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Walls come tumbling down

Walls come tumbling down

Leigh Blackall has published an interesting post on the increasing elite participation in discussion around the subject matter of Government 2.0 in Australia. He sees a noticeable spike in “politicians, public servant bosses and big business” as the principal participants in the public (or near-public) discourse on the subject matter.

It’s an interesting view that I find myself both agreeing with yet disagreeing with. So, let me explain.

Yes, the discourse that’s happening, especially at the conferences organised by event management companies such as CeBIT, is visibly limited to an elite few. Agency budgets for those sorts of events are rarely spent on the people who might most benefit – those doing the work on the ground and those with the most expertise. That’s not to say senior management shouldn’t go along, they should. But access to these high-level strategic discussions needs to be given to a far broader range of individuals who might contribute.

Of course, it’s very much the case that the people involved in the public discourse on Government 2.0 are, in fact, able to access very many places – both physical and virtual – that permits them a voice.

Looking only at the virtual spaces, there are several active and thriving places:

  • GovLoop, an online community of over 30,000 public and private sector workers involved in government work, including a growing and active group of Australians
  • OzLoop, an Australian equivalent to GovLoop focussed on the APS as well as state and local government
  • several groups on LinkedIn focussed on Government 2.0 and public sector communication, including an Australian one
  • the Gov 2.0 Australia Google Group

All of these spaces, as well as physical world events such as the various professional forums anyone is free to attend, provide a real ecosystem for participation that any public sector worker interested in Government 2.0, or indeed any subject related to their profession, should be taking active advantage of. To paraphrase a rather more distasteful quote, “if it exists, there is online community of it”.

I understand Leigh’s point, though. Where is the open, all-comers discourse that is then fed back to policy and decision makers in order to influence the way our public sector engages? It can be hard to find.

So too, many agencies remain walled gardens. Their workers, desperate to engage in the conversation with their colleagues and the public, live in a rarified world, bound to IE6 and with tools already approved for use across the public sector blocked from access by misguided perceptions of time wasting, value to agency business and mythical security risks.

With the wealth of information publicly available and with a growing body of policy and reform advice already in place in this country and amongst our friends overseas, it is high time that government agencies were mandated to at the very least begin the process of bringing down the wall to participation by their staff.

Until that time, until the walls come tumbling down, Leigh remains absolutely right. The public sphere will be public, but its participants will be a very privileged few. For Government 2.0 in this country to be a success, that cannot and must not be the case.

With apologies to the Style Council.

Stephen Collins
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