Gruen: Real government social media work begins now

Taskforce report author pleased with Government response, but agency and individual level action required to move Government 2.0 forward

The real social media work in Federal Government will come from agencies and public servants rather than high-level bureaucrats, according to author of the Government 2.0 Taskforce report.

Nicholas Gruen told Computerworld Australia he was "very pleased" with the Federal Government's response to the report announced this week.

"We gave them a good plate full of quite strong recommendations and they've dealt with them, not only in good faith but with enthusiasm," he said.

However, Gruen said he was more interested in how the Government's response would affect the way departments and individuals enact the recommendations.

"People were always talking to me about the Government's responses, if it was the make or break for the taskforce and for the policy. While at the highest levels of Government we could have done a good job or stuffed it up, the real work gets done at the agency level and the individual public servant level. That's where the really important work gets to be done."

Under the report's recommendations, which were agreed to by the Government, the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) would negotiate with the Department of Finance and Deregulation as well as individual departments on developing online engagement policies for staff.

"It is incumbent on the senior APS leadership to ensure that top-down change is enabled in agencies," the Government's response reads, "and that APS employees are genuinely encouraged and empowered to engage online within their agency-specific context."

Some policies already exist - such as those from Immigration and Finance (PDF) itself.

In addition, the Finance department's Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) has established the first Government blog hosted on the Joomla-based [[xref:http://govspace.gov.au|Govspace website. According to the Australian Government chief information officer, Ann Steward, the blog intends to be an open forum of discussion between the office and the public, in which comments will be lightly moderated and acknowledged.

However, how these policies translate to action from the agencies and the individuals is yet to be ascertained. The recognition of Government 2.0 effort in the Federal Government's existing e-government awards system is believed to incentivise change in this regard.

"Agencies may wish to develop internal incentive mechanisms – in addition to the Government 2.0 awards proposed at recommendation 5 of the Report – to encourage employee innovation and online engagement," the response said.

Acidlabs founder and social media expert, Stephen Collins, applauded the Government's efforts to recognise public servants and whole agencies that engage online.

"Very many public servants already engage online," Collins wrote on the Acidlabs website. "That they now have an imprimatur to do so should see a significant growth in such engagement... I suspect, however, that many agencies will remain reluctant to engage openly while certain attitudes amongst some senior management, IT and agency security staff and DSD remain in place."

Collins said that a directive from higher-level government agencies, rather than a recommendation, would help push traditionally reluctant agencies to rethink policies.

As part of the changes, the Finance department will also establish a restricted online forum to "assist agencies to record their initiatives and lessons learned", though no specific timeframe has been set. Collins pointed to an existing forum, Govdex, but suggested that a new, less restricted forum may provide better incentive to some departments.

Gruen said he wasn't concerned about one of the major pitfalls of the Government's response; the lack of clear timelines for implementing the recommendations.

"That's one of the difficulties of the agenda; it's not something that one can simply conjure up," he said. "You can't say 'within six months at least three departments will be running blogs.' We argue that there are lots of opportunities for government agencies to behave like we behaved when we ran the taskforce."

"The only thing is, we can't know if it's a success until we see how projects get delivered and the extent to which things change."

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