Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Opening up government in NSW

While largely unreported, earlier this year the NSW government became the first state jurisdiction in Australia to provide a formal written commitment to open government at a Premier level.

In Victoria, which took an early lead as a state, Government 2.0 (which isn't quite the same as open government) never received a formal commitment from the Premier, and while the ACT has done good work in this space, and is actively pursuing an open government agenda, there's not been an actual formal written commitment from the Chief Minister.

Equally in Queensland, which pioneered a whole-of-government open copyright framework, or in South Australia, which has done great work in the online community engagement space, there's not been a formal mandate issued under the names of their Premiers.

Even the Commonwealth Government, with the Declaration of Open Government, could only manage a senior cabinet Minister, Lindsay Tanner - who resigned shortly after the Declaration was published.

So what did NSW's commitment to open government actually say?

To quote NSW's Open Government Memorandum,
This memorandum advises Ministers of the Government’s commitment to a new era of open government. The NSW Government is committed to the open government principles of transparency, participation, collaboration and innovation
In the memorandum, Premier O'Farrell stated that the NSW Government would be:
  • Open in our work for the people of NSW 
  • Open to participation in the policy process 
  • Open to collaboration on how we do business 

These would be achieved by enhancing:
  • Online access to government services to make them available anywhere, anytime
  • Online communications, including social networks, for internal and public dialogue 
  • Online mechanisms for community and industry collaboration on innovative solutions 

Now these are just words, the proof will be in how the NSW Government executes these approaches.

There are still some worries. The memorandum is framed as part of the NSW ICT Strategy, and has a very strong IT-first focus.

Those of us who have worked in the Government 2.0 and open government space for some time and who have also worked with colleagues oversears very clearly recognise that it is rare for ICT executives to lead in this space.

Openness is a business goal requiring culture change across government. ICT executives rarely have the skills to lead human change in this way.

However ICT does has an enabling role, in providing the base infrastructure on which openness can be built. Hopefully the NSW Government will supplement it's ICT strategy with corresponding business strategies and change programs, drawing on Government 2.0 and open government expertise from across Australia and internationally.

This approach will ensure that the NSW Government doesn't only build the infrastructure layers, but simultaneously builds the business understanding and capability to use these layers effectively to deliver on the Premier's promise.

The next milestone will be at the end of this year when, under the NSW Government ICT Strategy 2012, each Director-General is required to report to the ICT Board with a plan to:
  • Identify priority datasets for publication at 
  • Increase open access information available at 
  • Facilitate public participation in the policy development process 
  • Make greater use of social media to communicate with staff, customers and industry 
  • Increase online access to government services 
  • Collaborate with community, industry and research partners to co-design service solutions 
Those of us in the Government 2.0 space will be watching - and helping where we can, both openly and behind the scenes.

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Friday, September 21, 2012

How do you know that's really a government social media account?

On the internet, as they say, no-one knows if you're a dog - or a government agency.

This can become a problem when Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, even websites, are set up that look like government accounts, but aren't.

We've seen this issue in the private sector, such as with fake Shell accounts that took in the media and the public.

It has also happened in the public sector, most often in the US and the UK.

It happens here in Australia too. Do we really know whether, for example, @ACTGov is a government Twitter account, or a fake account? (in fact I'm not really sure, but don't think it is)

This can obviously create problems for citizens and for governments. What if citizens get taken in by a fake account and make a poor financial or health decision?

What responsibility does the government has to ensure that citizens don't get defrauded in this way?

The US government has now taken steps to address this in a proactive way (ie - before there's a media scandal).

As reported by the eGovernment Resource Centre, the US government is developing a new tool that verifies the authenticity of government social media sites.

The tool will require agencies to use a special system that only allows people with authentic government email accounts to register their official government social media accounts.

There will then be a public validation facility on leading US government sites where users can check whether a particular account in listed or not.

This turns the burden of proof around. If an agency fails to register its accounts, they will have lower authenticity because they won't be in the central database. This provides an incentive for agencies to register.

Users can check whether accounts are listed and feel secure that if one is then it is government operated.

Simple but smart. It protects citizens and also keeps track of government social media accounts, allowing a central directory to be crowdsourced.

I wonder if our government will consider similar steps to protect Australians and promote engagement with agencies?

It isn't a hard system to build, and it isn't expensive to operate.

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Is Parliament House the peoples' house? Beth Noveck: Demand a more open-source government

Is Parliament House the peoples' house or the government's house?

This is one of the fundamental considerations within the open government movement. Does government exist to serve the public? Who participates in developing policy, creating laws and deciding what is best for citizens and communities?

Beth Noveck, in her TED Global presentation, Demand a more open-source government, poses a number of challenges to citizens and governments around the world to open up governance processes, involving citizens at every stage.

Brought to my attention by Andrew Krzmarzick of Govloop, Beth Noveck Delivers Terrific TED Talk on Open Government, Noveck's talk is the best I've seen on the topic this year.

There's also a great blog post about the presentation at the TED site, Demand a more open-source government: Beth Noveck at TEDGlobal 2012

I strongly recommend that you watch Noveck's talk and share it widely with your colleagues.


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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Presentation from OPC IT's Web Xchange event

On Tuesday morning I gave a brief talk about building a social media infrastructure at OPC IT's Web Xchange event.

I've included my presentation slides below as a reference for those who have asked for a copy.

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63 reasons your agency should have a social media presence

It is 46 years since the internet was first developed (ARPA network), 21 years since the development of the first web browser (aptly named WorldWideWeb) and fifteen years since the launch of the first recognisable social network (

Today half our population actively uses Facebook, and over 60 per cent of Australians use some form of social media.

However some in government are still debating whether social media is a valid channel for them to use, or whether it is simply a 'fad'.

I gave a presentation yesterday at an OPC Web Xchange event on why agencies should use social media an how they could build their social media infrastructure.

As part of my preparation for the event, in about twenty minutes over the weekend, I brainstormed 63 reasons why government agencies should have a social media presence.

Some may not apply to your agency. I may have missed others that do.

However in case you're struggling to justify using social media in your agency, here's my 63 reasons to start you off in thinking about which reasons are most important in your situation.

Note that they are listed alphabetically, not by importance.

  1. advertise to your audience 
  2. amplify your other communications 
  3. attract good staff 
  4. be approachable and reachable
  5. break down silos 
  6. build awareness of conversations already underway 
  7. build awareness of services 
  8. build community resilience 
  9. build ongoing audience 
  10. build personal connections 
  11. build relevance 
  12. build staff experience ahead of more advanced technologies 
  13. build website traffic 
  14. challenge the community to help solve problems 
  15. collaborate with colleagues across agencies and jurisdictions 
  16. collaborate with colleagues in your agency 
  17. consult your audience 
  18. convene supporters 
  19. correct misinformation 
  20. deliver emergency information 
  21. employ agile policy development methodologies 
  22. empower the community with information 
  23. engage stakeholders 
  24. explain to people what you do
  25. find best practice overseas
  26. find good staff
  27. find good vendors 
  28. get a heads-up on what will be in traditional media the next day
  29. identify community influencers 
  30. identify fraud 
  31. identify opinion leaders 
  32. identify unlawful behaviour 
  33. improve accountability 
  34. increase transparency 
  35. listen to your audience 
  36. locate experts 
  37. locate stakeholders 
  38. maintain engagement between campaigns 
  39. market research 
  40. organise events 
  41. promote events 
  42. provide consistent answers to questions 
  43. provide customer service 
  44. provide information in forms other than text 
  45. remain effective in a 24/7 media cycle 
  46. run competitions 
  47. save money 
  48. save time 
  49. seek fast feedback on policy ideas 
  50. share data 
  51. share expertise 
  52. share information with colleagues across agencies and jurisdictions 
  53. share information with colleagues in your agency 
  54. share knowledge nationally and globally
  55. share media announcements 
  56. source emergency information 
  57. streamline processes 
  58. support your Minister 
  59. target geographically dispersed groups
  60. reach an audience who won't talk to you face-to-face or by phone
  61. reinvent government processes 
  62. tracking audience sentiment 
  63. train staff in engagement
And here's a word cloud of the reasons to show the themes that stand out.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Mapping open data site generations

Over the last three years we've seen an increasing level of sophistication and capabilities in successive generations of open data sites.

To aid governments in their open data journey, I've mapped five generations for the progressive development of open data sites, detailed in the document below.

Please feel free to reuse the information within the bounds of the embedded Creative Commons license.

My next task is to release a view of open data sites around the world mapped against these generations to provide a view as to who is leading and who is lagging in the open data stakes.

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Monday, September 17, 2012

Redesigning government: Does the terminology of government hold it back?

I had an interesting discussion last week with a colleague about the terminology of government.

We talk about politicians as moving the 'levers of power' and departmental restructures as 'machinery of government' (MOG) changes (sometimes used as a verb "we got mogged!")

Lack of progress in bureaucracy is called 'spinning wheels' (which often appears to be what's going on while officers are 'fine-tuning' policy), while government communications is often referred to simply as 'spin'.

So why are these machine-like industrial era metaphors still used to apply to government?

Yes, that's right - industrial era. The term 'machinery of government' is thought to originate from 1861 with John Stuart Mill in Considerations on Representative Government - who argues against the tendency to consider government as a controllable, predictable machine.

I've previously written of the difficulties inherent for a government, structured under 19th Century principles, attempting to use 20th Century technologies to govern in a 21st Century world.

in this respect, if governments are seeking to move forward, surely they need to consider the terminology they use as well.

Let's use the example of another industry, medicine. From the 16th Century doctors began to think of humans and animals as complex machines, first clockwork and then, from the 19th Century, as a powered machine, the heart as a pump, stomach as a factory (with food the fuel), nerves as wires and joints as pistons.

Through the 20th Century this view became more sophisticated as we built a better understanding of how the body operated. New post-industrial technology paradigms were used to help conceptualise and communicate this understanding. The brain was considered as a computer, the nerves as a network and with our face and limbs the 'peripherals' that allowed us to interface with the outside world.

Each paradigm helped the doctors of the time to build a conceptual framework on which to view and understand the body and address its ills. Each was a partial model of what was really occurring, but was sufficient (based on the knowledge at the time) to provide a foundation for decision-making and treatment.

Government is still using industrial era terms and concepts, 150 years after Mill's book.

Our understanding of government and society has changed. our technology has changed. The outcomes that government is expected to deliver has changed.

Does industrial-era terminology still provide the right models for government? Are politicians still 'pulling the levers of power', or negotiating equitable solutions in partnership with other organisations and communities?

Should departmental changes be considered 'machinery' - moving parts from one department to another,  like moving parts from one machine to another, or considered within a context of matrix governance, where departments do not exist and public officials work across silos and functional in ad hoc teams to meet specific objectives and goals?

Can we conceptualise a 21st Century model of government using 19th Century terminology, or do the words, and the shape they lead our thoughts into, limit government to outdated modes?

To use a final industrial-era phrase, how do we 'break the mould' for government, unleashing new forms of governance that suit modern society?

What modern day terminology should and could we use to reshape our own models of government and describe a new collaborative, open, governance web suited to modern day society?

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Friday, September 14, 2012

Can foreign digital gatekeepers unduly influence democracy?

One of the perils of the digital age, as traditional media goes digital or goes downhill and more and more people rely on the internet for their daily news, is that countries such as Australia are losing 'editorial' control over what news is promoted as the 'top stories' each day or what links appear at the top of search results.

Most of Australia's most trafficked websites are not Australian-owned and run. Some do not even have a legal entity or physical presence in the country, making it extremely difficult for Australian interests to get any kind of traction in decision-making processes or ensure that Australian values and perspectives are reflected.

Even more worrying, we've already begun to see digital 'gatekeepers' - the largest and most influential websites - begin to impose conditions which may distort elections or inappropriately influence democratic processes.

Let me give you an example. You're probably aware that Google is the most trafficked website in Australia, followed by Facebook. In fact for the week of 8 September 2012, Experian Hitwise reported that Google Australia received 149.5 million visits from Australians, and Facebook received 96.8 million visits. These were followed by Youtube at 47 million, Windows Live Mail at 23 million and which received 21.7 million Australian visits.

The top locally operated website, NineMSN received only 20 million visits. Yahoo7 received only 11 million visits from Australians.

In fact, if you add Google's top 10 sites (218.2 million visits) and Facebook, the total visits these two organisations receive from Australians, each week, is about 315 million. That's ten times the combined weekly traffic of NineMSN and Yahoo7 at 31 million.

With that level of traffic, being refused the right to advertise in Google or Facebook could have serious repercussions for a brand. In some cases it could destroy companies.

So what could it do to democracy?

What would happen if Google and/or Facebook decided, for whatever reason, to reject all the advertising from a particular political party in Australia, banning ads for that party in their sites during an election?

Well, actually, we don't need to speculate about this scenario. It's already happened.

Some of you might be aware that during the last Commonwealth election that Google refused to run any advertising for one of Australia's legal political parties - the Sex Party.

Following this, Google again refused to run any Sex Party ads during the recent Victorian byelection.

Facebook joined in by rejecting Sex Party ads during the recent Sydney City Council election.

Now whether you support or oppose the Sex Party's views, they are a legitimate Australian political party and field legitimate candidates in elections. However both Facebook and Google decided, citing different reasons, that they would not accept any advertising from the Sex Party during election campaigns.

Facebook said its reason was that the Sex Party was "promoting adult products or services".

Google claimed that the Sex Party was being deceptive by having a "donate" button on its site which "breached its rules which prevent solicitation of donations by a website that did not display tax exempt status.". 

When it was pointed out that the Greens, Family First and Labor all did the same thing, Google stuck to their guns. Even when the Sex Party adjusted their site's content to include the tax exempt status, Google continued to refuse to run ads - contrary to their own policies. Only when the Sex Party went to the media did Google relent, on the eve of the election when the opportunity to influence votes had been lost.

In this case the party was a minor one and potentially the events didn't change the outcome, although the Sex Party has taken Google to court over the matter alleging unlawful interference in the election.

This example highlight a risk democracy is facing. 

When 'media' providers control such a large chunk of the online market, when these are domiciled overseas in state that wish to influence Australian politics, and when they can thumb their noses at local concerns without significant legal or financial cost, democracy has a problem.

It doesn't have to be a full-out blocking of ads or comments - as happened in the example above. Instead it could be more subtle techniques. 

Such as placing ads lower down on the page than their competing parties, thereby reducing the probability of a click, it could involve adjusting search results to keep certain ideas at the top, or the bottom. It could even involve 'reporting errors' which would convince people that they'd received the impressions they'd paid for when they hadn't.

There's many other subtle ways to influence behaviour online, and you can be assured that companies like Google and Facebook have built a strong understanding of how to do this. It is their bread and butter and they are testing, trialling and learning more all the time.

So can digital gatekeepers unduly influence the outcomes of democracy processes? 

I think yes. And, intentionally or not, the big players have already demonstrated that they are capable of taking this step. 

But maybe not quite yet, while nations still have robust national media and competing theatres for ideas.

In the future we are likely to see the balance of power unfold in new ways, and learn through practice whether democracy will survive technology intact, enhanced or destroyed.

However it is already clear that democracy will not survive unchanged.

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Thursday, September 06, 2012

RightClick 2012 round-up

I attended and keynoted RightClick 2012 yesterday in Perth and wanted to share my notes, which I presented as a round-up at the event, as well as my presentation.

It was a good event, with an excellent turn-out of WA public servants. From the feedback I overheard, the attendees were pretty happy with the event.

After giving my presentation on Shiny New Toys (why humans love them and what this means for rational decision-making), I took notes on the other presentations - as well as tweeting some of the highlights, as did others via the hashtag #rightclick.

Below my presentation is a copy of my notes....

Notes from the event
As the keynote speaker I started by telling the audience that humans weren't naturally rational thinkers - which might not have been the best way to open an event!

However I also explained how we can use processes to recognise and compensate for the risk of impulsive or otherwise non-rational decisions, employing methodologies such as POST (People, Objectives, Strategy, Technology) from Forrester Research.

In the next presentation, Tracey from Australia Post told us that we already have enough technology to last a lifetime. The question is - how do we use it in more meaningful ways?

She talked about Australia Post's 'Launch and Learn' process, where they don't spend excessive time on complex business plans, launch fast, iterate quickly and kill solutions where they don't resonate with customers, rather than allowing them to live on, draining resources.

Brady, also from Australia Post, then told the audience that they are now thinking screens, not platforms such as 'web' or 'mobile'.

He talked about the huge cost-efficiencies of online, how Australia Post was able to handle 50 million online contacts with an investment of less than $1 in staff, whereas their contact centre costs $50 million to service 5 million contacts.

Brady also talked about how agencies need to unleash the social media talent already within them, hiring where necessary to buttress skills and capabilities and get senior buy-in, the higher the better!

Next, Meg from Archives in State Records talked about her role and the challenges facing archivists in taking 25 year old records and preserving them for ever in accessible formats.

She explained the importance of archives, and how data from them had been used to prevent a man from being deported (through finding his primary school records) and where data was not provided to archives it cost a great deal more for an infrastructure project, which had to dig up the building to find the power conduits when there was no record of their location.

She reminded agencies that it was their responsibility to keep their data for the 25 years before it was handed to Archives, and that metadata was important, particularly for digital information that it is difficult to see inside.

Meg told the audience that it is possible, and not to painful, to archive social media channels - with Archives WA using backupify, downloading and storing the data every week.

David from Ernst and Young then challenged the audience to think BIG - about big data.

He said it can inform and support government policy and service delivery.

David outlined how we need to rethink how we collect, store and analyse big data, and said that while humans had created 2.75 zetabytes of data in our history up until now, we were likely to double this in the next two years.

Next Peter from the State Library brought the audience back into the physical world - at least most of the way - with 'books and bytes'. He detailed how people want access NOW and how while the library was attracting 1.5 million visitors each year through the door, it was receiving a million online, and was almost as much a virtual organisation as a 'bricks and mortar' one.

Peter discussed the YES Enquiry system, which is capturing customer questions and staff responses, allowing them to be reused and to keep answers consistent over time.

He advised the audience to let staff use the technology early, so they are familiar with it, and reminded that it was critical to train staff on new systems BEFORE they went live so that they could help customers effectively. Otherwise customers might lose faith in staff and the organisation, and staff would themselves feel disempowered and demotivated.

Peter recommended that all systems be built with a feedback system, so your customers can comment and help you improve over time. Peter also discussed how the library was now in competition globally against other libraries, however that digital was their future.

Finally, Colin Murphy, the WA Auditor-General, reported on the latest round of testing of WA agency firewalls. He said that agencies had hardened their outer firewalls, but haven't done much work to address internal defensive layers.

He recommended more risk management, appropriate configuration and testing and regular software updates.

Colin said that they've flagged the cloud for future reviews and reminded the audience that they need to be mindful of security frameworks to use it well.

Colin also said that he was hopeful that agencies were now on an upwards trend regarding the security of their systems, with more than half above the 'red line' used to test security.

He recommended that agencies don't shy away from 'Shiny New Things' where they offered value for organisations, but that instead they ensure that they understand the risks and implications for security and take appropriate mitigations as required.

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Monday, September 03, 2012

Public Sector Design - Design & Thinking Screening

Heard about design and design thinking but not sure what it is or what it has to do with the work of the public service?

Interested in design but want to know more? Want to meet others interested in design in the public sector?

I've just learnt about a great upcoming event that is being hosted by the Australian Centre for Excellence in Public Sector Design and the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations.

It's the screening of a new film about design - 'Design & Thinking' - to be held on 20 September from 5:15pm and followed by drinks and nibblies.

To learn more go to:

About the film

"Design Thinking was applied as a term and methodology by a design firm in 2008.

It was received as a tool to solve every problem, from daily life decisions to business challenges to world hunger problems.

Attention and debates followed; some insisted on design education in all K-12 schools, some declared it is just marketing tool for that firm, some hoped it would turn his company into Apple. Some said it's nothing new, just a new packaging of how creative people do things.

How do we fully engage organizations to think about the changing landscape of business, culture and society? Inspired by design thinking, this documentary grabs businessman, designers, social change-makers and unlikely individuals to portray what they have in common when facing this ambiguous 21st century.

What is design thinking?
How is it applied in business models?
How are people changing the world with their own creative minds?

It is a call to the conventional minds to change and collaborate."

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