Search This Blog

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

What public servants think about open government, a question yet to be asked

The Australian Public Service Commission State of the Service Report referred to in a recent post on whistleblower protection was published in November 2011 together with  results of an employee survey . The report details the activities and human resource management practices of APS agencies. But the survey again was a missed opportunity to gather data about awareness of open government reforms and respect for privacy that would throw some light on prevailing culture and assist to track change over time. Nothing has changed since last year in this respect.

Question 70 for example asked about familiarity with the Standards of Ministerial Ethics, the Register of Lobbyists, and the Lobbying Code of Conduct-around 50% in each case of a large sample of public servants had not heard of these, or were not sure. But no-one was asked about familiarity with the Open Government Declaration, with freedom of information reforms of 2009-2010 or asked to respond to any questions designed to guage general attitudes concerning open government, or appreciation of the law regarding respect for information privacy and what that entails.

Responses to questions such as these would be a modest but useful start to testing culture. After all culture change has been one of the prime objects the government says it is on about in moving towards greater transparency. 

The only jurisdiction that has attempted a to gather base-line data is Queensland where a survey was undertaken on behalf of the Queensland Information Commissioner last year. 

Results of that survey showed the reaction to questions by a large number of Queensland public servants was "what reforms?" but at least those in the know thought important changes were underway and were having a positive effect. We know little about the views of Commonwealth public servants although those who signed off on submissions to the fees and charges review hardly exhibited an enthusiastic embrace of the new regime.

Nevertheless it is good to know that the APS survey found that among Commonwealth public servants:
"Thirty per cent of employees reported having some level of access to online social media and networking tools in their agency (see Question 66). Twenty-two per cent of employees indicated they had officially used online social media and networking tools for work purposes in the last 12 months (see Question 67a). Seventy-five per cent of these employees agreed the use of these tools helped them carry out their work more effectively with government stakeholders and 85% agreed for non-government stakeholders (see Question 67b)."
"Some level of access" is a very broad parameter, and the seventy to eighty per cent who don't have any access or opportunity to use social media is by far the more compelling stat.

It's also good news that 94% of those surveyed understand responsibilities in relation to creating and maintaining records ( first time asked, Question 14), that 77% consider people in their work group are honest open and transparent in their dealings (Question 15d), and that ninety odd per cent think colleagues and the immediate boss act in accordance with APS values in the course of everyday work- even though only seventy per cent rate the big bosses this way (Question 39).

Then again answers to Questions 40a-f about observing serious misconduct in the workplace reveal that most don't but of the 15% who did, 55% did not report it with large numbers convinced nothing would be done about it or their career might suffer, and 69% of those who did report were dissatisfied with the outcome. Hardly reassuring.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Peter

    This is an interesting post. I wonder if a deeper look at the data might be illuminating? Figures 5.3 and 5.4 of the report show the roles in which public servants are employed. As useful as social media tools can be, I'd argue they are not universely applicable. While 22% of APS staff have used them for work, I wonder what a realistic target should be? Would it include the 2% of APS1-6 staff who work in national security/intelligence? The 3% who work in legal? Given that 27% of those categories of staff work in service delivery, presumably a significant proportion deliver services over the counter or on the telephone - channels that, by definition, aren't utilising social media tools (not that changing that might not be desirable up to a point). I don't know what the target should be but I don't think it is 100%. Maybe we're not in such bad shape?


    John Sheridan
    (This is my personal opinion only).