At the end of last year, when several countries issued their open government initiatives, I was quite impressed with the advice provided by the report of Government 2.0 Taskforce to the Australian federal government.
On May 3, the Australian government published its official response to the report, where it accepts most of the recommendations, setting the Australian government 2.0 for an ambitious, albeit late start. .
The Government 2.0 Taskforce report stated that:
Accompanying the Government’s announcement of its policy response to this report, a declaration of open government should be made at the highest level, stating that:
- using technology to increase citizen engagement and collaboration in making policy and providing service will help achieve a more consultative, participatory and transparent government
- public sector information is a national resource and that releasing as much of it on as permissive terms as possible will maximise its economic and social value to Australians and reinforce its contribution to a healthy democracy
- online engagement by public servants, involving robust professional discussion as part of their duties or as private citizens, benefits their agencies, their professional development, those with whom they are engaged and the Australian public. This engagement should be enabled and encouraged.
The fulfilment of the above at all levels of government is integral to the Government’s objectives including public sector reform, innovation and using the national investment in broadband to achieve an informed, connected and democratic community
The most interesting aspect of this suggestion, which sets it apart from most similar documents, is putting together citizen engagement, open government data and online engagement of public employees (see previous post on gov 2.0 asymmetry).
The Australian government’s response says:
The Australian Government is committed to the principles of openness and transparency in Government, and a Declaration of Open Government is an important affirmation of leadership in these principles. A Declaration, in conjunction with the Australian Government’s proposed reforms to the Freedom of Information Act 1982, will also assist in driving a pro-disclosure culture across government. Accordingly, the Australian Government will draft a Declaration of Open Government for presentation to the Parliament, and through it, to the Australian people.
This does not really focus on the third aspect, i.e. online engagement by public servants. However, when responding to a related recommendation from the report about the engagement of public employees,
4.3 The default position in agencies should be that employees are encouraged and enabled to engage online. Agencies should support employee enablement by providing access to tools and addressing internal technical and policy barriers.
the government response is
AGREED. Finance, in consultation with the APSC and agencies, will lead implementation of the development of guidance to improve online engagement.
It is incumbent on the senior APS leadership to ensure that top-down change is enabled in agencies, and that APS employees are genuinely encouraged and empowered to engage online within their agency-specific context.
The cost of agency change required to address internal technical and policy barriers will be the responsibility of agencies to absorb as part of their business-as-usual activities.
Finance will create an online forum to assist agencies to record their initiatives and lessons learned
which looks like quite an endorsement. Also the fact that the cost of addressing changes is left with each agency is a good thing, as it will clearly direct agencies toward using Gov 2.0 approaches wisely and where they can maximize impact on their core mission (see related post).
But they go even further. As the report suggests that
4.4 Agencies should support employee-initiated, innovative Government 2.0-based proposals that create, or support, greater engagement and participation with their customers, citizens and/or communities of interest in different aspects of the agency’s work. They should create a culture that gives their staff an opportunity to experiment and develop new opportunities for engagement from their own initiative, rewarding those especially who create new engagement/participation tools or methods that can quickly be absorbed into the mainstream practice that lifts the performance of the department or agency.
the government response is quite clear and supportive:
AGREED. Implementation of this recommendation should lead to a better understanding between government and citizens, with opportunities for innovation and improved service delivery.
Australian Government agencies should therefore enable a culture that gives their staff opportunity to experiment and develop new opportunities for online engagement.
Agencies may wish to develop internal incentive mechanisms – in addition to the Government 2.0 awards proposed at recommendation 5 of the Report – to encourage employee innovation and online engagement.
Agencies should also ensure that a broad range of stakeholder groups are considered for engagement online, for example, a health practitioner’s blog providing feedback on Medicare procedures, in addition to citizen’s blog on proposed improvements to the claims’ process.
Now, take a closer look at the not-so.small prints in the government response:
- It is incumbent on the senior APS leadership to ensure that top-down change is enabled in agencies, and that APS employees are genuinely encouraged and empowered to engage online within their agency-specific context.
- Agencies should also ensure that a broad range of stakeholder groups are considered for engagement online, for example, a health practitioner’s blog providing feedback on Medicare procedures, in addition to citizen’s blog on proposed improvements to the claims’ process.
The first paragraph is about putting employees at the center, while the second paragraph is about recognizing the relevance of existing communities, as opposed to just building the government’s own: an almost ideal example of citizen-driven, employee-centric government.
Ironically, as the Government 2.0 Taskforce report was issued shortly after the US Open Government Directive in December and showed much greater promise, now the Australian government’s response appears less than one month after the issuance of the many open government plans by US federal agencies. US initiatives are clearly skewed toward government being in control of where the dialogue takes place (through mechanisms such as IdeaScale and now FedSpace), while the Australians seem to take the dialogue where it is most effective, i.e. between employees and citizens and on government as well as non-government turf.
Of course we still have to see how the final declaration and plans will look like, but if the Aussies walk the talk, they have a very good chance to be the real leaders in the Gov 2.0 / Open Government race.