A Postcard from BarCamp Canberra

Last weekend I had the great pleasure of participating in BarCamp Canberra, with a personal objective of networking with other like minded people interested in Government 2.0. Canberra is of course the centre of federal government in Australia, so I had expected a strong Government 2.0 friendly contingent and wasn’t disappointed. Of course, numbers are relative – compared to the Government 2.0 BarCamp in the United States over the same weekend, which attracted so many people that they had to cap event at 500 people, BarCamp Canberra was a much more intimate affair. Still in the case of BarCamp Canberra, I think the quality of the individuals involved counted for more than the quantity. One highlight was that Senator Kate Lundy even managed to drop in for a while.

With me I carried a presentation that was unashamedly intended to stir the pot a little by drawing on Headshift’s extensive experience with the government and third sector in the UK. I wanted to highlight both what was possible and also to question why we aren’t doing it in Australia already.

Now, with due respect to those already advancing the cause, such as local initiatives like OpenAustralia (which is incidentally ported from the UK’s TheyWorkForYou), this wasn’t a case of saying Australia is a technology laggard. I don’t believe this is the case. Instead, my point is that we shouldn’t rest with simply getting politicians on Twitter (even if the Australian mainstream media has suddenly fallen in love with it) and making information that should already be accessible to the community available online.

Drawing on the work of Demos in the UK, I put forward the idea that:

We need to insist on collaboration not merely as an ideal, but as a basic design element for government…

Now while the history, geography and demographics of Australia make us different from other countries like the UK, this actually doesn’t have a lot of impact on the use of Web 2.0 technologies that (unlike past technologies and enterprise computing) have extremely low barriers to entry.

Sites like OpenAustralia and people like Kate Lundy demonstrate that we have the innovators and leaders to do it, but I feel we lack some of what I call – to use a clunky term – intellectual infrastructure to support the evolution of Government 2.0 in Australia. One of the strengths’ of Australia’s national character is of course that sense of pragmatic problem solving (“She’ll be right”), but in the case of advancing Government 2.0 this will only take us so far because it encourages an excuse to avoid change by asking stalling questions from government about why do we need this and what will we (the government or public servants) get out of it. What we need is intellectual infrastructure that will drive and create ideas on both the shape of government in the future and how we can use Web 2.0 to achieve it. For example, where are our local equivalents of Demos and the Sunlight Foundation?

The Barcamp movement is certainly part of that intellectual infrastructure and a great result of the day for me was to learn that a Government 2.0 Barcamp for Australia is being planned. In fact, a Google Group already exists to help get it up and running.

I’ll be there supporting Government 2.0 in Australia. How about you? All you need to do is join the conversation.