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Information Victoria, Department of Innovation, Industry and Regional Development, August 2009.
This paper provides an overview of developments in the use of interactive online communications described as Web 2.0 and when applied in government, better known as Government 2.0.
The term Web 2.0 takes in the new and emerging digitally enabled, interactive communications, pushing organisations, including governments, to reconsider the way they do things.
The challenge in this process is expressed by a member of the Australian Federal Government's Taskforce on Government 2.0, as follows:
'Web 2.0 enables and accelerates the transition to a more connected world in which open, user-centred and self-organising networks create value, including public value. That's the Web 2.0 proposition with which…people …around the world are experimenting to see … what kinds of value they can get from these new ways of organizing.
As governments and the public sector start to do the same, they will encounter the same challenge, which is that these new tools don't just change structures and processes, they change behaviour as well.
In order to thrive in this kind of world – connected, contingent, collaborative – you have to adopt a set of behaviours that are similarly open, interactive and engaged. The conclusion is simple, but demanding – no change without culture shift.
This is the big challenge …for governments to make the most of this new way of working and these new tools for democratic conversation. If they want to use them to improve the design of public services, to empower citizens to use information to create new services themselves or to harness more powerful combinations of knowledge for better policy, then they have to embrace the consequent shift of culture and behaviour too.
We've spent time defining what it is that constitutes the requisite behaviour from a public servant, including things like impartiality, balance, fairness and the absence of partisan political advocacy.
The problem, though, is that these definitions were shaped in a world fundamentally different to the one which 'government 2.0' is ushering in, including especially the speed with which issues emerge and change, the level of transparency about government activity and the complexity of the ideas and inputs now clamouring … to be influential.
Somehow we have to find a way for public servants to be able to engage with this world on terms that are both satisfying and safe. Assuming that the twin extremes of prohibition and unfettered licence are unlikely to work, we have to set about finding some new territory somewhere along that spectrum that is fit for purpose'. Source: Gov.2.0 Taskforce Blog, Online Engagement, by Martin Stewart – Weeks, 27 July2009.
Governments need to consider implementing Web 2.0 technologies as a way of becoming relevant to their citizens. This is especially compelling in recognition of the view that Western democracies are experiencing what has been termed a 'democratic deficit' with a declining trust in governments and an accompanying retreat from civic engagement. (1)
If the retreat from civic engagement is based on the perception by citizens that outside of the election cycle, they have no real voice with which to influence government decision-making, then, in a digital era, government has new, digitally enabled tools to more readily hear that voice.
Today's digital revolution has, and is continuing to create, new ways for the further empowerment of citizens. The Government 2.0 proposition, involves a significant cultural shift towards an active recognition of this and a willingness in government to encourage novel forms of engagement, partnership and collaboration.
This paper provides an overview of a selection of Web 2.0/Government 2.0 activities within Australia and internationally and suggests possible further opportunities, all within the overarching context of using these tools to further strengthen public value.
Web 2.0 is the term given to describe the transition from static html web pages to a more dynamic web that invites communication and a more open sharing of information.
It's the second generation web that implies a conversation or interaction with users that encourages collaboration. Essentially, it's the Two Way Web or Conversational Web and it describes online behaviours that are fluid and dynamic with a focus on both the individual and the online social networks to which they may belong.
Web 2.0 is also sometimes described as:
Common applications include:
Overall, Web 2.0 is a force towards greater connectivity – it allows people to find each other and to create communities of interest around issues that matter to them.
The 2005, the Victorian Parliamentary Enquiry into Electronic Democracy argued for the use of Information Communication Technology by the public sector to improve and expand the engagement of the public in government policy making processes.
Since then, and because of the rapid development of both the tools of Web 2.0 and uptake of their use by the community, the impetus for enhanced online engagement with citizens has gained momentum.
For government, Web 2.0 offers additional avenues for consultation and interaction with citizens and the business community in ways that can facilitate dialogue, creativity, collaboration and partnership.
It is a force for the creation of new public value as yet undefined.
Metaphorically, Web 2.0 is like a virtual, mega- electronic, town hall where many more voices can be heard speaking to us, with us and to one another, but where citizens can also be invited to participate as active partners in the design and construction of the town hall.
In the practical business of government, it means a greater opportunity for citizens to act as partners with government in the co-creation of policy, planning and priority setting and for government to harness a larger, collective intelligence and deliver a richer user experience.
Web 2.0 gives a 21st century spin on Abraham Lincoln's adage: 'Government of the people, by the people for the people'.
It's important to remember that although Web 2.0 offers exciting new technology tools, the tools themselves are not what matter so much as the potential that they bring for the improvement to services, the strengthening of the democratic contract and the creation of collaboration within and among agencies as well as fostering greater community participation.
Uptake and usage of digital media applications by Australians is growing.
Research by Sensis in 2008 has revealed that blogging for example, has increased in popularity with 39 per cent of Australians having read a blog in the past year (up seven percentage points) and 14 per cent having written a blog (up four percentage points).
One in five Australians now belongs to some form of online community, with 36 per cent of Australians using social networking sites. (2)
Overall, the Sensis research concludes that one in five Australians now belong to some form of online community.
AustraliaScan research on online social networking in Australia and Victoria makes the following points:
During the period 2007-08, Neilsen found that:
While these online social media activities remain most prevalent among younger consumers (the 14 to 25 year old demographic), there has been significant growth in uptake by older audiences (25-44) with the trend towards it becoming more of a genuinely mainstream media option for online consumers under 45 years of age.
More than half of Australian Internet users belong to an online social network.
Two in three online Australians looked at content on social networking sites in 2008.
The main barrier to uptake of online social networking is concern over personal information privacy.
19% of Australians have uploaded video to the Internet; 40% have shared a video link.
YouTube is the clear online video choice for Australians
- 75% have visited the site
There was a significant increase in the creation and consumption of blogs from 19% in 2007 to 45% in 2008.
The graph by Neilsen of Australian consumption of social media reveals that Youtube dominates activity in this space.
With the general trend towards greater uptake of Web 2.0 technology in the community, it would be very short sighted if government remained too cautiously outside the communications style actively embraced by citizens.
There is also evidence that supports the value of social networking sites as vehicles for the public good. In the US, Facebook has generated many activity networks to raise money for charity.
An organisation called Meetup.com helps interest groups formed on the Web to get together in person - and a large number of these meet up for civic purposes - for example, groups devoted to cleaning up local parks, streets and neighbourhoods.
Twitter and YouTube have also been used to help organise political protests as seen in Iran's recent election.
From the political perspective, successfully tapping into Web 2.0 communities can potentially strengthen re-election prospects for office holders
In Victoria, the Premier's website has been the leading example of proactive use of Web 2.0 tools in communicating with citizens.
Web 2.0 online engagement on the Premier's website is used to extend consultation.
The site has invested in the use of YouTube, Facebook and Twitter as well as other Web 2.0 tools such as blogs and Live Chat used as a forum with guest visitors on moderated themes.
In July 2009, the site invited citizens to post their question to the Premier of Victoria and to vote on the questions that they want the Premier to answer. The Premier undertook to answer the five most popular questions.
The first round of questions was completed on 31 July. The Premier's Question Time has been very much a learning experience. The Premier's call to action video has had 3,888 views, while a question on Collingwood attracted 5,531 and Gippsland Lakes 3,129.
A Video format for Climate Change Green Paper
The Premier's Website is also planning a consultation on the topic of climate change.
A Green Paper will be presented in segments with discussion points presented via video. The video will rotate fortnightly with a presentation of the pro and con arguments in the paper to help to stimulate further discussion for each section. See the 'in development' mock up in the screen grab below.
This creative Web 2.0 approach to policy development is both novel and practical because it allows for a more readily accessible way to convey complex policy issues.
A video format easily engages the visitor and is more likely to capture a broader spectrum of citizen involvement in the policy deliberation process.
The Premier's site is currently also exploring an online application that allows users to submit their ideas to the Premier. Other users can rate the idea and make comments.
Small Business Victoria has started a Facebook forum as a low cost way to trial small business online networking to see if there is value in considering it as an on going feature of Business Victoria online.
The Facebook forum was introduced with the following objectives:
The Facebook forum is moderated by the Business Victoria call centre
The Premier's Website hosted a successful online consultation on behalf of the Department of Transport on the Eddington Transport Plan.
In all, the consultation received:
A general observation from staff arising from this online engagement was that government is more likely to receive heated posts than the majority of corporate engagement sites and that this experience will depend on the nature of the theme on which consultation is being invited and the degree of pre-publicity that it may have received
In December 2008, a project website incorporating a blog called wePlan Alpine National Parks was created to enable community input into issues regarding planning for Victoria's Alpine National Parks.
It also offered a wiki and an online Geographic Information System where citizens could identify and map the places they valued.
Minister Jennings launched the pilot and was one of the first blog contributors. To date, the site has attracted over 380 registered users who continue to make valuable contributions to this pilot online planning initiative.
This site offers an option to Ask the Premier a Question via Youtube, plus a Have Your Say: Speak Out link. The site has run 10 online consultations using a simple web-based form to gather feedback and collect data.
Currently it features: Myspace, youtube, streaming/podcasting, and collaboration tools.
The City of Melbourne used an online collaborative platform (wiki) to consult on and help draft the Future Melbourne Community Plan - the 10 year plan for Future Melbourne.
The online public consultation period ran from 17 May -15 June 2008 and resulted in:
The City of Melbourne was the first government in Australia to use this highly interactive online tool for public consultation and collaboration. For the first time, the community was able to directly contribute their ideas to enhance and develop the city towards 2020 and beyond.
With the shift towards staggered working hours and the demise of the standard nine to five workday, it is increasingly difficult to schedule traditional fixed public meetings at a time that is convenient for most people.The wiki was seen as the perfect fit for the project as it enabled wide-scale collaboration unrestricted by time or geographical constraints. This meant a wide variety of participants were able to take part, whether city residents, workers, visitors or students.
The Victorian government's e-Government Resource Centre – an internationally recognised resource repository for information about digital innovation launched an Online Forum on 17 July 2009. The Forum is currently covering the following topics:
General eGovernment Questions
Government Service Delivery
Government use of GIS and Google Maps
Government use of Web Analytics
Government Website Standards, Policies, Guidelines
Government websites and SEO
Online Video and Government use of YouTube
What use is social media to government?
In December 2008, a public-facing blog on the theme of online citizen engagement was created by a Victorian public servant in Information Victoria, DIIRD to encourage dialogue and share resources on the theme of online dialogue with citizens, open government and digital participatory innovation.
The whole of Victorian Government portal, Victoria Online, is in the process of developing a "Social media" page which will link to all social media tools that are currently used across government and will include podcasts, twitter, Youtube, and FlickR sites.
The Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) within the Department of Finance and Deregulation is leading the way in Australia with initiatives aimed at systematically approaching Web 2.0 online engagement.
See the Online Consultation Guidelines.
The Federal Government undertook Online Consultation Trials from December 2008 – March 2009. The departments and topics were:
These trials demonstrated that online consulting on controversial issues can sometimes lead to the process being hijacked by concerted lobbying and that poor timing relative to other community development can negatively impact the consultation process. Other general observations by the federal government on their online engagement experience are as follows:
In addition to the above mentioned consultations, the Federal Government has established a Government 2.0 Taskforce, under the auspice of Minister Tanner.
See the introductory video/
Chaired by Nicholas Gruen, the Taskforce is made up of policy and technical experts and entrepreneurs from government, business, academia, and cultural institutions.
The Taskforce is also intending to fund initiatives in alignment with government 2.0 objectives.
The Government 2.0 Taskforce will advise and assist the Government to:
The Taskforce will advise Government on structural barriers that prevent, and policies to promote, greater information disclosure, digital innovation and online engagement including the division of responsibilities for, and overall coordination of, these issues within government.
It is expected that the Taskforce will provide a final report on its activities to the Minister for Finance and Deregulation and the Cabinet Secretary by the end of 2009.
This politician's blog is actively experimenting with Web 2.0 tools with links to Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and a Vimeo channel that currently holds 30 videos made by Senator Lundy as part of her Public Sphere commitment to Government 2.0 ideals.
The Australian Youth Forum is run by the Australian Government as an online communications channel for youth. It invites online input on a range of policy issues relevant to young people and incorporates Web 2.0 tools as part of its remit to invite youth participation.
Mosman City Council in NSW has been active with Web 2.0 tools, using both an online engagement site and a Twitter service to inform residents of what's happening in Mosman. Their twitter policy states:
Twitter has enabled Council to have a different type of conversation with constituents with notifications of Council events being re-tweeted by Twitter users to a wider variety of people than would normally have been possible for Council to engage with.
The Council is also actively listening into social media feeds to see what people are saying about the suburb and localities. Part of the reason the Council chose to embrace social networking - including Twitter, Youtube and Flickr - was to increase traffic to its website.
To better understand online community behaviour, the experiences of the business and community sectors in this space are worth further investigation.
Smart Services CRC is a commercially focused collaborative research initiative, developing innovation, foresight and productivity improvements for the services sector. Smart Services was awarded $30.8 million to be invested over 7 years for research and development to support innovation in Australia's services economy.
It's an initiative supported under the Federal Government's Cooperative Research Centre Program.
Initial research is focussed on the digital media, finance and government sectors (including the health sector) to develop exciting new capabilities. A report on Social Media: Tools for User-Generated Content was released in March 2009 (in pdf format 1591kb). (This document requires the use of Adobe Acrobat Reader). .
Run by Smart Services Queensland, Department of Communities, the Get Involved website invites a Have Your Say Consult Queensland link to government about key issues that are being considered.
It invites citizen to take part in an open public consultation or to find out about the outcomes of public consultations that have recently closed.
Australian politicians are beginning to interact more with their constituents online, with the numbers who are blogging or using the micro-blogging site Twitter increasing. On Twitter, users post messages of up to 140 characters called tweets; Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and South Australia Premier Mike Rann are avid twitterers. During the 2007 federal election Kevin Rudd, former PM John Howard and other politicians used video-sharing website YouTube as a video platform for their messages.The Federal Government is now considering whether it should develop a Twitter-specific policy as Britain has done.
British government departments are being guided on how to use Twitter via a paper developed by Britain's Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) - Template Twitter strategy for Government Departments (in pdf format - 75kb) . ((This document requires the use of Adobe Acrobat Reader). .)
Currently, the Australian government has interim protocols on how to behave on social networking sites but no specific policy on Twitter.
The Government 2.0 Taskforce as part of its work will be considering Britain's guidance on the application of social media in improving online engagement with citizens and information dissemination.
The 'Ask a Pollie' website trial launched in June 2009 is aimed at determining the value of using online video by politicians to get their message out instead of traditional text-based press releases.
Visitors to the site will be able to comment on the two-minute videos.
This initiative is following the lead of US President Barack Obama's approach by launching an interactive website to connect politicians with their constituents.
Content on the site shows videos by Federal politicians including Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner and Family First senator Steve Fielding. Among topics being included in the presentations will be issues on the environment, education, ethics, health records, trade and the economy.
Ask a Pollie, is being promoted online and on kiosks at shopping centres and airports.
Launched in August 2009, the ABC is building an online 'town square' for all Australians through its Web 2.0 website Pool. Citizens are invited to use and re-mix media made available from the ABC archive to create mashups as well as to participate in discussion forums.
Pool is a collaborative space where audiences become 'co-creators'. It's a place to share and talk about creative work - music, photos, videos, documentaries, interviews, animations and more.
The Australia 2 Beta site is a not-for-profit website maintained by volunteers that encourages Australians to determine the Top Priorities for Australia in Government 2.0 initiatives like:
It is not endorsed by any Australia government and the views expressed within it are those of Australia 2 BETA's members and do not necessarily represent the views of the Australian Government or any other organisation or individual.
In 2007, order to raise awareness of and increase public participation in the redrafting of New Zealand Police Act of 1958, a Web 2.0 tool - a wiki-based collaborative was introduced.
The wiki ran between September 26th and October 1st, 2007 starting with the contents of the Police Act 1958 and inviting anyone to edit it as they would a Wikipedia article..
The wiki was monitored by up to four full-time employees at any one time.
This bold attempt at participatory legislation proved that a wiki could be used as a model for consulting the public. It showed that collaborative technologies can act to incorporate citizens into policy deliberations.
New Zealand is continuing its innovative work in the Web 2.0 space via the Participation Wiki – a community of registered users able to share information on developments internationally in the area of government innovation and the use of Web 2.0 tools.
Applications for Democracy was launched by the US Government in October 2008 as a technology contest to software developers to compete for the best new applications to make DC government data more accessible and useful for the public.
Developers and designers competed by creating web applications, widgets, Google Maps mash-ups, iPhone apps, Facebook apps, and other digital utilities that visualize real-time data from multiple agencies for citizens to access. See all the Apps for Democracy winners
Vivek Kundra, the Obama administration's CIO, created data.gov, a catalogue of all the US federal government's Web services. (Web services, as opposed to static government Web sites, provide raw government data, allowing third parties to build alternate services and interfaces to government programs.)
The Sunlight Foundation's Apps for America Contest (modelled on the successful Apps for Democracy program that Kundra ran while CIO of Washington, D.C.) is now seeking to seed the process of citizen innovation using these data services.
The US federal government is beginning to provide an open platform that enables anyone with a good idea to build innovative services that connect government to citizens, give citizens visibility into the actions of government and even allow citizens to participate directly in policy-making. (7)
Like President Kennedy in the 1960s who effectively used the then new medium of television, President elect Obama tapped into new media Web 2.0 tools to successfully campaign for the 2008 Presidency.
As a less well known outsider candidate up against more established rivals, Obama strategically employed new media tools to get more traction among American voters.
He used new social networking tools to create a connection and conversation among target audiences, consumers or voters. It actively invited a personal commitment by individuals to the campaign and generated a strong sense of community activism in the process.
The tools used in the campaign were a combination of websites and blogs as well as social network sites such as Facebook, Myspace,Twitter, Digg, YouTube, Linkedin among others as well as use of an Obama Mobile option with the words: Text Hope as the call to action.
Obama's online campaigned gathered:
The site gave people the online tools to help them organise locally and to get involved at a grass roots level.
Since gaining office and to maintain the online grassroots momentum of that success, a successor website has been created called Organizing for America.
By the use of blogs, podcasts, email and SMS, Obama was at the forefront of strategic and passionate use of Web 2.0 tools to effectively harness the power of 21st century communications.
One of his first acts as President was to issue a memorandum for the heads of executive departments and agencies on the topic of Transparency and Open Government in which he said:
My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration.
Government should be transparent. Executive departments and agencies should harness new technologies to put information about their operations and decisions online and readily available to the public. Executive departments and agencies should also solicit public feedback to identify information of greatest use to the public.
Government should be participatory. Public engagement enhances the Government's effectiveness and improves the quality of its decisions. Knowledge is widely dispersed in society, and public officials benefit from having access to that dispersed knowledge. Executive departments and agencies should offer Americans increased opportunities to participate in policymaking and to provide their Government with the benefits of their collective expertise and information. Executive departments and agencies should also solicit public input on how we can increase and improve opportunities for public participation in Government.
Government should be collaborative. Collaboration actively engages Americans in the work of their Government. Executive departments and agencies should use innovative tools, methods, and systems to cooperate among themselves, across all levels of Government, and with nonprofit organizations, businesses, and individuals in the private sector.
The White House's website now features a Briefing Room page which has blogs, videos and text about the President's movements and messages, but surprisingly, does not accept comments from the public.
A new social network Web site called GovLoop.com was created a year ago within the US Department of Homeland Security to share experiences and best practices.
More than 14,000 people have joined, creating nearly 500 sub-communities and over 1,000 discussion forums. Brainstorming sessions online has produced ideas on everything from government transparency to interoffice communication.
The White House recently reached out to GovLoop to promote a discussion on how to improve President Obama's Open Government Initiative.
In May 2009, The UK Cabinet Office appointed a new Director of Digital Engagement to oversee the Government's online communications strategy.
The Cabinet Office envisaged this new role as working across government departments to encourage, support and challenge them in moving from communicating to citizens on the web to conversing and collaborating with them through digital technology, including blogs and social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook.
The Director's role is to:
The UK Government launched the Show Us a Better Way website as a way of encouraging citizen ideas for new products that could improve the way public information is communicated. It asked: What would you create with public information? Do you think that better use of public information could improve health, education, justice or society at large?
There are currently 10 internal to government blogs from across the VPS hosted via services provided by the whole of government intranet, Central Station.
This blog has been created for Victorian Government scientists and researchers to share information, ideas and research tips, including how to access Victorian Government 'Foundation Investor' beam line time on the Australian Synchrotron.
The blog created by the eServices group at Information Victoria aimed at providing information, links and commentary on all things web.
In late 2008, the VPS Innovation Forum was created by the Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet with the purpose of discussing ideas for improvement and innovation within the Victorian Public Service.
The forum focussed on 4 themes:
Advice and support in creating the blog site was provided by the eServices Unit, Department of Industry, Innovation and Regional Development.
The forum was overwhelmingly successful, receiving 240 contributions across 17 departments and agencies. In total, 3094 people visited the site over the course of the forum, 1775 of these on the final day when the Secretary and Deputy Secretaries from the Department of Premier and Cabinet went online to respond to the comments being posted by members of the VPS.
This report by the Parliamentary Inquiry into Improving Access to Victorian Public Sector Information and Data contains 46 recommendations underpinned by the central principle that in the 21st century, information is a powerful resource that can be used to drive innovation, commerce and social engagement in ways scarcely anticipated.
It identifies information generated by government as one of the last 'great and relatively untapped resources' and argues for open access to government information as the default position.
Any paper that seeks to capture an overview of developments and thinking in government regarding the use of Web 2.0 tools is quickly outpaced by the exponential rate of creative adaptations and change.
The opportunities and challenges for government however are not so much the tools but the way they can be used to change the way government works, Ultimately, Web 2.0 is part of a cultural process towards a more open and inclusive model for government operations that enables citizens to become partners with government.
By actively inviting a partnership with citizens, government decision-making is strengthened and endowed with renewed authenticity and transparency. Use of Web 2.0 tools by government may help to craft a more deliberative dialogue with citizens to better meet their needs.
Information Victoria, Department of Innovation, Industry and Regional Development.
(1) Stephen Coleman and John Goetz, Bowling Together: Online Public Engagement in Policy Deliberation, Hansard Society, 2002
(2) Sensis e-Business Report: The Online Experience of Small and Medium Enterprises, Australian Policy Online, July 2008
(5) Neilsen Online (2008) Consumer Generated Media Report: Separating Hype From Reality, First Edition, January, p.89. ((This document requires the use of Adobe Acrobat Reader). .)
(7) Tim O'Reilly: Gov 2.0 The Promise of Innovation, 10 August 2009
The Web 2.0: The New Tools for Democratic Conversations report is available for printing in pdf format (701kb). This document requires the use of Adobe Acrobat Reader). .
Last updated: 18 March 2010
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