Yesterday the Government 2.0 Taskforce established by the Australian federal government has issues its draft report, which is available for 10 days for comments.
It is interesting that, although the Australian taskforce has started working later than its US equivalent, it has been able to publish its draft report a couple of days earlier (we are still waiting for the US “open government directive”, which should be finally unveiled later today). Their US colleagues did a high profile online consultation for a limited period of time, then reverting behind closed doors: on the other hand members of the Australian taskforce kept working in a very open fashion, exchanging their views through a very interesting blog.
The report clearly shows the maturity of their thinking. Alongside some unavoidable “government speak”, such as the need to appoint an agency as a lead and some ambiguity around records management (see below), this is an excellent call for action, which looks at all the relevant angles of government 2.0.
I particularly like the fact that, besides recommending to “improve guidance and require agencies to engage online”, the report “encourages public servants to engage online”. This is the first time that I read in a document like this an invitation to agencies to
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 aspect of the agency’s work.
But it goes further by inviting agencies to
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.
At last, employee-centricity is recognized as being pivotal to government 2.0 success.
The report also touches upon other, more “traditional” areas of government 2.0, such as the definition and role of public sector information, which others refer to as “open government data” and is covered in great detail.
It also breaks new ground in other areas, such as accessibility, where, while requiring compliance with W3C accessibility guideline as far as possible, it admits that
where an agency is considering a project where strict compliance with WCAG would unacceptably delay or prevent a project from proceeding, the Australian Government Information Management Office will provide guidance on options to facilitate maximum access to people with disabilities
Areas like security, privacy and confidentiality are touched upon but will require deeper coverage by the relevant agencies.
Records management is touched upon but there is an apparent contradiction. The text of the report says that
Other issues of social web services (third party sites) hosting government data include challenges in exporting data to comply with records management requirements and uncertainty over information ownership and retention over time. Under the property-based definition of Commonwealth Record in the Archives Act 1983287 any information created, managed and stored on third party sites in “The Cloud” may not be legally regarded as Commonwealth property nor, as such, as a Commonwealth record. In other words the Commonwealth is likely to have no control over, nor ownership of these records. They may be destroyed without warning and without the Commonwealth having any recourse. Legally, the public may have no right of access to these records under freedom of information or Archives legislation
which would suggest that records management does not apply to information posted on third party sites. On the other hand, the relevant recommendation says that
The Taskforce recommends that government agencies wishing to use third party sites for the purposes of collaboration, service delivery or information dissemination, ensure that copies of records so generated are retained in the possession of the Commonwealth such that they satisfy the definition of Commonwealth Record in the Archives Act 1983.
So, are those public records or are they not?
The other area that may be improved is the actual definition of government 2.0. The report uses the definition given by an Australian Google Group, i.e.
Government 2.0 is not specifically about social networking or technology . It represents a fundamental shift in the implementation of government – toward an open, collaborative, cooperative arrangement where there is (wherever possible) open consultation, open data, shared knowledge, mutual acknowledgment of expertise, mutual respect for shared values and an understanding of how to agree to disagree. Technology and social tools are an important part of this change but are essentially [just] an enabler in this process
While such definition is politically correct, I am not sure it captures the long term and deep impact of government 2.0 both in government business and IT. Of course I’d rather use our much more compact definition, i.e. Government 2.0 is the use of IT to socialize and commoditize government services, processes and data.
However these are minor pints in what happens to be the best piece of work I have seen any government organization (and most vendors and consultants) do about this topic. My comments above concerns some of the recommendations, but the whole report is worth reading, as it is a very accurate analysis of most of the issues at stake today.
I am looking forward to the US version, due in a bit more that an hour.
Full Disclosure: The report mentions some of my earlier research and I had a chance to discuss some of the recommendations with the Taskforce in the last weeks.