In my online travels I've found online communities for all kinds of professional groups - from hairdressers to maths professors to undertakers.

All of them are very active and lively (well - except the undertakers). They all have robust professional discussions and serve as effective mechanisms to share peoples' ideas and experience - without crossing confidentiality lines.

However when looking for Australian public service communities online, the situation is different. There are very few communities, there is little discussion, they all contain 'the usual suspects' - and generally more non-public servants than public servants.

So my question is - why are Australian public servants so quiet online?

Please speak up and answer - I won't bite.



PS: This also links to Martin Stewart-Weeke's post over at the Gov 2.0 Taskforce, If you could start with a blank sheet of paper…

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Hi Craig

I think the reason for this is that we have, in shorthand terms, a climate of uncertainty and fear. In practical terms one indication of this is that networking sites are often coached within Agencies and people informed that they may be in breach of IT policy. The bigger factor, however, is that nobody actually says it is OK for public servants to engage in these conversations.

Never mind that we have a mature and professional workforce and that participation online is a great source of development? We are surrounded by a culture that essentially warns people off. However, such a culture does not just appear - they are manufactured.

In this case the carriers of this culture of uncertainty and fear are primarily corporate areas and their leaders. They set the policies and processes, they shape the messages people get. In short, we are talking about people, communication and IT policy. Change those policies and practices and you can reshape the culture.

Given the direction Government is taking it makes sense for these changes to be mandated and for the corporate areas that act as carriers of this culture of uncertainty and fear to be changed. In some respects this is also a question of leadership. So thought should be given to removing those leaders unable or unwilling to change. With dignity I might add.

In short, remove the uncertainty and fear, tell people it is OK and recognize and deal with the artifacts and people who act as carriers of this sort of culture and the change needed will get a good kick-start as people can then talk openly in this space.

Steve D
Hi Craig
It is one of the usual suspects here.
I have faced a few hurdles in attempting to encourage colleagues to look at Ozloop.

Namely - People's first instinct is to say:
* Don't send to me at work
* I will have a look from home
* I'm not allowed to discuss work outside of work community
* I can't risk my job - let me know when it is approved.

These things all indicate 'fear' to me ....

oh ... and here is some irony for you. Just tried to hit the link you included ...
This site has been categorised as "Political/Activist Groups;Blogs/Personal Pages".
Ah yes, that message for the Gov 2.0 site is what we get as well. Sends a great message doesn't it? If you advocate change with others then it is political activism.

And I have had many conversations with people and fear is the big factor. Fear born of uncertainty.

I would not want to over emphasise the point, but this situation is, in some respects, analogous to George Orwell's novel 1984. Especially the concept of thought crime.

And, god forbid with this technology we can all engage in thought crime together!

Steve D.
Hi Kerry

I agree that this is a factor within workgroups - and a sensible one at that. However, what if people are dispersed around the country? What if they wish or need to engage more widely? And, I guess - isn't there more to be gained by many minds collaborating, innovating and sharing?

The situation in relation to uncertainty and fear is patchy and, more than likely, an unintended consequence of Agencies tending to be overly risk averse. However, I don't think we should loose sight of the fact that entire 'empires' have been built on risk aversion and, indeed, some very old and traditional notions of bureaucratic control.

I agree that there would be many reason why people in corporate environments would be unwilling to speak out for all sorts of reasons. My personal view is that people working in these areas have an obligation to speak out. That being said, I don't think much has been done to understand such areas from a sociological perspective.

Not sure that getting ahead of ourselves is a problem. the public sector is littered with examples of failing to keep up with community expectations and, indeed, with those of employees. And then playing catch up. To balance that, sure there is great stuff going on as well.

So maybe we need to ask ourselves what our work places should look like in a Gov 2.0 world? How much professional license should public servants have to directly engage with one another and the community? How would we manage people? (Assuming they need managing at all). And I guess the other one is what should corporate areas look like?

Steve D
I agree. Many non-government organisations are just as concerned about reputation and risk. I think the big danger is looking at government as one big thing, when it fact it is made up of lots of different agencies and people. Clearly there are some whole of government factors at work, but that's not the sum of the whole issue.

Kerry Webb said:
And I don't subscribe to the uncertainty and fear argument either. I think people in many corporate environments would be unwilling to speak out, for all sorts of reasons.
I think the important differentiation to make here is whether an individual makes a choice or is prevented?

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