for those who would make a difference

Category: CraigThomler

Governments need to think about productivity in society-wide terms, not just in terms of the public service

There’s been enormous coverage of the new Centrelink debt letters process, whereby the Department of Human Services has automated the process of matching data from the ATO and Centrelink to try to find overpayments (but not underpayments) in welfare benefits to Australia.

The automation has involved removing human quality assurance steps, which has led to the number of debt checking letters growing from 20,000 per year to 20,000 per week. Over 260,000 of these letters have been sent out to-date.

Now automated data-matching can be a fantastic thing when used well. It can reduce duplication in identification processes, find patterns and trends that inform polices and service delivery, and even identify inaccurate payments – as was the intention with this approach.

Continue Reading

Rather than ‘why’ ask ‘why not’

The US government uses to involve citizens in designing innovative solutions to government and civil challenges.
The UK government has adopted a digital-by-default approach and has mandated that agencies follow this, providing detailed guidance on what they must do and by when (even open sourcing service design guidance on GithHub for citizens to improve).
The Finnish government has adopted a crowd-sourcing approach to legislation, amending their constitution a year ago to allow citizens to develop laws which the parliament must consider and put to a vote.
Iceland’s government went a step further and crowd-sourced a new constitution.
The Canadian government used the free open source mediawiki platform to create a whole-of-government wiki for information sharing within government (the site isn’t accessible from the outside). In May 2012 it had over 32,000 users and contained over 18,000 pages of content.
58 countries (roughly 25% of all countries in the world) have joined the Open Government Partnership, making committed steps towards openness and transparency in government.
Continue Reading

When Will We See Gamification In Government?

Gamification refers to the practice of making non-game activities more like games by incorporating achievement-based reward systems.

Under gamification, using government examples, when your project or mission is complete you might receive a ‘completion badge’ (such as a letter from the Secretary, an Australia Day Award, or a medal). Or when you attain a higher level of proficiency in a particular skill you’d receive an ‘achievement’ or rise on the ‘leaderboard’ (such as a bonus or a promotion).

From the examples above, there’s clearly already aspects of gamification at work. Rewarding achievement, success and skills acquisition is a standard part of business and forms the basis of merit-based advancement systems – not just games.

However the gamification process involves a much greater level of achievement-based recognition, than has commonly been used in organisations.

Continue Reading

46 countries commit to the international Open Government Partnership

The Open Government Partnership is “a global effort to make governments better“, led by Brazil and the USA.

The concept was announced a few months ago and countries have been rapidly signing up to the commitments required to demonstrate their willingness to take action to improve transparency and accountability in government.

As their website states,

Participating countries in the Open Government Partnership pledge to deliver country action plans that elaborate concrete commitments on open government. In each country, these commitments are developed through a multi-stakeholder process, with the active engagement of citizens and civil society.

Continue Reading

Is it practical for government agencies to block web-based mail?

The Australian National Audit Office has just released a report ‘The Protection and Security of Electronic Information Held by Australian Government Agencies‘ based on a review of the approaches to information security by four agencies, the Office of Financial Management, ComSuper, Medicare Australia, and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Amongst other recommendations was one which has been much discussed on Twitter this morning, “emails using public Web-based email services should be blocked on agency ICT systems, as these can provide an easily accessible point of entry for an external attack and subject the agency to the potential for intended or unintended information disclosure.”

This reflects the recommendation in the Defense Signal Directorate’s Information Security Manual, the ‘bible’ for Australian Government agencies when it comes to ICT security, which states on page 100 that:

Agencies should not allow personnel to send and receive emails using public web-based email services.

The concerns are very clear and relevant – web-based email systems can easily be used, inadvertently or deliberately, to distribute large quantities of citizen’s personal information, or an agency’s In Confidence or other classified information rapidly and to large numbers of people, making it impossible to contain the spread of the information.

Web-based email is also a potential source of attacks against an agency, through viruses, worms and trojans in email attachments (which may not be able to be scanned at the same level as Departmental email can be) and through web-links in emails to compromised websites.

I don’t dispute these real concerns. They are concerns for corporations as well.

However, I do ask – what is ‘web-based email’?

Continue Reading
Continue Reading

What is muting Australian public servants online?

Over the last two years we’ve seen a concerted effort by governments across Australia to increase the level of online engagement, debate and discussion involving public agencies.

In 2009 the Government 2.0 Taskforce, commissioned by then Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner and chaired by Dr Nicholas Gruen, conducted a six month process of engaging public servants via online channels, pioneering the use of blogs, Twitter and Facebook to demonstrate how it was possible for the public service to effectively communicate, engage, consult and be consulted online.

Late in the same year the Australian Public Service Commission replaced its Interim Protocols for Online Media Engagement (originally released in late 2008, with the updated Circular 2009/6: Protocols for online media participation.

Early in 2010 the Australian Government released its response to the Government 2.0 Taskforce’s final report, agreeing with all except one of its recommendations (and simply deferring the remaining recommendation to after another related review was completed).

Since then we’ve seen the MAC innovation report, Empowering change: Fostering innovation in the Australian Public and the Ahead of the Game report from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, outlining steps to reform the public service.

There’s been the Declaration of Open Government, the initiation of the Government 2.0 Steering Committee, the launch of GovSpace (a blogging platform operated by the Government and open to all agencies to use).

We’ve seen more than 260 government agencies and councils join Twitter, wide ranging activity on Facebook and a proliferation of social media policies at local, state and Commonwealth level.

Agencies in Australia are using social media in ways that would have been unacceptable and unachievable even two years ago, some demonstrating world class engagement online. Some states have comprehensive action plans in place and official usage of social media by agencies in some places is approaching one hundred percent.

I don’t have the same level of information about Commonwealth agencies (there is no central register of activity or survey results, as there are for some states), however most have established some form of social media beachhead in support of campaign or corporate needs.

With all this official usage you might expect to see vibrant and active online communities of public servants discussing shared issues and best practice, or to see public servants listening to and contributing actively to online policy discussions.

Many groups set up for public servants seem to have reasonable memberships – several hundred people at least – however most of these members are silent, with at most 10% carrying on a halting conversation.

Continue Reading

Australia is the second largest government user of Yammer – over 110 active networks

There’s recently been some controversy in Australian government over the use of Yammer, a private and secure enterprise social network, which I discussed in my post, The ongoing struggles to balance IT security and staff empowerment.

I asked Simon Spencer, Yammer’s newly appointed Asia-Pacific General Manager, how many government agencies in Australia were using Yammer.

I was expecting him to answer maybe 30-40 agencies.

He told me that, counting state and federal government, there were at least 110 Australian agencies now using Yammer – with a total of around 13,000 users.

I was surprised, I hadn’t expected that much adoption.

However I was even more surprised when he gave me the global figures on take-up.

Simon said that Australia represents 29% of all government networks using Yammer. The US represents 33% and the UK about 26%. The rest of the world accounts for the other 12%.

Continue Reading

Should government policy be discussed in social media?

There’s a fantastic series of articles being published over at FutureGov Asia-Pacific at the moment, introducing some very interesting perspectives on social media and government.

One asks, Should policy be debated in social media?, providing perspectives from senior leaders in different jurisdictions across the region.

There is a fair amount of diversity in the viewpoints, however the overall consensus appears to be that it should.

Several of those asked to comment pointed out that it is happening anyway – regardless of what governments may wish.

It is my view that we’re past the point where government agencies and politicians have the luxury to choose where and how they form their policy. They can no longer fall back on government-controlled due process.

Continue Reading

What’s the risk for government agencies of NOT engaging via social media?

If you do not embrace social media soon, the digital divide in your country will be dwarfed by the divide between your country and the rest of the world.
Chris Moore, the CIO of Edmonton Canada, as reported in FutureGov Magazine.

When people ask me to consider the risks of government agencies engaging with audiences via social media, I often respond by asking them if they’ve considered the risks of not engaging.

This often gets blank looks; many people don’t often consider the risks of not doing things, even though it is a normal part of life.

For example, who today doesn’t understand the risks of not wearing seat belts? However, only 15 years ago there were plenty of concerns still raised about the risk of wearing them.

Here’s a list of some of the risks highlighted by the US anti-seatbelt movement:

  • Wouldn’t you rather be thrown through the windshield of your car to safety than trapped in a rolling vehicle? And after you are thrown through the windshield, how can you jump out of the way of your rolling car if you’re all tangled in a seatbelt?
  • As much as one tenth of one percent of auto accidents involve sudden fire or plunging into water. If everyone in the United States takes part in an annual auto accident, that’s 23,000 people who run the risk of being trapped and fatally killed by a seatbelt each year!
  • Psychiatrists say that exposing young children to practices such as bondage from an early age can cause confusion during puberty.
  • A section on seatbelts in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Web site’s FAQ says (when edited for clarity): “Wear … a seatbelt … and … you will … died.”
  • Even the statistics of the pro-seatbelt Automotive Coalition for Restraint of Freedom proves the case of their opposition. The Coalition says that seatbelts cut the risk of serious or fatal injury by 40% to 55%, but even if this number is believed, it means that seatbelts are potentially deadly in the remaining 60% to 45% of cases!
  • Seatbelting is related to the hideous ancient Chinese practice of foot binding.

I expect, over time, that many of the risks of using social media will become normalised and accepted or explained away as myths, whereas the risks of not using social media will become more acute.

Continue Reading