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.