Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Government 2.0 Draft Report

The Government 2.0 Taskforce has released "Engage: Getting on with Government 2.0": draft report for comment (7 December 2009). Confusingly the report is released in two HTML versions (described as "HTML" and "Online") as well as Microsoft Word (1882k) and PDF (1138k, 159 A4 pages). The report is an unfortunate combination of hard to read bureaucratic writing and hard to read web formatting. The task force needs to work out on exactly what it is trying to say and then say it, briefly and clearly. Otherwise many of the good recommendations provided will never be seen by most readers. The ANU has asked me to prepare a course on "Electronic Data Management" (COMP7420 ) for servants in 2010 addressing many of these issues.

The report does not start well, with an esoteric heading "What's in a name?" and discussion of the meaning of the word word “engage”. The authors would have been better of with a clear and direct statement about the purpose of the report and its main recommendations.

The language of the report could be made a little clearer. For example:
"Note: The recommendation summaries appearing in this Executive Summary are arrbreviated from the recommendations appearing in the report. For the precise recommendations of the Taskforce see Section 2"
This seems to be saying that the summary is a summary, which is a tautology and that for details you need to see the document the summary was prepared from (which is another tautology).

Also each recommendation has been summarised. However, each reads as if it was a summary of all the recommendations. I suggest the report have one simple summary of recommendations, not one summary for each recommendation.

In addition I have suggested the taskforce consolidate the HTML versions, offering a web page which has the executive summary and table of contents of the report, with the rest of the report elsewhere. Also I suggested offering that first in the list, before Microsoft Word and PDF versions.

The reader will tend to pick the first option from the list. Most people will not want the whole report and will be happy with the summary. It would be a shame if they get a Mbyte of Microsoft Word they did not really want, before they realise their mistake.

The reports recommendations are groups into 18 categories, which is far too many. The first recommendation is described as "Central recommendation", presumably to indicate that it is most important. That need not have been stated as it is the first recommendation made and therefore the most important. A "Declaration of Open Government by the Australian Government" may have some symbolic value but will not be of practical use. In contrast the second recommendation contains a self contradiction and is worse than useless: it recommends that an existing agency should be appointed lead agency, but does not say which and the proposes coordination amongst a long shopping list of agencies.

The third recommendation "Improve guidance and require agencies to engage online" appears to already be under way with the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) having already issued some guidance and preparing more. The report seems to ignore AGIMO, which will cause further confusion within agencies.

Chapter 2: Recommendations

Central recommendation – A Declaration of Open Government by the Australian Government

Accompanying the Government’s announcement of its policy response to this report, the Australian Government should make a Declaration on Open Government, stating that:

  • Public sector information is a national resource and that releasing as much of it on as permissive terms as possible will maximise its economic, social value to Australians and reinforce its contribution to a healthy democracy;
  • Using technology to increase collaboration in making policy and providing service will help achieve a more consultative, participatory and transparent government;
  • Online engagement by public servants involving robust professional discussion, as part of their duties and/or as private citizens, benefits their agencies, their professional development, those with whom they are engaged and the Australian public. This engagement should be enabled and encouraged;
  • The fulfilment of the above at all levels of government is integral to the Government’s objectives including public sector reform, innovation and utilising the national investment in broadband to achieve an informed, connected and democratic community.

Recommendation 2 – Coordinate with leadership, guidance and support

An existing agency should be appointed lead agency with overall responsibility for Government 2.0 policy and advancing the Government 2.0 agenda providing leadership, guidance and support to agencies and public servants on Government 2.0 issues. Its work program should be developed in consultation with relevant agencies, for example:

  • The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet;
  • The proposed new Office of the Information Commissioner;
  • The Department of Finance and Deregulation;
  • The Australian Public Service Commission;
  • The National Archives of Australia;
  • The Australian Bureau of Statistics;
  • The Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy.

This is not to preclude the possibility of one of the listed agencies being or including the lead agency.

Recommendation 3 – Improve guidance and require agencies to engage online

To make government more consultative, participatory and transparent, the lead agency, in consultation with other relevant agencies, should issue and maintain guidance to improve the extent and quality of online engagement by agencies. Within the framework of this guidance, and in conjunction with the lead agency, all major agencies should:

  • Identify barriers within their organisation which inhibit online engagement and develop and explain what they will do to reduce these barriers within 12 months of the Government’s response to this report;
  • Within 12 months of the Government’s response to this report, each agency will identify specific projects to make use of social networking and ‘crowd sourcing’ tools and techniques to enhance agency policymaking, implementation and continuous improvement;
  • Within 12 months of the Government’s response to this report, each agency will identify specific projects to increase the use of online tools and platforms for internal collaboration within their agency and between agencies that they work with across the public sector;
  • The APSC to include in the annual State of the Service Report details of agencies’ progress in implementing the above recommendations, covering successes, disappointments and lessons learned.

Subject to security and privacy requirements, all public inquiries funded by the Australian Government should ensure that all submissions are posted online in a form that makes them searchable, easy to comment on and re-use. The Government 2.0 lead agency should encourage those conducting inquiries to use interactive media such as blogs to publicly discuss emerging lines of thought and issues of relevance.

Recommendation 4 – Encourage public servants to engage online

The Taskforce endorses the revised online engagement guidelines for public servants issued by the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) on 18 November 2009, including the declaration that Web 2.0 provides public servants with unprecedented opportunities to open up government decision making and implementation to contributions from the community. The Taskforce agrees that, consistent with APS Values and Code of Conduct, APS employees should be actively encouraged and empowered to engage online.

The APSC in consultation with the lead agency should regularly review online engagement guidelines, using Government 2.0 approaches to ensure the process is open and transparent. Agencies should support employee-initiated innovative Government 2.0-based proposals that create, or support, greater engagement and participation with their customers, citizens and/or communities of interest in different aspects of the agency’s work. They should create a culture that gives their staff an opportunity to experiment and develop new opportunities for engagement from their own initiative, rewarding those especially who create new engagement/participation tools or methods that can quickly be absorbed into the mainstream practice that lifts the performance of the department or agency.

The Government 2.0 lead agency should establish an online forum on which agencies can record their initiatives and lessons learned.

Recommendation 5 – Awards

In consultation with relevant agencies, the lead agency should establish awards for individual public servants and agencies that recognise outstanding practice in the use and impact of Government 2.0 tools to improve agency and program performance.

Recommendation 6 – Make Public Sector Information open, accessible and reusable

By default Public Sector Information (PSI) (The definition of PSI is introduced in Chapter 5 of this report. For ease of reference it is as follows: “information, including information products and services, generated, created, collected, processed, preserved, maintained, disseminated, or funded by or for the Government or public institutions, taking into account [relevant] legal requirements and restrictions”.) should be:

  • free (provided at no cost in the absence of substantial marginal costs);
  • based on open standards;
  • easily discoverable;
  • understandable (supported by metadata that will aid in the understanding the quality and interpretability of the information);
  • machine-readable (able to be easily shared by machines – see semantic web definition at Box 11); and
  • freely reusable (not having limitation on derivative uses).

PSI should be released as early as practicable and regularly updated to ensure its currency is maintained.

Consistent with the need for free and open re-use and adaptation, PSI released should be licensed under the Creative Commons BY standard as the default.

Use of more restrictive licensing arrangements should be reserved for special circumstances only, and such use is to be in accordance with general guidance or specific advice provided by the proposed new Office of the Information Commissioner.

Regarding the existing stock of PSI that has been brought into existence before the information management policies recommended in this report have been adopted, the proposed new Office of the Information Commissioner should, in consultation with relevant agencies, propose policies to government which would maximise the extent to which that stock of PSI was re-licensed Creative Commons BY whilst ensuring that this did not impose undue administrative burden on agencies. The Taskforce envisages that rules could be adopted whereby a large amount of PSI that has already been published – for instance government reports, legislation and records that are already accessible to the public – could be automatically designated Creative Commons BY, with other PSI being re-licensed Creative Commons BY on application with rights of appeal to the proposed new Information Commissioner function.

Where ownership of the data rests with the Commonwealth, data should be released under Creative Commons BY licence. Where ownership does not rest with the Commonwealth, or is shared with another party/ies, agencies are required to negotiate with the other party/s with the aim of ensuring its release under these arrangements and under Creative Commons BY. Where Agencies enter into any new contracts or agreements with a third party they should endeavour to include a clause clearly stating the Commonwealth's obligation to publish relevant data and that this be under a Creative Commons BY licence. (A consistent clause should be developed by Department of Finance and Deregulation and inserted as a standing requirement of all Commonwealth Contracts - similarly to that used to ensure access and reporting by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO).) This policy should become mandatory for all contracts signed by the Commonwealth after June 2011.

Copyright policy should be amended so that if published or unpublished works are covered by Crown copyright, the works should automatically be re-licensed under a Creative Commons BY licence at the time at which Commonwealth records become available for public access under the Archives Act 1983.

Any decision to withhold the release of PSI, other than where there is a legal obligation to withhold release, should only be made with the agreement of, or in conformity with policies endorsed by the proposed new Office of the Information Commissioner and consistent with the Government’s Freedom of Information policy, noting that:

  • In the case of structured data (any data kept in an electronic record, where each piece of information has an assigned format and meaning), agencies must exhaust options to protect privacy and confidentiality before seeking an exemption; and,
  • Agencies must proactively identify and release, without request, such data that might reasonably be considered as holding value to parties outside the Agency.

The Australian Government should engage other members of the Council of Australian Governments, to extend these principles into a National Information Policy agreed between all levels of Government, federal, state, territory and local.

In order to accelerate the adoption of Government 2.0, in addition to any distribution arrangements they wish to pursue, agencies should ensure that the PSI they release should be discoverable and accessible via a central portal (data.gov.au) containing details of the nature, format and release of the PSI.

Within a year of its establishment, the proposed new Office of the Information Commissioner, in consultation with the lead agency, should develop and agree a common methodology to inform Government on the social and economic value generated from published PSI.

The major agencies under the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997 (FMA Act) should use the common methodology to report their performance in the release of PSI in their annual reports, commencing from the first of the establishment of the proposed OIC.

The proposed new Information Commissioner function should annually publish a report outlining the contribution of each agency to the consolidated value of Commonwealth PSI, commencing in the first of the establishment of the proposed OIC. The report should be published on line and be accessible for comment and discussion.

Following Government acceptance of the initial Value of PSI Report, the proposed new Office of the Information Commissioner should consider the development of a ‘lite’ version of the common methodology for use by other FMA Act agencies.

The Taskforce notes the proposed changes to the Freedom of Information Amendment (Reform) Bill 2009 to have the Information Commissioner issue guidelines to support the future operations of the Act as described in the Explanatory Memorandum for Schedule 2, Section 8. To ensure a consistent implementation of PSI in relation to the Freedom of Information Act, these guidelines should give due consideration to the concepts outlined above.

Recommendation 7 – Addressing issues in the operation of copyright

Agencies should seek policy guidance or case by case guidance on the licensing of PSI either before its release or in administering licences after publication from the proposed new Office of the Information Commissioner.

The functions currently performed by the Commonwealth Copyright Administration (CCA) unit within the Attorney General’s Department (AGD) relating to pre- and post- licensing of copyright material be transferred to the proposed new Office of the Information Commissioner. Other administrative functions of the Commonwealth Copyright Administration (CCA) unit should be reviewed to identify which of the functions should remain within AGD and those that should transfer to the proposed new Office of the Information Commissioner.

An important category of PSI held by public collecting institutions is information for which the copyright is held by third parties who cannot be identified or located, i.e. ‘orphan works’. It is recommended that the Government, through the proposed new Information Commissioner function, examine the current state of copyright law with regard to orphan works (including s.200AB), with the aim of recommending amendments that would remove the practical restrictions that currently impede the use of such works.

Recommendation 8 – Security and Web 2.0

The Defence Signals Directorate (DSD) should provide guidance to agencies on the appropriate mitigation treatments that could be adopted to address concerns or exposures identified in relation to the use of social networking and related tools. This guidance is to take into consideration the different environments that agencies operate in, the varying risk profiles that exist and the range of tools that may be used. DSD should update the Information Security Manual (ISM) accordingly.

The lead agency, in conjunction with DSD, should develop a Better Practice Guide (or “how to guide”) to assist agencies in the effective, efficient and secure use of Web 2.0 tools and how to undertake associated risk assessment.

Sensitive and National Security data requires special consideration in the context of PSI. To ensure consistency between PSI arrangements in the future and the proposed changes to the FOI Act, the proposed new Office of the Information Commissioner should provide advice to agencies in relation to the treatment of PSI to enable its broadest possible release. Consistent with good practice, and the requirements of the Protective Security Manual (PSM), agencies must avoid the over classification of data so as to limit the need to review or pre-process data to enable its release.

Recommendation 9 – Privacy and Confidentiality

To protect the personal information of individuals included in PSI, the Privacy Commissioner should develop guidance on the de-identification of PSI before it is released. (The Privacy Act 1988 provides for the Privacy Commissioner to prepare and publish guidelines on privacy under s 27(1)(e). The Taskforce understands, however, that responsibility for this function would transfer to the Information Commissioner following proposed amendments to the Privacy Act and proposed new legislation to establish an Office of the Information Commissioner. In this event, responsibility for the preparation of guidance on de-identification of PSI as outlined in this recommendation should transfer to the Information Commissioner.)

To protect the commercial-in-confidence information of businesses included in PSI, the proposed new Office of the Information Commissioner should develop guidance on the de-identification of PSI before it is released.

Recommendation 10 – Definition of Commonwealth Record

The Taskforce recommends that Government agencies wishing to use third party sites for the purposes of collaboration, service delivery or information dissemination, ensure that copies of records so generated are retained in the possession of the Commonwealth such that they satisfy the definition of Commonwealth Record in the Archives Act 1983.

The Government review the property-based definition of Commonwealth Record in the Archives Act 1983, with a view to replacing it with a definition that defines Commonwealth records as ‘any information created or received by the Commonwealth in the course of performing Commonwealth business’.

To enable and assist the discovery, sharing and reuse of PSI, agencies should deploy endorsed metadata standards such as the AGLS Metadata Standard (AS 5044) together with whole-of-government taxonomies such as the Australian Government’s Interactive Functions Thesaurus (AGIFT) as outlined in the Australian Government’s Information Interoperability Framework.

Whenever not being able to meet such standards would appreciably delay the release of PSI, agencies should release non-compliant data until such time as they are able to comply with the standards.

Recommendation 11 – Information Publication Scheme

The Taskforce recommends that, in the development, management and implementation of a government information publication scheme, the proposed new Office of the Information Commissioner, once established, take regard of the findings and recommendations contained in the Taskforce Project report 7.

The Taskforce supports the model for the publication scheme set out in the Freedom of Information Amendment (Reform) Bill 2009 and notes that the Bill currently provides for the aims below. To reinforce its support, the Taskforce recommends information publication schemes be developed with the following explicit aims:

  • Provide an overall and consistent statutory framework for information publication by all agencies;
  • Encourage the widest disclosure of reliable and useful government information consistent with the public interest, and thereby greater trust in government;
  • Guide agencies in overcoming attitudinal, technological and legal barriers to optimal information disclosure and use, and to improved public engagement;
  • Provide a planning framework to assist agencies in their overall information management;
  • Provide an integrated and simplified guide for agencies to meet their information publication and reporting obligations;
  • Provide clear and understandable guidance to the public on their rights to, and methods of, accessing and using government information, leading to improved service delivery and public engagement in policy development;
  • Enable the proposed new Information Commissioner function to monitor schemes, and encourage agencies towards achieving government pro-disclosure objectives through reference to exemplars, and reporting of unsatisfactory progress.

Recommendation 12 – Encourage info-philanthropy

Because some of the most successful experiments in Government 2.0 have been fuelled by not-for-profits in leading countries such as the UK and the US, Australian policy-makers should minimise obstacles to info-philanthropy being treated as an eligible activity to qualify for deductible gift recipient and other forms of legal status which recognise charitable or philanthropic purposes.

Recommendation 13 – Accessibility

Significant cultural change is needed to enable greater support for the adoption of accessible Web 2.0 tools, collaboration and online community engagement activities, and PSI delivery projects. The Taskforce therefore recommends that:

  • Agency compliance with the Worldwide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as the minimum accessibility level for all online community engagement and online PSI provision is required. (This recommendation deliberately avoids specifying which version of WCAG is being referred to as a means of ensuring the recommendation refers to the most current version of the guidelines mandated by the Government.) Data provided on the primary PSI site, data.gov.au, should be provided in full compliance with WCAG;
  • Where an agency is considering a project where strict compliance with WCAG accessibility guidelines would unacceptably delay or prevent a project from proceeding, AGIMO will provide guidance on options to facilitate maximum access for people with disabilities;
    • In this case projects should only proceed with an online statement explaining site accessibility, together with an outline of where and why it does not meet a specific WCAG guideline, and what alternative options for accessible access were considered or are provided and plans for future compliance.
  • A central register of accessibility compliance statements should be maintained on data. gov.au;
  • In consultation with relevant agencies, the lead agency should establish awards for agencies that recognise outstanding practice in the accessible use and impact of Government 2.0 tools to improve agency interactions with citizens, business and community groups. ...
From: "Engage: Getting on with Government 2.0", draft report, Government 2.0 Taskforce , 7 December 2009

1 comment:

Craig Thomler said...

Hi Tom,

I agree tht the Taskforce's draft report is rough round the edges and could do with tightening.

However what you've missed is that here is a group that is practicing what it preaches - making a rough draft available, warts and all, for public comment before it is finalists into a polished work.

When we begin to employ Gov 2.0 to increase the openness and transparency of government processes it is inevitable that we'll begin seeing more rough drafts and incomplete works. This is an advantage rather than an issue as it allows the community to add value so that the final version is better, sleeker and more comprehensive than would be possible before!

Of course it will require that the community look beyond the formatting and sometimes clumsy word to see the true goals being ennounciated an comment on the substance rather than the style. This may be a hard leap for many who are used to only seeing polished final products, but one that will give them greater capability to inflence the outcomes.