Blog post

Transparency is Never Enough: The Strange Case of Australia and OOXML

By Andrea Di Maio | January 19, 2011 | 5 Comments

open source in government

A few days ago the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) published its Whole-of-Government Common Operating Environment Policy. This policy mostly aims at greater standardization across the desktop environments to help contain costs.

This is certainly a worthwhile objective and, in all fairness, the policy provides a good balance between the need for standardization and the need for customization that agencies might have.

However, there is one potentially controversial statement, where the policy states (page 10) that

the Office Productivity Suite must support the Office Open XML file format as defined by ECMA-376

This can be read as a defeat for Open Document Format (ODF) supporters and more in general for all those who have been fighting hard against even considering OOXML as an open format.

Irrespective of whether they did a good choice or not, and of the fact the policy provides ground from deviations if well justified, what is interesting is that protests are emerging now, but they did not when AGIMO published a draft which was pretty close to the final version, including the OOXML orientation, back in July 2010.

Interestingly enough, they received no comment online, as they highlighted in a subsequent post on their blog. Now, reactions are already appearing on Twitter (see here and here), and I am sure there is much more to come.

What does this tell us about the present and future of online consultations? That they may not always add much value to institutional consultation performed through more traditional means, especially when they are limited to creating a consultation page and expecting that interesting parties find out about that. The alternative would be to actively seek for online places where interested stakeholders might be gathering, and post there the link to the consultation page or even engage in a discussion there.

AGIMO executives are doing that now, reacting to comments on Twitter. But this case shows that a different engagement approach is required much earlier in the process, if government organizations really want to get value out of social media.

Comments are closed


  • Even worse, the draft version in RTF format on their blog says “Must support the **Open Office** XML file format as defined by ECMA-376 and ISO/IEC 29500”. Funny how a word placed in the wrong place can change the meaning if you’re not paying attention.

  • Alorza says:

    I strongly agree. Participation must be designed. Well designed. Always.
    And the first place for the participation is the place where people is already involving in conversation. The right path is listen-link-share.

  • Alorza says:

    I strongly agree.

    Participation must be designed. Well designed. Always.

    And people is already on conversation in their own places. Government has to go to the places where people is talking. The right path is listen – link – share.

  • Rosie says:

    Issues such as the one raised in the article above are why I included Australian Federal, State & Local consultations to my database at

    I could not find another site which listed all public consultations in this manner, probably due to the many jurisdictions. Listing them on my database means people can search them by topic, location or the date by which submissions are due.

    The site also allows interested individuals to promote them using Twitter, Facebook and other social media. Anyone can add submissions to the database. I think this is the way to go in generating comment as has been found with the AGIMO case.

  • How can it be open when the code they’re running is only accessed by Microsoft’s own software. Only MS creates this supposedly open OOXML & the really big question relates to whether or not it works yet.

    The Government besides the choice itself is throwing a billion dollars or more per year down the toilet by choosing Microsoft & that money goes directly to the USA. If they chose Linux the only money paid would be in support & that would go to Australians working in the industry.

    Wake up idiots…