This is a repost of a series of three blogs I did on my personal website that I thought others might enjoy. It could also be supplemented with the Gov 2.0 Public Sphere briefing paper done in July 2009, which is one of the most comprehensive resources on the topic around.

Enjoy! :)

Gov 2.0: Where to Begin by Pia Waugh

Originally published in July 2009 at Pia's blog: What are we doing today, brain?

Gov 2.0: Where to begin

Over the last few months I have met many of Australia’s leading “social media experts”, have spoken at various Government 2.0 events and have been closely watching the initiatives happening in the U.K. and U.S., both of which have some important lessons for Australia. I have also worked closely with Kate Lundy, Senator for the ACT (whose vision and capability in this space is way ahead of the pack) to design and coordinate some really cutting edge Government 2.0 initiatives (including the Public Spheres).

We are focusing primarily on online engagement with constituents, and citizen engagement with government processes such as policy development.
If there is one thing I have learned, it is that Government 2.0 is an overused and often misunderstood term, one that many people are rushing to understand and implement. There are some great ideas out there, however you should cross-reference to ensure you get an informed view.

I thought I would write this piece about Government 2.0, Web 2.0 and “Open Government” along with some suggestions for people (particularly in government) to get up to speed in this area and hopefully assist them in their first steps.

2 point what?

When I first heard the term “Government 2.0” I thought it sounded pretty silly. It was obviously riffing on “Web 2.0” (another overused term that can mean a lot of things), and a lot of the successes talked about looked like fairly straightforward uses of the Internet by politicians and government agencies. A lot of people wade into the Government 2.0 debate with talk about access to data and transparent decision making, and this starts to delve into Open Government rather than Web 2.0. So let’s start with trying to first better define Web 2.0, Open Government and then finally Government 2.0.

Web 2.0

Wikipedia defines Web 2.0 as being second generation web development and design. I think there are four main identifying features of ”Web 2.0”. I say this not as a “Web 2.0” expert, but as a long time geek observing this space and working with the technologies:
  • Online and always connected - being online at all times means people can use it at their convenience, and data can be constantly used, collected and aggregated
  • Massive integration and aggregation - This facilitates data mashups, cross-platform communications and the ability to publish once and to many places
  • Broadcast conversation - enables global “social networking”, online public community development, a shift from one2many (eg - public statements) to many2many (eg - online forums and chat), and the range of public and private conversations therein
  • Beautiful and dynamic user experience - the shift to a user-centric, dynamic, interactive and beautiful user experience is an important factor, especially as there is much more understanding now about how people use the Internet, and how this differs from other media

Open Government

In Australia we are very lucky to already have an open government. There is a lot of public engagement, consultation and information made available. Online tools and methodologies offer some new ways to
improve our system, and to help get the average busy Aussie engaged. I think “Open Government” is the natural result when you have both:
  • government policy and practice that informs, empowers, involves and collaborates with citizens, and
  • a well informed and engaged public (which is essential for democracy)

We have identified three main focus areas for Open Government:
  • Open and transparent decision making - engaging citizens directly in the processes of decision making, whether that be political (eg - policy or legislative development) or bureaucratic (eg - planning a new piece of public infrastructure). This improves public trust in government as it becomes open for scrutiny and oversight.
  • Citizen-centric services - government agencies (and services) engaging with citizens based on their individual needs, which can mean leveraging information such as their location or the type of help they need, perhaps even personal information. This means citizens are given the right information, from the right person, in a single place.
  • Access to government information - ensuring all government information that can be made available (excluding data with privacy, security or commercialisation implications) is available to the general public.
    This will encourage public and private innovation on top of government data, to the benefit of the society and economy.
Senator Lundy communicates these ideas well on her blog post “The Three Pillars of Open Government”, so I won’t go on to describe them in further detail, however the idea of Open Government has been around for a long time.

Government 2.0

Government 2.0 is about using the new opportunities presented by Web 2.0 technical and social methodologies to achieve even more openness in government.

It encapsulates next generation models for government processes including online consultation processes, realtime citizen engagement, empowerment and followup, a shift in government services delivery to be more citizen-centric, facilitating public and private innovation through open and permissive access to useful government data (such as maps, rss feeds for council news, public facilities) and much more.

There are no doubt many Government 2.0 initiatives that haven’t even been imagined yet.

Pretty scary stuff for many! After all, change can imply risk. It has however become very clear that people are expecting more engagement and empowerment from government agencies and their political representatives. The changing expectations combined with the increasing need for governments to be capable of reacting rapidly and collaboratively to new issues is driving forward the need for Government 2.0.

First steps for Government 2.0

I have tried to put together some very practical first steps for government representatives and agencies who are struggling to understand this space. The first step is to gather information. Above is hopefully some
useful working definitions that will help, but you should also read the draft briefing paper from Senator Lundy’s Public Sphere event on Government 2.0, which is the collation of several hundred perspectives and ideas in
this space. All the videos, Twitter chatter and blog comments are
linked there too.
It would also be useful to read the report from the Australian Government 2.0 Taskforce, and to speak to AGIMO who have a Web Publishing Guide which is being updated to assist government agencies in this area.

Learn from others’ success

“That some achieve great success, is proof to all that others can achieve it as well.” Abraham Lincoln
Look at the existing successes around the world, and the broader impact of these case studies. This will help you understand some basic strategies
that may suit you and some ideas of the impact that may result. Below
I’ve put four sets of examples I think we can learn a lot from.

Success in the UK

In the United Kingdom there has been a lot of work done to look at “Gov 2.0” by the “Power of Information Taskforce”, which was established in 2008 based on a report completed in 2007 by Ed Mayo and Tom Steinberg called the ‘Power of Information review‘. The core aspects of the Taskforce recommendations include: helping people online where they seek help; innovate and co-create with citizens online; open up the policy dialogue online; reform geospatial data; modernise data publishing and reuse; and a modern capability.

The UK has a Minister for Digital Engagement, which has provided political leadership in this area. There are a series of Government 2.0 initiatives being undertaken under this portfolio. At this point the main initiatives appear to be around copyright reform and data accessibility, and their challenges in these areas are similar to
Australia. They have gone through consultation and are now in the actual project phase of implementing digital engagement. Will Perrin (Secretary of the Power of Information Taskforce) wrote a very useful blog post about more collaborative policy development including a link to a draft white paper he is writing on the subject.

Success in the US

It is worth looking at how President Obama has used online tools. His first Memorandum in office was on this topic stating “The Memorandum calls for instilling three principles in the workings of government:
  • Transparency – to enable greater accountability, efficiency, and economic opportunity by making government data and operations more open;
  • Participation – to create early and effective opportunities to drive greater and more diverse expertise into government decision making;
  • Collaboration – to generate new ideas for solving problems by fostering cooperation across government departments, across levels of government, and with the public“.
President Obama has also started a new initiative called “Open Government” to assess how to generally improve the transparency and openness of the United States Government. Also for many years in the US, all
non-private government data has been released into the public domain which encourages massive public and private innovation with the data to the benefit of the economy and society. There is a good Gov 2.0 showcase available of US government agency case studies.

Success in Australia

There are some amazing individuals who have been pushing this barrow for years - with varying degrees of success - and have created some cutting edge Gov 2.0 initiatives.

At an agency level, there are many successes driven by passionate Web 2.0 and Gov 2.0 individuals which has been extremely beneficial to many projects and citizens. I’ll post some of these case studies soon. Unfortunately, often enough, champions of citizen-centric services and online engagement in the public service
are unable to talk publicly about their successes, but that is another story. There are some useful examples of Gov 2.0 in the public sector in the recent Government 2.0 Public Sphere briefing paper which is still in draft. Hopefully the resulting list of Gov 2.0 case studies in the public sector can be published as a showcase of
Australian successes.

We’ve also had a number of interesting cases in the Australian political sphere. Senator Lundy has been leading the way in online engagement with her constituents and the broader community through her website (she’s run her own website for over 13 years) and more recently her engagement on Twitter. The take-up of online tools by politicians has been slow, however this is beginning to change. Senator Lundy references some new approaches by politicians in the speech she delivered at CeBIT this year. Minister Tanner wrote an interesting book that relates nicely to this space called “Open Australia” in 1999.

You should try to connect with other people in government to share successes and learn from each other.

The long term success in the Open Source community

Finally, there are many lessons that can be learned from the Open Source community. The strategies of online engagement, public collaboration on projects, encouraging positive and constructive input, consultative decision-making and open and transparent processes have been very effectively used by the Open Source community for over 20 years. Here are a few examples:
  • Encouraging constructive public contributions - ensure there is a well-communicated tangible goal of the project to ensure everyone is heading in the right direction. Thus you can draw your community back from unconstructive behaviours. You also need to set the tone of the project. Whether it be some
    instructions on how you’d like them to participate or something as simple as a code of conduct, setting the tone will help keep the community constructive. Users will often self-regulate if there is
    clear direction on the goals and tone of the project.
  • Ensure people can easily find and then access whatever they need to contribute - the more barriers to entry (which may be anything from a non-disclosure agreement to buried information) the fewer participants you’ll get. You need great documentation for how to participate and to explain the philosophy of the project. Where possible, include people in the planning phases and decision making of your project so the process benefits from broader community input and also from people wanting to see it succeed due to the sense of personal contribution in the process.
  • Release early, release often - this idea is based on software code being released early in the development cycle, and as often as possible, as this makes it easier for other software developers to test and contribute to the project. From a Gov 2.0 perspective, this could be applied to any sort of online engagement from policy development to general communications. People would prefer to have access to the information in a way they can both access and hopefully contribute to than to wait for a potentially more perfect but slower response. The perceived perfect is the enemy of the good, particularly when it comes to establishing an open process.
  • Many eyes make all bugs shallow - basically the power of “crowdsourcing” as it is becoming known. Creating a discussion or a thing in the public eye and garner the wisdom of the crowd by encouraging and empowering many participants.

Define your Government 2.0 success criteria

It’s important to consider early on what Government 2.0 means to you, both strategically and practically? What do you see as success criteria for a successful Gov 2.0 implementation? My big picture success criteria are around the three pillars described earlier, but you need to be clear on what it means to you while also being open to new ideas and potential opportunities.

Carefully evaluate your options

Ensure you know at all times what you want to achieve, the basic requirements you would like to meet, and the mandatory requirements you have to meet. You don’t want to jump into new shiny tools just to catch up.
Rather you should have a well-considered Gov 2.0 strategy that includes how any new approaches fit into your workflow, how they are resourced and maintained, how they fit into your broader communication strategy,
and how they best serve your users.

For instance, you need to consider how you best use existing social networking tools as part of your Gov 2.0 strategy. Twitter is great for three specific tasks: updates; for specific conversations; and for rapidly generating
interest and ideas for a project or conference. It shouldn’t be used trivially however people do like to see the real person behind the Twitter account, so some personal insight is also of value. You do need to ensure you have transparency in who is actually posting.
In Senator Lundy’s office we use Wordpress for the main website, which integrates with Twitter and has great social media plugins. We also use Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, Vimeo and FlickR (soon to be added to the website). We are looking at some additional tools, but importantly, we are making sure everything is
integrated to create a cohesive online presence. There is a lot of work in signing up and maintaining a number of online services, and dealing with them all independently of each other defeats some of the benefits.
You want to ensure that staff are able to communicate externally and have access to useful social networking sites (it helps them, helps you, and helps your users) but are also aware of what they should not discuss
Some vendors will be trying to entice you to put all your data into the “cloud”, but all of government has an obligation to ensure their data is stored within the Australian legal jurisdiction, which means offshore storage of government data is neither appropriate nor responsible. All of government is supposed to adhere to open
standards for their data, and this is extremely important to ensure you can access your own data down the track, and to share data between different systems. Consider when evaluating your normal ICT systems how
easy it would be to open up various processes or information which will hopefully help you avoid locking to systems that don’t facilitate your Gov 2.0 strategy.

Some ideas that are not current obligations include the consideration of how new systems will integrate with other systems, and what the exit cost of any new strategy is as part of the TCO analysis. Ensure you find expertise in this area to assist you.

Beware the hype

“Government 2.0” is a current buzz phrase, and when you hear it used, it could mean just about anything from having a Facebook account to a fully geospatial integrated citizen-centric solution for delivery of services. There is a lot of hype about, and you need to ensure that when you are engaging with experts in this space that they really know what they are talking about. You also need to carefully consider new products and services in this space to ensure they meet your strategic needs. Simple and easy solutions, particularly the solutions your users can engage with and aggregate will be more used and more useful.

Cross reference advice you receive, build relationships with several people/groups/companies in this area, get your people involved in the community, and pool your resources with others in government to help
you. Finding and pooling useful resources and advice AGIMO have a useful Web Publishing guide which is currently being updated to include useful Gov 2.0 technologies and methodologies, and they are trying to aggregate case studies in this space, so talk to them about what you are trying to achieve and to
connect with other agencies in the same boat. Also find and engage directly with the community (see below).
Start a collaborative group or get in touch with pre-exisiting networks like the Local Government Web Network, to share experiences with other agencies, and to pool the wisdom available within agencies and externally. Start to list helpful resources, reading materials, people to talk to. It may be useful to create an advisory panel with reputable people in this space for government engagement and collaboration. This will help you have a
more rounded and informed approach in creating your own Gov 2.0 strategy.
Senator Lundy ran a recent “Public Sphere: Government 2.0” event which had several hundred contributors to the event, blog, Twitter-feed and live-blogging. The briefing paper has useful and well-considered ideas and recommendations for government from experts all around Australia and the world. All video footage of the event is publicly available.

There is a movie project called UsNow which covers this area quite well. The website says “New technologies and a closely related culture of collaboration present radical new models of social organisation. This project brings together leading practitioners and thinkers in this field and asks them to determine the opportunity for government.” It is worth watching and includes several interesting case studies.

Finally, allow your staff to engage with the Web 2.0 and Gov 2.0 community.

Engage with the community

There are some passionate individuals and communities in this space, and empowering one or a few internal champions to engage will be enormously beneficial through what is learned and then able to be integrated into
your strategy. Below are a few communities I know of:
  • Twitter - check out the #publicsphere, #gov2au and #gov20 hashtags (discussions), and connect with people who are participating in the discussion. This will rapidly get you in touch with many local experts,
    as well as in tune with what the Twitter community interested in this space are saying.
  • Conferences - look for and attend Gov 2.0, Web 2.0 and Open Government events, and the Local Government Web Network conference. There are many happening in Australia at the moment, and some significant ones also happening overseas. I won’t bother listing some here as the information will date very quickly. You’ll find they are usually announced on some of the Gov 2.0 communities below.
  • Gov 2.0 groups/lists - there are several useful ones. A few I’ve joined include the Gov 2.0 Australia mailing list, GovLoop networking group, the Gov 2.0 Ning group, and of course it is worth subscribing to and participating in the Government 2.0 Taskforce blog.

Find small wins first

There will always be small wins, and the best thing to do would be to consult with your users on what they want and their prioritisation to help you identify small and quick wins in this space. A few potential examples
are below, just to get you thinking about what sort of practical things you might want to do:
  • Ensure your news and information is available by RSS or ATOM, both are formats that allow people to subscribe to and even aggregate your updates. News might include Council or agency updates, weather reports, press releases or speeches. Anything you want to communicate publicly.
  • Ensure geospatial data (location) is stored with your data, for instance, infrastructure projects or events have clear location information. Then expose this location data along with the normal information so both you and the general public can create user-centric maps based on your your data.
  • Iterative improvements - don’t look for a single, all-inclusive solutions, because a) great ones don’t exist, b) they rarely do any one thing particularly well and c) they will be out of date within the month and
    are hard to replace or append to. Look for specific functions you want, and iteratively add them as part of your backend suite, integrating them seamlessly into your front end. This way you can add and remove
    functions as you want them. To achieve this you need all your technology to be standards compliant both in terms of web standards, data formats, and protocols. It will give you a lot of flexibility in the long run.
  • When considering public consultations, put the consultation online on a blog post for public comment and allow people to respond to each other. Let people know the comments will be included in the public consultation. You could also run a Public Sphere event for further public consultation.

Constantly re-evaluate

Ensure you plan into your Gov 2.0 strategy regular reassessment (perhaps quarterly or half yearly), as this area will continue to change and shift. You need to be able to adapt and engage. Your participation in the Gov 2.0 community will assist you in assessing your own progress.

The 7 lessons from Obama

Below are the “7 lessons learned from the Obama campaign” presented recently at the Frocomm Gov 2.0 conference I attended by Brian Giesen, a Senior Digital Strategist from 360° Digital Influence. I think the 7 lessons/observations are quite useful.

I’ve added my thoughts to each of his points after a dash:
  1. Own your search engine results (paid & unpaid) - you can do this by optimising your website(s) for good searchability, and if you can by spending some money for paid search results (eg - Google ads).
  2. Find an internal social media champion (with genuine passion) - then empower them. Ensure they are collaborative and consultative in their approach, and ensure you pick the right person. The young graphic designer with a cool haircut may not be the right person, you need to ask around.
  3. Create a presence off the .gov domain (eg facebook Youtube Twitter). Ensure it is well staffed and well researched - and ensure all your online presences are aggregated back on your main website, and that everything is integrated such that items published in one medium, can appear on other mediums. Eg - your blog posts can automatically be published in Twitter and on Facebook with some pretty basic tools, like Twittertools for Wordpress.
  4. Listen, plan and then engage with online communities - there are loads of Web 2.0, Gov 2.0, geospatial, political and many other communities with an active presence online with whom you can communicate. You can also look at who your end users are (constituents, general public, statisticians, etc) and try to
    engage them online.
  5. Be fast, nimble & willing to try new things - Given the rapid pace of online communications, there is certainly some risk involved, however citizens will appreciate more transparency into your office or agency, and by being constantly open to new things, you’ll maximise the opportunities to engage and improve services-delivery.
  6. Offer ladder of engagement, so people can engage as much or as little as they like, but have options - this basically means to ensure that individuals in the public can engage in a variety of ways to facilitate their specific interest level, from simply posting a comment, right through to running events and direct
    consultation in major projects. This empowers people to want to engage.
  7. Find influencers and make them fans. eg, invite to the conversation, give them tools - engage with connectors, leaders and influential people in your area. If they love what you are doing, that will encourage people in their sphere of influence to check your work out.

Last word

This is a very exciting time for government and citizens. We have new opportunities to improve our democracy through the use of online technical and social methodologies. You need to ensure you approach Government 2.0 with your eyes open, and in partnership with the broader community. This will help you achieve the best outcomes for you and your users/constituents.

Good luck, have fun and thank you for helping make Australia an even better place to live, an even better democracy and a world leader in the information society!

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Comment by Fergal Coleman on March 31, 2011 at 10:42pm

Great post Pia,

I believe its just as relevant as when you first posted it - the challenges I find in government (or local at any rate) are1. to use web 2.0 and social media strategically so that initiatives are sustainable over the long term and 2. to change behavioursthat are long ingrained. We work to a strategic framework that includes a strong element of  people and process as much as technology.

You have touched on them both here although with a slightly different twist

Comment by Amelia Loye on March 24, 2011 at 10:05am
This is very helpful Pia. Thank you.
Comment by Pia Waugh on March 9, 2011 at 1:54pm
Heh, thanks Craig! :) What can I say, I'm timeless ;) Want to post this as my personal contribution to your book?
Comment by Craig Thomler on March 9, 2011 at 7:58am
Interesting that an 18 month old post remains just as relevant today.
Comment by Synaps on January 20, 2011 at 12:26pm

Hi Pia,

Further to the last comment;

The intent does not have to be anything  especially lofty. Say for instance in the public service. The sort of intent that would be great for everyone would be "Do the best we can for our employers, the citizenry that we are here to help." We all know how much better it is when we deal with someone who is trying their best to help us through the sometimes obtuse workings of government. Contrast that to the officious, by the book, cover their arse  type.

The helpful leaves one feeling good about at least the people of the system. The officious leaves one feeling oppressed by a heartless Government that is there for some other reason than servicing the needs of the population.

If the belief of all, or at least a large majority, of the public sector was that their function is to service the needs of the population to the best of their ability, not filling in time to payday, not career boosting, not toadying up to the boss,not having to get their own way, not doing special deals, etc., then outcomes will be great. The 'willingness to helpers' add friendly flexibility and "easy outcomes" Whereas the 'rigid rulers', the "slackers' and the 'bent' are inherently hostile, and toxic to the system.


This brings me to my favourite saying "Keep your eyes on the Prize"

Comment by Synaps on January 17, 2011 at 1:33pm

Hi Pia,

Ah yes, there is the nature of the intent.  The statement I made was a "fomula'. The "intent' is a variable.

The question now is, What will be the Nature of that Intent? What will be it's value?


Also there is the matter of systems. As government is a wholly contained subset of the population, for there to be optimal operation of the system, it should act in accordance with the beliefs of the whole. I know that some will say that this is what we have now, but is it? No "specials"?

If we wish to fool around with outcomes, what we need to do is alter the belief of the system.


Comment by Pia Waugh on January 17, 2011 at 12:56pm

Hi Synaps. On one hand I agree. If the intent is to really hear what people have to say and try to do what they want, that might help, but often once intent is put into practise things fall over. Outcomes can be unpredictable. There is possibly too much intent in gov, and perhaps it should be more about representing and enacting the intent of the people ;)

Comment by Synaps on January 17, 2011 at 12:30pm
If a suitable intent is held by the participants of a given system, the outcome is assured. The details will evolve as needs be.

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