hall at all?

The other main approach to moderation is post-moderation. This involves establishing a clear and publicly available set of moderation guidelines (which should be public even when pre-moderating) and reviewing comments after they are published and publicly visible within your online space.

While this may sounds risky, it hasn't proven to be in practice where a community is well-managed and it is made clear that at times comments will appear which may be inappropriate, but they will be removed once detected or reported. If necessary risks can be further reduced by pre-registering users and holding their first comment for pre-moderation (which is also a spam control approach - more on that later).

Post-moderation is used by the vast majority of large community sites, often with mechanisms for users to report content they feel is inappropriate so that the owner can take any appropriate steps.

The benefits of this approach include reduced resourcing and the ability to scale quickly to any size community, important for organisations who don't know ahead of time how large a community may become. Post-moderation also offers support for free flowing conversations, meaning that forums and wikis actually work and may deliver the outcomes you seek - provided you have built and promoted the community effectively and the topic is of interest to your audience.

Post-moderation can also reduce- but not totally avoid - potential legal risks that pre-moderated communities face. However it remains important to have a level of trained moderation capability on hand to respond to reports of inappropriate commenting quickly.

Best moderation approach
In my view in most cases post-moderation is the preferable approach, however organisations need to be ready to shift temporarily to pre-moderation where events dictate. Pre-moderating the first post of new users, where users register or otherwise have a persistent identity, is a useful additional technique where it is not likely to alienate users enmasse and having clear methods for participants to report poor behaviour is a must.

There are cases where it is better to pre-moderate, such as for highly emotive topics or where there is significant risk of politically motivated groups deciding to enmasse invade and take control of a space for their own goals.

Government agencies do have special circumstances that can require pre-moderation to be used at certain times, such as during caretaker period before an election, during a national emergency or when significant machinery of government changes are taking place. Public companies may also need to consider it during share freezes or prior to major public announcements.

If you establish your system effectively, switching from a post-moderation to a pre-moderation environment ( or vice versa) should take no more than a few minutes to achieve technically - provided any changes in community guidelines or moderation policy are prepared ahead of time. In fact if you are running a post-moderated space I would strongly suggest that it is worth pre-preparing the guidance for pre-moderation just in case you ever need it.

Spam management
Another area worth touching on is spam - the bane of all system administrators. It is estimated that up to 90% of all email transmitted over the Internet is spam, unsolicited commercial messages designed to make people buy, or sometimes carrying malicious code with the hope of infecting systems for use in bot armies (for sending more spam or hacking secure systems).

Spam is also a persistent issue for online communities, though increasingly a manageable one. I recommend using one of the global anti-spam filters such as Akismet or Mollom, which are rated at over 95% effective at preventing spam from being published (that's at least blocking 95 of every 100 spam messages).

Other techniques also assist in spam management such as using honey traps on registration or submission (forms that spam bots - automated systems - see but human users do not and using the first post pre-moderation approach. Tools such as CAPTCHA can also help (where you must read and type in letters or phrases from an image), however there are techniques to circumvent these in use and they tend to frustrate some users as often up to 20 percent of legitimate human users cannot successfully complete a CAPTCHA challenge - I sometimes struggle with reading them myself.

One thing I strongly advise against is using pre-moderation as an anti-spam technique. Generally the goal of preventing spam should not outweigh the goal of having an effective and flowing conversation. Stopping the community's discussion in order to protect against unsolicited commercial messages is a very big trade-off, similar to requiring all car drivers to submit to breath analysis EVERY TIME before they can drive on a public road. Sure this approach would reduce drink driving (though heavy offenders would find a way around it), but it would unduly punish the majority of drivers doing the right thing.

In conclusion...
With no clear guidance or mandated approach for moderation from any Australian government (that I am aware of when writing this), agencies all have a choice on how they wish to moderate online spaces they manage.

I think this is a good thing as moderation will always be horses for courses. However I strongly recommend that agencies seek legal advice and consider the choices and reasoning of other agencies before striking out in a particular direction.

I also strongly recommend that you share your approach and moderation guidance with other organisations so, collectively, agencies improve by building on each others' experience and expertise.

One way you can do this is by adding your moderation approach to this spreadsheetAustralian agency moderation of online social channels.

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Wednesday, February 01, 2012

One week left to comment on the Information Commissioner's issue paper on public sector information

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner has extended the deadline for commenting on their Information Policy Issue Paper 2: Understanding the value of public sector information in Australia until 8 February 2012.

If you wish to comment on the paper, visit the Consultations page of the OAIC website.

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