Government no show on Government 2.0 Taskforce

Update: Since this post first appeared Ann Steward has now posted on the taskforce blog.

A commendable part of the setup of the Government 2.0 Taskforce was a blog which in the nearly two months since its creation has become the primary means of communication between the taskforce and the general public.

Now, let’s take a look at this in more detail. There are fifteen members of the taskforce and how many of those have communicated with the general public on the blog? Looking through all the published blog posts it looks like 8 of the 15 members have blogged. That’s just over half. Not great but not terrible.

But, it gets worse. What if you split the members of the taskforce into those that work for the federal government and those that are “ordinary” citizens? (Note: Seb Chan works for the Powerhouse Museum which is part of the NSW, not federal government)

Then you discover that 7 of the 9 “ordinary” citizens, about 78% have blogged. That’s pretty good. Congratulations to Seb Chan, Nicholas Gruen, Brian Fitzgerald, Lisa Harvey, Pip Marlow, Alan Noble and Martin Stewart-Weeks for contributing and expressing their thoughts and ideas and engaging in conversation with the very people that the taskforce is ultimately designed to help.

But then… Only 1 of 6 federal government employees who are members of the taskforce have blogged. That’s appalling! Congratulations to Mia Garlick, who is the Assistant Secretary for the Digital Economy branch at the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, for being the sole federal government contributor who has managed to blog.

This is all rather sad and pathetic. This looks like Citizen 2.0 and Government 1.0. Wake up federal government people on the taskforce: Ann Steward, Glen Archer, Adrian Cunningham, Peter Harper and Martin Hoffman. Start communicating, now. You owe it to the taskforce, you owe it to the citizens and you owe it to yourself.

What possible explanation could there be for this? Well, the government people must be really busy managing their large departments while the other taskforce members have lots of spare time to write while they lunch on their corporate expense accounts. Clearly not.

Alan Noble, director of engineering Google Australia is clearly a busy man, running Google’s sizeable research and development team in Australia & NZ. Even he found time to write despite being hospitalised only weeks earlier in a serious accident. If Mr Noble found the time to communicate in those circumstances so can the federal government employees on the taskforce.

So, get to it Ann Steward, Glen Archer, Adrian Cunningham, Peter Harper and Martin Hoffman. Time to fire up that web browser and write a blog post or two or three.

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  1. Craig Thomler
    Posted August 15, 2009 at 6:09 am | Permalink

    Similar thoughts have passed through my mind.

    I am looking forward to seeing what the government members have been working on over the last few months.

  2. Posted August 18, 2009 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    I am the division manager in AGIMO responsible for the Taskforce secretariat. To reflect the wide variety of issues raised for discussion, the Government 2.0 Taskforce members will be posting blogs on various topics throughout the duration of the Taskforce reflecting their individual areas of interest and expertise. Unprogrammed blogs will also be posted by members in response to topics as they arise.

    It is coincidental that to date the focus of discussions have been more aligned with Private and Not For Profit sector members’ areas of interest and experience. Public Sector members are also very keen to contribute to the discussion and will be posting blogs as topics relevant to their experience arise. For example, and as discussed at last night’s successful Taskforce roadshow in Canberra (with over 120 people attending), Ann Steward will shortly be blogging on the issues surrounding government making data available on line.

  3. Posted August 21, 2009 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    So John, we have taskforce members with particular expertise from the private sector commenting quite broadly on issues, and public sector members with particular expertise commenting on matters relevant to their particular expertise.

    Can I suggest that public sector members have broad experience as public servants and so have the capacity to comment on broader issues.

  4. Posted August 21, 2009 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    I was thinking about that the other day as well, interesting. I have also noticed the majority of comments don’t come from the public sector either. Which makes me wonder if they are not interested about it or are they just waiting to see what happens?

  5. Posted August 21, 2009 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    This post points to the need for fundamental change in the role descriptions of government/public service employees if Open Government is to succeed. The time taken to participate actively in conversation via social/web media needs to be recognised, valued and acknowledged. At the moment, those actively blogging tend to do it on top of their existing workload, which is not sustainable on a large scale.

    One more point for consideration for the Task Force. An excellent post, thanks.

  6. Matthew Landauer
    Posted August 21, 2009 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    @John Sheridan – I’m frankly surprised that you think the topics of discussion so far have been “more aligned with Private and Not For Profit sector members’ areas of interest and experience”.

    In my humble opinion the discussion so far has been about government 2.0, the very thing that the taskforce was set up to think about and address.

    So, are you saying the federal government members are not interested or have experience in government 2.0?

  7. Posted August 25, 2009 at 2:22 am | Permalink

    Before responding to Matthew, let me note that Harriet raises an excellent point. Government senior executives (like senior executives in most places I suspect) are often time poor. In the IT area at least, as well as their management and leadership tasks, many must also cope with demands for interaction with stakeholders outside their direct span of control. Some of these are formalised e.g. the drafting of responses to citizens approaching the agency through their elected representatives. This is a core activity and entirely unremarkable.

    Next (and not in any sense of a hierarchy) are interactions with industry. There are many of these from salesmen with a new product pitch, business development managers looking for information, to account managers filling their appointment books to demonstrate activity or trotting out their CEO or other higher executive to maintain the relationship. In some jobs, I have had to ration my time on these activities to no more than 4 hours a week. Of course, some value is obtained but it’s by no means entirely mutually beneficial. But they are (generally) members of the public too.

    There are any number of invitations to breakfasts, lunches and dinners for product launches, visiting heavyweights and the presentation of research. I’ll ignore the offers of hospitality as these are generally refused on probity grounds. Requests for presentations are pretty constant too. While the conference companies can be taken or left on the basis of personal preference or agency policy, industry associations regularly seek speakers.

    I have left emails almost to last. Whether as a conduit for invitations as described above or from external stakeholders seeking information or the right contact, these must generally still be answered. The public we serve is not limited to just those who use stamps. Interestingly, that most immediate means of remote communication, the phone, is less of a demand. Caller ID, a good PA and an increasing preference for asynchronous communication has meant that most of the calls I get from external stakeholders are when they are at the security desk waiting to be let in.

    So what is the point of this? Social media opens up a whole new channel (or channels) for such communications. We will need procedures for dealing with them. Why, you ask? Well, if Matthew had written to me using snail mail, our service charter would have required me to answer within 14 days. It wouldn’t matter if he was the most reasonable of correspondents with a genuine concern (as he seems to be) or a barely literate zealot scratching out a letter on stolen hotel stationery. In a previous job, I drafted scores of replies to the proponents of perpetual motion machines, conspiracy theorists and even one with an alternative theory replacing the law of gravity. Each received a carefully drafted, personalised, sympathetic response. Such responses are usually drafted by a junior staff member, checked by a mid-level manager and signed off by a senior executive, senior ministerial adviser ot a minister. If blog post replies, tweets or FaceBook messages are to attract official government replies (and why shouldn’t they), how much time could this take?

    Imagine my staff and I gathered around a handset trying to get exactly the right nuances into 140 characters! If, like letters are now, government official tweets are to be subject to careful proofreading and spell checking, will SMSese be allowed – “R u nutz? FinMin sez no 2 ur prop. lol” – ? What is the appropriate time to respond to a tweet? Is it rude not to? What about a blog post? Indeed, what blogs should we monitor? (Is there a business opportunity here – a ‘Media Monitors’ for Web 2.0?). Given that a large number of tweets can arrive very quickly, should they get individual replies? (What is the collective noun for tweets? A cacophony? A chorus?). What records should we keep of these exchanges and for how long should they be retained? Are they ephemeral, like incidental conversations with Commonwealth officers at trade show or more permanent ‘on the record’ broadcasts like formal presentations.

    Given that social media messages are easy to send to government, what proportion of a senior executive’s time should be diverted to handling them? If you accept our time is already fully committed, what would you be prepared to have us sacrifice – project management, budget management, etc? If I have ten mimutes to spare, should I respond to internal or external tweets? Is it appropriate to have an officer devoted to such responses (in the same way that a minister has media advisers and departments have communications staff)? While I am on the subject of time, should officers be allowed to respond with their personal thoughts on work time? (By way of explanation, although I have continued to use my work address in this thread for continuity purposes, these are my personal thoughts and not an official opinion, so I have been careful to compose them out of hours.) If they are, how will I verify that my staff are using their Facebook accounts for this purpose and not to play Pirates vs Ninjas? You (Matthew et al) are paying us – what would you accept if you employed us directly?

    In this lengthy response, I have tried to demonstrate two things. Firstly, that government senior executives – those on the Taskforce, those associated with it and many of the others – are actively engaged in thinking about Government 2.0 issues. Secondly, that the issues are not restricted, as some commentators suggest, to worrying about the risks of making public sector information more readily available and preventing junior staff from commenting without permission. We are, I believe, fully engaged in managing the public’s resources for which we are accountable in a manner that attempts to best balance advances in technology and the continuing demands on our staff. It’s an exciting time to be in IT, isn’t it?

  8. Jeffery Candiloro
    Posted August 25, 2009 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    @John Sheridan – your post is valid and raises many interesting points – ones that I am certain will take a great deal of time and thought to answer properly and fully. However, I believe the original post was not a complaint about Government agencies/staff/executives not responding appropriately or promptly to new communications channels but instead an observation about a lack of Government involvement in a Government created, Government maintained, blog.

    No one is looking for a sudden change in Government or agency communication policy or methodology – simply that the Government members of a Government taskforce, created by Ministers of the Crown, use the channel expressly created for communicating between the taskforce members and the interested public.

    Whilst I appreciate the difficult and restrictive conditions the public service works under – ably spelt out in your post – I believe Matthew’s point still stands and has not yet been addressed.

  9. ben rogers
    Posted August 25, 2009 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

    I second Jeffery’s very well put rejoiner – and its seems to me that the time @John Sheridan has taken to write such a lengthy reply could have well spent blogging on the gov2au site? no?


2 Trackbacks

  • By Know. And Then | Are blogs a social media currency? on August 21, 2009 at 10:51 am

    […] This struck me as interesting, having read the recent post by @matthewlandauer on Open Australia about the blogging habits of the Government 2.0 taskforce members. […]

  • By Culture in the New Order | acidlabs on September 3, 2009 at 7:42 pm

    […] the need for this is alive and kick­ing now in the work of the Gov­ern­ment 2.0 Task­force. As noted by Matthew Lan­dauer of Ope­nAus­tralia, just one of the pub­lic ser­vant mem­bers of the Task­force has seen fit […]

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