Saturday, March 31, 2012

Australia goes mobile - 47% of net connections via mobile devices

It's long been reported that the majority of internet connections in Japan are via mobile devices - since 2006 in fact.

It now seems Australia is on the verge of following the same path, with the ABS reporting that as at 31 December 2011, 47% of internet connections in Australia were via mobile devices.

The report, (8153.0 - Internet Activity, Australia, Dec 2011), has some other interesting findings as well...
  • The number of internet connections grew by 11.0% in the year to 31 December, and by 6.3% since the end of June 2011.
  • Mobile wireless grew fastest, with a 14.7% increase since the end of June 2011.
  • The number of dial-up connections continued to decline, to 475,000 - still a substantial number, but representing only 4% of the total 11,596,000 internet connections in Australia. Of those 379,000 (3.2%) were households, the rest businesses. 
  • The number of dial-up connections declined 17.9% (from 579,000 to 475,000) since June 2011.
    Note the ABS state the decline was 16.7% - I don't know why our calculated figures differ.
  • More Australians remain on connection speeds less than 8Mbps (55%), however a good proportion are on 8-24Mbps (34.3%). Only 0.3% are on connections greater than 100Mbps.
  • The total data downloaded was 345,518 Terabytes (or 345,518,000 Gigiabytes) for the three months ending 31 December 2011. This was an increase of 26% since June 2011 (remember the number of connections only grew by 6.3% so we're all downloading more). 
  • The average downloaded per connection was 29.8 Gigabytes (Gb) for the three months so, on average, we download 10Gb per month.
  • However dial-up users only downloaded, on average, 67 Megabytes (Mb) of data per month, while broadband users downloaded an average of 10.3 Gb of data - showing a massive difference in usage.
  • There were 91 ISPs in Australia with more than 1,000 subscribers - remaining a competitively very robust market.

There is a clear paradigm shift for users when upgrading to dial-up to broadband, with usage increasing by over 15,000%.

This representing a change from email and basic web browsing to the use of the internet as a multi-media interactive entertainment, engagement and service delivery environment.

It will be interesting to see the the paradigm shift in usage from users on fixed internet connections to mobile. I believe this is even greater as the services relevant to mobile users are very different to those relevant to static users.

Perhaps we can take another lead from Japan on this, based on the use of mobile internet during and following their recent tsumani.

Or learn from these five cities benefiting from mobile apps.

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Thursday, March 29, 2012

govdex upgrade coming soon!

In all the time I worked in the public service I had a fondness for govdex.

As a secure collaboration system (built from the Confluence wiki platform) for government, it was often one of the few pre-built tools that agencies could use to share information between agencies.

Although it did, at times, suffer from slow speeds, low levels of promotion and a clunky interface, the support team was unfailingly helpful and cheerful and AGIMO's management stuch with it through thick and thin, knowing that govdex had the potential to transform the way agencies interacted with each other and with external stakeholders.

I am extremely pleased to see that AGIMO is working on an upgrade to govdex that will dramatically reshape the appearance and usability of the service.

Anticipated later this year (though I, for one, am happy for it to take as long as needed to ensure quality), the upgrade to govdex appears from the screenshots to make the interface far more comparable to modern online and social media tools - the tools that public servants are familiar with at home.

 AGIMO says in the govdex support pages that the new upgrade will,
make govdex more user friendly, provide easier use for navigation and collaboration, incorporate better use of customisation, improve interoperability and functionality, and accommodate Web 2.0 tools and technologies.
 The new govdex will,
will bring faster performance, greater levels of accessibility, improved document management capability, a higher degree of networking within communities, and better user customisation.
Even better, AGIMO is modelling an excellent user-centred design approach in that the system is being redeveloped based on a simple principle, "build a system for users, by users", with govdex "seeking feedback from its users on the design features of the new govdex."

I hope, with the success of this redesign, we'll see other agencies with less experience using this approach adopt this as a best practice example of user-centred design and employ the approach for their own online services to staff, stakeholders and citizens.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Co-Design conference day 2

We're into day 2 of the Co-Design for Citizen-Centric Service Delivery conference and I will be liveblogging part of the day. Unfortunately I am presenting this morning, and have to run away early for a flight, however will cover as much as I can.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Liveblog for the Co-Design for Citizen-Centric Service Delivery conference

I'll be liveblogging this conference today, and part of tomorrow.

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Monday, March 26, 2012

Is online influence measurable or meaningful?

Online influence is a hot topic right now, with companies such as Klout, PeerIndex, Empire Avenue and Kred all building online services that aim to measure the influence of internet users, in order to better target advertising dollars.

But how effective are these services really?

Does the number of followers, retweets or likes or some form of combination really identify those most likely to influence decisions and behaviours on a large scale?

Would any of these services have identified Janis Krums as an influencer of millions, before he tweeted a photo and message to his 170 Twitter followers about the plane that had landed on the Hudson River?

Would they have identified QLD Police Media as an important and influential account a few weeks before the Brisbane floods?

Would any of them have identified Rebecca Black, singer of 'Friday', as influencing an entire generation?

Influence online can ebb and flow rapidly. People go from virtually unknown to globally famous to unknown in a matter of weeks, days - even hours.

Therefore I was interested, but perplexed when I received the following email from PeerIndex a few days ago.

PeerIndex email:
I work at PeerIndex and we have a group on Australia top Twitter influencers and was wondering if I could get your feedback because you are on the list. PeerIndex measures interactions across the web to help people understand their impact in social media.

I was wondering if you could look over the list and let me know if you felt it was accurate? Do you recognise the other people on this list?  Is it missing people that you think are important?  

We would like to open up a dialogue with people in your field and think this would be useful to them (or at least start a conversation) it was accurate and interesting.

Thanks very much for your time,

I had a bit of a think about this and realised that I am an influence sceptic.

I am interested in sentiment online - whether people believe/perceive and say good or bad things about a topic. I think there's a strong future in this as a way to judge a general mood, supported by other more refined techniques.

However influence is just too hard to measure if only one dimension - online is taken into account.

Hence my reply, below:
Hi ,
I would love to help, however I don't think I honestly can.

I just do not understand how influence on Twitter, or on other online or offline social networks or situations, can be calculated in any effective manner.

Interactions online don't necessarily translate into actions offline and influence is generally a subtle and cumulative process - which requires multiple sources over a period of time.

For example, you tell me something on Twitter, I see something related from someone else in a forum, it gets discussed at work, I do some research as my interest is raised, then it appears in the traditional media and then I see others I trust taking a position and then I do.

The interlockings between topics and influence are incredibly complex and related to individual mental models and worldviews. Something that would influence one person will have no impact on another, people weight influence based on source, channel, frequency and relationship - and every individual has their own influence model - what will or will not change their view.

For an example (or study) of this, just watch the classic movie '12 angry men'. It is a brilliant look at how varied the influencers for different people may be.

I don't think there is a reliable way to identify influencers or put people in boxes for influence.

I find your, and other similar services, amusing, but do not see how your algorithms have accurately modeled my, or anyone else's levels of influence on the micro or metro topical level. 

Your models are simply far too simple and work on a subset of observable influences with no characterization of the individual influentiability of different people in different environments at different times - nor how long-term that influence will be.

Behavioural psychology is an extremely complex and poorly understood science. About the only way we can reliable detect influencers at any specific time or micro topic is in hindsight.

Humans are lousy at determining what is likely to be influential, other than by 'gut instinct', or through sledgehammer techniques, such as mass repetition (show the same message enough times to a broad enough group of people and some will be influenced).

So sorry, I don't know what makes people influential - chance, chemistry, repetition, a match with a particular mental model, a combination of influencers all working in alignment, or a reaction against a 'negative influencer' (a de-influencer? Someone we love to disagree with).

I certainly don't see how dividing people into boxes by arbitrary topic helps define their broader influence, or specific influence across other topics. The amount they talk about a topic isn't a good judge either, and it is always unclear whether someone 'heard' the message on a service such as Twitter.

So I don't think I can help you. Nor am I sure if your service, or Klout or the others in the space has a real business model. Though I do hope that your collective efforts expand our understanding of how connections between people can sometimes influence them.



What do you think?.

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Friday, March 23, 2012

Don’t dumb me down! (guest post)

With the permission of Geoff Mason (@grmsn), I've republished his blog post Don’t dumb me down! from 21 March this year below.

I thought this was a very good post on a topic that, as increasing amounts of information and discussion only appear online, is increasingly affecting how effective public servants can be and the policy outcomes across government.

Don’t dumb me down!

There continues to be a fear of the unknown and the misunderstanding across the Australian public service about the internets – which baffles me to be honest.

Agencies continue to block social media websites, cloud based email services, and restrict mobile access during business hours. At the same time the government is pushing for greater innovation, greater mobilisation and capability of staffing, and increased staff performance while seeking to make cost reductions across the breadth of the public service.

The two are one in the same in this modern age. Social media provides the first point of call regardless of the industry for professional development, access to innovation, and in sharing how people work to increase productivity.

As a quick case study, Google + while not a social media site in itself provides a social layer which covers all its services from search through to document sharing and collaboration. The interlinked services include the Google email groups all of which requires access to not just the platform but to a Google account. The service helps tailor search results and improves the breadth of information and opinion provided by adding Web 2.0 functionality. Increasing a person’s ability to undertake a critical analysis of the information being provided.

For example, Tim O’Rielly a prominent person in many ways, including a leader in facilitating discussion, direction, and promotion of modern communications, and open and transparent government uses Google + as a key communication channel for engaging and sharing ideas of the many through an established community which actively engages in frank discussion on the merits and disadvantages of many key concepts attached a public servants work life.

Restricting access to this type of discussion during working hours means federal employees are required to actively engage in these environments during their down time - all the while trying to manage their families, their dogs, the gardening, and everything else which comes from having a life outside of the office. While I think that’s fine for myself, I don’t believe it should be expected of everyone.

As more and more key representatives access similar services as their communication channel of choice it will be fundamental for public servants to not only have access to but be encouraged to be a part of and monitor the discussions on these platforms as a cheap and effectively method for self-development and idea generation for not only their team but for their agency as a whole.

Beats the hell out of spending $2,500 to send staff along to a workshop to hear other public servants talking about something that they could be getting for free online don’t ya thunk?

In short, government agencies need soundly assess the short term risks which access to these systems pose in comparison to long term benefits which being a part of a global community could provide.

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Letting the cat out of the bag - I've joined Delib Australia

I've finally been able to let the cat out of the bag today and publicly announce my primary post public sector project.

I have been officially appointed the Managing Director for Delib Australia (and are a shareholder too). So, effective immediately, I will be working full-time with Delib in the UK and with associates and partners in Australia and New Zealand to grow and support Delib's footprint in our region.

For those who don't know them, Delib is a digital democracy company that builts online tools to help governments and other organisations consult and engage their citizens, communities and stakeholders.

The UK company has been operating for over ten years and has worked closely with both the UK and US governments.

More information is available in our media release at the Delib blog.

Delib has a strong commitment to digital democracy and is committed to supporting the Gov 2.0 and open government community, which aligns neatly with my own goals in this area.

As such you can expect my blog to continue to be commercial free, focused on Gov 2.0, social media and open government musings from me and selected guest bloggers.

In fact, I'm about to start a project of redeveloping my blog to better expose some of the resources and tools it contains - with the support of Pia Waugh.

Hopefully this will improve my blog's usefulness and provide more opportunities for me to demonstrate how to walk the Gov 2.0 walk.

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Who is watching the watchers? Civilian surveillance of government

With the widespread availability of phones in cameras and tablet devices - in fact it is hard to buy one today that doesn't include a camera - it is inevitable that people will take them out and take a snap of their most - or least favourite - public figures.

These photos and video get shared, usually online, and generally contain metadata detailing when and where they were taken.

So what is the outcome when citizens, concerned at the actions of politicians or public servant officials, begin photoing and filming their movements for accountability purposes?

David Eade (from Qld's Gov 2.0 community) has written a fabulous blog post on this topic in Govloop, Citizen Surveillance and the Coming Challenge for Public Institutions.

In this post David specifically highlights citizen surveillance of law enforcement officials and agencies - something of intense interest to anyone following cases such as the recent death of a Brazilian student after being tasered by Sydney police (by the way, for more on the rise of non-lethal law enforcement devices, watch this great TEDx Canberra video from Stephen Coleman).

What if a group of citizens, frustrated at the conduct or decisions by a government official (that is any public official - elected or appointed), took it upon themselves to organise round-the-clock surveillance of that person's movements and activities, using a group of people armed with phone-based cameras, filming only from public property (as is legal)?

What if they uploaded all these images, with commentary, to social networking sites for discussion and debate?

What if there was an organised movement, perhaps by someone like Get-Up, to release 'mug shots' of key government decision-makers in a controversial department or matter, and then invite people to photo them and report what they were doing wherever they went?

There could even be a new phenomenon known as 'public servant spotters' - people who take, publish and even trade photos of particularly rare breeds of public servants (such as Secretaries). Imagine the kudos in that community for photographing the entire SES!

This is an interesting new area for citizen power that we haven't yet seen explored very far.

In many places around the world law enforcement agents now have the legal right to detain or arrested people for photoing or videoing their activities - a course that may be increasingly hard for citizens in liberal democracies to swallow and, given the growing use of CCTV and difficulties in identifying bystanders filming a public occurance, very hard to control. Of course, in more restrictive nations people are routinely beaten or killed for filming police activities.

Is it justifiable or appropriate for governments to broaden these legal powers to all public servants?

Should these legal powers exist at all?

In a society where everyone is a journalist, able to to record and distribute video, photos, opinions and facts, how does a government and its citizens agree on what is appropriate surveillance of the activities of government officials - particularly when activities occur in public on public property at the public's expense?

I can see this becoming a growing issue for governments around the world. It is a small and simple step from reporting police activities, filming road workers or snapping photos of elected officials flirting with someone who is not their spouse to photoing and using public facial recognition tools to identify every person entering and leaving a public office.

It is then a simple matter to use social networks or to identify their responsibilities and activities. Another simple step to film or photo or text record their public activities wherever they go. Another simple step to publish their activities online, and another to use the pressure to influence their judgement and decisions.

Note this may not be the world we want, however it is the world we already have, it has just been slightly hidden behind private investigators and paparazzi.

When every citizen has a camera with them all the time, what will it mean to governments if they choose to use them?

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Monday, March 19, 2012

From open data to useful data

At BarCamp Canberra on Saturday I led a discussion asking how we can help governments take the step from open data (releasing raw datasets - not always in an easily reusable format) towards usable and useful data (releasing raw datasets in easily reusable formats plus tools that can be used to visualise it).

To frame this discussion I like to think of open data as a form of online community, one that largely involves numbers rather than words.

Organisations that establish a word-based community using a forum, blog, wiki, facebook page or similar online channel but fail to provide context as to how and why people should engage, or feed and participate in the discussion, are likely to get either receive little engagement or have their engagement spin out of control.

Equally I believe that raw data released without context  as to how and why people should engage and no data visualisation tools to aid participation in a data discussion are likely to experience the same fate.

With no context and no leadership from the data providers, others will fill the informational gap - sometimes maliciously. Also there's less opportunities for the data providers to use the data to tell good stories - how crime has decreased, how vaccination reduces fatalities, how the government's expenditure on social services is delivering good outcomes.

Certainly there will always be some people with the technical experience and commitment to take raw open data, transform it into a usable form and then build a visualisation or mash-up around it to tell a story.

However these people represent a tiny minority in the community. They need a combination of skill, interest and time. I estimate they make up less than 5% of society, possibly well under 1%.

To attract the interest and involvement of others, the barriers to participation must be extremely low, the lesson taught by Facebook and Twitter, and the ability to get a useful outcome with minimal personal effort must be very high, the lesson taught by Google.

The discussion on the weekend seemed to crystalise into two groups. One that felt that governments needed to do more to 'raise the bar' on the data they released - expending additional effort to ensure it was more usable and useful for the public.

The other view was that governments have fulfilled their transparency and accountability goals by releasing data to the community. That further working on the data redirects government funds from vital services and activities and that there is little or no evidence of value in doing further work on open data (beyond releasing it in whatever form the government holds it).

I think there's some truth in both views - however also some major perceptual holes.

I don't think it necessarily needs to be government expending the additional effort. With appropriate philanthropical funding a not-for-profit organisation could help bridge the gap between open and usable data, taking what the government releases and reprocessing it into outputs that tell stories.

However I also don't accept the view that there was no evidence to suggest that there was value in doing further work on open data to make datasets more usable.

In fact it could be that doing this work adds immense value in certain cases. Without sufficient research and evidence to deny this, this is an opinion not a fact - although the evidence I've seen from the ABS through the census program (here's my personal infographic by the way), suggests that they achieved enormous awareness and increased understanding by doing more than releasing tables of numbers - using visualisations to make the numbers come alive.

Indeed there is also other evidence of the value of taking raw data and doing more work to it is worthwhile in a number of situations. Train and bus timetables are an example. Why does government not simply release these as raw data and have commercial entities produce the timetables at a profit? Clearly there must be sufficient value in their production to justify governments producing slick and visual timetables and route maps.

Some may argue that this is service delivery, not open data (as someone did in the discussion). I personally cannot see the difference. Whenever government chooses to add value to data it is doing so to deliver some form of service - whatever the data happens to be.

Is there greater service delivery utility in producing timetables (where commercial entities would step in if government did not) or in providing a visual guide to government budgets (where commercial interests would not step in)?

Either way the goal is to make the data more useful and usable to people. If anything the government should focus its funds on data where commercial interests are not prepared to do the job.

However this is still talking around the nub of the matter - open data is not helping many people because openness doesn't mean usefulness or usable.

I believe we need either a government agency or a not-for-profit organisation to short circuit the debate and provide evidence of how data can be meaningful with context and visualisations.

Now, who would like to help me put together a not-for-profit to do this?

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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Encyclopedia Britannica ceases paper publishing after 244 years - how about government reports?

On Tuesday Encyclopedia Britannica Inc. announced that the company would cease printing a paper edition of their iconic Encyclopedia Britannica, after 244 years.

The last paper version - the 32-volume, 2010 edition - will be unavailable once the existing stock of about 4,000 copies runs out.

I can see it becoming a collector's item overnight.

This change marks the end to a troubled 25 years for the company as the Encyclopedia Britannica struggled to compete against multimedia and then online encyclopedias which were much cheaper to product, distribute and buy - despite some concerns over accuracy.

Today Wikipedia, as a free online encyclopedia, contains more 'pages' of information than all 15 Editions of the Encyclopedia Britannica combined, compiled by hundreds of thousands of volunteer contributors from around the world, compared to the roughly 100 paid researchers who work on Britannica.

This isn't the end for Encyclopedia Britannica Inc, they will continue to publish the encyclopedia in an online and mobile format, and produce a range of other educational products (which today provide 85% of their income).

However it does flag the encrouching end to most large-scale print production.

Book runs, annual financial statements, research reports and other massive printing exercises are increasingly shrinking as organisations provide a digital or mobile version and supplement with a minimal print run.

Given the enormous costs of printing documents in large numbers, and the challenges of allowing sufficient time for printing, fixing errors after they go to print or updating them on a regular basis, where they are a living document, this is a good thing for organisations - except for the printing industry.

For government too this is a good thing.

The budgets allocated to large print runs for annual reports, policy statements, research reports and similar documents can be re-allocated to other uses - bearing in mind that some of it should go to ensuring that agencies have robust print-on-demand and 'eprinting' systems, with strong templates, editorial controls and distribution formats (ebooks, mobile apps, PDFs and interactive versions).

The challenge now is to overcome some of the barriers of moving to more digital printing in government. Firstly there's some legislative requirements for copies of documents to be tabled in parliament, or for some reports to be printed on paper - even if no-one wants a paper version.

There's also expectation management. Many older people, and I include myself in this, feel more comfortable reading a document on paper and assume that others feel the same way. Therefore without even considering the alternatives they will give the instruction to "print 10,000 copies of this white paper", an instruction that may never be questioned or challenged as to whether there are better and cheaper ways of meeting the actual goal (to get the white paper into peoples' hands).

Finally there's the challenge of media lock-ups and similar managed releases. Agencies need to consider the alternatives to printing hundreds or thousands of documents and giving them to people in a locked room.

Do they provide tablets or ebook readers with all the documents in electronic form, but no way to electronically distribute the information?

Do they use self-destructible digital formats whereby each individual 'copy' of a document can only be opened using a one-time username and password, and then self-destructed if copied or distributed?

I hope government agencies will treat the end of the paper-based Encyclopedia Britannica as a sign that there are now alternatives to paper - often better and cheaper alternatives - and consider their own print production to see if there's any unnecessary printing that can be stopped or transitioned into more useful digital forms.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Let your People Services/HR team know - LinkedIn reaches three million Australian members

LinkedIn has just announced to members that it has reached three million Australian members, slightly over 10% of the population and roughly 30% of our working population.

I hope People Services and Human Resources people across government are beginning to recognise the potential of the service for reaching professional people as potential hires and to connect past employees back to organisations through alumni networks (you never know when you might be able to lure them back).

While on the topic, it is also worthwhile for agencies to keep an eye on services like Glassdoor, which allows employees to anonymously rate their organisations (yes there are agencies reviewed in the site) and is also growing as a recruitment tool.

Twitter is also becoming a tool for highlighting positions to potential staff (used by the Australian Department of Human Services in a coordinated way for graduates, and by other agencies on an ad hoc basis) and several agencies have used Facebook for advertising (such as ASIO) and managing graduate groups (such as the Department of Finance and Deregulation and the Australian Department of Human Services).

Blogs are also being used (such as by the Department of Health and Ageing).

In fact, if your organisation is not using social media to attract staff, perhaps you're being outcompeted for skills by those organisations who do.

If your recruitment team still isn't sold on the value of Web 2.0 and social media as a useful recruitment and retention tool for organisations, point them in the direction of Michael Specht's 52 ideas for Social Media for HR professionals.

This ideas sheet identifies a range of techniques available to "support key HR and Recruitment processes. Including the use of Twitter, blogs for employees, wikis to create organisational polices and social bookmarking to identify talent pools.".

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

US government launches state-based food alerts on Twitter

There's a lot of the work and lag involved in releasing emergency alerts using old fashioned approaches such as media releases.

Even when an agency's systems are tuned to fast-track emergency approval processes, when the media release gets distributed that may only be the beginning, not the end, of the process.

The release need to be brought to the attention of journalists and editors, they need to be convinced it is important to their readers and, once achieved, it must be re-written or edited, included in a news report and distributed.

For newspapers this can add a day or more lag, for radio and television (unless it is critical breaking news) it adds at least hours.

Mashable reports that the US government has cut through this by recently introducing its own direct to public food alerts via social media, using a custom Twitter account per state.

This means that the US government can get out the alerts it finds important more rapidly (even accounting for internal checking and approvals). It also gets them to the right audience - people interested enough to sign up for the alerts.

Alerts can (and should) still be distributed by media release into traditional media channels for breadth of reach, however the addition of Twitter-based announcements ensures that people can access the information when government releases it, rather than waiting for media distributors to deign to distribute it.

In this type of approach the government is using social media to bypass traditional media channels - effectively becoming its own media outlet. There's plenty of other activities where government can use this type of approach to great effect - regaining a level of control over messages and reducing the ability for traditional media to spin or obscure important information.

I hope we see the US extending this approach to other forms of emergency - and non-emergency uses.

And I hope Australia's governments will follow this lead - as some agencies already have.

Video below.

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Friday, March 09, 2012

The challenge of using Freedom of Information for good

I'm a big supporter of Freedom of Information (FOI) laws and the rights of citizens to access information from their government to better understand the processes and data considered around how decisions are made and policies formed.

I am also a big supporter of FOI as a tool for public good - including for sharing information that is useful within government and for businesses seeking to engage government agencies on a commercial basis.

As such, I put in an FOI request yesterday to the full list of FOI contacts for the Australian Government I collated for the following information:
  • The web browsers approved and used across department hardware (desktop, laptop, tablets and mobile).
  • Whether the agency had a staff social media policy and what it contained.
  • Whether the agency provided additional guidance and training for staff on social media and what these contained.
  • What social media channels were blocked by the agency.
  • What plans the agency had approved to change any of the above.

This information is enormously useful for businesses seeking to engage with government.

Companies seeking to do business with government need their websites to be visible and usable to agencies - hence they must support the web browser technologies that agencies are using. For those that sell online services it is even more crucial that their apps and systems are accessible to agencies, otherwise they can't do business. Equally web developers seeking to sell to government need to understand the browsers their websites will need to support before quoting as older web browsers can add significant cost to a website's development.

Many companies today use social media channels to inform audiences, promote their products and provide support and assistance - a video walk-through, a support forum or product roadmap blog. They need to know whether government agencies block these channels so they can make specific arrangements to ensure they are able to competitively service and support agencies that do.

A number of government agencies are currently in the process of developing social media policies, guidelines and training. I have received many requests over the last few years from people in all parts of government asking if I am aware of other similar policies and guidelines they can borrow from and build on.

I provide what I can, however there's no central repository for this information in Australian government (though there is an international site, the Online Database of Social Media Policies). A central place to find this information would greatly reduce the time and resourcing cost for sourcing models to build from and greatly improve the initial quality of the efforts of agencies.

I also plan on publishing all the correspondence I have with agencies on a new website ( - not yet in place), to help open up the process of making FOI requests, which is still foreign to many people across the community, despite the improvements made in recent revisions of the law.

I attempted to structure my FOI request in a format which would make it easier for agencies to respond - and easier for me to collate and publish the information at a central online location - saving time and money all round... or so I thought. (see my request here)

Unfortunately there's a stricture in FOI law where the information requested needs to be stored in 'documents'.

Although I did specify the documents I requested, this wasn't in a particularly overt fashion and appears to be being overlooked or misunderstood by agencies, some of who are (very rapidly) beginning to respond to my request.

These documents included:
  • Their Standard Operating Environment documentation, which should specify the web browsers officially supported and deployed by platform and the filtering technologies used, including the social media platforms blocked and coached.
  • Their social media policy and associated guidelines for staff. 
  • A register of the social media channels operated by their agency.
  • Internal briefs and strategies related to the use of social media channels by their agency and staff.
I also asked informational questions about the official plans of the agency, such as whether they planned on updating their web browers in the next twelve months, whether they planned to create a social media policy when they had none, whether they planned on unblocking or blocking additional social media channels and how they used their official social media channels.

I have encountered a few minor issues, that I will be progressively sharing with the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner and publishing in due course - a major agency whose published FOI email address is not working, a major and several minor agencies that do not provide electronic FOI contacts at all on their site, spelling mistakes and poor grammar in automated FOI responses.

However the overwhelming issue I am encountering is that it appears that much of the information I am requesting is not stored in 'documents'. It is known and shared within the agency, but is not FOIable if not recorded in the appropriate format.

The flaw I see is in the use and interpretation of the word 'document' - a discrete, paper-like format which doesn't describe much of the information and data stored and distributed within organisations today.

In the future we're likely to see even less information in 'documents' - a thousands of years old archaic mode of information storage - and more information stored in fragments and tables, shared electronically via transient communication tools.

While I totally appreciate agencies sticking to the letter of FOI - that information must be in a structured document, which an FOI requester must specifically request - the opaqueness of public agencies to the public (in knowing which document to request), the increasing range of information in forms other than documents and the danger that agencies, following poor business practice, do not create documents with some important information in order to avoid being FOIed, risks undermining the spirit of Freedom of Information.

I appreciate governments applauding their own successes at openness and transparency - at legislation where the only excuses remaining for not releasing information are privacy, commercial confidentiality and national security.

However they are still overlooking the major and persistant barriers to real freedom of information - the implied need for the requester to already know precisely what documents to ask for and the explicit requirement for that information to be stored in one specific format, a 'document'.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2012

The elephant in the room

In case you've not read it yet, Steve Davies wrote an interesting piece on the government's grapple to adapt to and adopt Gov 2.0 thinking and practice. Published in the Canberra Times and Brisbane Times, the piece highlights that the elephant in the room is the culture of the APS, which is not always supportive of new ways of thinking and doing. It is worth a read. The article is titled The paranoia that will shut government.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Stop waiting for the messiah and do it yourself

While there's many organisations now actively beginning to experiment with social media channels and tools, just as many - if not more - are still cautious about even putting a toe in the water.

"It's not right for us", they say, "our audience isn't online" or "doesn't want to engage with us" or "we don't understand the risks" or "we're not ready yet" or "we're waiting for a critical need".

I'd like to say to all of these organisations - stop waiting for the messiah and do it yourself.

As has been shown through research, humans often make decisions first and justify their actions later - which means that most of these so-called reasons for not engaging online are justifications, not evidence.

How do you know whether a new tool will work for you if you don't experiment and pilot? How will you build the expertise you may need when there is a critical need for you to use these channels?

We've seen this behaviour in industries like retail, where a major retailer, Harvey Norman, is now pulling back from use of the internet because it didn't meet their projections on revenue. How did they work out those projections without experimenting online? Why did they not meet the projections and how will pulling back increase their success?

Given the internet has been a valid sales channel for fifteen or more years and some of the largest retailers in the world, such as Amazon, have built themselves online, how could any organisation in retail claim that online isn't viable, or delay entering the market - at least in an experimental way - for over ten years?

If you're not yet engaging actively online via social media just stop waiting for the messiah - that person or reason that makes it 'compelling' for you.

The compelling reasons are that 95% of Australians are online, that other businesses are building their expertise online, that online is the second biggest media today in Australia.

Online no-one cares that you're not there - but they are talking about you - truth and otherwise.

You wouldn't wait until an emergency occurred before building your emergency management systems. You wouldn't wait until you were in court before preparing your defence.

Organisations have case studies to learn from, examples of good practice and a range of resources and tools available to experiment with online, which allow you to learn the ropes without leaving you hanging.

If you're not building your experience now then how do you expect to build it in the future? Do you think your business will be able to afford the talent needed to leapfrog a ten-year or more advantage from your competitors, rivals and detractors?

Is delay really worth the risk?

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Monday, March 05, 2012

Note to self - make your organisation name long enough and people cannot criticise you on Twitter

The growth in the length of government agency names has amused me for several years.

These days it seems as though every function of an agency needs to be listed in its full name,so that the community remember what they are responsible for - and then be embodied in a meaningless acronym, perhaps to ensure that the community forget again.

We appear to no longer be creating agencies with short names such as 'Centrelink' or Medicare'. Names that are short, sharp, snappy, focused and easy to remember.

Instead government appears to like names such as:

  • Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (a relatively short 63 characters)
  • Department of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport (67 characters)
  • Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies  (69 characters)
  • Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (69 characters)
  • Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (72 characters),
  • Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (76 characters)
  • Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education (76 characters)
  • Comcare, the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission, and the Seafarers' Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Authority (a whopping 133 characters!)
I have thought of one reason why the names have grown so long.

They are too hard to tweet with a criticism.

(Unfortunately they are also too hard to tweet with a compliment as well!)

Can anyone else suggest long agency names at Commonwealth or state/territory level in Australia, or maybe overseas?

What is the longest government agency name in the country? It might be worth a Guiness Book of Records bid!

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Who is your Marketing or Communications CIO?

I was struck by a comment from Dan Hoban (@dwhoban) at GovCamp Queensland on Saturday, which resonated with me, and with others in the audience, that organisations now need a CIO (Chief Information Officer) in their marketing or communications teams.

This is a person who understands the technologies we use to communicate with customers, clients, citizens and stakeholders and can provide sound advice and expertise in a manner that traditional ICT teams cannot.

The role of this person is to understand the business goals and recommend approaches and technologies - particularly online - which are a best fit. Then it may be this person and their team, or an ICT team, who build and deliver the solutions needed.

When Dan named this role I realised it fit absolutely the role I had been performing in government for my five years in the public service, and for a number of years prior in the corporate sector.

Where ICT teams were focused largely on reactive management of large critical ICT systems - the SAPs, payment frameworks and secure networks - it has long been left to Online Communications, or similar teams or individuals in other parts of the organisation, to proactively introduce and manage the small and agile tools communicators use in public engagement.

No organisation I've worked in or spoken to has ICT manage their Facebook page, Twitter account, GovSpace blog or YouTube channel. Few ICT teams are equipped to cost-effectively and rapidly deliver a focused forum, blog, mobile app or data visualisation tool. They don't recruit these skills or, necessarily, have experience in the right platforms and services.

When Communications teams seek advice on the online channels and technological tools they should use they ask ICT, but frequently are told that ICT doesn't understand these systems (even when individuals within ICT might be highly skilled with them), doesn't have the time or resources to commit in the timeframes required (due to the need to focus on critical systems), doesn't have the design skills or that it would take months (sometimes years) to research and provide an effective opinion - plus it will cost a bomb.

So Communications teams, who have their own deliverables, have no choice but to recruit their own social media and online communications smarts.

It is this person, or team's role, to understand Communication needs, make rapid and sound recommendations of channels and tools, design the systems and the interfaces, integrate the technologies (or manage the contractors who do) to deliver relevant and fast solutions on a budget.

So perhaps it is time to recognise these people for what they actually are for an organisation - a Marketing or Communications CIO.

I expect ICT teams will hate this. Information has long been their domain even though their focus is often on technology systems and they do not always understand the information or communication that feeds across these systems - the reason these systems actually exist.

Perhaps it is time for them need to rethink their role, or let go of the agile online and mobile spaces and focus on the big ticket systems and networks - remain the heart, but not always the adrenal glands or, indeed, the brains, of an organisation's ICT solutions.

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Saturday, March 03, 2012

GovCamp Queensland 2012 liveblog

I am in Brisbane all day today at GovCamp Queensland with roughly 200 Queensland public servants and will be liveblogging the event as far as possible, plus capturing the twitter feed for the day (which uses #GovCampQld).

Follow all the excitement below.

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