Gov 2.0: Where to begin – Part 2 of 3

Welcome to part two my this blog post. Part one covered some basic definitions for Web 2.0, Open Government and Government 2.0. Now to our next steps.

Learn from others’ success

“That some achieve great success, is proof to all that others can achieve it as well.” Abraham Lincoln

Look at the existing successes around the world, and the broader impact of these case studies. This will help you understand some basic strategies that may suit you and some ideas of the impact that may result. Below I’ve put four sets of examples I think we can learn a lot from.

Success in the UK

In the United Kingdom there has been a lot of work done to look at “Gov 2.0″ by the “Power of Information Taskforce“, which was established in 2008 based on a report completed in 2007 by Ed Mayo and Tom Steinberg called the ‘Power of Information review‘. The core aspects of the Taskforce recommendations include: helping people online where they seek help; innovate and co-create with citizens online; open up the policy dialogue online; reform geospatial data; modernise data publishing and reuse; and a modern capability.

The UK has a Minister for Digital Engagement, which has provided political leadership in this area. There are a series of Government 2.0 initiatives being undertaken under this portfolio. At this point the main initiatives appear to be around copyright reform and data accessibility, and their challenges in these areas are similar to Australia. They have gone through consultation and are now in the actual project phase of implementing digital engagement. Will Perrin (Secretary of the Power of Information Taskforce) wrote a very useful blog post about more collaborative policy development including a link to a draft white paper he is writing on the subject.

Success in the US

It is worth looking at how President Obama has used online tools. His first Memorandum in office was on this topic stating “The Memorandum calls for instilling three principles in the workings of government: Transparency – to enable greater accountability, efficiency, and economic opportunity by making government data and operations more open; Participation – to create early and effective opportunities to drive greater and more diverse expertise into government decision making; Collaboration – to generate new ideas for solving problems by fostering cooperation across government departments, across levels of government, and with the public“.

President Obama has also started a new initiative called “Open Government” to assess how to generally improve the transparency and openness of the United States Government. Also for many years in the US all non-private government data there has been released into the public domain which encourages massive public and private innovation with the data to the benefit of the economy and society. There is still a lot of work to do in the US in the rest of government and in government agencies. There is a good Gov 2.0 showcase available of US government agency case studies.

Success in Australia

There are some amazing individuals who have been pushing this barrow for years – with varying degrees of success – and have created some cutting edge Gov 2.0 initiatives.

At an agency level, there are many successes driven by passionate Web 2.0 and Gov 2.0 individuals which has been extremely beneficial to many projects and citizens. I’ll post some of these case studies soon. Unfortunately, often enough, champions of citizen-centric services and online engagement in the public service are unable to talk publicly about their successes, but that is another story. There are some useful examples of Gov 2.0 in the public sector in the recent Government 2.0 Public Sphere briefing paper which is still in draft. Hopefully the resulting list of Gov 2.0 case studies in the public sector can be published as a showcase of Australian successes.

We’ve also had a number of interesting cases in the Australian political sphere. Senator Lundy has been leading the way in online engagement with her constituents and the broader community through her website (she’s run her own website for over 13 years) and more recently her engagement on Twitter. The take-up of online tools by politicians has been slow, however this is beginning to change. Senator Lundy references some new approaches by politicians in the speech she delivered at CeBIT this year. Minister Tanner wrote an interesting book that relates nicely to this space called “Open Australia” in 1999.

You should try to connect with other people in government to share successes and learn from each other.

The long term success in the Open Source community

Finally, there are many lessons that can be learned from the Open Source community. The strategies of online engagement, public collaboration on projects, encouraging positive and constructive input, consultative decision-making and open and transparent processes have been very effectively used by the Open Source community for over 20 years. Here are a few examples:

  • Encouraging constructive public contributions – ensure there is a well-communicated tangible goal of the project to ensure everyone is heading in the right direction. Thus you can draw your community back from unconstructive behaviours. You also need to set the tone of the project. Whether it be some instructions on how you’d like them to participate or something as simple as a code of conduct, setting the tone will help keep the community constructive. Users will often self-regulate if there is clear direction on the goals and tone of the project.
  • Ensure people can easily find and then access whatever they need to contribute – the more barriers to entry (which may be anything from a non-disclosure agreement to buried information) the fewer participants you’ll get. You need great documentation for how to participate and to explain the philosophy of the project. Where possible, include people in the planning phases and decision making of your project so the process benefits from broader community input and also from people wanting to see it succeed due to the sense of personal contribution in the process.
  • Release early, release often – this idea is based on software code being released early in the development cycle, and as often as possible, as this makes it easier for other software developers to test and contribute to the project. From a Gov 2.0 perspective, this could be applied to any sort of online engagement from policy development to general communications. People would prefer to have access to the information in a way they can both access and hopefully contribute to than to wait for a potentially more perfect but slower response. The perceived perfect is the enemy of the good, particularly when it comes to establishing an open process.
  • Many eyes make all bugs shallow – basically the power of “crowdsourcing” as it is becoming known. Creating a discussion or a thing in the public eye and garnering the wisdom of the crowd by encouraging and empowering many participants.

Define your Government 2.0 success criteria

It’s important to consider early on what Government 2.0 means to you, both strategically and practically? What do you see as success criteria for a successful Gov 2.0 implementation? My big picture success criteria are around the three pillars described in the previous post, but you need to be clear on what it means to you while also being open to new ideas and potential opportunities.

Carefully evaluate your options

Ensure you know at all times what you want to achieve, the basic requirements you would like to meet, and the mandatory requirements you have to meet. You don’t want to jump into new shiny tools just to catch up. Rather you should have a well-considered Gov 2.0 strategy that includes how any new approaches fit into your workflow, how they are resourced and maintained, how they fit into your broader communication strategy, and how they best serve your users.

For instance, you need to consider how you best use existing social networking tools as part of your Gov 2.0 strategy. Twitter is great for three specific tasks: updates; for specific conversations; and for rapidly generating interest and ideas for a project or conference. It shouldn’t be used trivially however people do like to see the real person behind the Twitter account, so some personal insight is also of value. You do need to ensure you have transparency in who is actually posting.

In Senator Lundy’s office we use WordPress for the main website, which integrates with Twitter and has great social media plugins. We also use Twitter, FacebookYoutube, Vimeo and FlickR (soon to be added to the website). We are looking at some additional tools, but importantly, we are making sure everything is integrated to create a cohesive online presence. There is a lot of work in signing up and maintaining a number of online services, and dealing with them all independently of each other defeats some of the benefits.

You want to ensure that staff are able to communicate externally and have access to useful social networking sites (it helps them, helps you, and helps your users) but are also aware of what they should not discuss publicly.

Some vendors will be trying to entice you to put all your data into the “cloud”, but all of government has an obligation to ensure their data is stored within the Australian legal jurisdiction, which means offshore storage of government data is neither appropriate nor responsible. All of government is supposed to adhere to open standards for their data, and this is extremely important to ensure you can access your own data down the track, and to share data between different systems. Consider when evaluating your normal ICT systems how easy it would be to open up various processes or information which will hopefully help you avoid locking to systems that don’t facilitate your Gov 2.0 strategy.

Some ideas that are not current obligations include the consideration of how new systems will integrate with other systems, and what the exit cost of any new strategy is as part of the TCO analysis. Ensure you find expertise in this area to assist you.

Tomorrow will be the final post in this short three-part Gov 2.0 blog post including how to avoid the hype, finding useful resources and engaging with the community.

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5 Responses to Gov 2.0: Where to begin – Part 2 of 3

  1. Will says:

    Interesting topic. There is one thing I’d add (or maybe emphasise more as you allude to it at the end of your post); Open Standards. I guess I like your list of Open Source aphorisms and would add some others:

    – “Be liberal in what you accept, and conservative in what you send.” From a government 2.0 point of view I’d interpret this as meaning that government output should be well formatted and clearly written. It should be in formats that everyone can understand and use (open standards). When comments are accepted however, they shouldn’t be held to quite the same strict standards. Using twitter is great, but having information *only* available over twitter isn’t.

    – Standards have “multiple independent and interoperable implementations” (quote from the IETFs RFC2026). From a government 2.0 perspective, this is part of the definition of ‘conservative’ above. Something isn’t a conservative choice if there is only one supplier.

    Together there is a strong bias towards open standards in communication. That’s not to say that you could never use a closed standard (e.g. Twitter), but rather that someone using open standards should always have sufficient government access.

  2. There are lots of little bits I’d quibble with here, but the claims about Twitter really stand out. Come on! It’s not very good for specific conversations. When you used to see everybody’s replies, seeing only one side of a conversation was often incredibly intrusive. Now, it’s entirely invisible unless you happen to be following both people. And the comments are restricted in length to the point of removing anything other than the most banal thoughts. No subtlety at all. It’s also not very good for raising awareness except on really large issues. The problem is timeliness. One generally only receives things in Twitter when they’re seeing it go by and anything else is just lost in the stream. So awareness-raising (or trending, as the Kids 2.0 might call it) only happens for things that get mentioned over and over a long period of time, or else they have a brief lifespan and die. It’s not an archival medium. Compare to more useful things like syndicated feeds or blog comments or even (*shudder*) web forums, where the interested participant can read when they have a moment and respond similarly. Less demanding in the “feed me now” variety.

  3. greebo says:

    Hi Will, thanks for that, I completely agree. I referred to it briefly, but should have expanded it out more.

    Hi Malcolm. I think Twitter is good for only the three things I defined. I completely agree that it isn’t a good way to have a conversatino, but it does have its uses :) 140 characters doesn’t mean just banal thoughts. As someone who has trawled and analysed over 3000 Tweets, I can say there is a lot of wisdom that can be communicated, and there is significant value in the tone of feedback (in looking at community responses to ideas simultaneously presented such as the online video from the Public Sphere). I agree with you on the timeliness, and Twitter is useful only when you control the timeliness (such as the previous example).

    It is only one tool and serves a specific purpose which when used right can be very useful. It can also link to blogs and papers that deliver the more in depth thinking and description of a topic.

  4. Tel says:

    It would take a Minister of Digital Miracles to make Gordon Brown and the British Labour Party popular again in the near future. If the North Norwich by election was anything to judge by, their success in engagement doesn’t impress too many people.

    There’s a simple explanation to this. The people of the UK wanted a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty and their dear leaders wouldn’t give it to them. That’s why they are putting skinheads into the European Parliament, because there is no engagement with the present government, because the government is stubbornly not listening to its people. Very likely Lisbon will eventually get to referendum and very likely the UK will vote no. It doesn’t take any fancy website to figure that out, sticking a finger in the air is good enough.

    Communication requires someone to say something, and a medium to carry the message, and someone to listen at the other end. You might be making the best medium in the world, but with no one listening at the other end you still won’t have communication.

    • greebo says:

      Agree that communication needs to be two/multiple-way. I think that’s an ongoing challenge and it also involves people listening have a way to participate in the conversation.

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