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The Power of the Internet

Discussions about how public sector agencies, courts, and parliaments can best make use of online technology to provide information in different ways and engage with people have been building momentum worldwide for a few years.  In fact, earlier this month there was a big Gov 2.0 Summit held here in Washington, DC.  Clare recently blogged about changes to the legislation.gov.uk site, and our very own THOMAS.gov website is also an example of providing easy access to important legislative information, with the recent revamp of the site having enhanced the use of Web 2.0 tools to enable people to engage with the Law Library (as has the In Custodia Legis blog!).   There are now many examples of governments making a large number of datasets easily accessible online, when previously members of the public would have had to know exactly what they were looking for and possibly go through formal processes to obtain the information.  Some governments are also starting to evaluate ways to preserve the authenticity of legal and legislative information in order to minimize the potential corruption of data.

I therefore noted with interest the release in Australia of the final report of the Government 2.0 Taskforce at the end of last year, and the Australian Government’s response to this report in May.

The Government 2.0 Taskforce was established in June 2009 to provide advice and assistance to the government on:

  • making government information more accessible and usable;
  • making government more consultative, participatory, and transparent;
  • building a culture of innovation within government;
  • promoting collaboration across agencies with respect to online and information initiatives; and
  • initiatives that may achieve or demonstrate how to accomplish these objectives.

In its report, the Taskforce recognized that “Government 2.0 presents challenges to some long held government practices and has the potential to change the relationship between government and its citizens.”  The taskforce went on to identify the huge benefits from embracing Government 2.0, and stated that it “will be central to delivering on critical national objectives.”

The Government agreed with nearly all of the recommendations in the Taskforce’s report and set out how each would be addressed.  This included making a Declaration of Open Government in July, which stated that:

The Australian Government now declares that, in order to promote greater participation in Australia’s democracy, it is committed to open government based on a culture of engagement, built on better access to and use of government held information, and sustained by the innovative use of technology.

Citizen collaboration in policy and service delivery design will enhance the processes of government and improve the outcomes sought. Collaboration with citizens is to be enabled and encouraged. Agencies are to reduce barriers to online engagement, undertake social networking, crowd sourcing and online collaboration projects and support online engagement by employees, in accordance with the Australian Public Service Commission Guidelines.

The possibilities for open government depend on the innovative use of new internet-based technologies. Agencies are to develop policies that support employee-initiated, innovative Government 2.0-based proposals.

This month, in order to implement another one of the Taskforce’s recommendations, a Government 2.0 Steering Group was established to provide “leadership and oversight in implementing the Government 2.0 agenda.”  The Department of Finance and Deregulation is the lead government agency for Government 2.0, and will work in consultation with the Steering Group to meet the objectives set by the government.

There are various Government 2.0 initiatives underway across the Australian public sector and a showcase website has been set up to display some of the case studies.  One seemingly simple (but actually quite unique) example is the Australian Capital Territory Legislative Assembly’s Daily on Demand website that enables users to view replays of extracts of parliamentary proceedings.  The archive can be searched by subject, member’s name, and the date and time of the debate.  The website is described as “a business revolution in that it will shape the way that parliaments disseminate information on how they undertake their accountability and governance responsibilities.”

In terms of more complex initiatives that involved the use of newly developed software, the Australian Bureau of Statistics was “the first National Statistical Office in the world to make the entire census dataset available online in an interactive way” through its CDATA Online website.  The Australian census is very detailed – in 2006 there were 116 questions – and therefore provides a large amount of information.  CDATA Online provides a free online tool that allows users to create their own customized tables of data, as well as thematic maps and graphs.  The Australian Bureau of Statistics received a “Highly Commended” award for the website in the 2009 Australian Excellence in e-Government Awards (the winner was the Department of Citizenship for its Visa Wizard and Citizenship Wizard).  It also won the ESRI Australia Web-GIS challenge, “distinguishing them as the best Web mapping site in Australia.”

It’s always interesting to see what information and tools different governments have available online when I’m doing my research here at the Law Library.  Obviously some governments have more resources than others when it comes to being able to set up and maintain websites or purchase the latest software.  However, I do note that even in some of the smallest countries (such as Tuvalu) there is an effort to provide information to the public online (particularly about legislation and different government services or events).  A lot can be gained from looking at what different agencies and different countries are doing to improve transparency and public engagement, and from sharing information about new initiatives and capabilities in using the internet to achieve these goals.  There seems to be new and exciting things being developed all the time!

One Comment

  1. kinni144
    April 7, 2011 at 7:19 am

    Thank you so very much for taking the time to compile this information– very, very helpful!!

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