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Engage: Getting on with Government 2.0

Key points and Executive summary

Key points

Executive Summary

Web 2.0 and its promise for government

The use of the internet as a platform for collaboration is already transforming our economy and our lives. Whole industries and sectors are being refashioned by this phenomenon of Web 2.0. Citizens are being empowered to express themselves, organise and collaborate in myriad new ways.

The tools of Web 2.0 include blogs, wikis and social networking platforms. These tools enable communities of interest to develop rapidly to find people with local knowledge or technical expertise to build understanding of issues and solve problems as they emerge. They enable communities to filter the torrent of information on the internet and identify the most useful parts of it. They enable us to find the most useful contributors in any given subject area, be they a world expert or someone possessing important local or ephemeral knowledge.

Web 2.0 also encompasses the way in which the internet has become a platform for the distribution of vast quantities of data and the way in which it has empowered people and organisations to transform data by ‘mashing it up’, combining it with other data so that it can become useful in new ways.

These new tools and the culture of open collaboration which distinguishes the culture of Web 2.0 present important new challenges and possibilities for government. This offers new opportunities to refresh and deepen the enduring principles and values of modern democratic government and improve the quality and responsiveness of government policy making and service delivery.

The taskforce’s Government 2.0 agenda

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.

The promise of Government 2.0

By embracing Government 2.0 we can:

Government 2.0 will be central to delivering on critical national objectives including delivering on our National Innovation Agenda — including the aspiration for a more innovative public sector.3 It will be central to addressing the desire of the Advisory Group on the Reform of Australian Government Administration to establish in Australia the world’s best public service which puts citizens at the centre of everything it does.4 It will be an important component of the Department of Human Services’ service delivery reform agenda.5 It can improve social inclusion. And it will enable us to make the most of our huge broadband investment, making Australia a more connected democracy.

The state of play

The enthusiasm of public agencies, public servants and the public themselves are all necessary for Government 2.0 to take root. In this regard Australia is well placed. Some Australian Government agencies have become recognised as international leaders in their embrace of Government 2.0 approaches.

In 2001, the Australian Government’s Spatial Data Access and Pricing Policy was one of the first substantial programs in the world in which government data which had previously been sold was made available without charge.6 Today both the Australian Bureau of Statistics and Geoscience Australia are licensing much of their output using Creative Commons licences which permit others to freely use and remix it. This is an invitation to enhance the value of this public information asset (see Chapter 5).

The National Library of Australia (NLA), National Archives of Australia (NAA) and a number of Museums such as the National Museum of Australia (NMA) and Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum7 have engaged Australia’s citizenry in contributing their own time and content to enrich and improve national historical collections of text and visual material. Some government agencies and some individual public officials maintain blogs where they share their expertise and have informal discussions of professional matters of public interest.

There are many other examples. However efforts to date have tended to rely on the interest and enthusiasm of individual agencies. A recent KPMG survey undertaken for the Review of Australian Government Administration found that the Australian Public Service compared favourably with counterpart services elsewhere in a range of areas, but had worse performance than its best peers in the provision of online access to government information and services, mechanisms for cross-agency collaboration and tools and methods for incorporating external advice into the policy development and service design process. These are all things that Government 2.0 can deliver.

Since 2007 the United Kingdom (UK), New Zealand (NZ) and, more recently, the United States of America (US), have recognised the economic and social benefits of Government 2.0 at the highest levels of government. These countries have put in place coordinated and centrally driven reforms to advance the Government 2.0 agenda. Until recently, Australia was lagging behind these leaders, but proposed legislation to strengthen access to information and the promulgation of very encouraging new Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) guidelines for online engagement has set the stage for Australia to join the other countries in pioneering Government 2.0.

The taskforce’s approach

Accordingly the taskforce’s central recommendation is for a Declaration of Open Government to be made at the highest level of government emphasising the role of Web 2.0 tools and approaches in:

For Australia to achieve the aspirations outlined in our terms of reference, it will require stronger, more coordinated governance, policy improvements and a renewed public service culture of openness and engagement. It is essential to find ways that government can adapt to the new paradigm of open and transparent government

Government 2.0 needs concerted leadership to drive the necessary reforms and bring about the shifts of culture and practice required across the whole of government. For this reason the taskforce’s second recommendation is that a lead agency be appointed from within one of the central portfolios — either within Finance and Deregulation or Prime Minister and Cabinet — to take responsibility for Government 2.0 policy and provide leadership, guidance and support to agencies and public servants. The agency’s work program should be developed though a Government 2.0 Steering Group of high level officials from relevant agencies.

The lead agency will provide guidance and support to improve the extent and quality of online engagement to promote innovation and share knowledge. Agencies will identify and address barriers to online engagement, and nominate specific projects aimed at enhancing policy making and delivery through the use of online tools within and between agencies across the public sector.

According to a recent survey,8 governments around the world had the lowest deployment of unified communications and collaboration technology across major industries. Currently, few public servants have work access to these building blocks of Government 2.0. The taskforce recommends that agencies provide employees with access to appropriate technology.

In order to achieve these shifts, public servants should be actively encouraged and empowered to engage online. The recently issued APSC guidelines for online engagement are an excellent start. They begin:

Web 2.0 provides public servants with unprecedented opportunities to open up government decision making and implementation to contributions from the community. In a professional and respectful manner, public servants should engage in robust policy conversations.

Equally, as citizens, APS employees should also embrace the opportunity to add to the mix of opinions contributing to sound, sustainable policies and service delivery approaches.

Security concerns have been a major inhibitor of collaboration technology adoption in the public sector. Accordingly the lead agency should work with the Defence Signals Directorate to develop appropriate guidance so that agencies can undertake security risk assessments and ensure the effective, efficient and secure use of Web 2.0 tools.

Public agencies should also seek opportunities and provide space for staff to experiment and develop opportunities for greater online engagement and participation with their customers, citizens and communities of interest. Over time it will also be important to report and scrutinise progress, ensure that lessons are learned and reward outstanding practice in the use of Web 2.0 tools to improve agency and program performance. Recognition for outstanding practice will include adoption of the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as the minimum accessibility standard for Government 2.0.

The APSC’s annual State of the Service Report will be one instrument by which agencies’ progress in implementing these measures can be tracked and reported.

We also need clear, strong and simple policies to deliver the aspiration of the Freedom of Information Amendment (Reform) Bill 20099 for public sector information (PSI) to be released by default with secrecy being maintained only where there is good reason to do so. In addition the information must be truly open. This means that unless there are good reasons to the contrary, information should be:

The need for the licensing itself to be machine-readable means that the licence should conform to some international standard such as Creative Commons.

The taskforce proposes Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Australia (CCBY) as the default licence.13 Where third parties are involved, agencies should contract to ensure that government is able to license their work under the default licence. The Government should also proceed with a review of copyright in relation to ‘orphan works’.14 There should also be a process of providing more open licensing to the stock of existing PSI which has been more restrictively licensed in the past.

Because so many of the benefits of Government 2.0 will accrue when state governments are involved, the taskforce proposes that the principles set out in this report be implemented at all levels of government in Australia through a national information policy and that the Commonwealth should provide national leadership towards such a policy by engaging the Council of Australian Governments (COAG).

To accelerate progress the taskforce recommends establishing a central portal ( that will enable access to and discovery of the data and skills necessary in preparing government information to be released as open PSI. Guidance will be required to assist agencies to protect privacy and confidentiality, including making sure that they can reliably de-identify personal and commercial-in-confidence PSI.

The taskforce endorses the proposed freedom of information reforms and recommends that the proposed new Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) operate to ensure the integrity of the process by which PSI is released by default. PSI should be released unless agencies are following the Information Commissioner’s (IC’s) policies or have the agreement of the IC not to release it.

In addition, the OIC will develop and administer policies to ensure that PSI that may be considered as holding value is proactively identified and released, and that all options to protect privacy and confidentiality by suppressing certain fields in structured data15 be explored before an exemption from release is granted. The Commonwealth Copyright Administration (CCA) unit within the Attorney-General’s Department (AGD) should also be moved to the OIC or the lead agency reflecting their charter to optimise the flow of information.

In order to measure the benefits of releasing PSI, the proposed OIC should develop a common methodology to determine the social and economic value generated from published PSI and require major agencies to report and publish their performance on the release of PSI in their annual report, as well as their contribution to the consolidated value of Commonwealth PSI.

The taskforce supports the model for the information publication scheme set out in the Freedom of Information Amendment (Reform) Bill 2009 and recommends that the proposed OIC provide guidance to the public on their rights to access PSI and guidance for agencies to meet their information publication and reporting obligations.

Some of the most successful experiments in Government 2.0 have been led by not-for-profit organisations in the UK and the US. Here, the taskforce suggests that policymakers facilitate recognition of info-philanthropy16 as an eligible activity to qualify for deductible gift recipient status and other measures that recognise charitable or philanthropic purposes.

What is at stake

The work of government funded or managed agencies pervades and underpins some of the most important aspects of Australian’s lives. By improving agency operation and their relationship with stakeholders, Government 2.0 gives us the scope to improve:

Government 2.0 can enable Australia to achieve all this while deepening democracy and engaging the citizenry so that governments don’t just ‘consult’ their constituents, but draw all those with the enthusiasm, expertise and relevant local knowledge into active collaboration with them.

Getting to Government 2.0 will not be easy or straightforward for it requires coordinated leadership, policy and culture change. But as Mike Waller put it in a project for the taskforce ‘no country can lay claim to having yet achieved the overall transformation in public sector culture, systems and processes required to deliver a fully articulated Government 2.0 approach’. Having just begun the journey back to world leadership, we should press on secure in the knowledge that a serious effort will see us succeed.

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  1. Advisory Group on Reform of Australian Government Administration and the Management Advisory Committee project on Advancing Innovation in the Public Sector, see [External Site] or [External Site] and [External Site] or [External Site].
  2. Powering Ideas: An Innovation Agenda for the 21st Century [External Site] or [External Site] and Management Advisory Committee, Advancing Public Sector Innovation see [External Site] or [External Site].
  3. Advisory Group on Reform of Australian Government Administration. [External Site] or [External Site].
  4. [External Site].
  5. [External Site] or [External Site].
  6. In this report we use many examples of information which is generated principally by state or local government agencies. While our direct mandate is from the Australian Government, we have interpreted that mandate broadly. While our recommendations are, strictly speaking, recommendations to the Australian Government, many of the principles developed apply at the state level and all states are exploring the Government 2.0 agenda, though some are further advanced on the journey than others. We feel the use of such examples is useful both because the states control much of the data that affects people’s lives most closely and because data collected by state agencies can and should often be the subject of national information agendas (as in the Council of Australian Government’s (COAG) agendas in education and health).
  7. See: Figure 3: Technology Deployment by Vertical Industry
  8. [External Site] or [External Site].
  9. Provided at no cost in the absence of substantial marginal costs.
  10. The Semantic Web involves a vision of a machine-readable web, where intelligent agents would be capable of understanding data presented online by interpreting the accompanying metadata.
  11. Supported by metadata that will aid in the understanding the quality and interpretability of the information.
  12. [External Site].
  13. Information for which the copyright is held by third parties who cannot be readily identified or located.
  14. ‘Any data kept in an electronic record, where each piece of information has an assigned format and meaning.’ [External Site].
  15. The building of public information goods and platforms for public benefit.

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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: 26 February, 2010