Reflecting on Government 2.0 in Australia


I apologise for the limited coverage of Government 2.0 in recent times. Its not from lack of interest by any means.

At the federal level in Australia I've had the opportunity to work with a large agency over the last few years where it has been interesting to see from the inside the influence of the Government 2.0 movement (if we can call it that). It is definitely having an impact on how they approach technology and social media, although the end results might not be immediately obvious.

Similarly, open data and open government advocates continue to chip away at resistance to the liberation of data created by activities funded by tax payers. And with another election approaching, maybe this year will cement social media's role in that process.

But Government 2.0 is more than just about the adoption of social media by central government, career public servants, politicians, and - by association - the media. Government doesn't simply make decisions ("Go to war") or set policy ("Raise tax"), it is also responsible for the administration of those decision and policies. In some cases they are directly responsible, but in many situations responsibility is deferred to others. This includes the community sector, the commercial sector and also individual citizens (often as volunteers).

Across this broad landscape, Government 2.0 can be treated as something that simply extends what we already do or alternatively as something that has the potential to change how things are done.

For example, Govspace is great example of Government 2.0 - but not because it has created greater engagement, but because they created a whole-of-government shared service based on one of the most popular open source Web publishing platforms (Wordpress). In the Netherlands they have gone one step further, launching Pleio, to create a single intranet/extranet platform for government.

But probably one of the most disappointing aspects of the execution of the Government 2.0 concept to date is the reliance on using technology to harness volunteer effort. The importance of volunteers to the community should not be understated, but with a few exceptions it is neither sustainable or impactful enough to be the basis of Government 2.0.

Perhaps, since I've mentioned open source, the model has been taken far too literally when in fact the most successful open source communities support a range of commercial activities at their core (for example, look at Acquia, Automattic).

But stepping away from a the purely technocentric view, the The Australian Centre for Social Innovation (TACSI) remains a leading light in Australia's Government 2.0 scene. Their work isn't focused on technology, but about tackling some of Australia's community challenges including "Family breakdown, child abuse and neglect, carer stress, chronic disease and the vast social inequality experienced by Indigenous communities." - eventually technology will play a part in making their solutions scalable and accessible, but they aren't driven by technology alone.

A good example of this is Patient Opinion, which was based on a successful model from the UK. Its a stark contrast to the heavily sanitised data-reporting approach favoured by government and institutions in Australia.

I wonder what projects like Australia's future e-Health and personal eHealth record system might have turned out like if we had applied TACSI's approach to it?