12 Apr How’s that going to work, then? – Government 2.0 and purdah
While it’s arguable that here in Australia, we’re somewhat behind our UK and US cousins in what we’re doing with Government 2.0, it is apparent that in others we’re moving strongly ahead. As an example of us being a touch behind the 8-ball, I, along with others, am still waiting for the official government response to the Government 2.0 Taskforce Report.
On the other hand, some agencies, notably the Department of Finance and Deregulation, have opened the virtual wall around their organisation and are actively encouraging their staff, with appropriate and well-considered boundaries, to engage freely online. This is a move I strongly encourage, and I very much hope that where they have led, others will soon follow. Interestingly, and to the point I will come to shortly, this was announced by a senior public servant on Twitter and on the Department’s blog.
In year, where like our UK friends, we will face a federal election, social tools will play a major and perhaps telling role in the election itself.
At the last election, three years ago, politicians were just taking their first baby steps into this strange online world, with things such as the now Prime Minister’s Kevin ’07 videos. To be honest, I suspect most politicians are still barely at this level. There are a number of notable exceptions across all three major parties, already adept at using social tools, for whom the election will be a real test of their ability to truly engage online rather than simply using it as another place to broadcast the party line. I hope they get it right.
As freelance journalist, John Kerrison, puts it:
The options are endless but is [there] the will to really engage?
I suspect not in most cases.
But, finally, to my point in writing this post.
What I really think is going to be an additional, risk-filled, and telling part of the social media component of the election is the one we’re seeing right now in the UK general election. And that’s purdah. Or, as we so eloquently put it here, the “caretaker period”.
While here in Australia, we’re somewhat behind the UK agencies in engaging with the constituent groups the many departments serve, there are definitely strong and sometimes successful, moves afoot to engage through social media with the groups served by many federal departments. Yet, the moment the general election was called in the UK, announcements across the social sphere were made declaring these efforts closed for the duration.
This may have worked in the pre-hyperconnected world where a conversation with the department looking after your interest in something, be that social security, a passport, health matters, or whatever, only ever spoke to you by letter and occasionally phone, but it’s a move sure to cause problems today. But it’s going to cause singular problems in 2010, both in the UK and here.
I completely understand the purpose and intent of caretaker periods; placing the government and public sector on hold in terms of new work while an election takes place, but we have a problem here. People now expect their governments and the public servants who serve them to engage with them. The politicians won’t stop, yet the public servants doing the real, on the ground work, will literally stop dead. I’ve been through this several times on the inside, as a public servant, and it’s a massive disruption.
The very real risk is that difficult, hard-fought, often nascent, sometimes successful efforts at public sector to public engagement (one of the pillars of Government 2.0) suddenly gets cut off at the knees because the online world and its power is misunderstood. The early wins we’re seeing in online public engagement all of a sudden go away, potentially never to return. Especially if there’s a new government or Minister for whom online engagement is a lower priority.
Will agencies stop making phone calls to their clients? Stop writing letters? I think not.
Perhaps it’s time we stopped considering departmental web sites and social tools an optional bolt-on and put them where they belong – as a part of the critical communication network government agencies rely upon to get their message out and serve their government and public.