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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Gov 2.0 Task Force points the way forward

Nicholas Gruen CEO Lateral Economics

Make what you will of the fact that Ministers Tanner and Ludwig, having received the Gov 2.0 Task Force Final Report, released it immediately- on 22 December. This time of year is often associated with the release of information that sails beneath the radar, not just Christmas reading.

Congratulations to Task Force Chairman Nick Gruen and other members for the enthusiastic embrace of the possibilities offered by the new collaborative tools and approaches of Web 2.0 and the unprecedented opportunity to achieve more open, accountable, responsive and efficient government. And for correctly identifying many of the obstacles to achieving this, with leadership and culture change high up in the order of things. I'm all for its aims and objectives.

However the Task Force clearly didn't think much of points raised in my submission on the Draft as none seem to rate a mention, including that experience shows the law plays a big part in all this (the Three Pillars described as the foundation for change- leadership, policy and culture- should have had the law there somewhere) and needs to be as explicit as possible on what agencies must do; that the Information Commissioner's powers in the FOI Reform legislation regarding proactive disclosure need to be enhanced because left to their own devices agencies aren't necessarily the best judges of what information should be published; and that other factors such as the 500+ secrecy provisions in Federal laws are a chilling factor that contribute to the current climate and its disposition against openness-as does the exercise of micro-control at the political level on information flows
to the outside world. There were other issues raised as well...but I'm not going to be churlish at this time of the year (by listing them or noting that my submission wasn't acknowledged or posted on their blog...)

On just one point, there is a lot to be done before Federal public servants will feel empowered to "participate in professional discussion, share ideas and further develop their expertise through networks of knowledge (such as blogs and other new tools of collaboration) with fellow professionals and others."

Personal experience at Open and Shut is that in almost four years of blogging about transparency and accountability in government, with apparently a significant proportion of the readership from within the public services in Australia, not one has so far put a name to a comment on any of almost 1700 posts that have appeared. Anonymous in all his or her incarnations is our hands down chief contributor. That tells you something about the prevailing climate. Then there is the fact that in some instances agencies continue to argue in FOI cases that disclosure of information would give rise to confusion, misinterpretation and uncertainty, and that if drafts or indications of individual officers views were disclosed public servants wouldn't commit thoughts to writing in future.

Let's hope the Report has strong support when it is dusted off in February by interested readers and by the inevitable internal working party that will pick over it, and even later in 2010 when the Information Commissioner has a position to occupy and a desk to sit.
Maybe those observations by the UK Information Commissioner about the need to take a tough line to get agencies to do what they should- not something you find in the Task Force Report- will also attract some attention.


  1. Hi Peter,

    I hear you. There is a long way to go, but every journey starts with the first step!

    Also keep in mind that the process for responding to your posts makes it much easier to select Anonymous than to log in to reply with a name. People without a Google or Open ID account have to follow a particularly torturous process. Convenience is important too!



  2. I too made a submission on the draft Gov 2.0 report, which had no impact on the final version, and was also not published on their site.

    My concern was with their recommendation to 'resolve' privacy difficulties: get the Privacy Commissioner to publish guidelines on how to de-identify data before publishing it.

    I pointed out that de-identification holds risks, and that there are other potential ways to comply with privacy laws when publishing (hello, seek the person's consent first! or at least notify them! and look at all the exemptions in the privacy laws that are already there which would allow disclosures in certain circumstances).

    I also noted that their recommendation did not advance the status quo, and would do nothing to address the risk-averse public sector culture which can allow public servants or Ministers to claim "because of the Privacy Act" as their reason for not disclosing information that, in fact, they could. (I should point out here that I am an advocate of both open government and privacy.)

    I had my own ideas on innovative ways to better manage the 'privacy challenge', which didn't get a look in. I'll not rant on about them here, but anyone interested can reach me via

    Meanwhile, all the best for a merry one Peter. Thanks so much for your contributions to public knowledge and debate in this area.


  3. Craig,
    Maybe "Anonymous" is the easy option for some. The point however is that those in government with knowledge and experience in FOI policy and practice-our near 30 year experience with open government- have preferred to be bystanders at least publicly while a few out here tossed some of the issues around.Their professional views would have been greatly valued. I look forward to the new era.