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Engage: Getting on with Government 2.0

Chapter 1: What is Government 2.0?

Being truly citizen-centred means placing the citizen at the centre of the entire public service endeavour. This requires a meaningful commitment to actively engaging and empowering people at all points along the service delivery chain — from high-level program and policy formulation all the way to the point of service delivery, and capturing feedback from the users of services.

New technologies are bringing new opportunities to enhance feedback between service delivery and policy or program design areas. More than half of all Australians now interact with government using a variety of these technologies. A cultural shift among policy and service delivery agencies is needed for these opportunities to be fully exploited.

Discussion Paper, Reform of Australian Government Administration: Building the world’s best public service.34

1.1: Government 2.0 — The three pillars

Government 2.0 involves a public policy shift to create a culture of openness and transparency, where government is willing to engage with and listen to its citizens; and to make available the vast national resource of non-sensitive public sector information (PSI). Government 2.0 empowers citizens and public servants alike to directly collaborate in their own governance by harnessing the opportunities presented by technology.

The taskforce came to define its agenda for Government 2.0 in terms of three pillars:

Government 2.0 presents challenges to some long held government practices and has the potential to change the relationship between government and its citizens.

Figure 1: The three aspects of Government 2.0

A triangle is made up of three parts, indicating the three pillars of Government 2.0, at the top, Leadership, supported by Engagement and Open Access PSI.

Source: Government 2.0 Taskforce

1.2: Leadership, policy and governance to achieve culture change

Cultural change is at the heart of Government 2.0 and more important than the development of policy or the technical challenges of adopting new technologies.

Effective engagement with citizens will occur only where government agencies and public servants encourage their involvement — not just by inviting it, for there is no shortage of such invitations today, but by responding in ways that demonstrate their appreciation of public contributions. By grasping the potential of Government 2.0, governments can increase the effectiveness of policy making and take the opportunity to draw citizens into closer collaboration with them. Greater openness and transparency will mean that government is more exposed to public scrutiny and criticism. The benefits to be realised include improved access to new ideas and informed feedback.

Whole of government leadership is required to drive this transition. Government 2.0 must infuse the culture of public agencies and their operatives. It must become ‘the way we do things here’.

Government 2.0 is central to delivering on critical national objectives including the National Innovation Agenda,35 improving the quality, flexibility and innovative capability of the public service,36 and allowing us to make the most of the huge investment in broadband and other enabling infrastructure to make Australia a more connected democracy.

Chapter 5 discusses the taskforce’s findings and recommendations for Government 2.0 leadership.

1.3: The application of Web 2.0 collaborative tools and practices to the processes of government

Government 2.0 involves the application of Web 2.0 collaborative tools and practices to the processes of government. As they have outside of government, these tools and practices can increase productivity and efficiency. Yet this report is guided by the conviction that it can be much more than this. As Australia’s self-organised Government 2.0 Google Group puts it:

Government 2.0 is not specifically about social networking or technology … It represents a fundamental shift in the implementation of government — toward an open, collaborative, cooperative arrangement where there is (wherever possible) open consultation, open data, shared knowledge, mutual acknowledgment of expertise, mutual respect for shared values and an understanding of how to agree to disagree. Technology and social tools are an important part of this change but are essentially [just] an enabler in this process.37

Given that government should be inherently collective and collaborative, the potential of a Web 2.0-enabled approach to government is potentially transformative. It offers the opportunity to make representative democracy more responsive, participatory and informed. The incorporation of Web 2.0 technology into government engagement offers a unique opportunity to achieve more open, transparent, accountable and responsive government. Alternatives should continue to be provided for those not wishing or able to engage online.

1.3.1: What is Web 2.0?

Until recently activity on the internet was dominated by the website and email. This internet enabling broadcast, point to point and hub and spoke activity through websites is termed ‘Web 1.0’.

Within the community and the market, Web 2.0 is only now becoming pervasive when much of it was technically achievable over a decade ago. As commentators have observed, Web 2.0 emerged not as a function of new technology but because the ubiquity of internet technology makes new ways of operating and interacting possible.

Web 2.0 enables connections and collaborations of all kinds. Social networking websites such as Facebook38 and Meetup.com39 facilitate and enrich communication between people. Substantial economic returns are generated by ‘ideas market’ Innocentive,40 which brings together those with technical problems and those who can solve them.

Search engines have facilitated collaboration between people whose search behaviour is teaching the search engine to be more useful to future users.41 Users of products come to build the products themselves as with Wikipedia42 and, 44

Firms like Dell and Starbucks use Web 2.0 to engage their employees, suppliers and customers, to identify existing problems and to co-design future products.

Web 2.0 tools can be used to create networks in which relationships can be made and deepened whilst knowledge of all kinds, whether it be scientific expertise or the understanding of something ephemeral and local is shared and further developed in the sharing.45

1.3.2: The promise of Web 2.0

The potential to collaborate online and engage through Web 2.0 tools and approaches provides both economic and social benefits. One calculation concludes that internet searches generate total economic value of somewhere between 0.5 and 5 per cent of US gross domestic profit (GDP).46

Other benefits of online engagement and collaboration are harder to assess because they do not directly lower costs but improve quality of life. Search engines and wikis do not just save time but produce more germane or more targeted and relevant results than previous methods. Web 2.0 allows fine grained interaction between people with particular interests, expertise or knowledge. For instance, a cancer patient can find others in the same predicament and, in addition to gaining mutual support can share information about drug reactions, doctors and specialists.

Blogs permit anyone with internet access to publish their thoughts globally and to invite discussion from others on any topic imaginable. One benefit of this is the rapid identification of those with the knowledge to speak authoritatively on a subject.

It is difficult to put an economic value on many of these phenomena. However, they show how Web 2.0 is reconfiguring the world, driven by individuals and groups with a thirst for information and innovation and a powerful desire to engage on their own terms.

Chapter 6 discusses the taskforce findings in relation to application of Web 2.0 to government.

1.4: Open access to PSI

Increasing citizen participation pre-supposes access to information. Here Government 2.0 takes the next step in the evolution of open government by strengthening freedom of information rights and building upon them additional rights of access, rights to freely reuse, republish, repurpose and otherwise add value to government information. The Freedom of Information Bill currently before Parliament takes as a premise that ‘information held by the government is to be managed for public purposes, and is a national resource’. This report expands on the implications of that premise.

In its recommendation for enhanced access and more effective use of public sector information the OECD Council defined PSI, as ‘information, including information products47 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’. Except where otherwise indicated this is what the taskforce means in this report.

Government 2.0 represents a shift to an assumption that government information is open by default, in the absence of good reasons to the contrary. When information is released it creates new and powerful dynamics which can drive innovative use and reuse. Allowing the commercial, research and community sectors to add value to it can provide important social and community benefits. Policy changes mandated by governments, and legal changes by Parliament, are necessary to make this transition. Many of these changes are either in place or in contemplation. While these changes are necessary they are not sufficient for Government 2.0 to take hold.

Chapter 5 explores open access to PSI in greater detail.

Previous section: Report Recommendations | Next section: Chapter 2: How does Australia compare internationally?


  1. Reform of Australian Government Administration: Building the world’s best public service, Advisory Group on Reform of Australian Government Administration, October 2009, at [External Site].
  2. Powering Ideas: An Innovation Agenda for the 21st Century [External Site] or [External Site].
  3. Advisory Group on Reform of Australian Government Administration [External Site] or [External Site] and Management Advisory Committee, Advancing Public Sector Innovation see [External Site] or [External Site].
  4. [External Site] or [External Site].
  5. [External Site].
  6. [External Site].
  7. [External Site].
  8. Search algorithms typically employ users’ selections of search results to optimise future searches for others.
  9. [External Site].
  10. [External Site].
  11. In this sense open source software which is typically built by volunteer individuals and/or firms was a precursor to Web 2.0.
  12. Except where otherwise suggested, references in this report to Web 2.0 and expressions like ‘online’ include mediums that are not strictly part of the internet and which may not literally use cables, such as the mobile network.
  13. [External Site] or [External Site].
  14. The taskforce defines an ‘information product’ as ‘an item that has been derived from one or more sources of information to meet a specific purpose‘. This definition is derived from [External Site].

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Copyright Notice

Notwithstanding the general copyright licence provided for on, 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