Can politicians embrace social computing in a way that is open, honest and truly participatory, rather than simply cynical bandwagon jumping? Was David Cameron, UK opposition leader wrong when he said that “too many tweets might make a twat“? It seems so.
The visit of Senator Kate Lundy to New Zealand, and the talk she gave to a packed room at Archives NZ on the evening of 26 August, proved, irrevocably, to me, that at least one politician is using social computing in a very powerful and authentic way.
Here’s what Kate had to say:
The ’3 Pillars of Open Government’ are:
- Citizen Centric Services
- Facilitating Innovation
- Open and Transparent Government
1. Citizen Centric Services
There are three tiers of government in Australia, local, state and federal. One of the big challenges is achieving an appropriate level of coordination between these three tiers, so you as a citizen you are not mired in the mesh of bureaucratic red tape. For example, even moving house and getting a new broadband connection can hit each of these three spheres.
How do we deploy geospatial data and geocoding data held by government? One site that demonstrates this is the Australian stimulus package projects and investments. where you can tap in your postcode and it will show you the projects in your area, how the money is being spent, and how the projects are going.
How do we engage citizens in the process of service delivery? The Australian Govt2.0 taskforce is the way the current government is codifying the potential uses of Web 2.0 technologies to facilitate citizen engagement. Government agencies are large bureaucracies that often act as silos. The Govt2.0 taskforce aims to provide input to Cabinet on a number of policy ideas that would never have come up from individual agencies, or even through a set of agencies working together. It includes a blend of both public and private sector leaders in digital innovation. The taskforce reports in December and has been asked to come to Cabinet with some excellent ideas that can be implemented immediately, and some examples of exciting things we can do in the future. The taskforce is focusing on showcasing innovations that are happening in the public sector and then can be emulated, mashed up and remixed. Kate said that “Unless we create environments where we can ask citizens how they want things done, we’re crippling our ability as a nation to innovate.”
2. Facilitating Innovation
The Govt2.0 methodology was designed as an example of facilitating innovation through digital technology. The core focus of facilitating innovation is about opening access to government data so both public and private institutions can build useful services and tools on top of it. This adds value to the datasets, as well as providing better ability for collaboration between the government and broader community. An example of this in action was the recent emergency management response and coordination in the Victorian bushfires in Australia.
Kate mentioned the report that’s just been released in NZ on the significant economic benefits of open access to spatial data. In a digital environment, technologies enable collaborations that provide economic benefit and can enhance the way government works. It’s about not being afraid of sharing.
3. Open and Transparent Government
All constituencies want greater accountability from Government.
Australia has made a decision at Cabinet level to change the default position of government in relation to public sector information. Government now will make everything publicly available unless there is a reason not to. There are still complexities and costs around the Freedom of Information Act, and these are a profound barrier. The policy statement from Cabinet however changes everything. A default position of openness is a great place to be. The time the most dynamic change is possible is during a change in government, and during a recession.
Australia has a reform of the Freedom of Information Act legislation underway in order to reduce the complexities and costs of information that would otherwise be publicly available. Their National Archives policies on openness have helped with this process. They also have an Information Commissioner Bill before parliament currently, Kate believes that this role will be quite central in guiding agencies to make their information more accessible in a digital environment.
She said “Open standards are absolutely critical, they are tax payers’ insurance against government project cost blowouts in the future.”
Kate made an interesting and important distinction between transparent and accessible government, and transparent and accountable politicians. The line between these is a bit blurry at the moment, and that conversation needs to be furthered at a public policy level. There is a need to separately understand agency public consultation through social computing technologies, and politicians using the same method to create more open conversation with their constituents. This will get very interesting when the advice politicians are getting from their agencies/officials conflicts with the advice they get from open, social computing enabled engagement with citizens.
I was hugely impressed by Senator Kate Lundy’s enthusiasm, passion, and belief in the viability of increasing openness in government. More on her innovative PublicSphere methods in a subsequent post.