The Role of Technology in Government

On Tuesday I presented at the IPAA NSW 2011 State Conference, looking at the role of technology (particularly, social media) in modern government (my slides).

Presenting as part of panel along side Craig Thomler, James Kliemt, and Paula Bray, the goal of my presentation was to introduce the idea of using Web 2.0 and social software as tools for service delivery*, rather than simply promotion or communication.

As part of my introduction I talked about sausage making (as a metaphor for modern management and also the risk of cookie cutter approaches to social media by government), the Court of the Exchequer created in 12th Century England and how an “unconference” agenda is created (both the Court of the Exchequer and unconferences feature observable collaborative work). The main message here was to provide some context to the idea that we are shifting from systems of record (which government is often very good at) to recognising the need for systems of engagement.

I provided a couple of great examples in my presentation of technology-based social innovation:

This is an Open Australia Foundation volunteer project, which currently integrates planning alerts from 102 authorities into a simply email subscription service. The approach as much as the solution used to solve this technical challenge is worth noticing. If a local authority won’t make the data easily available, they simple build a scraper instead.

Our friends over at Mob-Labs got a good hat tip from fellow panelist Paula Bray for their work on an AR app for the Powerhouse Museum, however it is also worth looking at their ‘turn key’ dataStore platform that Mosman council are using – this really demonstrates that the technology really isn’t a barrier to getting open data published, if we apply Web 2.0 approaches.

Patient Opinion

I’ve used this example many times because it demonstrates a number of important elements about both social enterprise but also the value of collecting qualitative data using social media. If you are going to make ‘evidence-based’ decisions, then you need to understand the whole picture – pure data doesn’t give you that. Read more about the background of Patient Opinion in this Headshift | Dachis Group case study.

The LIFE Programme

This amazing UK initiative from Participle is saving the taxpayer money AND creating better outcomes for families in crisis.

We are working with Participle to provide two platforms for the LIFE programme – one that will help the concept to scale, using an open-source philosophy; the other is the Lifeboard, an “online self-reporting tool that helps to capture both ‘required’ data and softer information to allow families, workers and managers to chart progress in a meaningful way.” Lifeboard is being developed using our user-centred design approach.

Read more about this project on the NESTA site.

Incidentally, there is another family-focused project to the LIFE Programme being developed by The Australian Centre for Social Innovation in South Australia, called Family-by-Family (Brenton Caffin talked about it in his presentation).

All the examples I used involve social media. But they have also been infused with the design philosophy of social media and Web 2.0 too.

I must admit I was a little concerned about how the audience would respond to my message about social innovation and social media. But during the day I was really encouraged by the presentations before (Christian Bason – Director, MindLab, Denmark and Barry O’Farrell MP – Premier of New South Wales) and after my session (Brenton Caffin – CEO, Australian Centre for Social Innovation and Jonathan nicholas – CEO, Inspire Foundatio) as I saw the same consistent themes being raised. If the NSW public service can take on board some of these ideas, then there are exciting times ahead for social business in government in the state.

*BTW If you are interested in this presentation, you might find this post on the relationship between social media and service design of interest.