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Australia Sets a New Benchmark for Open Government

By Andrea Di Maio | July 16, 2010 | 0 Comments

web 2.0 in government

Further to the work done in the later part of 2009 by its government 2.0 taskforce and the acceptance of its recommendations, the Australian government has finally issued its own declaration of open government, as the taskforce had actually recommended.

For Australia open government is based on a culture of engagement, built on better access to and use of government held information and sustained by the innovative use of technology.

The declaration emphasizes that the purpose of citizen collaboration is to “enhance government processes and outcomes sought“. This is a very important point, as the focus on improving government services and operations is stronger here than in open government plans elsewhere, which tend to be more oriented toward the impact on citizens. The fact that the term “processes” comes before “outcomes” is revealing: far from being inward focused, the declaration recognizes that, in order to have a sustainable impact, open government must change government from the inside.

When mentioning the means to achieve this, the declaration asks agencies to “reduce barriers to online engagement, undertake social networking, crowd sourcing, and online collaboration projects and support online engagement by employees“. The Australian government recognizes that engagement is bi-directional, and takes place only if citizens and employees engage among themselves and with each other. The sentence above does not contain the word “citizens” but does contain the word “employees”. This is of historical proportions, as for the first time a large government recognizes that the engine of engagement and transformation is its workforce.

But the declaration goes even further, by requiring agencies “to develop policies that support employee-initiated, innovative government 2.0-based proposals“. Another powerful statement to recognize that open government is an organic, bottom-up process, and must tap into the creativity of employees.

After setting these tenets, the declaration states its key principles: informing, engaging, participating, which respectively match transparency, collaboration and participation in the US Open Government Directive. Despite the similarities, the Australian declaration is far more powerful than the American one, as it sets purpose and context around the machinery of government and puts its center of gravity on employees rather than citizens.

Finally, the declaration lists a number of support initiatives, and says that the Department of Finance and Deregulation will report annually on progress. At least at this stage there does not seem to be any intention to mandate open government plans and force agencies into the compliance mode that we have observed in the US as a consequence of the OGD.

Reporting takes place through the Secretaries’ Information and Communications Technology Governance Board, which is has a non-IT composition, and this counterbalances the impression that the declaration contains too many references to technology.

All in all, this is a very thoughtful, well balanced declaration, which provides solid foundations for a successful implementation. It captures the essence of gov 2.0 as an employee-centric, viral phenomenon, which cannot be planned for but only enabled and nurtured. It is exemplary in its simplicity and rigor and should become the benchmark for any government, anywhere in the world, that is trying to articulate the basic tenets and principles of open government.

Of course there will be challenges to turn the declaration into action, but what it says sets the Australian federal government off to a good start.

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