Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Australian Government 2.0

In May 2008 the Minister for Finance and Deregulation, Lindsay Tanner, talked about applying Web 2.0 to government processes in a "Keynote Address to the e-Government Forum". He is more recently reported to have said the government would trial online public consultation through web 2.0 technology ("Tanner eyes web 2.0 tools", Karen Dearne, The Australian, November 04, 2008). AGIMO, which is in the Minister's portfolio, released a report on this in June:
The convergence of broadband and Web 2.0 technologies is transforming the way people use the internet to communicate and interact. As people embrace the interactive internet they expect to be able to interact with the Australian Government (the Government) using these new technologies. The increasing use of information and communication technology (ICT) to enhance government service delivery provides opportunities for agencies to engage and involve citizens and communities in new ways.

While traditional ways of engaging will continue, agencies are exploring online approaches for involving the community. To assist development in this area, the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO), a business group of the Department of Finance and Deregulation, conducted a public consultation on the proposed development and functionality of an Australian Government Consultation Blog.

The consultation sought the public's view on online consultations and aimed to identify the public's reaction to the concept of online consultation and whether people were interested in participating in such consultations. It also explored the motivational factors for participation and asked the public about general expectations of online consultations with government.

The consultation was conducted in three phases; a public discussion paper, focus groups and an online survey. The consultation was also discussed in popular Australian blogs.

In all three phases of the consultation there was overwhelming support for the concept of a Government consultation blog and discussion forum. Respondents expected that online consultations should form a part of the Government's policy consultation process. However, when it came to actually participating in a Government forum, there was evidence to suggest that people who are not already engaged in online and political discussions would not actually participate. Respondents who had a positive interest in an Australian Government consultation forum indicated they would read and contribute to a blog.

Respondents provided a range of opinions on registration, moderation, the functionality of an online consultation website and privacy and security. The topic of moderation attracted the most debate amongst respondents. While the principle of automatically scanning comments for offensive language, and removing it automatically, was supported by the majority of respondents, many respondents rejected attempts to censor fringe but substantive opinions, however they were expressed. Respondents were enthusiastic about real time 'web chats' with Ministers, where people could pose questions and see them answered online. The idea of direct and immediate interaction with the top decision makers was of high importance to respondents.

Generally the public consultation indicated support for the development of a government online consultation web space that includes blogs, online discussion forums and details of public consultations. The findings suggested ways that the Government could encourage the public's participation in online consultations. Respondents said they would be more likely to participate in government consultations if:
  • the discussion topic were relevant to their personal circumstances;
  • they had the opportunity to nominate the topics for discussion;
  • discussion forums included the participation of Government officials;
  • a range of registration options were available;
  • the site was well designed, easy to find and use;
  • participants were free to express their opinion without censorship; and
  • it were unbiased in its operation.

ONE: To foster greater citizen participation in government policy making, the Australian Government should consider establishing an Australian Government online consultation forum, to complement existing forms of community consultation. It should:
  • be accessible from a single online entry point -; and
  • progress in a phased approach with a few initiatives as a trial of the proposed functionality and to test and address some of the issues around registrations, participation and moderation.
TWO: Following an initial trial period, the Australian Government consultation forum should evaluate citizen and government participation and usage and, if appropriate, consider progressing to an interactive consultation forum. The interactive forum should:
  • include a range of consultation mechanisms like blogs to generate ideas to inform the shaping of public policy and discussion forums to generate discussion around specific topics;
  • include the ability for users to suggest topics for discussion;
  • be easy to find and use and be comparable, in functionality, to existing online forums;
  • include mechanisms that acknowledge contributions, allow users to rate other comments and provide email alerts of upcoming consultations;
  • include policies for acceptable use, registration, participation, privacy and moderation guidelines; and
  • include a feedback and evaluation section for users, both the community and government, to allow users to shape the site and for the continued improvement of the consultation forum. ...
From: Executive Summary, Consulting with Government - online, Australian Government Information Management Office, June 2008
Unfortunately AGIMO released the report as 2.3 MB PDF and 138 KB RTF files. There was no easy to read web version, thus reducing the credibility of much of what the report said.

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