Gov 2.0 culture needs nurture (and a catalyst) - and we're not there yet | acidlabs
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Gov 2.0 culture needs nurture (and a catalyst) – and we’re not there yet

Gov 2.0 culture needs nurture (and a catalyst) – and we’re not there yet

Earlier this week, I attended the FutureGov Forum Australia.

It was an interesting event, not least because the talking head component was kept to a reasonable minimum, with the model focussed on rotating tables with each new table hosting a discussion with attendees on a particular topic associated with the future of government. It worked well, although a few less topics (or some refinement) so we could spend longer with each group would have been a bonus. I spent the two days of the event mostly seated at the Government 2.0 table (thanks to Martin Stewart-Weeks of Cisco And the Government 2.0 Taskforce who generously let me horn in on his subject of expertise), but also paid visits to the Open Data and Citizen Engagement tables.

Much has been made in subsequent days of AGIMO’s Ann Steward’s comments that public servants need to be “Gov 2.0 activists”, driving change in their own agencies toward the Taskforce’s vision of Government 2.0. I agree with her, wholeheartedly.

That said, as I spoke at the forum with a range of public servants from all three levels of government and a wide range of agencies, one telling fact was apparent – in spite of all the scaffolding being in place for agencies to take real, substantial steps towards Government 2.0 in their agencies, many blocks, predominantly cultural ones, continue to persist.

Let’s be abundantly clear here, everything that needs to be done to make Government 2.0 a reality from the perspective of the legislative and executive arms of government has been done:

  • the government has accepted the Government 2.0 Taskforce’s recommendations
  • the government has also accepted all of the recommendations of the Moran Review, which supports and expands on the work of the Taskforce
  • the APSC has issued crystal clear guidance for public servants on using social tools
  • several agencies have issued their own policies and guidance that could be adopted by other agencies

Yet, the reticence to engage persists. The predominant use of social tools by government remains outward bound, transmitting old style messages via new tools. Rarely, if at all, do public servants at any level in this country actively and openly participate in public social spaces with respect to their work and the work of their agencies. As Taskforce Chairman, Nicholas Gruen notes, “…can’t we just take some baby steps. Pleeeesse?”

That post by Nick Gruen is worth reading, actually. It makes abundantly clear that the barriers are down, but that the public servants seem not to be daring to step over. To my mind, it’s that next step that needs to take place. Now, or sooner.

So, to hark back to the people I spoke with this week at the FutureGov Forum, the same old chestnuts kept coming up:

  • their IT security people wouldn’t approve access to these tools – frankly, IT security people need to get the hell out of the way, and to read this
  • their senior executive see no reason to grant access – what, an explicit imprimatur from the government isn’t enough?
  • they don’t understand the tools – just have a go, it’s not that hard
  • they are afraid of what people will do with their open data – erm, who’s doing evil with their data now and if there are unpleasant messages in the data, maybe the policy or program the data is related to needs fixing

All these (the list isn’t limited to those things, but they are the obvious ones) are matters of culture. They are things that could, with the right catalyst and nurturing, be changed over the relatively short term.

It’s time that a senior minister (yes, yes, we’re in an election – but we won’t be soon) and some very senior public servants – say the APSC Commissioner and the Secretary of PM&C – had a quiet sit down with the Secretaries and other agency heads and told them to make this happen. Now. We need an active catalyst or catalysts on the inside – an Australian equivalent to Tim Berners-Lee, Vivek Kundra or Andrew Stott. An ongoing irritant for the slow-movers.

Beyond making it happen, politicians and public servants need to explicitly move to a place where participation by public servants in the discourse about their work isn’t seen as a negative behavior laden with career risk. No wonder people are reticent when they think their actions will see them hauled before management or a Senate Estimates hearing. This must change.

We also need an active, high profile and necessarily noisy catalyst outside the government making things happen and being an irritant to those holding things up. In the US, Tim O’Reilly and Craig Newmark are ably filling that role. As passionate as Nicholas Gruen is here in Australia, I think he’s not publicly visible enough beyond the politico-tragic-media-wonk-o-sphere™ (I’m delighted, by the way, that I got to use that phrase twice today) – Newmark and O’Reilly appear regularly front-and-center in the US media.

I don’t have the answers, but have a significant number of ideas. They seem doable to me and they seem to align with the ideas of people like Ann Steward and Nicholas Gruen.

So what’s the problem?

Stephen Collins
trib@acidlabs.org
9 Comments
  • a
    Posted at 16:31h, 30 July Reply

    When we were in Taskforce supporting mode, we were saying “hey, we don’t want to see just token efforts”. I regret that now – some token efforts would mean the door would edge open just slightly, just for a second and maybe it would blow open.

    I’m not even in the APS at the moment so it’s pretty powerless sitting on the sidelines with the passion and tools to make things happen but no opportunity to apply it. If we can have a “Citizen’s Committee” on Climate Change Policy, I can only hope we’ll see a Gov2.0 Corps that the wider community can sign up to lend a hand where needed (or with the introduction of the OIC, hostile takeovers of PSI).

    • Stephen Collins
      Posted at 16:39h, 30 July Reply

      At the moment, something, anything a little adventurous would be great. A few comments by public servants on non-APS blogs, some minor participation beyond the wall.

      Small steps can be taken, proving the value in aggregate.

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    Posted at 22:43h, 30 July Reply

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    […] Allan Holmes: Craigslist creator tries to bring transparency initiative out of the shadowsPeggy Orenstein: I Tweet, Therefore I AmShira Lizar: Gov 2.0 – The Future of Government Is In Your HandsRobin Hicks: How useful is Twitter’s government service?Vlad Malik: Internet – Defining privacy in a public spaceWilliam D. Eggers: Sustainable Government is an Attainable GovernmentHoward W. Buffett: Conference of Next Generation LeadershipStephen Collins: Gov 2.0 culture need nurture (and a catalyst) – and we’re not there yet […]

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    Posted at 15:41h, 31 July Reply

    […] Allan Holmes: Craigslist creator tries to bring transparency initiative out of the shadowsPeggy Orenstein: I Tweet, Therefore I AmShira Lizar: Gov 2.0 – The Future of Government Is In Your HandsRobin Hicks: How useful is Twitter’s government service?Vlad Malik: Internet – Defining privacy in a public spaceWilliam D. Eggers: Sustainable Government is an Attainable GovernmentHoward W. Buffett: Conference of Next Generation LeadershipStephen Collins: Gov 2.0 culture need nurture (and a catalyst) – and we’re not there yet […]

  • Steve Davies
    Posted at 15:35h, 01 August Reply

    All very true Stephen. My views on this is that, however unintentionally, a culture of fear and uncertainty has been created. Mind you, looking at your points – e.g IT security, it is glaringly obvious that careers, egos and empires are tied up with the current state of affairs.

    So rather than culture – it is quite precisely a matter of procedures, processes and practices wrapped up in the messages about what is expected of good public servants. In many ways this comes down to corporate areas within agencies. Human resources, communications and organisational development areas and, to a far lesser extent, governance areas spring to mind.

    Hmmm. Public servants of the world unit, you have nothing to loose but red tape strikes me as a starting point. Along with transforming human resources, communications and organisational development areas root and branch. Those areas have become fiefdoms rather than sources of empowerment.

  • Kerry Webb
    Posted at 09:11h, 06 August Reply

    I’ll take issue with the assertion that “everything that needs to be done … has been done”. First, I think the Commonwealth did the cause a disservice by waiting for six months before issuing the Declaration (surely the easiest and cheapest action possible, and yet the most symbolic) and then only doing it as a farewell gift to Tanner – or so it seems.

    Second, where are the declarations from the states, territories and local government? Crickets.

    There’s still a lot to be done.

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