Gov 2.0: Where to begin – Part 1 of 3

Over the last few months I have met many of Australia’s leading “social media experts”, have spoken at various Government 2.0 events and have been closely watching the initiatives happening in the UK and US, both of which have some important lessons for Australia. I have also worked closely with Senator Lundy (whose vision and capability in this space is way ahead of the pack) to design and coordinate some really cutting edge Government 2.0 initiatives (including the Public Spheres). We are focusing primarily on online engagement with constituents, and citizen engagement with government processes such as policy development. All in a very hectic 2 1/2 months 🙂

If there is one thing I have learned, it is that Government 2.0 is an overused and often misunderstood term, one that many people are rushing to understand and implement. There are some great ideas out there, however you should cross-reference to ensure you get an informed view.

I thought I would write this three part blog post about Government 2.0, Web 2.0 and “Open Government” along with some suggestions for people (particularly in government) to get up to speed in this area and hopefully assist them in their first steps.

2 point what?

When I first heard the term “Government 2.0” I thought it sounded pretty silly. It was obviously riffing on “Web 2.0” (another overused term that can mean a lot of things), and a lot of the successes talked about looked like fairly straightforward uses of the Internet by politicians and government agencies. A lot of people wade into the Government 2.0 debate with talk about access to data and transparent decision making, and this starts to delve into Open Government rather than Web 2.0. So let’s start with trying to first better define Web 2.0, Open Government and then finally Government 2.0.

Web 2.0

Wikipedia defines Web 2.0 as being second generation web development and design. I think there are four main identifying features of “Web 2.0”. I say this not as a “Web 2.0” expert, but as a long time geek observing this space and working with the technologies:

  • Online and always connected – being online at all times means people can use at their convenience, data can be constantly used, collected and aggregated
  • Massive integration and aggregation – facilitates data mashups, cross-platform communications and the ability to publish once and to many places
  • Broadcast conversation – enables global “social networking”, online public community development, a shift from one2many (eg – public statements) to many2many (eg – online forums and chat), and the range of public and private conversations therein
  • Beautiful and dynamic user experience – the shift to a user-centric, dynamic, interactive and beautiful user experience is an important factor, especially as there is much more understanding now about how people use the Internet, and how this differs from other media

Open Government

In Australia we are very lucky to already have an open government. There is a lot of public engagement, consultation and information made available. Online tools and methodologies offer some new ways to improve our system, and to help get the average busy Aussie engaged. I think “Open Government” is the natural result when you have both:

  • government policy and practice that informs, empowers, involves and collaborates with citizens, and
  • a well informed and engaged public (which is essential for democracy)

We have identified three main focus areas for Open Government:

  • Open and transparent decision making – engaging citizens directly in the processes of decision making, whether that be political (eg – policy or legislative development) or bureaucratic (eg – planning a new piece of public infrastructure). This improves public trust in government as it becomes open for scrutiny and oversight.
  • Citizen-centric services – government agencies (and services) engaging with citizens based on their individual needs, which can mean leveraging information such as their location, type of help they need, perhaps even personal information. This means citizens are given the right information, from the right person, in a single place.
  • Access to government information – ensuring all government information that can be made available (excluding data with privacy, security or commercialisation implications) is available to the general public. This will encourage public and private innovation on top of government data, to the benefit of the society and economy.

Senator Lundy communicates these ideas well on her blog post “The Three Pillars of Open Government“, so I won’t go on to describe them in further detail, however the idea of Open Government has been around for a long time.

Senator Lundy is demonstrating that Government 2.0 is also about elected representatives using these new tools to directly engage with their constituents for even more informed and agile decision making.

Government 2.0

Government 2.0 is about using the new opportunities presented by Web 2.0 technical and social methodologies to achieve even more openness in government. It encapsulates next generation models for government processes including online consultation processes, realtime citizen engagement, empowerment and followup, a shift in government services delivery to be more citizen-centric, facilitating public and private innovation through open and permissive access to useful government data (such as maps, rss feeds for council news, public facilities) and much more. There are no doubt many Government 2.0 initiatives that haven’t even been imagined yet.

Pretty scary stuff for many! After all, change can imply risk. It has however become very clear that people are expecting more engagement and empowerment from government agencies and their political representatives. The changing expectations combined with the increasing need for governments to be capable of reacting rapidly and collaboratively to new issues is driving forward the need for Government 2.0.

First steps for Government 2.0

I have tried to put together some very practical first steps for government representatives and agencies who are struggling to understand this space. The first step is to gather information. Above is hopefully some useful working definitions that will help, but you should also read the draft briefing paper from Senator Lundy’s Public Sphere event on Government 2.0, which is the collation of several hundred perspectives and ideas in this space. All the videos, Twitter chatter and blog comments are linked there too.

It would also be useful to follow the progress of the newly announced Australian Government 2.0 Taskforce, and to speak to AGIMO who have a Web Publishing Guide which is being updated to assist government agencies in this area.

Tomorrow I will publish the second post in this three-part Government 2.0 blog post, and includes learning from existing success, and evaluating your options.

11 thoughts on “Gov 2.0: Where to begin – Part 1 of 3”

  1. Hello Pia – “In Australia we are very lucky to already have an open government.”

    I think this is a matter of degree. We have an “open-ish” government. We have consultation and cons-ipulation. We have a very variable record around Freedom of Information. And we have a generation of young people who care passionately about political issues but are disengaged from the political establishment – ALP members make up a quarter of 1% of the Australian population.

    Open Government might begin with data feeds & online forums but if it’s serious then it will quickly run up against parts of the Australian Establishment that are deeply undemocratic (never mind “open”). We’ll see how it pans out…

    1. Heh, fair enough. Compared with many other countries and governments I think we have done reasonably well given the tools at hand, and I think this whole Gov 2.0 movement will help improve our democracy with better tools and hopefully a re-evaluation of the general principles of openness and public participation. The recent FOI reforms and appointment of a federal Information Commissioner prior to this whole Gov 2.0 discussion shows I think a willingness and interest within government to improve in this specific area. Kate did a speech at CeBIT which referenced Minister Faulkner’s excellent speech on FOI reform, as well as other initiatives around open government so please check that out

      Would love to hear any specific suggestions and ideas you have about what can be done to improve things 🙂

  2. Very luck to have an open government… unless you might be in opposition and want to get a look at some of the planning documents for, errr, the National Broadband Network. In which case government is closed, for errr, some implausible reasons we can’t explain right now.

    But hey, John Howard did the same thing, so that makes it OK, right? I mean this concept of parliamentary debate where an idea is examined from a range of points of view and considered by people from various backgrounds, this idea is getting a bit old. It might have made sense back when the Magna Carta was signed but these days the best place for ideas to be examined is in some back room so they can be foisted on the public with as little debate as possible. Sound familiar?

    You see Greebo, we already have all the tools for Gov 2.0 because that’s the whole idea of why a Parliament was invented in the first place — long, time ago. All we need now is the willingness to make the original idea actually work.

    1. Tel, your sometimes constructive feedback on each of these three posts has been sometimes useful. I think you are going to find that stamping on someone’s foot while simultaneously trying to show them a better way doesn’t get you particularly far.

      I think the ideas for “Gov 2.0” have been in place, and largely enacted upon since the beginning of the process (yes there are issues, of course), and what we are talking about now is the opportunity for improved transparency and participation through online tools, and online community methodologies which did not exist 30 years ago let alone at the birth of democracy. You’d think the fact that there is a conversation happening, and reform being considered on new methods and tools for improved participation and transparency would be a good thing, and most of the community feedback we’ve had has been really great.

      Right now there appears to be a willingness to rethink the processes and the part of the Citizen, so what are you going to do to help this conversation? I know you have great ideas, so how about putting them forward constructively, please.

  3. A gentleman just says one thing and thinks another; good lady I am no gentleman.

    I’m NOT trying to show you the way (as it happens, I don’t know the way myself) nor do I have an objective to get particularly anywhere. You already know I’m in favour of small government and free enterprise, where those things are achievable, so there’s my agenda out in the open, but really this in not the particular forum to cover my desires.

    I do believe that you are looking for an answer in the wrong place, making the common mistake of throwing technology at a problem because that’s what you happen to be holding in your hand at the time. As an exploratory method it might (after some time) help understand the problem better, but this particular problem of maintaining communication channels between people across a power gradient is old and thorny. Sycophants will use a channel to say “yes” in the most eloquent and flattering way possible, hoping for self-promotion, but constant positivity contains no surprises. Spoilers throw static, always surprising but not useful. Clever liars just knit their distortion into the flow with seamless craft, doing more damage still.

    Although I can describe the problem in a great many ways, I have already admitted a lack of any answer, so your answers are a least as good as mine!

    Tell me more about the “community methodologies” that have recently come to exist.

    1. Hi Tel, we haven’t simply thrown tech at a problem, there was a good deal of discussion and planning into what we are doing and experimenting with. I think my post (along with the stuff Kate is writing) shows it isn’t about tech, it is about looking at the models, the methods, and figuring out how to improve them. I get the feeling anything I write on this topic you’ll argue with anyway, so I’ll just have to catch you after SLUG someday for a coffee 🙂

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