Don’t short change online citizens

If you follow me on Twitter, you will know I’ve been critical at times of the Australian government’s recent efforts to embrace Government 2.0 and more technology-supported participatory approaches. So far I have been generally disappointed with the examples I’ve seen to date, including the Prime Minister’s own efforts. Personally I feel that online citizens are being short changed.

Surely, you might think, I should be encouraging these early steps? And perhaps I don’t understand the difficulties of change in the public service? These are all reasonable excuses. But rather than treating my comments as a criticism, I would ask that you try to think of them as a kind of tough love instead.

There are three key areas where I believe Australia’s Government 2.0 efforts are failing right now:

  • Making Government 2.0 about the use of Open Source software – Don’t get me wrong, Open Source has a role to play, but in itself building a Website on Open Source doesn’t make government more accountable or participatory.
  • Not getting the basics of social media right – Many of the examples I’ve seen don’t support the basics of ‘social’ in social media. There are plenty of successful social media patterns to follow, so I really can’t see any excuse not to learn and build on those patterns.
  • Poor user experience – In sites that are explicitly geared to participation in a political process it needs to be both easy to participate and clearly demonstrable that participation will lead to an outcome (even if that outcome isn’t one that every user might agree with).

The last issue really gets to the point of my Public Sphere 2 presentation – Government 2.0 isn’t about e-Government and simply Web-enabling existing processes of engagement. Instead its about supporting engagement and participation processes that don’t already exist. This doesn’t mean I don’t welcome e-Goverment initiatives, however transacting with government online is an area I’m confident that Australian governments at all levels are actually quite capable of doing.

Experimentation with Government 2.0 is fine, but its a poor excuse to not do things as well as they could.