Today, the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment responded to the report of the Gov­ern­ment 2.0 Taskforce.

While this response has taken rather longer than I would have hoped, that the gov­ern­ment has responded in what appears to be an emerg­ing elec­tion period, with many pol­icy changes cur­rently in the pub­lic eye, means I am more than pleased that the response has taken place.

In the spirit of Sen­a­tor Kate Lundy’s invi­ta­tion to respond in her announce­ment today, my response is offered in a sim­i­lar spirit; I am aware that work­ing with and for the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment is a sig­nif­i­cant part of the bread and but­ter that is acid­labs’ busi­ness, but nobody and no pol­icy from the gov­ern­ment ought be immune to crit­i­cism, whether pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive in nature. I hope that politi­cians involved in this process and the pub­lic ser­vants work­ing for them read this post and con­sider these views along with the inevitable oth­ers that will be published.

First, sep­a­rate from the response itself, I am curi­ous as to why it has been pub­lished only as RTF and PDF. Look­ing at the doc­u­ment, it would have been per­fectly suit­able for pub­li­ca­tion as XHTML and sig­nif­i­cantly eas­ier to deal with for those with acces­si­bil­ity issues if that had been the case. I under­stand this is com­ing soon.

Sec­ond, con­grat­u­la­tions to the gov­ern­ment for pub­lish­ing the response under a Cre­ative Com­mons Attri­bu­tion 2.5 Aus­tralia license. This walks the talk of one of the Task­force rec­om­men­da­tions and is most welcome.

On to the specifics.

Cen­tral Rec­om­men­da­tion: A dec­la­ra­tion of open gov­ern­ment by the Aus­tralian Government

That the gov­ern­ment has agreed with the Taskforce’s cen­tral rec­om­men­da­tion and com­mit­ted to a dec­la­ra­tion of open gov­ern­ment is greatly wel­comed. I hope that the dec­la­ra­tion, when it comes, can some­how be enshrined in leg­is­la­tion so that future gov­ern­ments and the pub­lic sec­tor are legally com­mit­ted to main­tain­ing this open­ness in the years to come.

Rec­om­men­da­tion 2: Coor­di­nate with lead­er­ship, guid­ance and support

I think that assign­ing the role of lead agency to the Depart­ment of Finance and Dereg­u­la­tion is largely work­able and the remain­der of the com­mit­ments in the response pro­vide a good under­pin­ning to this com­mit­ment. I would like to see, how­ever, exter­nal cit­i­zen or Ombudsman-​​like involve­ment in this to pro­vide a check against the inevitable bureau­cracy. A lit­tle loos­en­ing of the metaphor­i­cal shirt-​​buttons would not go astray.

How that might be achieved is open to dis­cus­sion and interpretation.

The com­mit­ment to engage COAG is also very wel­come, though this engage­ment needs to extend to local gov­ern­ment as well. It is at the local level that much of the promise of Gov­ern­ment 2.0 can be realised. It is where the rub­ber hits the road, in com­mu­ni­ties that need deliv­ery of gov­ern­ment ser­vices, that most engage­ment with soci­ety can take place.

Rec­om­men­da­tion 3: Improve guid­ance and require agen­cies to engage online

The Depart­ment of Finance and Dereg­u­la­tion is already lead­ing the way by pub­lish­ing their own social media guide­lines. While I have minor dif­fer­ences of opin­ion with the Depart­ment on the poli­cies in this doc­u­ment, I largely believe it’s a great piece of work that could form the basis of the guid­ance the Steer­ing Group and APSC will develop.

Many agen­cies still lack the cul­ture and exper­tise required to imple­ment social com­po­nents into their every­day busi­ness. It will be a crit­i­cal, if not the most crit­i­cal com­po­nent of work that the Steer­ing Group ensures agen­cies are pro­vided with inter­nal exper­tise from pub­lic sec­tor work­ers and, where needed and appro­pri­ate, exter­nal help, in order to bring these skills and the cul­ture needed into fruition.

Includ­ing progress reports into the State of the Ser­vice report is an admirable start­ing point. Over time, this should go fur­ther and be ongo­ing, live infor­ma­tion open to con­stant com­ment and input from agen­cies, pub­lic ser­vants and the pub­lic rather than an annual note in a report read lit­tle beyond the bounds of the pub­lic service.

Inclu­sion of open sub­mis­sion require­ments should have been agreed rather than agreed in prin­ci­ple. The rec­om­men­da­tion from the Task­force already con­tained the nec­es­sary caveats to exclude highly sen­si­tive mate­r­ial from the open sub­mis­sion process. Of course, it’s not appro­pri­ate to expose com­mer­cial secrets or national secu­rity mate­r­ial by this process. That was already covered.

With respect to an open sub­mis­sion require­ment, the response, to my mind, would have been bet­ter if there was an absolute com­mit­ment to open sub­mis­sions (as the Task­force itself had dur­ing its exis­tence) unless com­mer­cial or national secu­rity pro­vi­sions applied.

Rec­om­men­da­tion 4: Encour­age pub­lic ser­vants to engage online

Very many pub­lic ser­vants already engage online. That they now have an impri­matur to do so should see a sig­nif­i­cant growth in such engage­ment. Obvi­ously, appro­pri­ate rules linked to behav­iors, good dig­i­tal cit­i­zen­ship and the var­i­ous Codes of Con­duct rightly apply. 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.

It would be ben­e­fi­cial, if as an addi­tion to the response today, a direc­tive was issued jointly by the Prime Min­is­ter, the APSC Com­mis­sioner and the Finance Min­is­ter direct­ing agen­cies to engage online; devel­op­ment of nec­es­sary exper­tise amongst staff in those agen­cies notwithstanding.

The response to Rec­om­men­da­tion 4.4 sug­gests incor­po­ra­tion of public-​​generated con­tent as a part of many agen­cies’ Gov­ern­ment 2.0 pro­grams. I think this is a fan­tas­tic idea, but it will need some care­ful man­age­ment when applied to con­tentious material.

Online forums already exist for agen­cies to share their lessons and ini­tia­tives. I am aware how­ever that even Gov­dex is blocked in some agen­cies, or strong resis­tance to its use exists. It is not a panacea, but it is use­ful. Addi­tion­ally, the Gov 2.0 Aus­tralia Google Group con­tin­ues to grow as a place to dis­cuss these issues across lev­els of gov­ern­ment and inter­na­tion­ally. Mem­ber­ship is becom­ing more obvi­ously pub­lic servant-​​centric rather than con­sul­tants, and this is a good thing. Forums such as the Google Group, Gov­Loop and Ozloop should be equally endorsed for these kinds of dis­cus­sions and shar­ing, where appropriate.

Rec­om­men­da­tion 5: Awards

As uncon­tro­ver­sial as this is, well done for com­mit­ting to include Gov­ern­ment 2.0 ini­tia­tives in pub­lic sec­tor awards for eGovernment.

Rec­om­men­da­tion 6: Make pub­lic sec­tor infor­ma­tion open, acces­si­ble and reusable

Choos­ing to agree in prin­ci­ple and agree, with mod­i­fi­ca­tion is a bit cagey to my mind. There’s lit­tle in the Task­force rec­om­men­da­tions that require either qual­i­fi­ca­tion, even con­sid­er­ing the FoI reforms in train. Agree­ing to use CC-​​BY as the default and other licenses on those occa­sions where nec­es­sary (which needs def­i­n­i­tion) would have been non-​​controversial and given the gov­ern­ment a way to reform notions of mat­ters such as Crown Copyright.

Com­mit­ting to full devel­op­ment of data​.gov​.au is a great step for­ward. Ensur­ing agen­cies are required to pub­lish their data sets, sub­ject to appro­pri­ate exclu­sions and de-​​identification would have been a step better.

Rec­om­men­da­tion 7: Address­ing issues in the oper­a­tion of copyright

My com­ments to the response for Rec­om­men­da­tion 6 apply equally here.

While I am cer­tainly not a lawyer, I see no rea­son the mat­ter could not have been passed to the Office of the Infor­ma­tion Com­mis­sioner for man­age­ment. To me, this looks like a bit of an out for the gov­ern­ment, but we shall see. There may be entirely valid rea­sons for reject­ing this recommendation.

Rec­om­men­da­tion 8: Infor­ma­tion pub­li­ca­tion scheme

Not much to com­ment on here. It would have been nice to see an agreed in this case, com­mit­ting the OIC and the gov­ern­ment to a reform agenda that enshrined Rec­om­men­da­tion 8 in the oper­a­tional frame­work of the OIC.

Rec­om­men­da­tion 9: Accessibility

It is heart­en­ing to see a re-​​commitment to the ear­lier announce­ment from the Finance Min­is­ter and AGIMO with respect to hav­ing all agen­cies com­ply with WCAG 2.0. This will go a long way to ensur­ing equi­table access to gov­ern­ment infor­ma­tion for dis­abled Australians.

While this may not have been con­sid­ered pre­vi­ously, the notion of acces­si­bil­ity includes equi­table access regard­less of con­nect­ed­ness. This is an issue that remains unad­dressed in this document.

Rec­om­men­da­tion 10: Secu­rity and Web 2.0

Again, I think this could have been a sim­ple agreed, rather than an agreed, with mod­i­fi­ca­tion. Noth­ing in the Taskforce’s rec­om­men­da­tion pre­cludes sen­si­tive mate­r­ial being appro­pri­ately secured.

Rec­om­men­da­tion 11: Pri­vacy and confidentiality

If this rec­om­men­da­tion is already in oper­a­tion, as the response states, why not an agreed?

Rec­om­men­da­tion 12: Def­i­n­i­tion of Com­mon­wealth Record

Activ­ity in social spaces, where it forms a record, cer­tainly needs to be retained by gov­ern­ment. Moves such as the US Library of Con­gress index­ing the entire pub­lic Twit­ter stream go to this issue and sim­i­lar efforts in Aus­tralia will be wel­come. How­ever, a more real-​​time suite of efforts would be a  mar­velous (if sin­gu­larly com­plex) idea.

The response with respect to dis­cov­ery and appli­ca­tion of meta­data to PSI is very wel­come, and should see timely release of data to the pub­lic if agen­cies are tooled up to do so (this may present an issue in and of itself).

Rec­om­men­da­tion 13: Encour­age info-​​philanthropy

Defer­ring a response to this rec­om­men­da­tion is a lit­tle bit of an out. There could have been an in-​​principle agree here, with a note that the Pro­duc­tiv­ity Com­mis­sion and oth­ers would be tasked to respond in detail.

Con­clu­sions

Over­all, I give the response as it stands a C+. As my friend and UK-​​based Gov­ern­ment 2.0 author­ity, Justin Kerr-​​Stevens, said:

[I’ll] defer judge­ment. Take the (few) ref­er­enced dates and judge on that. The grade will be in appli­ca­tion — not ambition.

Progress is being made. The steps are in the right direc­tion though I think it could have been stronger with much clearer com­mit­ments. With the past his­tory and evi­dence com­ing out of the US, UK, Canada and New Zealand of the ben­e­fits of forward-​​looking Gov­ern­ment 2.0 work, the gov­ern­ment could have taken strong pos­i­tive steps to leap for­ward in the pro­vi­sion of open, con­nected gov­ern­ment engaged with its cit­i­zenry. It could be done in a way that is leg­is­lated rather than just some­times qual­i­fied agree­ments. I want to see another state­ment with a leg­isla­tive and pol­icy reform agenda clearly laid out, though I doubt very much that this will occur before the elec­tion due this year.

Still miss­ing is infor­ma­tion on where and how the dig­i­tally dis­con­nected are helped and con­nected with offline. Gov­ern­ment 2.0, after all, isn’t just online and nor is only about tools; rather, it’s largely about peo­ple and culture.

Con­crete com­mit­ments with time­lines are miss­ing through­out and they are needed to ensure we, the pub­lic, have a yard­stick against which to mea­sure progress.

Per­haps one of the most impor­tant fac­tors, when and how pub­lic sec­tor work­ers will be given the needed per­mis­sion, skills and cul­tural change to engage with the pub­lic online is not explained. Many agen­cies still do not engage this way, and there needs to be a time­line to ensure they are required to take action.

The response is also miss­ing any­thing on mea­sure­ment of suc­cess and how this will be done.

I’d hope to see infor­ma­tion on all these mat­ters emerge in the very near future, hope­fully by mid-​​year and def­i­nitely before the elec­tion in a clear strat­egy frame­work to come from the OIC, APSC and the Depart­ment of Finance and Dereg­u­la­tion. With­out solid action of this sort, all the good work so far risks going astray with a new Labor gov­ern­ment or a new Lib­eral gov­ern­ment for whom open gov­ern­ment and Gov­ern­ment 2.0 progress isn’t as high on the pol­icy agenda.