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Engage: Getting on with Government 2.0

Chapter 7: Innovation and the taskforce experience

The terms of reference call for the taskforce to advise and assist the government to build a culture of online innovation within government. The preceding chapters explore the myriad ways in which Web 2.0 tools and approaches can bring innovation to government. However succeeding at innovation is not always straightforward. If it were it would be more common, both within firms and government. The taskforce also sought to model an innovative approach to Government 2.0 itself and records its experience here for what it is worth.

7.1: Inquiries 2.0

The taskforce’s terms of reference required it to consult ‘in an open and transparent manner and use online solutions for its engagement wherever possible’, something that was music to our ears. Particularly given the short time frame allowed us, we aimed to use Web 2.0 approaches to maximise the extent to which we could collaborate with the community which we helped build around us.

This model came to be called ‘Inquiries 2.0’ a concept that was proposed and developed in a series of blog posts and a speech.289 The central concept involved making things as interactive as possible and, to the maximum extent we felt possible, inviting the public into our work. The taskforce began by setting up the taskforce blog, which became the primary medium by which it interacted with the community. Social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter were also used, although they were less central to our activities.

The taskforce kicked off with a design competition for the taskforce logo. To emphasise the improvisational possibilities of Web 2.0, no prize was offered. This proved to be a controversial decision, with debate raging on both our own blog and elsewhere — for instance, on the popular political and cultural blog Larvatus Prodeo290 — about whether we were exploiting designers. Given that one of our major objectives was to encourage and honour voluntary collaboration in getting to Government 2.0, and given that many taskforce members were themselves participating without remuneration we remained comfortable about our chosen course.

In the upshot we were very pleased with the quality of the winning design from Ben Crothers, who is an active Web 2.0 practitioner.291 Ben described the ideas behind his design as follows: ‘The idea behind the circles is…conversations and interactions popping up around the country, with the “water pools” evoking “ripple effect”, harmonising with each other and rippling through each other. The colour implies variety, optimism and vitality’,292 a sentiment that is clear to many when they see the design. Ben was very pleased to have his work given the prominence we could give it and was kind enough to also design the cover of this report — again without charge.

The taskforce released Towards Government 2.0: An Issues Paper in draft form for comment on the blog for several days before its official release (and later released its draft report for ten days on the blog before issuing this final report). We also tried to establish a practice which might be called the principle of ‘minimum necessary direction’. Thus we tried to provide the community with direction which was as permissive as practicable and which yet met the need for us to meet a challenging schedule. Thus rather than indicate that comments on some document such as the issues paper or the draft report would not be accepted beyond a given deadline we provided a ‘soft deadline’ indicating that we would endeavour to, but could not promise to consider comments made after the relevant date.

This was part of a larger strategy of informality which is one of the cultural characteristics of Web 2.0. Those who are successful on Web 2.0 encourage the community to give of their best and this requires that the community be treated with respect. For this reason we did not follow existing template advice on setting up online consultation sites which suggested a long list of prohibitions and reminded readers of a blog not to defame or degrade others or to violate their privacy or commit any unlawful acts. Our blog adopted a single rule in its comments policy — ‘use your commonsense’. This was then supported by brief explanatory material. However this material was not in the form of a list of prohibited actions.

Our point was not just one of informality of manner. Such spare and yet straightforward instructions also invite reflection and individual responsibility, which itself helps to build the shared values of community. There was almost no need for comments on the blog to be moderated. There was no trolling — commenting to deliberately provoke others — or even of bad manners on the blog despite vigorous debate.

The taskforce initiated a process by which submissions would be effectively ‘comments enabled’, with each submission effectively constituting its own blog post, providing the author agreed. Intriguingly, simple things had not been considered until they were suggested by outsiders.

The Centre for Policy Development submission had also criticised the Henry Tax Review for the poor searchability of submissions on its website.293 The taskforce agreed with the criticism — which was also a criticism of its own intentions until it considered the submission. Having made these observations on its website without being sure how to solve the technical problems they raised, the taskforce secretariat came up with a solution within twenty four hours.

This highlights an important finding of our work. Publicly ‘outing’ problems tends to speed progress on them as everyone focuses on finding a speedy resolution. We were fortified in our own decision to discuss our problem openly on the blog because we thought it likely that if we could not solve the problem, others in the community would come forward with suggestions and help. In this regard ‘openness’ is not simply a matter of ethical or political hygiene within government. It is a powerful way to ensure that things get done quickly.

In the process of implementing this suggestion a further idea arose to build a Government 2.0 WordPress plugin which would automate the process by which someone might make a submission and consider a set of permissions regarding making their submission comments enabled and so on. If the taskforce could commence the job the plugin would be available for anyone anywhere in the world to use.

Further ideas were workshopped on the second ‘Inquiries 2.0’ blog post. While to our knowledge none of the plugins suggested have yet been built the post stands as a record of ideas. The Chair is also in discussions with RMIT University about building a Government 2.0 plugin for WordPress incorporating these ideas after the taskforce’s work has concluded.

Even in the short period of its existence, aspects of the taskforce’s modelling of Inquiries 2.0 proved infectious. Other inquires adopted aspects of our process without prompting from us. Thus the Management Advisory Committee project on Advancing Public Sector Innovation adopted ‘soft deadlines’ from the outset.294 Further the Henry Review into Taxation revised the way it was hosting submissions to improve their searchability.295

By using the tools and practices of Government 2.0 to start implementing this new method of running an inquiry, the taskforce not only articulated its vision and suggested some practical ways to accelerate Government 2.0, but was also able to illustrate what it might look like.

Inquiries 2.0 demonstrated many of the benefits that other jurisdictions have reported, including:

7.2: Failures and successes

As noted, the taskforce sought to use Government 2.0 approaches to inform its deliberations and to carry out its activities.

Some things could have been done better, and in many ways the process was an exploration of possibilities. Successes and failures began a chain of thinking and action about new ways of doing things, with not a few moments of regret that ‘obvious’ solutions had not been thought of earlier.

We were fairly criticised for not promoting our message sufficiently in the mainstream media. Our presence on Facebook was not well executed. We should have got some of our projects underway sooner. We were also unable to live up to our intention to provide three to four weeks for public consideration of our draft report. Problems with accessibility are outlined in a separate section.

Despite these shortcomings, in demonstrating the possibilities of an ‘Inquiries 2.0’ approach, the taskforce has provided a good model for those who wish to take it up for the future. We took great heart from the generous things said about our draft report by world leaders in the area such as Andrea Di Maio,296 Tom Watson,297 David Weinberger298 and Andrew McLaughlin.299

7.3: Web 2.0 tools used

7.3.1: Blog

Over the course of the taskforce’s lifespan, the blog hosted over 80 posts and over 1200 comments.300 Comments were post-moderated, that is, they appeared automatically unless they were caught in an automated ‘profanity and spam filter’. If this occurred, they were reviewed and released onto the blog if appropriate. However, moderation of comments was never a problem and the blog was a site for frank, friendly and respectful exchange of information and views, and for dialogue and debate.

7.3.2: Beta issues paper and draft report

The taskforce issues paper, Towards Government 2.0: An Issues Paper, was released on the blog site in beta. Later in the inquiry process a draft of the final report was also released in beta for public comment.

A consultation page was provided where people could attach comments to specific paragraphs of the beta issues paper and also the draft of this report. Submissions received in response to the issues paper were uploaded to the site.301 A number of submitters also agreed to have a comment field enabled on their submission, to allow people to comment on the ideas raised. The draft report attracted 88 comments on the consultation page and another 42 comments on the regular blog.

7.3.3: IdeaScale

IdeaScale is a collaborative tool used to gather ideas and allow people to vote on them. The taskforce employed IdeaScale to facilitate the running of contests, using it to provide a space for structured brainstorming, nomination of Government 2.0 innovators and voting on ideas.302

7.3.4: Internal communications

In response to some difficulties with the standard internal collaborative space GovDex the taskforce reviewed its operations and decided that since it was not deliberating on classified material it should migrate to Basecamp, a commercial collaborative tool.

The taskforce held fortnightly meetings with members from a number of different locations around the country. Most of these were held using Cisco’s high definition videoconferencing TelePresence system. As outlined in Box 20, this helped the taskforce save travel costs, carbon emissions and time.

Box 20: TelePresence: saving time, money and carbon

Much of the work of the taskforce has been conducted using Cisco’s TelePresence video conferencing and collaboration technology.303 As a relatively large group of 15 members and a secretariat team in Canberra, this allowed us to avoid the expense and other costs of face-to-face meetings and improve the productivity of our work over the life of the taskforce.

The Economics and Research team from Cisco’s global strategic consulting group, the Internet Business Solutions Group (IBSG), has estimated that, over the 6 months, the taskforce has saved $65,000 in travel costs, about 350 hours in time that would have been lost in travel and reduced our carbon footprint by about 14,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions. Calculations were based on a total of eight Telepresence meetings, removing the need to travel from Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide, which is where our members were based, to Canberra which is where our face-to-face meetings were held. We assumed standard return economy air fares and estimated the flying time based on published schedules. The carbon savings were calculated using the TRX Airline Carbon Emissions Calculator for Qantas flights. Carbon savings were net of the energy and carbon used by the TelePresence units themselves.

Although these are broad and fairly conservative estimates of the value of adopting a virtual platform like TelePresence, they indicate the potential benefits of more widespread use of these kinds of technologies. And the value should also take into account the ‘soft’ benefits including making it easier to manage a work-family balance and being able to schedule a more frequent program of meetings which improves the interaction across a group of this size.

7.3.5: Twitter

The taskforce issued 63 tweets through its Twitter account,304 had over 740 followers and followed 308 other Twitter users.305 The taskforce generally used the hashtag #gov2au in its tweets, although also made use of the #GovHack and #mashupaustralia tags when relevant to Taskforce initiatives.306 The taskforce used Twitter primarily as a broadcast medium to announce new initiatives and events, and often new posts on the taskforce blog. Several individual members of the taskforce and secretariat also had Twitter accounts of their own and sometimes ‘tweeted’ progress during community consultation events and taskforce meetings.

The #gov2au hashtag quickly became the hashtag of choice for people participating in the debate on Twitter. In all over the past 6 months there have been 3750 tweets using the #gov2au hashtag. While Twitter is not a platform for deeply argued debate, it is clear it was host to an active community that consistently considered Government 2.0 issues.

7.3.6: Facebook

The taskforce’s Facebook page307 had 110 fans.308 While the page was not open to comments from other Facebook users, it did include a message which said:

We’ve disabled posting on Facebook but not because we don’t want to listen to you. On the contrary, we welcome comments one and all so please help us by placing your comment on our blog at http://gov2.net.au/.

7.3.7: Independent conversations

While the taskforce continued to work in an open way, there were also conversations persisting that were not initiated by us, and sometimes did not even involve us. Some examples include:

7.3.8: Accessibility

Given its prominence as our main means of communication with the community we should have provided better accessibility on our blog.

While we did provide all taskforce-produced documents in many different formats, there were weaknesses on our site:

How would our own recommendations have performed for us?

The taskforce site had to be established quickly and had a very short time frame. We used third party tools (WordPress) which meant that it could be established in a matter of days rather than weeks or months. Using existing software was also very important to making the exercise a truly Web 2.0 one. Building special tools may have meant the site was delayed for several weeks and robbing us of a great deal of valuable community building, as well as credibility.

Following our own recommendations we would have created an accessibility statement and made this publicly available. This may have said:

7.4: The taskforce and PSI

7.4.1: MashupAustralia

Through its MashupAustralia contest the taskforce sought to provide a practical demonstration of how an open access approach to Australian PSI could be achieved and the benefits it can generate.309 The taskforce worked with 15 Australian Government agencies and, through the Online Communications Council’s Digital Economy Working Group, with state and territory governments to release over 50 datasets on licensing terms and in formats that permit and encourage use and reuse at the beta site data.australia.gov.au.310

7.4.2: GovHack

The taskforce’s GovHack event in Canberra was a weekend of intensive and creative activity as around 150 web-focussed designers, developers and other experts built web applications and mashups in a 24 hour period from 30 to 31 October 2009.

Entrants came up with new ways of creating valuable public services from existing public information and also enjoyed the opportunity to interact with some of the public servants who manage the datasets. The members of the winning GovHack team got on so well that each discovered just before the presentations that the other members of their team weren’t already good friends.

A summary of the MashupAustralia and GovHack contests is in Box 21.

Box 21: Hack, mash and innovate!

The taskforce invited web developers and designers to show why open access to Australian Government information is good for our economy and society by holding the MashupAustralia contest. Cash prizes of up to $10,000 were offered for ‘excellence in mashing’ and special prizes were offered for students and the ‘data transformation challenge’.

To support MashupAustralia, the experimental site data.australia.gov.au was launched to host the 68 datasets made available for the contest by federal and state agencies under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Australia (CC BY) licence. Datasets already available under CC BY or equivalent terms (such as the ABS catalogue) were also available to competitors.

One of the early lessons learnt was that most government datasets aren’t available in ‘mashable’ formats, so the taskforce added a ‘data transformation challenge’ to the contest to reward entrants who put in extra effort to enhance datasets or convert them from proprietary and Web 1.0 formats like CSV into formats which more readily facilitated transformation on Web 2.0 like RDF, XML, JSON and KML.

MashupAustralia was greeted with overwhelming support from the web community and this enthusiasm was also evident in the ‘hack’ events that were held in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra with the support of Google, Microsoft, Lonely Planet, OpenAustralia, CSIRO and others.

The taskforce also commissioned the organisers of the highly successful Web Directions Conferences to host a government-endorsed hack day in Canberra called GovHack at which over 100 developers collaborated on their mashups with support from international and local mentors, including hack day veterans Matthew Cashmore (Lonely Planet) and Tom Coates (Yahoo! US).

In addition to generating some high quality entries for MashupAustralia, GovHack also gave developers the opportunity to interact with some of the public servants who manage the datasets, and it was clear that there was much that these two communities can learn from each other.

In total over 82 entries were submitted for MashupAustralia, which is fantastic in a five-week timeframe and well on par with other mashup contests globally.

7.4.3: Creative Commons

The taskforce licensed its blog and the comments it elicited, its issues paper, draft and final reports under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Australia (CC BY) licences allowing free distribution, reuse and transformation of our work.

7.5: Other forms of public consultation

A total of eight open public forums were held around Australia in August and September 2009. The Open Forums were attended by over 250 people, with each event attended by the taskforce Chair and at least one other Taskforce member.

In conjunction with the Open Forum events, the taskforce ran a series of roundtable events in each capital city (with two held in Canberra). At each roundtable event individuals from the public and private sectors were invited to meet with the taskforce Chair and other Taskforce members to share their views on the issues and challenges of Government 2.0.

Additionally the taskforce invited other, more traditional submissions to the taskforce through letters from the taskforce Chair to senior bureaucrats, government committees and Ministers across Australian governments.

7.5.1: International Reference Group

The taskforce drew on the expertise of Web 2.0 practitioners who have successfully undertaken similar work internationally by inviting key people to participate in an International Reference Group (IRG).

IRG members were drawn from a range of sectors including government — from CIOs to archivists, academia, private and not-for-profit sectors as well as bloggers and people making innovative use of Web 2.0 platforms, coming from the UK, Europe, Canada, Singapore, the US and New Zealand.

A list of the IRG members is available online.311

7.5.2: Government 2.0 seed projects

The terms of reference stated that the taskforce should work with the public, private, cultural and not-for-profit sectors to fund and develop seed projects that demonstrate the potential of proactive information disclosure and digital engagement for government.

The taskforce funded 17 projects and a number of contests using a project fund of $2.45 million which was established in partnership with Microsoft.312 Project proposals were released for quote on the taskforce blog in three rounds of submissions, and proposals put forward included projects to research and report on particular elements of the Government 2.0 agenda. Consultants selected by the taskforce to undertake the projects were funded to look at issues ranging from enhancing the discoverability and accessibility of government information to exploring the use of social media for emergency management. A list of these projects is available at Appendix B.

7.5.3: Government 2.0 contests

7.5.3.1: Structured brainstorming

The first challenge that the taskforce set was to invite the community to suggest ideas and projects for the taskforce with the following question in mind, ‘how can the Government 2.0 Taskforce best meet its terms of reference?’ The taskforce offered a cash prize of $1,000 and the opportunity to put forward a project proposal based on the best brainstorming ideas. In response a total of 42 ideas were received, from which the taskforce selected two winning ideas, both of which were nominated by Brad Peterson — Government Gazettes in XML313 and Whole of government persistent URL resolver service.314

7.5.3.2: Nominate a Government 2.0 innovator

The taskforce then asked the community to nominate recent examples of excellence in Government 2.0 from government agencies and individuals in Australia. After considering 24 nominations from all levels and sectors of government, the taskforce recognised Government 2.0 champions in three different categories:315

The Government 2.0 champions will be invited to attend the eGovernment Forum and eGovernment awards316 dinner at CeBIT in 2010.

7.5.3.3: Suggest a dataset

The community was asked to suggest datasets that could be made available under the open access to PSI principle for the MashupAustralia contest.317 A total of 62 suggestions relating to government datasets were received, including proposals to improve access to government mapping applications, develop APIs for programmatic access to public datasets, release of historical and scientific image libraries, as well as local government registers.

7.5.4: Not-for-profit PSI project ideas

The taskforce initiated a contest in partnership with Connecting Up Australia318 inviting the community to develop ideas for using PSI in a not-for-profit setting, and offered a prize of $5,000 for a charity/not-for-profit organisation of the winner’s choice, along with assistance from Connecting Up Australia to further develop their idea.

The contest was heavily promoted to the not-for-profit sector by Connecting Up Australia, and a total of 70 ideas were submitted.

7.5.4.4: Accessibility makeover challenge

The taskforce launched its last contest, the Accessibility makeover challenge in October 2009. With the assistance of accessibility experts Media Access Australia (MAA),319 the community was invited to nominate government websites that have implemented Web 2.0 technologies and techniques for review. Four nominations were received and three of these — together with the taskforce’s own blog and the government’s social inclusion portal — were then posted on MAA’s AWARe320 website for two weeks to capture structured community feedback about their accessibility. Based on this feedback and MAA’s own expert assessments, MAA prepared ‘makeover action plans’ for the following five Web 2.0 websites to provide the relevant government agencies with recommendations for improving their accessibility:


Previous section: Chapter 6: Open government — policy enablers | Next section: Appendix A: Terms of reference


Footnotes
  1. See http://gov2.net.au/blog/2009/09/01/inquiries-2-0/ [External Site] or http://tinyurl.com/y9ffkxm [External Site], http://gov2.net.au/blog/2009/09/06/inquiries-2-0-part-2-0/ [External Site] or http://tinyurl.com/y9zbech [External Site], and http://gov2.net.au/blog/2009/10/23/inquiries-2-0-part-3-0/ [External Site] or http://tinyurl.com/ydzsgw6 [External Site]. Also see http://www.cebit.com.au/2009/conferences/gov-2/speakers/nicholas-gruen [External Site] or http://tinyurl.com/y9yttrz [External Site] for the speech.
  2. http://larvatusprodeo.net/2009/06/22/equal-pay-for-equal-work-unless-youre-creative-in-which-case-pride-is-enough/ [External Site] or http://tinyurl.com/mk83ra [External Site].
  3. http://gov2.net.au/blog/2009/07/10/congratulations-ben-crothers-designer-of-our-banner-and-logo/ [External Site] or http://tinyurl.com/yeko7hv [External Site].
  4. http://gov2.net.au/blog/2009/07/10/congratulations-ben-crothers-designer-of-our-banner-and-logo/ [External Site] or http://tinyurl.com/yeko7hv [External Site].
  5. Centre for Policy Development submission to Towards Government 2.0: An Issues Paper, p. 4, http://gov2.net.au/submissions/ [External Site].
  6. The Department of Innovation project to investigate how to advance innovation within and by the public sector under the auspices of the Management Advisory Committee has adopted a soft deadline for submissions http://www.innovation.gov.au/Section/Innovation/Pages/AdvancingPublicSectorInnovation.aspx [External Site] or http://tinyurl.com/nbx6jm [External Site].
  7. Australia’s Future Tax System Review (the Henry Review into Taxation) has improved the capacity of its site to assist people searching submissions. http://taxreview.treasury.gov.au/content/Content.aspx?doc=html/home.htm [External Site] or http://tinyurl.com/ylmyrm4 [External Site].
  8. ‘[T]he best piece of work I have seen any government organisation (and most vendors and consultants) do about this topic.’ http://blogs.gartner.com/andrea_dimaio/2009/12/08/australian-government-2-0-is-the-best-so-far/ [External Site] or http://tinyurl.com/yefxb72 [External Site].
  9. Former UK Minister for Transformational Government, UK, ‘This is a deeply impressive piece of work, very comprehensive with clear sign posting. The idea of info-philanthropy is an important point to make. A clear explanation of the serendipitous nature of knowledge sharing in networks is probably a global first for a government report.’, email to the chair.
  10. ‘Personally, I think the draft — from its principled overview to its broad areas of application — is a blueprint for democracies everywhere.’, http://www.hyperorg.com/blogger/2009/12/08/australian-government-2-0-taskforce-issues-draft/ [External Site] or http://tinyurl.com/yeyu98j [External Site].
  11. Deputy U.S. Chief Technology Officer, ‘Rowdy applause from the US White House Open Government Initiative. The draft report is an impressive piece of work, assembling a vast trove of good ideas and sound analysis. We will study and learn.’ http://gov2.net.au/blog/2009/12/07/draftreport/ [External Site] or http://tinyurl.com/y8a8ohu [External Site].
  12. As of 30 November 2009.
  13. http://gov2.net.au/submissions/ [External Site].
  14. http://gov2Taskforce.ideascale.com/ [External Site].
  15. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cisco_Telepresence [External Site].
  16. http://twitter.com/gov2Taskforce [External Site].
  17. As of 30 November 2009.
  18. On Twitter a hashtag is a small string of text preceded by a hash character which indicates that a tweet is relevant to some given topic. Hashtags are used as searching tools, so that a user can mark a tweet as falling under a given topic and search for tweets featuring hashtags which match their interests.
  19. http://www.facebook.com/Gov2TaskforceAustralia [External Site] or http://tinyurl.com/ylhzr58 [External Site].
  20. As of 30 November 2009.
  21. http://mashupaustralia.org/about/ [External Site].
  22. http://data.australia.gov.au/ [External Site].
  23. http://gov2.net.au/blog/2009/10/23/inquiries-2-0-part-3-0/#irg [External Site].
  24. The fund was provided by Microsoft and was made available to the taskforce for Government 2.0 projects and contests. Microsoft did not have a role in deciding which projects were funded but did manage the fund under the direction of the taskforce Chair.
  25. http://gov2taskforce.ideascale.com/a/dtd/16792-5361 [External Site].
  26. http://gov2taskforce.ideascale.com/a/dtd/15293-5361 [External Site].
  27. http://gov2taskforce.ideascale.com/a/dtd/14545-5361 [External Site].
  28. http://www.finance.gov.au/e-government/better-practice-and-collaboration/e-government-awards.html or http://tinyurl.com/yh2pqo3 [External Site].
  29. http://mashupaustralia.org/open-access-to-psi/ [External Site].
  30. http://www.connectingup.org/ [External Site].
  31. http://www.mediaaccess.org.au/ [External Site].
  32. http://www.aware.org.au/ [External Site].
  33. http://webcast.aph.gov.au/livebroadcasting/ [External Site].
  34. http://gov2.net.au [External Site].
  35. http://newspapers.nla.gov.au/ [External Site].
  36. http://www.pm.gov.au/Media_Centre/Multimedia [External Site].
  37. http://www.socialinclusion.gov.au/Pages/default.aspx [External Site].

Contact for information on this page: government2report@finance.gov.au


Copyright Notice

Notwithstanding the general copyright licence provided for on www.finance.gov.au, the Government 2.0 Taskforce’s report and associated material is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Australia licence [External Site] except where the copyright of others is cited.

The report should be attributed as the Government 2.0 Taskforce Report; the logo and front page graphic should be attributed to Ben Crothers of Catch Media.


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Last Modified: 12 February, 2010