Category Archives: Participatory democracy

Gov 3.0 Conference 2011

Tomorrow (Thursday 24th November) I will be attending the Gov 3.0 conference in Canberra. The tagline for the conference is “the future of social media and public sector communication”.

I am looking forward to what the speakers have to say, albeit I remain to be convinced that governments in Australia are serious about openness, citizen dialogue, and the full use of social media both inside and outside of Departments.

With respect to openness, the observable evidence in Australia and the United Kingdom seems to suggest that uploading millions of documents onto government websites is the solution. In many cases, there is little (if any) contextualised meaning applied to these documents. Documents written for specific purposes are placed into the public domain without that context being explained. There is still the issue over timeliness and relevance.  And the internal approval mechanisms to authorise (and disallow) the publication of certain government documents on the web can be trying. But really, is the average Joe Citizen in the mood to spend oodles of time scouring government websites to read through public-service-speak documents when all they really want to do is ask a knowledgeable person for an answer? Of course, not. There is therefore a need to consider the real needs of the citizenry beyond the selective publication of government documents on the web by government departments. After all, if publishing government documents is what open government is about, then we may as well ask Julian Assange to project manage the whole government openness agenda.

That is not to say that government documents on the web don’t have a place in providing information to the world. However, selective document availability is not the answer to openness without at least providing the necessary assistance and feedback mechanism for real citizen engagement. If I can download a government report but cannot discuss the meaning of the report with anyone inside government (i.e. the public service), then openness and dialogue are rather hamstrung.

When it comes to dialogue with citizens, the general polity likes to think that spewing forth tweets and answering constituent emails is enough. But the reality is that there is not much conversation and two-way dialogue in these type of exchanges. I remember Neil Postman saying in “Amusing ourselves to Death” that in the US in days of Lincoln and co., political dialogue was much more personal and immediate through public gatherings and political campaigning than what it has become now. Sure, I appreciate the issues of scale and technology, but citizen dialogue remains something that the political machine (and the administrative servants in the Public and Civil Service) are yet to achieve.

Social media is also important. There are plenty of politicians using social media – US President Obama and a number of Australian politicians are good examples. But there remains a certain disquiet about social media in the hallowed halls of the Public Service. The main concern is around risk (although there is also a good deal of ignorance about communication in general, let alone via web 2.0 technologies within a Department or with an external audience). The argument goes that social media represents a loss of control, is subject to unknown responses in the public domain, and acts as a diversion to the real work at hand. I’d like to have some sympathy for these concerns because I see some intelligent people using these arguments to say “No” for even the slightest of reasons.

However, there are many risks that can be mitigated against through proper procedures, through establishing organisational trust, and in the recognition that the benefits outweigh the risks. There also needs to be a recognition that organisations need to adapt to a changing world; where stakeholders have different needs and aspirations, than in previous times.

In the corporate world there are also communication risks associated with social media but, for the most part, the corporate world is more willing than the public sector to use social media in positive and interesting ways.

It is therefore of immense interest to me to hear tomorrow and on Friday what the speakers have to say about open government and connectedness; about particpatory discussion and citizen dialogue; about the transformative effects of social media; and about how information, knowledge and learning can flow more effectively in the digital economy than ever before.

In particular, I am keen to hear the experiences from the US about the use of social media and web 3.0 (?) communication channels to distribute information and enhance public engagement with stakeholders. I will also be interested to hear how social media fosters improved communication and participation from both citizens and within the public sector. There is much to learn – I hope that the conference provides those thinking and learning opportunities.


The web 3.0 conference 3-4 June 2010

I will be attending the conference in Sydney, Web 3.0 & the future of social media, being held at the Sheraton-on-the-Park Hotel in Elizabeth Street.

I will be interested in hearing a realistic assessment of the future of social media. I will be especially interested in the social media crusaders and what they have to say about business embracing web 2.0 tools and thinking.

It will be interesting to hear how far business has come in accepting social media as a legitimate form of communication and business sttrategy because I am not sure how much the government sector really wants to engage in this space. Naturally, I understand the reluctance for government to fully implement web 2.0 (not sure we’re ready for anything further than that!), but I am still watching to see how Gov 2.0 really translates into practice.

My fear is that Gov 2.0 is more about dumping content onto websites than really engaging in the conversation with the citizenry. I hear Senator Kate Lundy is a real advocate for Gov 2.0 but with such an adversarial political system, I can’t see too much leeway being given for governments to really become transparent and open to detailed scrutiny.

We already have seen the media dump on the government over the funding of a home insulation scheme – a scheme let down by the insulation industry and greedy quick-make-me-rich merchants exploiting a good idea. It must be difficult for even the Gov 2.0 advocates to encourage more openness in government, especially when other members of the government want to censor the internet and treat the technology with such suspicion.

So, I will see what I can discover about the  leading edge private businesses who see the benefits of web 2.0.  I’ll report back after the conference with my notes and responses.

On open government

This evening I discovered the text of a speech by UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown on working smarter in government (i.e. the civil service).  Now working smarter, and leveraging what organisation’s already do more effectively,  are at the heart of good knowledge management.  The speech is much broader than simply having the civil service become more efficient – Brown outlines a vision for open government and engagement with the citizenry.  Interestingly, what Brown says about government and public engagement sounds very similar to the sentiments expressed in the Engage Report that I blogged about in my previous blog post.

In particular, Brown says: “We will ensure that people can get access to the information they need to engage in dialogue with public service professionals; and in doing so reduce bureaucratic burdens. This will drive improvements in public services, making them more personal and cost-effective, whilst at the same time strengthening democratic deliberation and giving frontline workers and voluntary organisations the freedom to innovate and respond to new demands in new ways. We are determined to be among the first governments in the world to open up public information in a way that is far more accessible to the general public … In this way people will no longer be passive recipients of services but, through dialogue and engagement, active participants – shaping, controlling and determining what is best for them.”

I applaud the sentiments expressed in this speech by Gordon Brown.  Similarly, the Engage Report in Australia says: “Engagement is the central theme of this report. It deals with the connection of people to information so that knowledge assets can be re-used to create new and often unexpected value. It deals as well with the growing opportunities for more effective collaboration with citizens in different dimensions of government – policy development, regulatory reform, program and service design”.

Yet I still have that nagging concern that public-government engagement is not what it appears.  Sure, I understand the desire to publish government content (in greater volume no doubt, but hopefully in a form that is of most value to the public).  I applaud the use of web 2.0 tools to facilitate some form of public feedback or dialogue.  I certainly understand the view that the public has a right to be informed and that government needs to become more accountable.  These are all good things and are very big steps for government to be actively pursuing.  Yet, how much of all of this is just an enormous content dump, and how much of it will be real engagement – engagement where citizens actively become involved with the workings and decsions of government departments and agencies?

Web 2.0 requires a different way of thinking.  There is more emphasis on distributed intelligence and networks rather than centralised control systems and fixed hierarchies.  Web 2.0 is not about control, but more interested in the dialogue and “the conversation”. Web 2.0 tools and applications are interactive and immediate.  And most importantly, web 2.0 thinking is the thinking of the new world environment of the 21st century so there is no excuse not to partake of the best that web 2.0 can offer.  It’s simply evolutionary organisational dynamics.

Brown in his speech goes on to say: “But if the purpose of our reforms is not only to be more efficient, but to meet future challenges and re-engineer our public services from good to great, Whitehall has to let go – and empower staff and the public to shape provision in meeting local needs and priorities” (my bold and italics).  This cultural change will not be easy.  The same issue was identified in Australia in the Engage Report – that there is a strong cultural and operational tendency within government to withhold information.  There are many reasons, some of which are spurious and others that have some legitimacy. Traditional control-based organisations in government will need to change if open government is to become a reality. But there are realistic concerns around privacy, political risk, and copyright – challenges all of which can be overcome I must say.

The challenge for open government and increasing citizen engagement with government is not the web 2.0 tools which are readily available.  The challenge is how to foster a culture of openness and collaboration in government agencies.  In addition, there may be significant resource issues around content management and web sites, records management systems, information management, and knowledge management.  The classic organisational problem, “we don’t know what we don’t know”, is no longer now just a knowledge management problem; it’s now a government-wide problem that must be overcome before open government can be effective.  However, the fundamental success factor for open government will be people-based – trust and organisational culture being pivotal.

The vision for open government espoused by UK PM Gordon Brown and in the Engage Report for Australia are commendable.  They are optimistic and challenging.  But they also offer opportunities for knowledge management to become a significant and active stakeholder in the way in which open government might unfold.  I certainly hope so.

On taking an interest

I was reading this short blog post by Ton Zijlstra on open government from the Reboot conference. Nothing too radical in asking for a more open and transparant system of government with better access to information. I had also been reading an article on democracy and markets by economics columnist, Ross Gittins, of the Sydney Morning Herald. The Gittins article lamented the fact that having good democracy and having good economic markets relied on having an interested citizenry, yet paying attention to these political and economic issues was lacking.

Having an interested citizenry is difficult “because we take so little interest in the details of problems and their solutions, because we rarely follow up yesterday’s concerns, because our emotions are so easily swayed by vested interests or the media, the pollies (and economists) learnt a long time ago that appearances matter more to voters than the reality of the situation”. One only has to look at economic and currency forecasters to realise that!

And this led me to think about how important it is to take an interest in what is happening in one’s own workplace, even if it does not appear to be of immediate or direct importance. So why is it then that many organisations compartmentalise their workforce so much that to take any meaningful organisational interest is almost impossible, let alone actively encouraged?

Virtual Participation Camp: Changing the Rules, June 27-28

Having just blogged about conference formats, I have just received the following email from Stephen Dohrn via the km4-dev list-serv. I hope Stephen doesn’t mind me reproducing most of that post here. The virtual participation camp sounds like it could be a very different conference experience.

Participation Camp, Change the Rules, in New York on June 27-28, will provide the spark for an explosion of sharing, experimentation and collaboration. Democracy is the game where we can change the rules together! How do we make this game more serious, more fair and more fun? Please let us know if you are interested in convening a virtual session at this event on a topic of your choice, or collaborating with us in some way!

Participants may attend a wide range of physical and virtual presentations (or deliver one themselves), compete in a conference wide web participation game called Nomic (, or roll up their sleeves in a hands on workshop. For preliminary details see:

If you might be interested in collaborating with us, please check out the wiki at:

What Makes Change The Rules Different?

Virtual/Physical Hybrid Structure: One particular feature of this event is that we will be bridging the physical and virtual worlds. We will be opening up virtual spaces in advance of the actual session so as to engage virtual participants in the project. We will also have a room where virtual presenters can connect with those at the conference.

Open Space/Defined Hybrid Structure: We will be using Open Space principles for the creation of some of the sessions, but will also be seeking out the involvement of those that would like to actively
engage participants on a specific topic. If there is an issue or a question that you would like to discuss at this event, please let us know!

Play Game: We will be playing the game, Nomic ( This is a game that is designed to teach participants, by virtue of their experience, some of the interesting features of governance, democracy, rule making, rule following, collaboration etc.

Pre-Session Dialogue: We will open SkypeChat spaces that enable those that are interested in the PCamp theme(s) to connect with each other, exchange ideas, plan potential sessions etc.

Sustain Dialogue: Due to the fact that virtual environments are accessible from anywhere, it becomes possible for participants to continue their conversations with others after the conclusion of the
session. This makes it possible for them to continue to explore the ideas and projects that they are interested in, as well as to cultivate the relationships with those that they have connected with.
We hate the fact that what happens when events end is that there is little or no follow up!


Here are a few questions that we have been thinking about. Are there any such questions that are of interest to you, and around which you might be interested in organizing a virtual session?

What, generally speaking, is the role that technology can play in fostering citizen engagement?
What are the best tools for creating the right frameworks for fostering citizen engagement?
What are the particular challenges of using open, collaborative, platforms?
What sorts of business models are consistent with ‘open collaboration’? How can organizations that subscribe to these principles also generate revenue?
How do we utilize technology to mobilize the youth vote?

On June 20th, we will create a chat space/conversation in Skype to which we will invite all those that are interested in participating in an open dialogue on issues relating to open governance. This chat
space will allow you the opportunity to:

Introduce yourself and your project to others that are like minded
Connect with others that might be interested in your project or might have interesting project ideas.
Learn, via participation, about how open, collaborative, patterns of interaction work
Learn, via participation, how groups self organize
Virtual Tools

We will be using free online tools that are easily accessible by any participant, such as: We will utilize ( in order to organize and share files.
Google Documents: will be used for the joint authoring of documents.
SkypeChat: Will provide a open space where people can start the dialogue, network and keep the discussion going.
Etherpad: for notetaking during sessions.
Twitter: as a channel to the outside to integrate other interested parties.

You can’t get more web 2.0 and participatory than this conference!

On participation

I was listening to the radio this week when I heard an interview with a film producer on triple j. Of special note was the comment by the female dj that perhaps casting for movies should be done the same way as decisions are made in those reality tv shows. Just sms your vote! The film producer was aghast at such a thought! In contrast, the dj’s suggestion was just an obvious manifestation of what is already happening within her demographic’s frame of reference.

And this is where the demographic fundamentals will be working in businesses today. Participation isn’t something the management requests when it suits them, oh no! In a culture where participatory decision-making and social networking are becoming second nature, the workplace will need to adapt as well.

At the same time, the very same set of younger generations have not only been brought up with a hefty dose of reality tv but they have also been participants in the internet revolution. To them, the web and all it can do is as normal as a mobile phone.

Enter web 2.0 (the term web 2.0 was actually born in 2004) and add gen x, y and z.

The web-savvy generations with their penchant for personal networks and participatory decision-making are gradually working their way now (and in the future) into the very dna of organisations across the globe. The norms of organisational decision-making in those post-Fordist managerial hierarchies are looking a tad less secure in the 21st century.

For managers, we need to foster this connectedness and participatory zeal in our workplaces. We can assist with a suite of web 2.0 applications (RSS, blogs, wikis, social computing) that enhance the level of participation and communication among our people and our people-networks. And we can allow and actively encourage the participation, the networks and the conversations to take place inside our businesses because it is through these interactions and participation that we generate real organisational value competitive advantage.

Participation and web 2.0 are a great combination so let’s use them to the best of our advantage. [Check out this Ross Gitten’s article for some more reasons to treat your employees well].

On blog action day

The 15th October was designated blog action day (yes, I know I’m a day late but, as I write, it’s still the 15th in the Galapogas Islands). Andy Roberts writes that the theme this year for blog action day is the environment and distributed collaborative action – “The important thing is that the mass action can become self-conscious”.

In Australia, we have an upcoming federal election (24th November) in which individuals can have an impact in collaborative mass action for the environment. The election is the opportunity to put self-awareness about the environment onto the national agenda. 

Individuals can exercise real power by voting for the candidates (in the House of Representatives and the Senate) that will actually take up the environmental challenge and actively work towards lowering our national carbon emissions. Globally, Australia could also join the Kyoto Protocol (Australia and the US are the two recalcitrant nations) and engage with the world on active climate change policies.

Australian voters should check out this recent CSIRO report on climate change to gauge the impact of climate change at home – nothing here to be complacent about!