Blog post

Australian Government 2.0 Report is the Best So Far

By Andrea Di Maio | December 08, 2009 | 7 Comments

web 2.0 in government

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.

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  • Andrea, the reason the Google Group (I’m an admin of it) didn’t use a definition such as yours is that we specifically don’t believe Government 2.0 has anything specifically to do with IT and that, theoretically (but realistically, never in practice) everything about it could be done without IT solutions.

    All things 2.0, really, are about socialisation of activity in the sphere to which they are relevant. That’s not about IT. That’s about people.

    The IT is merely a piece of scaffolding or tool around which the socialisation occurs.

  • Jed says:

    Thanks for bringing this to my attention, Andrea. Just subscribed to the Government 2.0 taskforce blog.

    I agree wholeheartedly with Stephen, and I love the definition of all things 2.0 being about “socialisation of activity in the sphere to which they are relevant.”

    I’m frequently chagrined by questions about particular technologies or techniques in “2.0” strategy discussions. Tying a government 2.0 strategy to a particular technology or application of IT is bound to become obsolete—particularly when we’re discussing government service provision. Instead, I encourage people to focus on what won’t change:

    What do our constituents need from us? How can we give it to them? Can we do it better, faster, or more efficiently? Are we missing opportunities? Why? What can we learn from our constituents? What’s the best way to learn from them?

    It turns out that the Internet—particularly as more constituents leave their marks on it—is unparalleled in its power to help answer those questions; but again, I agree with Stephen that this shift in focus should not be the purview of IT specialists, but should be encouraged government-wide.

  • Thanks Andrea,

    Very kind words. The cheque is in the post 😉

    But seriously folks, it’s great to have feedback like this after a particularly hard slog in which at least some of us became exhausted!

    And it’s good that you’re also offering us constructive criticism.

    Regarding the definition of Government 2.0, a fresh pair of eyes we’ve brought on for the final report has proposed a bit of a rewrite which the subcommittee likes at this stage, but which the Taskforce hasn’t deliberated on as yet. If I get time I’ll raise this on our blog.

  • +1 for Stephen’s definition for [QEGT] 2.0. We need a definition tied to the outcomes and benefits we want to achieve, not the means or tactics we use to get there.

    As Martihn Linssen pointed out:

    After a while, means are being mistaken for goals. Then people start criticising the hype because their perception of it (it is a goal) doesn’t allow for a business case, or ROI. Then, the people who consider it to be just a means start redefining the meaning or even completely rebranding the initial term that has become tainted

    The same dilution is happening to “mash-up”.



  • Craig Thomler says:

    Hi Andrea,

    Good post, though like Steve I have major issues with the IT-centricity of Garyner’s Gov 2.0 definition and would argue against that approach in any organisation on the basis that it fundamentally misrepresents the Gov 2.0 area as an offshoot of eGovernment.

    From my discussions with colleagues practicing Gov 2.0 in other countries, they share the view that Gov 2.0 is about a fundamental shift in governance towards openness and transparency, leveraging the power and expertise of the community within government rather than keeping them outside.

    IT is merely a tool and many Gov 2.0 initiatives – both created within governments and by the community – employ very simple, cheap and pre-existing technologies. The ‘magic’ is in the change in mindset and paradigm that had led to these commodity ICT tools to be used in a different and community-centric manner.

    FYI – both Steve and I are Managers of the Australian Google Group you mentioned, which happens to be the Gov20Australia Group, including many practitioners in the area.

  • @Craig, Steve and Jed

    I appreciate that you dislike the reference to IT in our Gov 2.0 definition. I have two comments on this.

    The first one is that it is very unlikely anything embedded in the Australian definition could happen without technology. Let me re-iterate that definition, dropping any accessory reference to technology:

    “Government 2.0 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. ”

    I would argue that the above is neither new nor a fundamental shift. I am pretty sure that open, collaborative and cooperative arrangements have been established with civic organizations, third parties, voluntary groups in the past. Open consultations are not new either, and one could even argue that data covered by FOIA are open (in fact your definition does not say anything about timeliness or immediacy of access). Other terms, like shared knowledge, etc, are also a reality (or can be said to be so) in some cases.
    You may say that what makes gov 2.0 transformational is all the above altoghether. But if you discount the role of technology in dynamically blurring the boundaries between who produces and who consumes data, knowledge and services, and in doing so almost instantly and at a negligible cost, then I would argue that the shift would not happen,

    My second point is that what your definition is missing, and what I find absolutely peculiar to gov 2.0, is the combination of phenomena that mirror each other. Socialization and commoditization of data, processes and services impact both business and technology in government.
    Let me give you a few examples:
    – social networks complementing or replacing government channels,
    – crowdsourcing of government processes
    – mashup of government and non-government data
    – use of consumer tools (like Facebook or Gmail) by citizens as well as government employees,
    – seamless integration of personal and professional connections on social networks,
    – use of commodity cloud-based solutions to meet IT as well as horizontal business requirements (e.g. HR management, financial management, procurement),
    – socialization of some of those same horizontal business processes (e.g, crowdsourcing part of the procurement process),
    – use of consumer tools to support those same horizontal business processes (e.g. use of Linkedin to manage internal skills)

    What is key in government 2.0 is indeed the blurring of boundaries between roles, services, phases, data, processes. All this is critically enabled by technology (i.e. it would not be possible without IT).
    The elements that you highlight in your definition are just examples of mechanisms that support this blurring boundaries. What we have tried to do with ours is to get to the essence of what this transformation is about. And it is about ultimately blurring ALL boundaries between government and society, between employees and citizens, between service providers and service consumers (in business as well as in technology terms).

  • Excellent report! Discussing all the great issues at right time.