The Government 2.0 Taskforce has invited public collaboration on a government document by launching a beta version of their issues paper, in one of the first major Australian government initiatives to utilise collaborative Web 2.0 technologies.
The paper Towards Government 2.0, is designed to encourage public submissions on how social media and Web 2.0 techniques should be used to open up government processes.
The move to embrace Web 2.0 techniques is being pushed as part of the Government’s National Broadband Strategy and mirrors international projects, such as the United States’ Data.Gov initiative, which aims to provide public access to Federal Government data and encourage new means of access and analysis from the online community.
Head of social technologies at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum and taskforce member, Sebastian Chan, says that the paper’s use of the CommentsPress engine -- an open source theme for the WordPress blogging engine that allows readers to comment paragraph by paragraph in the margins of a text -- exemplified the goals of Government 2.0.
"What we’re trying to do here is, where possible, model the process of transparency and openness that Government 2.0 is about, and to make sure that the taskforce has the ability to absorb as many comments, feedback and directions from the community as possible," Chan said.
Along with comments from the tech sector, the issues paper also sought to gain feedback from the wider community to seriously address issues of accessibility and equity, Chan said.
"That’s often missed in discussions about Government 2.0 – our internet penetration in the community is not as high as some other countries who have taken this on more seriously, certainly some of the work in the Netherlands – they have 99 per cent broadband penetration, and a huge amount of mobile take-up,” he says. “We have nowhere near that, so we need to make sure that Government 2.0 isn’t creating another niche lobby group." Mark Pesce, pioneer co-developer of Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML) used to create virtual worlds networked via the Internet and hyperlinked with the World Wide Web, consulted with members of the taskforce on some of the implications of the proposal and how an open, online system of government might operate.
"When you’re essentially changing the focus of government from having a predisposition to close information down, to evolving to a place where the predisposition is to open information up, there’s going to be a lot of things that have to be considered, politically, legally, [and] ethically," Pesce said.
"They’re looking at how to open things up, but they’re also looking at ‘what is the state of the mechanism of government?’ You can’t really separate those things, because once you open these things up - once the public is out there doing interesting things with the data - that changes the processes of Government."
While the Government 2.0 initiative held enormous potential, there were a number of issues to worked through, Pesce said. Chiefly among these, the government needed to consider how the project’s open ethos would interact with, and be balanced with Australia’s strong privacy laws.
“Also, at some point the desire of the Federal Government to open up is going to collide with the states’ capability to open, because a lot of this data is on paper - it needs to be entered, to be typed into something if that data’s going to be made open," he said.
"There’s this weird coalition of technologists and bureaucrats who live at this intersection – and I think they’re looking at something that will bring these communities together. I left the meeting very excited, because at the very least people are sitting down and thinking about these things, and that’s the first step."
Chan says that the next step in the Government 2.0 initiative will be to stage public exhibitions and competitions, including a potential Data.Gov equivalent, mashup competitions and data-sharing experiments designed to involve the public more closely in the project.
"It’ll be about showing what can actually be done if these directions are followed; modeling some of the possibilities for the public sector and community at large,” he said. “It’s an exciting time, and I hope that we can do some things that focus attention on these issues, and maybe leap-frog the US and UK. If we do it right, it’s a great opportunity."
The Towards Government 2.0 beta ideas paper is open for comment and feedback until Thursday July 23rd.