Government 2.0 Steering Group update: December 2010

Peter Alexander - AGIMO
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As regular readers of this blog would know, the Government 2.0 Steering Group is the body appointed to oversee the implementation of the Government’s response to the Government 2.0 Taskforce. In a previous post, we provided an introduction to the Steering Group and published summaries of its first three meetings.

The Steering Group has met twice since that post was published. A third meeting was cancelled due to unavoidable scheduling difficulties.  Several of the Steering Group agencies have also appointed different representatives to the Group:

  • The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet: Ms Philippa Lynch has replaced Dr Wendy Southern;
  • The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner: Ms Rachael Spalding has replaced Professor John McMillan; and
  • The Attorney-General’s Department: Ms Hilary Russell has replaced Mr Kim Duggan.

The Steering Group has considered a range of issues in its past few meetings, including the progress of the Government 2.0 Work Plan, the Government 2.0 govdex community, the Government 2.0 Primer and the new freedom of information requirements as of November 2011.

Summaries of those meetings are available here on the blog in RTF (70k) and PDF (334k). We have also published the November 2010 Government 2.0 Work Plan update in RTF (195k) and PDF (367k), showing the progress of the various work items arising from the Government’s response to the Government 2.0 Taskforce.

The Steering Group’s next meeting is scheduled for February 2011. We look forward to providing an update on our activities after that point and welcome any feedback or questions you may have about the Steering Group.

Comments (3)

During 2010 a number of posts across a wide range of sites dealt with the blocking of social media services in public service departments. One thing that did strike me was the lack of consistency. Many block Face book, some Twitter and others Yammer for example. While still others are far more open - which is great.

I have been looking at this issue for some time and, like many others, have come to the conclusion that this is yet another indication of risk aversion. In general terms, a problem of organisational culture. However, I think we can be more specific that that.

Let's look at this from an IT security perspective. (Distilled from my many conversations). My comments appear as dot points.

Claim: Typically, with all of these services user generated content is held on the servers of the the service provider and is not considered secure as the internet is not secure.

Does this really matter? Are public servants likely to 'do the wrong thing' for all to see? Why would this reason apply to services where access is, for example, restricted by domain name?

Claim: Most of these services allow people to post items (read comment) and upload files.

Wow! Isn't that the point? Should this really be of concern where access is restricted by domain name? Would people really put up material that was inappropriate in the full view of hundreds, if not thousands of their peers? Certainly we should exercise due care and diligence, however the fact of the matter is that files can be obtained and misused in the physical world.

The real challenge here is to gain clarity about what is or is not appropriate. This conversation needs to be had with staff and management and not driven by simplistic, outdated and distorted perceptions.

Claim: Posts and uploaded files could be read by service providers or their affiliates.

Where a service is completely open because that is the need, so what. Where access to a service is restricted by domain name or some other permissions is it really being suggested that, for example, services like Yammer are going to trash their own reputation by accessing posts and uploaded files?

Also, let's have a dose of reality here. If any comment or uploaded files reveal private information about an individual or are clearly top secret for example, then obviously they should not be posted for all to see. However, just because someone does not want something posted because of misperception, a sense of embarrassment (or because they feel their authority is being challenged) is hardly grounds for objecting to any posts or uploaded files.

The core problem again is a lack of clarity coupled with, I suspect, the over classification of information. In some instances this may be accidental, but in others symptomatic of severe risk aversion if not a desire to keep a lid on what people may say. The latter really being about influence and power. The cost? A lack of transparency for a start.

I'm quite sure many of you out there have heard a thousand different iterations of the above. Feel free to share.

Sure IT security is important, but the exaggeration of risk - either consciously or unconciously is hardly a sustainable approach. Especially, where it is driven by the over classification of information for reasons that have nothing to do with security whatsoever. Language such as perceived risk, perceived legitimacy, potential risk, potential reputational damage, unauthorised communication channel are significant cultural markers that effectively send a very simple message. To wit. 'Shut up, you could get in trouble'.

However, all of this is extremely problematic for Innovation, Public Service reform and, indeed, the entire Gov 2.0 agenda.

The other aspect of this issue I have noticed is that there is a tendency to view social media technologies and services as new, a fad or just another communication channel. The fact of the matter is that these technologies and services are not new and are not channels for talking at people. These technologies and services are for people to talk and share information.

What does seem to vary in all this is the matter of the sanctioning of decisions to (let's call it what it is), ban these technologies and services. So far as I can tell this varies. In some instances the sanction comes IT security areas themselves, in others from risk areas and in others intranet management areas. I'm quite should there are more variations on this around the place.

What I have noticed is an increasing degree of pessimism due to the contrast between what is said in relation to Gov 2.0 and the actions people encounter. In my view conversation and a bit of push back is what is needed. Over classifying information helps perpetuate a cultural that is about anything but transparency and engagement (staff and citizen).

Now how good would it be to deal with this problem in 2011?

Originally posted on OZloop

The public service in a Wikileaks world

Recently, I spent some time exploring the work of Wikileaks, the ideas of Julian Assange and identify the implications for the public service.

The impact of social media technologies, the changing expectations of citizens, as well as attempts to reform the Australian Public Service and implement the Gov 2.0 initiatives, are consistent with the ideas of Julian Assange and the actions of Wikileaks.

All of these initiatives and phenomena are leading us to a point where what is needed is a public service renaissance (not just reform), in order to create an environment where the large scale open and the enlightened use of information is the norm.

Failure to grasp the metal on these issues will only serve to disappoint and alienate citizens at the very time they feel empowered and emboldened. Hence, what is required now is concerted action to bring the promise of Gov 2.0 and the potential of authentic engagement to life within all Australian Public Service agencies. In short, a renaissance from the ground up.

This exercise started life a a series of posted on OZloop. It has been a bit of a journey and what I have now done is compile the orginal posts into a more formal paper and taken the ideas further in terms of APS Reform.

The paper is available in a range of formats on Zloop. I hope it sparks some discussion and is of use to people active in the Gov 2.0 and APS Reform space. I will be making the paper available in a range of places.

The public service in a Wikileaks world

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Last updated: 28 July 2016