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Monday, October 26, 2009

Breaking down the barriers to open government

At the CeBIT Gov 2.0 Conference in Canberra last week Minister for Finance Lindsay Tanner spoke about the Gov 2.0 Task Force, and the current state of play.

The Minister referred amongst other things to the need to encourage
more use of Creative Commons to move on from the copyright limitation on reuse of much government information, and announced the winners of the Gov 2.0 Task Force Brainstorm competition, the first of several: the ‘Government Gazette 2.0' to make the Government Gazette available in machine readable format, to improve its accessibility and open the possibility of mashing-up the Gazette with other types of data (don't mention this to the NSW Liberals and Greens who insist it be a criminal offence for a newspaper or magazine to play around with published data about school performance); and the suggestion to improve the preservation of government data published on websites by setting up dedicated and simple URLs for archived websites – a sort of retirement home for old data – to guarantee the ongoing availability of archived government information for citizens.

The Taskforce recently commissioned its first six projects to provide research and advice on areas of key importance:
  • Enhancing the discoverability and accessibility of government information;
  • Investigating the barriers within agencies to adopting Government 2.0;
  • Reviewing and advising on Australian Government Web 2.0 practices;
  • Reviewing copyright and intellectual property barriers to open data sharing;
  • The Semantic Web – tagging datasets to enable sharing and re-use of data; and
  • Analysing the value of open access to public sector information held in cultural institutions.
Chairman Nicholas Gruen is encouraging the consultants involved to use the Task Force blog to seek input and canvass ideas. Gruen's notes of his speech (doc) to the Conference include a welcome link to the FOI Reform Exposure Draft object that states government information is to be managed for public purposes and as a national resource.

On the culture change challenge the Minister said:

"To make government more open and responsive the public service must be empowered and encouraged to proactively disseminate information and participate in public discussion. The difficulty and importance of this challenge is often overlooked. Yet there are few more important steps for achieving the objectives of Government 2.0 than equipping public servants with the skills, tools and permission to engage. It would be a mistake for Government 2.0 advocates to see the public service as simply an organisation in need of an upgrade. Public service culture cannot be wiped and reprogrammed – and nor should it be. It must be remembered the Australian Public Service delivers enormous value for taxpayers. It is comprised of thousands of talented, dedicated public policy experts, who collectively produce most of the policies and services delivered by government. It is no wonder that many of the leading voices within the government 2.0 community come from the public service. But the success of government 2.0 will not be assured unless the principles and practices of the agenda are embraced by public servants as central to how they do business.....

While no one is suggesting that we allow public servants to simply tell reporters what is on their mind, they should feel free and encouraged to engage in robust professional discussion online....

We need to provide the public service with access to the tools to deliver greater access to information, innovation and collaboration. We need to reward innovation in the public service as much as we do in other areas of society. To change public service culture we must accept that some of what we do will not work perfectly every time. But as Clay Shirky says, the great power of the internet is that it has enabled us to experiment with new ways of doing things at very low cost. This is the nature of empowerment. Public servants trusted to make the right decisions and also, within reasonable limits, the latitude to make mistakes in the pursuit of open, responsive, and innovative government."

Amen to all that. The chilling effect of secrecy laws and other factors that contribute to the prevailing culture, mentioned most recently here, don't get much of a mention in all this.

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