The AGIMO Government 2.0 Primer: Government 2.0 Scenarios

Primer blog post >> Introduction >> Government 2.0 Scenarios

Note: the latest version of this document is available on the Web Guide.

There are a range of different scenarios where agencies could apply Government 2.0 approaches to their work. The scenarios discussed in this document include engaging with the public online, releasing government data online, and embracing open licensing as a way of encouraging online reuse of agency material.

Considering and planning these approaches, and determining how they can add value to existing business processes, may not initially be easy. Agencies’ early Government 2.0 efforts will constitute new work and consume resources as agencies and staff learn how to use and manage new tools and approaches to their activities. After that, the process of realising the ways Government 2.0 can benefit an agency and add value to their activities can be a part of their normal work.

A range of business scenarios to demonstrate where agencies can use Government 2.0 approaches and tools to deliver benefits are described below. Many of these are based on activities that are taking place in agencies today.

Government 2.0: it’s not just about the technology

Before describing some common Government 2.0 scenarios, it is important to note that Government 2.0 is not just about technology. It is easy to discuss Government 2.0 only in technical terms – using social media tools, talking with the public on the web, establishing agency presences on sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Sometimes it is easier to demonstrate the use and benefit of a particular technology or business improvement rather than a broad concept such as Government 2.0.

However, Government 2.0 is about more than just technology and tools. It is more accurate to say that Government 2.0 is about the use of tools to achieve a more open, transparent and consultative form of government. An agency’s focus in its Government 2.0 initiatives should not be on the specific tools being used but instead on the process of engaging with the public and making use of or otherwise addressing their feedback.

Inter- and intra-agency collaboration and sharing

Using online collaboration tools to facilitate communication between public servants can build internal capability within and between agencies. Examples of public sector collaborations using online tools may include:

  • A govdex community used to share documents and project reports between agencies working on a project. Run by Finance, govdex is the official Australian Government collaborative online workspace. As an example of its use, in enhancing australia.gov.au, Finance has used govdex extensively to share documents between stakeholders in different agencies.
  • A staff consultation blog or forum allowing staff to raise staffing matters and discuss them (rather than emailing all staff). Finance has used this approach with a staff consultative committee blog.
  • A wiki for inter- or intra-agency collaborations on policy and program reform and legislative drafting. Wiki functionality is available through govdex.
  • A library of official video and photos for use by staff in their work and shared between agencies.
  • Instant messaging or micro-blogging (or both) for quick question and answer discussions between staff. For example, Finance and the Treasury are trialling instant messaging between the two agencies.

Internal use of these tools is a major opportunity for agencies. It reduces the risk of adopting Web 2.0 tools by allowing staff to learn the structures and behaviours built into tools, as well as the cultural change and norms associated with using them, in an internal agency environment. However, it is important to note that deploying collaboration tools for internal projects does not reduce the need for an internal social media policy.

Policy consultation

In the past, public policy consultations were often the domain of mailed submissions and limited physical forums. Web 2.0 tools have opened up the potential for low cost and wide-scale online consultation. Web 2.0 as a channel for government to consult on policy development presents a new opportunity where consultations can be supplemented (although not replaced) by online engagement and participation.

There is an increasing use of blogs and other social media tools for public consultation in Australia. The Taskforce’s work from June to December 2009 (particularly its blog) presented a viable model for active consultation enhanced by an open, consultative engagement with the public using Government 2.0 approaches and Web 2.0 tools. Features of the Taskforce’s work included:

  • All messages from the consultation were posted outwards on a blog with open commenting models; participants were encouraged to contribute to the blog and input from across all views was encouraged.
  • External submissions to the consultation were published publicly and comment on these contributions encouraged; this made for robust debate and ensured that submissions were not fixed in time (as a paper submission would have been) but able to be changed and updated as debate and discussion moved opinion and thinking.
  • Draft reports were published early and updated with public comment encouraged on a paragraph by paragraph basis using Web 2.0 tools. This allowed the final reports to be the work not only of the authors, but also of the active community of contributors.
  • Third party providers were used to disseminate materials such as video from events or used as input streams in the case of Twitter comments and events such as Taskforce road shows.

The chair of the Government 2.0 Taskforce, Dr Nicholas Gruen, characterised this model of consultation using the term “Inquiries 2.0”, and made several blog posts on the topic. Dr Gruen’s suggested model elicited many comments and much online discussion. The overall message was that Inquiries 2.0 is a valid approach to policy consultation and modelling Government 2.0 behaviour. Since the Taskforce disbanded, similar approaches have been used in several other Australian Government consultations, such as the Australian Law Reform Commission’s Family Violence Inquiry.

Feedback on service delivery

Feedback from the public on agency services is one potential opportunity for Government 2.0 initiatives. There is the potential for agencies to be more responsive and open to public feedback about their services beyond contact centres, feedback forms and other traditional feedback mechanisms.

There may be scenarios where, with appropriate executive and/or ministerial approval, agencies could allow online feedback on their services to be exposed to the public. This could function in a similar fashion to commercial websites which allow users to contribute feedback and review the feedback of others. Such feedback mechanisms would allow people to see and learn from the experiences of other service users and could encourage agencies to address service delivery feedback.

This type of service delivery feedback should be done only after careful consideration, with prior approval at an appropriate level and when the strategies involved mesh tightly with existing client service and communications activities. This will, at least initially, require additional effort to ensure appropriate levels of responsiveness – without which this type of approach would be ill-advised. Another critical component of this approach will be allowing relevant staff and subject matter experts to engage and resolve issues directly for those they deal with; otherwise these channels simply become another part of the regular feedback process.

While client feedback online has been a part of Australian Government websites for some time, it is often closed or not exposed to the public. As such, there are few examples of open feedback arrangements in an Australian Government context. An example from overseas is the US Transport Safety Administration’s TSA Blog, which is used not only to communicate the work and business of TSA, but to receive and deal with criticism from people who wish to discuss their experience with TSA staff.

Service delivery feedback and two-way communications with clients on service delivery matters is likely to mean a multi-faceted approach, involving aspects in several online and offline channels including blogs, online communities such as Facebook and Twitter and industry or subject matter forums. One example is that Finance has received feedback about australia.gov.au via comment to senior managers’ Twitter accounts on issues that would normally be sent to regular feedback channels. These comments were responded to on Twitter and were well-received by the people who raised the issue.

Engaging online and evaluating feedback

Regardless of which of the above scenarios an agency’s Government 2.0 activities fall under, some Government online engagement initiatives will reach a large audience. A prime example is the Department of Health and Ageing’s Don't Turn A Night Out Into A Nightmare campaign, which has over 160,000 fans on Facebook. But many agencies may find that their own Government 2.0 activities are reaching an audience which is small but passionately interested in a given topic. This may prove challenging if existing measurements for success are based on quantitative rather than qualitative metrics.

As a qualitative measure, agencies may well find that they receive valuable input from a small group of contributors. This was seen during the life of the Taskforce blog, which between July and September 2009 attracted 821 comments from 240 individuals. Half of those comments came from just 20 people, and a quarter from just 5 people. Rather than being a shortcoming, however, the Taskforce’s experience proved that the quality of online participation is at least as important as the quantitative aspect.

The Taskforce managed to get useful input from this small but dedicated audience by opening up draft documents for public comment, which was then used to refine the final version. This approach resulted in around 100 comments each for the drafts of the Taskforce’s issues paper and final report. Since then, Finance has duplicated this approach on the AGIMO Blog by releasing a number of draft procurement documents, resulting in a relatively small but useful range of comments which have been used to finalise the documents and inform improvements to existing business processes. From this it appears that it is possible to get useful input from engaging with your audience and valuing their contribution, even if that audience is small.

As with any project, it is important to have appropriate metrics to evaluate outcomes. As per the above discussion, the metrics agencies use when evaluating their Government 2.0 efforts may not always be hard, quantitative indicators.

Publishing government data: why, where and how

The release of government data, also known as public sector information (PSI), is a fundamental part of Government 2.0, as it allows government data to be reused in economically and socially valuable ways. The Government 2.0 Taskforce stated that PSI:

...exists as a national asset. Internationally and nationally, there is a growing recognition of the extent to which PSI is a resource that should be managed like any other valuable resource — that is to optimise its economic and social value.

The Government accepted in principle recommendation 6 of the Government 2.0 Taskforce, which called for PSI to be made open, accessible and reusable. The Government’s commitment to these principles was reiterated in its Declaration of Open Government, which sets a clear direction for agencies to facilitate the wider release of PSI online.

As discussed in chapter 5 of the Taskforce report, open access to PSI involves ensuring that government data becomes part of the broader range of information available online which can be taken, reused and combined with other data in new and potentially valuable ways. Briefly, to paraphrase the Taskforce report and David Eaves’ “Three Laws of Open Government Data”, this means ensuring that government data is:

  • Available and findable online.
  • Structured in such a way that it can be taken and combined with other data.
  • Available under licensing conditions which allow it to be reused and republished.

While this process could have tangible benefits for the public, PSI should also be useful. Assessing the usefulness of data is a complicated and potentially costly issue. Many government datasets are clearly valuable, but the value of others may be difficult to determine. Indeed, the usefulness of some government data may not emerge until it has been released so that it can be examined and combined with other data.

The usefulness of a given dataset may depend on the way in which it is structured. The optimum format and distribution methods for a given dataset will vary according to the type of data, its size, how often it is updated, and how it is likely to be reused. Some specific points for agencies to consider could be to avoid the use of data formats that are dependent on proprietary software to open and interpret their datasets, and to use open, platform-independent, machine-consumable standards wherever possible. It is also important to note that human-readable documents (Word, RTF and PDF files) are unlikely to constitute a downloadable dataset.

Another important concern involves privacy, security, commercial-in-confidence and other issues which may arise through the release of government data. The Taskforce recommendations acknowledged that agencies will need to take these issues into account when releasing data, whether by modifying it to resolve the issue or withholding the data from public release.

The Tools section of this document also discusses the data.gov.au website as a way for agencies to ensure that the data they release is discoverable to the public.

Publishing PSI: a primer for APS employees wanting to release taxpayer-funded data for public consumption and use

Source: Department of Finance and Deregulation

This section describes some of the questions agencies may need to consider as part of the process of publishing PSI. While detailed discussion of some of the technical issues raised here is beyond the scope of this document, please forward any queries to gov2@finance.gov.au.

Discover:

Ask:

  • What data do we already have?
  • What data have we been asked for?
  • Is this data already public?

Then:

  • Find the data.
  • Consider Freedom of Information requests.
  • Examine existing publications.
Process:

Ask:

  • Are there security concerns?
  • Will this data impact on privacy?
  • Is this data at an appropriate level of aggregation?

Then:

  • Sanitise.
  • Anonymise.
  • Aggregate.
License:

Ask:

  • Do we own this data?
  • Do we have users’ permission to publish this data?
  • How should this data be able to be reused?

Then:

  • Choose a licence using GILF.
  • Negotiate with owners.
  • Remove 3rd-party data.
Publish:

Ask:

  • Should it be a dump, feed or API?
  • Is documentation and metadata required?
  • Is it published in an appropriate format?

Then:

  • Convert data format.
  • Describe and document.
  • Publish to agency site, existing repository and/or data.gov.au.
Open licensing: allowing more permissive use of government material without abandoning ownership

Creative Commons, one of the most well-known forms of open licences, was created in 2002 as a way of licensing material in a permissive, pre-approved manner, and includes a range of Australian-specific licences. The Government 2.0 Taskforce recommended that the Australian version of the Creative Commons BY or Attribution licence (the most permissive of the Creative Commons suite of licences) be adopted as the default standard for government data.

In response to this recommendation, in October 2010 the Attorney-General’s Department released an amended Statement of Intellectual Property Principles for Australian Government Agencies. The amended statement says that by default agencies should release PSI – defined in the Statement as “all materials which agencies are generally obliged to publish or otherwise allow free public access to” – under Creative Commons Attribution licences, and only consider more restrictive licensing options after going through a due diligence process on a case-by-case basis.

Using an open licence, such as a Creative Commons licence, does not mean abandoning ownership of content; nor does it require allowing content to be reused for any purpose. When an Australian Government agency uses a Creative Commons licence, for example, the Commonwealth still owns copyright in the material. The role of an open licence is to allow members of the public to take and reuse the content in new and useful ways without having to ask permission (which is often granted upon request under the existing crown copyright system).

In this way open licensing can allow the public to add value to government-funded data, for example by combining it with other data to create a mashup (see the Government 2.0 Taskforce’s MashupAustralia contest site for examples of this in action).

Finance has published a number of documents and websites under Creative Commons BY licences, which are discussed in the case study below. Creative Commons licences have also been used by several other agencies. Possibly the most notable example is the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which has been releasing data under Creative Commons for some years. Other agency uses of Creative Commons include DBCDE’s wiki from its Realising Our Broadband Future forum, its 2009-10 annual report and the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research’s Innovation Blog. In terms of smaller agencies, the Australian Institute of Marine Science has released its website under Creative Commons, and also published an explanation of why it adopted open licensing.

It is important to note that an open licence is by no means an unconditional licence. For example, there are Creative Commons licences available which ban commercial use of material or any derivative works which are made by modifying the material. Creative Commons licences can also be applied to only part of a work: for example, Finance’s material released under Creative Commons includes specific disclaimers stating that the Commonwealth Coat of Arms and certain other material does not fall under the same open licence as the rest of the material. This may be of use when agencies are releasing material to which they do not entirely own the copyright, or when a more permissive licence is not appropriate.

Case study – Finance’s use of Creative Commons licences

Following the work of the Taskforce, Finance prepared internal departmental advice discussing the benefits and steps involved in releasing material under Creative Commons. Finance views Creative Commons as a useful way to allow reuse of departmental publications and other material without losing the Department’s right to be attributed as the author of that material.

The Taskforce report was the first document published on the Finance website under Creative Commons. Since then, Finance has applied Creative Commons licences to other Government 2.0-related publications, including the Government’s response to the Taskforce report and the Government’s Declaration of Open Government.

Other Finance publications released under Creative Commons include the Web Accessibility National Transition Strategy, the 2009 Interacting with Government: Australians' use and satisfaction with e-government services survey and Parliamentarians’ Expenditure on Entitlements Paid By the Department of Finance and Deregulation July to December 2009. Finance also released the AGIMO Blog under Creative Commons, and changed the copyright statements of several existing Finance websites, most notably australia.gov.au and the Web Publishing Guide.

Finance played an important role in the release of the 2010-11 Budget Papers under Creative Commons. Other important Government financial documents released under Creative Commons include the joint Finance/Treasury document Pre-Election Economic and Fiscal Outlook 2010 and the 2010 Election Commitments Costings website.

Each blog created on Finance’s govspace blog-hosting service includes a template copyright statement using Creative Commons, which agencies can adopt or modify as they wish. Finance has also encouraged agencies to use Creative Commons for data released on the data.australia.gov.au beta website, and will continue to do so while further developing the site.

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Last updated: 09 October 2013