The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) has claimed it has succeeded in embracing Gov 2.0 during the past year, evolving its interaction with stakeholders to one that is less formal and more interactive.
Speaking at the recent Cebit Australia Gov 2.0 Conference, ALRC Web manager, Marie-Claire Muir, said the organisation had embraced Gov 2.0 initially through the developed of e-newsletters.
Although not technically Web 2.0 tools, Muir said the e-newsletters advanced the way the organisation communicated with its stakeholders by encouraging discussion and feedback about issues from an early stage in the inquiry.
“Prior to the submission deadline, a newsletter was sent out roughly once a month,” Muir said. “Each issue typically included a 'month in summary' recapping significant consultations, presentations, etc, and also an 'Issue in Focus', in which we would highlight a topic and present two to three questions which readers were encouraged to respond to via an online form on the website.
According to Muir, a the Issue in Focus still opened up discussion for the ALRC, as opposed to waiting for a formal Issues Paper to be published. The initiative also helped extend the ALRC’s reach, evident through the growth of the subscriber list, from approximately 290 to 950 in six months, via the website form.
Additionally, the ALRC started up a Wordpress blog with a plug-in that allowed commenting, paragraph by paragraph, similar to making notes on a real document.
The blog comprised all of the 250 questions and proposals, and encouraged public discussion. During the three months it was live, the blog was visited by approximately 1400 people and 167 comments.
Following this, the organisation started up another e-newsletter for the ALRC’s Review of Discovery law and practice in the Federal Court, and another external Wordpress blog to record comments in a discussion friendly format.
“We see real benefit in the blog even if it only serves as a way to let people see the kinds of things we are talking about, and letting them witness our conversation,” Muir said.
“In practical terms, because we are highlighting all the big issues as we go along, we’ve realised blogs like this can actually replace the formal Issues Papers we’ve produced in the past, saving us time and money, and providing alternative ways for stakeholders to respond and engage with the inquiry.”
Despite only having five comments to date, the blog has been visited 1300 times by 817 visitors.
While launching its e-newsletters, the Reform also began to use Twitter, a platform the Reform finds fast, informal and relevant. In its first year it had around 580 tweets and approximately 750 followers.
“Apart from promoting our own blogs, newsletters and general news, we also tweet news and media items that are related to our inquiry work,” Muir said. “Of course the ALRC doesn’t anticipate meaningful input to inquiries in 140 characters, but people do talk to us and ask questions via the Twitter.”
At the end of 2009, the Reform began what it calls an online consultation pilot, assisted by online engagement consultants Headshift and funded by a Gov 2.0 Taskforce grant.
“The pilot was a closed online community consisting only of invited participants representing a specific group of stakeholders spread across Australia,” Muir said.
“The community was designed to enable frank and open discussion in a secure environment between participants,” she said. “The ALRC identified a number of key issues and invited participants to discuss them, give their opinions and talk to the ALRC and other participants about any other issues they felt were relevant.”
Although it is now archived offline, Muir describes it as a social network, similar to that of Facebook, except closed, with the ability to find out about other members.
According to Muir, the network has a number of benefits for the Reform, including, the ability to communicate in a secure environment, the ability to reflect on responses as opposed to face to face engagement, the chance for participants to review and comment on each others contributions, and the lack of time and location restraints.
“Now we see online engagement as a key process and communication strategy in everything that we want to do, and that this will only continue to become more important,” said Wynn. “Of course the formal ways of engaging in ALRC work, in particular of making formal submissions will continue, but increasingly we hope to drive the submission process online because of the benefits that you can get in handling the information when it is received in an online format.”