Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Web 2.0 Education to Rescue Governments from Social Networking Chaos

Rob Obrien at Asia Pacific FutureGov asked if I would like to write 1400 words on how my new course "Electronic Document and Records Management" (COMP7420) could help Asian governments. So I thought I would draft it here:

Web 2.0 Education to Rescue Governments from Social Networking Chaos

WikiLeaks has shown the embarrassment which can be caused to government from the unauthorised release of electronic information. But it is not just the deliberate unauthorised release of information which can cause problems, there is also inadvertent release of information via social networking web sites. Government power is under threat from so-called Web 2.0 tools, taking on the role of coordinating discussion of community issues.

President Obahama has popularised the idea of using the Internet to inform and consult citizens with Whitehouse 2.0, using numerous social networking web sites, including Facebook and However, behind this seeming effortless announcements are public officials with years of practical experience of dealing with public communication online. These are rare skills in most government agencies.

Simply announcing that Facebook and Twitter will be used for communicating with citizens can lead to disastrous results, with many public officials discovering the dangers of making an ill considered remark online.

Also citizens soon tire of having government announcements simply thrust at them via social networking sites. These are supposed to be about two way communication and the citizens want to have a genuine say in what government does. Such demands can be threatening for public officials who are used to controlling the discussion.

A genuine public discussion of issues also requires information about what government knows and has done in the past. New governments tend to make grand announcements about "openness" but then quickly close off information access when they realise how difficult this can be to manage. But government are quickly realising that Internet access to information is difficult to control.

On 16 July 2010, Lindsay Tanner, Minister for Finance and Deregulation, in the Australian Government issued a Declaration of Open Government. This stated three key principles for informing citizens, engaging with citizens and making government more participative. To make this concrete, on on 1 November 2010 changes to Freedom of Information legislation came into force to provide greater access to government information and an Office of the Australian Information Commissioner was created to oversee this. In addition, the Intellectual Property Principles for Australian Government agencies were changed by the Attorney General's Department, 1 October 2010.

The Australian Government changes are closely bound up with concepts developed for, and promoted via, information technology. The new government IP principles call for the use of a Creative Commons licence, allowing citizens to freely use government information. FOI laws assume online access to government information. The first Freedom of Information Commissioner appointed is Dr James Popple an Adjunct Lecturer in the College of Engineering and Computer Science at the Australian National University, with expertise in artificial intelligence applied to the law.

Recognising the need for government staff to be familiar with information technology, the Australian National University has created a course on how the use of the Internet effects an organization's electronic document and records management strategy.

Electronic Document and Records Management (COMP7420), is being offered by the ANU from 14 February 2011. The six week course is conducted course entirely online via the web, with students able to take part from anywhere in the world. Online forums give students the opportunity to practice discussing complex issues in a safe, controlled environment.

Web 2.0 and social networking have created a demand for rapid access to information in commercial and not-for-profit organisations. Government 2.0 provides open access and greater involvement in the decision making of government. Smart phones and tablet computers using wireless networks allow mobile access to cloud computing resources world wide. This poses a challenge for organisations to provide access and input, while maintaining the security and integrity of records, and the privacy of personal information. Students can investigate how traditional records management techniques and document formats have been adapted to the Internet era.

The use of web technology for practical e-commerce and e-publishing applications is emphasised using case studies, standards and guidelines of real organisations. Emphasis is placed on the information needs of Australian government agencies, but is also applicable to the private sector. This course identifies the steps that can be taken to accelerate the uptake of electronic documents by government, in conjunction with small and medium-sized enterprises. It enables the participant to learn practical skills for incorporating e-commerce into their organisation. The focus is on document representation, knowledge discovery, storage and retrieval.

Course designer, Tom Worthington, previously headed an Australian Government committee which developed electronic document management policy for government agencies. He brings to the task decades of experience at dealing with complex legal, social and policy issues in an online environment.

Traditional courses assume the student will work on set exercises and then after graduation go out into the world. In this course students are encouraged to bring their day job into the virtual classroom. Students are asked to relate what they are studying to what they are doing in the workplace. Assignments are written from the point of view of the employer, with the intention that developed policies and strategies will be submitted to the student's supervisor.

1 comment:

Tom Worthington said...

Rob Obrien asked for more details:

The course will cover topics of information strategy, with management, policy formation and content publishing. Business change management will be looked at to see how business analysis can be used to get the proposed policy into practice. Systems development, with data analysis and repository design will be briefly covered, but this is a management course, not a technical one. A point often neglected is human factors in the usability evaluation of systems, to see the process really works, so this will be briefly covered.

We will start with the fundamentals of records management, metadata, information structures and electronic document formats. But then get on to the interesting part of Social Networking/Web 2.0/Gov 2.0 implementation in the business of Government.

The course uses state-of-the-art collaborative and mentored education techniques. The students are guided through a topic each week and hold groups discussions. They are encouraged to relate what they are learning to their own workplace. Individual feedback is provided to each student each week. These techniques have been used in the Green Information Technology Strategies course (COMP7310) of the Graduate Studies Select program at the Australian National University, for which the Australian Computer Society presented an education award.

The details of where the students work and what they talk about are confidential. But one of the common issues is integration of social networking technologies with the electronic records management systems installed in government agencies. A common system used in Australia is Trim. This was developed first for tracking paper files and later adapted to track electronic documents. But how well does this work for Tweets and Facebook discussions?