Change, wickedness, being connected and thinking different

Transcript of talk at Leaders of Change, Canberra, 31 October 2012.

I’m working with a group of students – undergrads and postgrads – at the University of Canberra, helping them imagine the future of a connected world. What are the social, political, cultural and work implications of a changing globe where being connected is becoming a part of who we are? It’s no easy task; as their educational, social and business experience has taught them to think in a very structured way.

I’m trying to encourage them to explore new possibilities and complex issues that need demystifying and description. I want them to be t-shapers – people with a depth of skill and the capacity to collaborate across disciplines. I want them to be synthesizers, with the ability to distil information and articulate it in a way that creates action and consensus. I want design thinkers who can generate new ideas from complex, disparate sources and remain focussed on the humans at the centre. I want them to develop pattern recognition so they can see the order in the chaos.

In the words of the old Apple ads, I want them to “Think different”.

I want different thinkers in your organisations too. And, if they’re already there, I want you to recognise them. Who are your t-shapers, synthesizers, design thinkers and pattern recognisers. And what are you doing with them?

I believe you need these kinds of people.

There’s no denying that for both the private and public sectors, the pace of change we have to deal with continues to grow; often it’s so fast that we don’t see those changes coming before they hit us.

We face the kinds of problems that seem to get more ambiguous and complex the more we look at them; that seem to have no definable, fixed answer – climate change; real success in placing our nation in the context of The Asian Century; improving socioeconomic conditions for our disadvantaged; the public health conundrum that is obesity; the real reasons behind asylum seeker arrivals; the best combination of people for an organisation and how to find them now and for the future; our hyperconnected society and what that means for business, government, and for us as humans.

Wicked problems.

You can let change roll over you, overwhelming you, your organisation and people, and your capacity to participate effectively. You can hope an incremental approach gets you there eventually. Or you can choose to play an active, positive part, moving with purpose. Life is too short for anything but.

There’s usually a pretty substantial gap between where leaders and organisations feel comfortable and where they could be doing great things if only they allowed themselves to do them.

Not for a moment will I try to suggest that I know the one true way to deal with wicked problems. But what I do know from years of working in and with organisations dealing with change, with design of programs, policy and products, with communication, with engagement and with hyperconnectedness, is most organisations just aren’t tooled up to manage complexity and design for change in any meaningful way.

In spite of the best efforts of the people involved, in spite of the right words being said at the top about readiness for major shifts, most organisations are culturally, structurally, and in the skills and personalities of the people involved, capable of no more than incremental shifts. At best.

Most organisations are tooled up to produce and maintain reliability – reproducible, structured work that will generate the same product, or the same kind of predictable results over and over. They’re a bit like factories. But that’s okay; it allows accountability.

Organisations that work like this have built success on producing work based on an established a way of doing things; demystifying the activities they do and making work manageable. It’s a perfectly legitimate approach.

But working this way suppresses the capacity for change and risks process slavery rather than adaptability.

Where we want to do business as usual, that’s just fine. But it doesn’t encourage innovation or support work that deals with complexity because in the vast majority of cases, we try to shoehorn change into the standard way of doing business.

We create a project. We appoint a project manager and an analyst. Maybe a communicator. And an organisational change manager. It’s the stuff of square peg, round hole nightmares. Change, especially complex change, simply doesn’t fit the mold. So why would we try to treat it like it does?

As just one puzzle among many, the growing proportion of society connected to each other online, even in the developing world, is a prime example of exactly this problem. Management literature, written for the rational, business thinker, is veritably awash with advice on integration of business and the online world; on any given day hundreds of articles are published – some opinion, some backed by solid research.

Even the World Economic Forum has hyperconnectedness and the use of personal data identified as issues. Davos is exactly the wrong kind of organisation to be trying to solve this issue; it’s tooled for reliability and its community represents far fewer than the top one per cent.

10-odd years down the track of the mainstream’s move online, organisations – both public and private – are getting there too. Some are asking the public to help. Sometimes the public is helping itself and governments to open up and put accountability in the public sphere. The massive economic engine that is open data is enough of a puzzle itself without the additional complexities that accompany open government.

Very few are well along the path, and for most of them, being online is a marketing exercise at best.

Some remain solidly behind the 8-ball; our foreign service is notable for its apparent reluctance to meet the 21st Century head-on and engage in ediplomacy, in spite of its equivalents elsewhere leading the way in this regard and the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade recommending just this week that a dedicated ediplomacy effort be rolled out.

In the absence of different thinkers, they remain a long way from the possible. We could be conducting active program and policy R&D with an engaged public, employing a dispersed global workforce made up of the best people working from wherever and whenever they might be needed, and using the tools and workstyle of the online world to undertake truly effective collaboration and public engagement.

When the ground is shifting, when complexities such as hyperconnected society come into play, something else needs to happen, and we need a different kind of person in our business and active leadership support for them.

That person is someone I’ve seen described many ways, most of which make leaders, and particularly managers, pretty uncomfortable – maverick, catalyst, rebel, geek. But those people are completely necessary if we’re to deal with complex change.

These people can struggle to fit into regular organisations. They’re full of ideas. They read meaning and see patterns. They enjoy spending long hours building understanding. They push back against business-as-usual, looking for a better way.

It’s exactly these kinds of people that can help organisations dealing with complex problems. They’re exactly the kind of people I’m trying to develop in my class. They’re exactly the kind of people I hope you go looking for today.

Their particular skills allow them to see the possible, several steps ahead of where the people in most organisations operate. They’ll explore and exploit the possibilities. They’ll envisage shifts in the way you do business in the physical and virtual world, and imagine the what could be and how to get there.

Exploring and exploiting new opportunities. Translating the complex into the doable. Taking what looks risky and difficult and moving it towards the everyday. These people will be the ones that make real change possible – the type of change that can look too large without this kind of thinking.

It’s these kinds of people that should be designing how to implement the Gonski Review, blending those ideas with those of people like Salman Khan, Sir Ken Robinson and other innovative educators.

It’s these kinds of people that need to breathe life into the ideas posited just last weekend in the Australia in the Asian Century white paper. Why not take some of those ideas, grab them by the scruff of the neck, and vastly exceed expectations in the next two to five years? If not, we risk taking another 20 years to implement the shifts proposed, many of which were initially raised during the Hawke Prime Ministership, or earlier.

Even in complex change, we often settle for small steps forward; a game of inches, applying analysis and rationality to safely declare the way we do things in certainties and truths. That’s all very well if we’re only doing business as usual, but change is about business as un-usual.

We need to make it easier to move ideas tackling complexities into just what we do around here. Not in finance, where regularity and order prevail. Not in HR where the rules have to apply. But definitely in the work where complexity exists.

Go out and find different thinkers – the t-shapers, synthesizers, design thinkers and pattern recognisers. Encourage them. If you don’t have any, find some and bring them in. Get them involved solving your difficult problems, in designing for your complex change.

The last time I had my students do an exercise in design thinking, I had them look for themes in their major project – a response to a DEEWR requirement for a new system for high-needs job seekers. The range of discoveries they made, across human, service and system needs surprised them. The common threads, the interconnections and the outlier phenomena all indicated the need for significant shifts in the existing approach.

Universally, my students – undergrad and postgrad both – said to me that they had never approached a problem this way before. More surprising is that most people I work with on solving problems this way, have never used these techniques.

In your organisations, no matter what the problem, no matter how complex, you could discover new ideas this way. You could be fostering this kind of thinking.

I don’t want any more students that say “I’ve never done anything like that”, when I throw problem solving exercises at them.

What I do want is people working with you that can tackle change head-on with creative, different thinking.

Six basic questions on open government

Slides for a basic overview of open government given at Sydney’s Customs House Library on 16 May 2012.

There isn’t a transcript for the presentation as such, though the slide titles are embedded at SlideShare. This was a 25 minute address to a general audience uf the public and government workers on how to this about the essence of open government.

Targeting for open government

In building open government services, we often focus on work that delivers fantastic value to the public. But what comes before that? We need to decide who we’re talking to. How we’re doing it. Why we’re doing it. What our expectations are.

The slides below accompany my talk at the Social Media in Government conference in Canberra on 13-14 December 2011. The text below the slides is the “official” version, but is unlikely to resemble the talk as delivered.

For the past 15 months, I’ve been working with a small government organisation with the most forgettable name, but perhaps one of the most interesting missions of any organisation with a .gov.au domain name.

It’s mission, as stated, is to “improve Australia’s effectiveness in civil-military collaboration for conflict and disaster management overseas”.

The Asia Pacific Civil-Military Centre of Excellence is a multi-agency collection of people seconded from the uniformed military, civilian Department of Defence, DFAT, AusAID, Attorney-General’s and Emergency Management Australia, the Australian Federal Police and the NGO sector. The Deputy Director is a secondee from the New Zealand Government.

It’s a fairly top-heavy organisation. Everyone there is an expert of significant standing in their area of expertise, from the former AFP representative to Afghanistan, an Ambassador or Deputy Head of Mission in several countries, experts on international relations, women in conflict, disaster management, and their just retired Executive Director, Mike Smith, who was a senior General in East Timor and former CEO of Austcare Australia (now ActionAID).

On any given day, the Centre can be delivering training to the civilian, police or military staff bound for overseas peacekeeping or disaster recovery deployments, conducting and funding research into strategic policy on civilian-police-military collaboration in conflict and disaster zones or hosting Ambassadors, inter-governmental delegations, senior UN and 3rd sector staff on visits to their salubrious Queanbeyan headquarters.

These people are great at working with each other when deployed and living in demountables in Oruzgan or sub-Saharan Africa, and they’re great at getting together in formal situations such as conferences and high-level meetings – and believe me, these people live for that stuff. What they’re not so good at, and what they pretty much had no idea about when I got there a year ago was open government.

These people are used to dealing in the Chatham House Rule. In diplomatic negotiation. In strategic talks. In their every day work.

And, for that reason, they weren’t good at getting the message out. My mission, in my time at the Centre, has been as part of a two person strategic communications team, to focus on online communications, on stakeholder outreach, on knowledge sharing and on bringing these people slowly and gently into a world where open government and 21st Century communications exists.

Let’s say from the start, this hasn’t been easy. And there’s a long way to go.

So, to set the scene… when I arrived at the Centre, not including me (I’m a little different to the norm) there were, from a 35 person staff:

  • two Twitter accounts
  • four Facebook accounts
  • five people on LinkedIn
  • no Flickr users

Today, it’s a little bit different. There are a few more Twitter users, several more on Facebook and so on. But these people are so busy with their regular workload it’s unreasonable to expect them to be rapid adopters of social tools for their day-to-day work. That stuff just doesn’t fit in with their regular way of operating, and it’s unreasonable (no matter how much the Chief of Staff, the Strat Comms Manager and I want it to be different) to expect otherwise.

So, in a place like this, where getting the message out about what you do and why it’s important is your key task, what do you do? Especially if you’re the only resource with the necessary knowledge and skills?

At the Centre, we took a look at a number of elements:

  • What is the overarching strategic communications goal for the Centre? Who do we need to influence? How? And why?
  • Where are we already achieving those goals? Where are the gaps?
  • Who might we be missing? Who were the “known unknowns”?

What this all led to were a number of short and long term goals, tied into the Centre’s strategic communications plan, that had open government elements attached to them. I have strong management support, all the way to the top of the Centre, and, even though we belong to the otherwise conservative VCDF Group within the Department of Defence, and we need to manage that relationship carefully, there is support there as well.

So, what did we do at the Centre to make open government and social media a part of how the Centre does business? We did a number of things:

  • we reserved Centre identities on a number of social networks
  • we wrote a short, clear, staff social media guidance and had it approved by VCDF and the Minister for Defence
  • we began using Twitter to put out notices about things the Centre was doing and also use Facebook to supplement those messages
  • we started doing project management using Basecamp, allowing us to track project activities and to bring in the frequent external collaborators we work with
  • we redeveloped what was a pretty terrible web site into something more flexible, rebuilding using WordPress. We’re still the only Defence-based organisation with a blog that allows open comments
  • we made a deliberate decision that all future publications released by the Centre would be licensed CC-BY. We’re also publishing all papers produced by Centre staff and our funded researchers online as HTML and PDF on our site as well as on SlideShare
  • we started posting Centre imagery to Flickr. Sure, it’s mostly people at meetings in suits, but it’s a record worth having
  • we started a YouTube channel off the back of our major event last year. It now includes video interviews with a number of leading authorities on civil-military interaction and will shortly be getting several new additions
  • we refreshed the Centre’s newsletter, formerly an email-attached PDF to a couple of hundred people, to be a Campaign Monitor driven email newsletter to over 1000 opt-in subscribers. It largely directs readers to full length content on our site, but also includes newsletter-only content to keep people interested

Now, none of this is terribly different to anything many organisations have done. However, I like to think we’ve done one thing a little differently, and that’s audience targeting.

The Centre has a fairly small, highly specialised audience. It’s mostly very senior people. They’re often not terribly familiar with open government or social tools. They work all over the world and usually have on the ground, “dirty boots” experience. They work for the UN, the African Union, or 3rd sector organisations like the ICRC, or Australian Government agencies, or one of the several near-equivalents to the Centre based in other countries such as the UK Government’s Stabilisation Task Force, Sweden’s Folke Bernadotte Academy, Canada’s START or the US’s Centre for Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Affairs.

We also have a growing group of people interested in our work from the academic sector, especially the security and defence colleges, and from policy and security think-tanks like the Lowy Institute.

We decided pretty early on that these were the people we most needed to focus on in our open government and strategic communications efforts. Unlike a lot of the open government case studies about public-facing efforts we see at the gazillion conferences that now cover the subject, the decision to focus on “people like us” has paid real dividends.

We’re measuring as much as we can as efficiently as we can (and it needs some improvement, no question) but here’s what we’ve noticed (qualifying all this with the fact that our audience is small and highly focussed):

  • our web site receives more than twice the traffic the old site did. We don’t get too many comments yet, but as with everything, it’s a work in progress
  • we have several people who now chat to us on Twitter and Facebook (and we chat back)
  • we’ve improved awareness of our work with all our “parent” stakeholders with Australian Government and with those stakeholders elsewhere who care about our subject matter
  • we’ve begun to pay attention to a raft of new and emergent activity in the civil-military sector that wasn’t even on the radar before we began looking online. In particular, the capacity for online volunteer communities and social media to be a part of the conflict and disaster management first response is an emergent and growing part of the work the Centre is looking at

We’re still not quite a year in to our open government efforts. We have a very long way to go to be anywhere near where I think we could and should be. But, for an organisation that had no idea what was possible a year ago, the fact that we’re doing all this is a big step. Not to mention (and I haven’t mentioned this before now) that we now have a deployed and richly developing wiki-based social intranet that all staff are using.

Conflict and disaster management in a hyperconnected world – cooperative, collaborative, real time

This paper was delivered at the Regional Senior Leaders Seminar in Cairns, Australia on 19 May 2011. A referenced version suitable for printing is available.

Port-au-Prince Left Devastated by Quake

Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer.

– EM Forster, Howard’s End

Engagement with connected networks of volunteers outside the official civil-military sector has the potential to see a measurable increase in situational awareness during ongoing and emergent crisis situations. These networks, their culture and the tools they use offer civil-military actors a set of opportunities to improve conflict and disaster management only rarely taken advantage of in current responses.

In the 21st Century, active and ongoing participation in a diverse and connected network, the use of social tools and a familiarity with the culture of sharing and openness that accompanies them should be no less core skills for members of the civil-military community than use of email or the web; digital literacy, active digital citizenship and involvement with relevant networked communities is a key competency for knowledge workers and field operatives alike.

A brief history of hyperconnectivity

The term hyperconnectivity refers to individuals, communities and organisations becoming a part of near-constantly connected networks facilitated by tools such as mobile telephony, email, the web as well as face-to-face presence, where awareness of situation and availability of information and knowledge has reached a near-commodity state.

Hyperconnected individuals (in which I include the organisation and community as identifiable individuals in their capacity as actors) rely deeply on their networks of connections – both close and weak – to ensure their awareness of the world around them is constant and pervasive, that they can contribute to and receive input from their networks to solve problems and that they are equipped with the capacity to actively participate in a universal public sphere.

Hyperconnectivity is exhibiting emergent effects we could not have been aware of before we had access to the network; its very existence, and the connections it affords, is changing the way we do things. We now have the capacity to distribute, share and leverage information and knowledge in ways and at a speed inconceivable only 10 years ago.

In his book, Cognitive Surplus, New York University academic Clay Shirky states of our post-industrial world that we have spent a generation soaked in a stupor of passive television watching. He points out that the capacity for us to spend those idle hours producing some form of value was diminished for nearly 50 years through the use of television as social surrogate, replacing time performing active roles in our communities and with friends and family. He goes on to note that the availability, certainly in the West, of pervasive fast Internet connections has permitted us to emerge from that stupor and spend those hours building things of value to humanity – things such as Wikipedia, the single greatest source of knowledge we have, the English language version of which has been built on 100 million hours or thereabouts of human effort and is recognised as being as valid or more so than the gold standard, the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Sharing information is a quintessentially human act – a thing buried so deeply in us that we do it without thinking, and often forget that many of the structures around us, especially in recent times, are explicitly built to prevent us from sharing. Those structures – rules, policies, organisations, management – perpetuate what is now a myth: that knowledge is power. In a world where access to factual knowledge is approaching commodity status, sharing, collaboration and making sense of knowledge is the true root of power.

Civil-military actors and hyperconnectedness

National and international responses to conflict and disaster are highly interdependent and need to be connected. A combined civil-military response where government and non-government organisations across several sectors work collaboratively in a whole-of-sector way in order to achieve the best possible outcomes is critical. Directly involving the wider connected networks of the volunteer technical communities (VTCs), leveraging the capacity, skills and availability of them, is an addition to the mix still not widely understood or used.

Civil-military actors belonging to agencies in the government, police, international organisations such as the United Nations (UN) and in the non-government organisation (NGO) sector often have low familiarity with social technologies beyond personal use of tools such as Facebook. These include a lack of skills; organisational policies with respect to access and permitted use; and over-zealous security (often about the perceived danger of social tools); and unhelpful or misinformed official or even informal opinions about the value volunteer and other communities with a technical bent bring to the disaster and conflict management sector.

There is a general lack of awareness of what benefits and advantages social technologies and engagement in their accompanying networks might bring and the familiar, path-dependent ways of operating can preclude the more agile approach that is seen in the way hyperconnected networks are able to respond in their operations.

Their organisations are unaware of or not able to make full use of social tools in their business-as-usual work for a number of reasons. In many cases, agencies are not, or do not, consider themselves a part of a hyperconnected community that exists online. It is not apparently a deliberate position, it simply is a matter of perception. It is a perception that would benefit from change.

Effective communication means using any available channel that offers an operational advantage. If civil-military personnel and their agencies made an active effort to understand and become a part of this global, connected community, they could open themselves to a world of information, knowledge, technology and skills that has the capacity to source, gather, identify and validate information on a scale and with a rapidity previously not possible. Certainly, in relation to conflict and disaster situations, the capacity to gather, filter and act on emergent information from a wide range of sources in what are inevitably difficult circumstances makes the work of first responders more likely to be successful.

In recent US Senate hearings before the Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Disaster Recovery and Intergovernmental Affairs, Administrator Craig Fugate of the Federal Emergency Management Agency notes:

“Previously, we have had the ability to communicate AT the public – whether it is radio, TV, web pages and even billboards, but our ability to communicate with the public and have two way conversations has been limited.”#

He goes on to note that the earliest and best reports in a crisis situation come from the public, often before responders have arrived and at times before they are aware of the event at all. In Fugate’s view “the public is a resource, not a liability”.

In the past several years, it has been an observable fact that news breaks first, and much detailed information can be gleaned, through the network of individuals in our online social networks; first via our connections on services such as Twitter and Facebook, then outward, as more detail is collected through online analysis from subject matter experts and then, finally, via the traditional news media. While for most of us, it is rarely first- or second-order connections that are the news breakers, or sources of primary information, very often it is those strong ties from whom we hear news first, as they pass on information from weaker ties further out in our networks. This is a well-researched matter of fact, most notably identified by Stanford University’s Mark Granovetter as far back as 1973 in his paper The Strength of Weak Ties and subsequently through his later research and that of others.

With respect to the recent outbreak of unrest in Libya, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) explicitly requested that the Standby Task Force (SBTF), a volunteer group with expertise in crisis mapping and information management, be activated. The SBTF raised a global team of more than 150 trained volunteers and created the Libya Crisis Map to provide live mapping of emergent information about the conflict coming from the international news media, social networks such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, blogs and other sources including telephone and SMS. This knowledge, validated and managed through SBTF’s well-understood processes, was then provided back to OCHA to facilitate knowledge gathering in a situation where the UN had few feet on the ground. OCHA’s Andrej Verity states:

“In addition, we requested the SBTF to help with collection of Who’s-doing-What-Where (3W) information and baseline indicators values.  Within 48 hours, we had 100+ activities collected and compiled. Let’s put that in perspective: the same amount of data took about 4 weeks in the Philippines, 2 weeks in Haiti, and 2 weeks in Pakistan to be made available.  See an improvement? Combining this data with Libya Crisis Map, we can now overlay the reported health needs with the actual health response – gap analysis. In regards to the baseline indicator compilation task, it had never been done before so I cannot even compare it to past experience. More future potential.”#

People involved in the connected community have for some time been aware of the power of social networks to support and inform action in times of disaster and conflict. As early as the response to the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, and the 2007-2008 post-election crisis in Kenya and the 2008 Sichuan earthquake there are well-researched examples of connected communities coming together to respond in what has been referred to by Harvard academic, Yochai Benkler as the “networked public sphere”.

Many of the networking tools currently in use to assist in crisis management such as Sahana, Ushahidi, SwiftRiver and Medic Mobile for example, have emerged not only from the crises they were built to help with, but also from individuals and groups who are a part of already existing communities involved in the Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) sector. It is for this reason that these tools remain open source and free of charge today and continue to be built or improved thanks to the cognitive surplus of the communities around them, put to good use for the betterment of humanity.

When shown the range of skills, information and knowledge brought by the unofficial contributors to disaster and conflict responses such as Haiti, the recent Japanese earthquake and tsunami and the ongoing Libyan situation and other events in the Middle East, there is a tendency amongst many civil-military authorities to accord little value and credence to what has been gathered and made sense of by communities such as CrisisCommons, CrisisMappers, the SBTF, and others. There remains a view that information and knowledge from unofficial sources lacks validity, despite the substantial governance effort surrounding the manner in which it is collated, managed and verified or attributed. This view seems rooted in the previously noted lack of familiarity with networked culture and tools and may be exacerbated by a lack of time available to civil-military personnel to pursue new ways of accessing information, even when away from deployments.

During the US Senate hearing mentioned before, Heather Blanchard, co-founder of CrisisCommons made the observation that:

“We were… dismayed to find that many agencies have stringent security policies blocking their workforce from using social media tools for operational purposes.  Without this capability emergency managers could be missing critical information in their operational picture. We recommend that emergency management infrastructure be fully modernized. We also recommend that policy and incident management doctrine be modified to allow emergency management personnel to engage outside of their own organizational networks to take advantage of social media tools and capabilities.”#

This is not universally the case; the Libya Crisis Map and OCHA’s involvement has already been mentioned, FEMA in the US is an increasingly mature user of social tools, and in the case of the recent Japan tsunami and earthquake, the initial Ushahidi map created by OpenStreetMap volunteers, is now a recognised tool in use by the Japanese government. Similarly, the flood map created by the Australian national broadcaster, the ABC, has been recognised by authorities including the Queensland Police Service (QPS) as an invaluable resource.

Oddly enough, or perhaps not, there is more than a passing relationship to the way in which knowledge and information is aggregated and understood by VTCs using tools such as Ushahidi and the well-understood concepts of network-centric operations. Information gathering is pushed to the edge of the network, right where the action is, and aggregated and understood through the use of networked tools to significantly enhance situational awareness. The Australian Defence Force (ADF) stated explicitly in its Force 2020 paper that:

“Network-enabled operations will provide us with a new type of advantage. This advantage will enable our commanders to achieve ‘decision superiority’ – the ability to make better, faster decisions, based upon more complete information…”

The low level of awareness of the VTCs, the culture of hyperconnectedness, the power and capacity of networked communities to add significant value to efforts in many endeavours, and the generally low level of skill associated with use of social technologies are glaring gaps in the official civil-military community. While there are certainly many individuals with strong skills and general digital literacy, involvement with relevant online communities is anecdotally low amongst civil-military officials in government organisations, in policing, and in NGOs. It is a matter that requires remedy.  And it is a remedy that is not overly difficult to implement.

A report in FastCompany magazine in early May 2011 outlines actions by the US State Department to embrace the culture, tools and communities working with and around conflict and disaster mapping in an effort to ensure that the US Government is in the best possible position to leverage knowledge held by professional civil-military officials and the technical skills, knowledge and willingness to act in the various VTCs.

After running a test event, The State Department  is adopting what is known as the BarCamp model – a collaborative “unconference” where any attendee may contribute a talk up to 20 minutes. The State Department will run several events around the world in order to bring together officials and volunteers as well as organisations such as the World Bank and USAID in order to try to find the next Ushahidi or Sahana. Only this time, they intend to do so outside the pressure cooker of an emergent disaster – the catalyst for the creation of many of the existing tools.

State’s Director of eDiplomacy, Richard Boly notes of this effort:

“We saw the ability of digital natives and the networked world, using lightweight and easily iterated tools, to do something rapidly that a big organization or government would find difficult, if not impossible, to do. The question is: Can we get that same magic to happen when people aren’t dying?”

Understanding the various unofficial actors

The UN’s Disaster 2.0 report and others such as that by the World Bank’s research facility, the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), gather the various groups acting in networked crisis management as “volunteer and technical communities”. While VTC is useful as a generalisation, it is no more than that. Each of the identifiable communities is quite different and fulfils equally different roles.

In a response to the Disaster 2.0 report, Ushahidi Director of Crisis Mapping and Partnerships, Patrick Meier notes this conflation, seeking to clarify the confusion:

“CrisisMappers is a horizontal network of humanitarian practitioners, technologists, researchers and volunteers. Ushahidi is a 501c3 organization that describes itself as a non-profit technology company. OpenStreetMap is a volunteer project, while Sahana is a software company that creates a Free and Open Source Disaster Management system. CrisisCommons is a technical community of volunteers and so on. Placing all these actors in the same basket is not particularly appropriate since some of these organizations/networks are not volunteers.”#

As noted, OCHA has recognised that in the case of the Libya Crisis Map, actively collaborating with the volunteer communities offers them the capacity to build intelligence and respond significantly faster than was ever previously possible. In this and other examples including Haiti, the Pakistan floods, floods in Queensland, the Japanese earthquake and tsunami and several conflicts including the Kenyan elections and the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings throughout the Middle East, the VTCs have proven capable of gathering large amounts of data, filtering and validating it and making it available both to crisis responders and to the public.

There are significant opportunities to be realised and much to be learned if official civil-military actors build familiarity and collaborations with these communities – they are well-trained, highly motivated and have a notable skill set that responders can utilise to measurably increase the effectiveness of responses. Heather Leson, a Toronto based crisis mapper and volunteer leader with both CrisisCommons and the SBTF notes:

“Volunteers exhibit respect for existing institutions, they follow protocols and hierarchy (essentially, they want to work within the systems to share their knowledge).”

The tools of crisis coordination

So too, the various tools of networked crisis response are very different to each other, though many of them will interoperate, enhancing each other and ensuring that responders are in a strong position when gathering, analysing and interpreting the rapidly emerging and frequently changing information inherent in conflict and disasters.

While already richly used by the networked communities, and in increasing use by OCHA, the US State Department and others, there is far too little knowledge and little to no use of these tools amongst Australian civil-military officials. More than anything, this represents a significant missed opportunity; we could be building real technical skills in the use of these tools, and in concert with the interaction with the volunteer communities already mentioned, making significant gains in civil-military intelligence gathering and data management capacity.

Bringing the civil-military community into the networked world

It is critical that the individuals and agencies in the civil-military sector become mature users of these technologies, familiar with the concomitant culture and active participants in the various VTC networks. There are a number of  relatively well-known individuals and agencies who are or are becoming highly competent, but they remain isolated.

In Australia, the QPS remains the sole agency with a significant role in the civil-military sector that has exhibited any real competence and experience with, and trust of, social technology. Their response to the recent Queensland floods, actively using social media such as Twitter and Facebook to both disseminate and gather intelligence about a rapidly changing disaster situation, is a textbook example of how an official agency can effectively use social media to engage a community. Indeed, use of social tools is now the first point of call for the QPS with respect to “getting the information out there”, to quote the Head of QPS Media, Kym Charlton, a self-admitted former social media skeptic. Equally, Charlton notes that QPS rely heavily on incoming messages from social media and the diverse community connected to them through social networks in order to make better sense of rapidly changing events such as the recent Queensland floods.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the international civil-military community would benefit from the capacity to collaborate and interact beyond the bounds of meeting physically around the world several times each year. An online community, let’s call it CivMilNet, would enable civil-military officials from across the various sectors involved to come together and discuss issues and ideas outside the limits of physical meetings. The technology to do this already exists and is in place, operating globally and realising real benefits for a number of communities including NGOs and public servants. Outside official civil-military actors, the various VTCs already have active and functional communities that coordinate and analyse their work online.

Such a community has been proposed by several civil-military officials in Australia and elsewhere. As an example,  the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs has an active and functioning social network, PTSC-Online, used for sector collaboration.

Should it be realised, CivMilNet has the potential to overcome the gap between being good at collaborating while on deployments and writing up post-action reports and the implementation of lessons learned. In particular, it potentially provides an ongoing place for issues to be argued and new ideas to be mooted as a complement to the formal exercise and conference/roundtable approaches that are current practice before lessons learned are folded into doctrine.

Such a community should not be formed without actively seeking to involve the various volunteer technical communities such as CrisisCommons and CrisisMappers, OpenStreetMap, and the Standby Task Force as well as the organisations developing crisis management tools such as Ushahidi. Beyond Australia, these organisations are already interacting closely with government and NGOs and have built strong trust relationships.

Linkages with Australian Government policy agenda

Engaging with the networked crisis management communities and building capacity in the use of the tools used by these communities has strong linkages with many of the reforms currently underway in the Australian defence and public sectors. The Asia Pacific Civil-Military Centre of Excellence’s own conceptual framework notes the need to adopt flexible and collaborative approaches, tying such activities into the wider innovation reforms proposed in the Moran Review of the Australian public sector, Ahead of the Game. So too, developments and forecasts for change in Australian defence capability in documents such as Force 2020 and the Defence White Paper 2009 highlight the need for increased networking and collaboration capacity within Defence and between Defence and its partners.

What now?

In Australia, the US, the UK and elsewhere, including on a multinational/UN basis, there are painfully few examples of truly skilled individuals and agencies with an official civil-military remit using social and collaborative technologies in either disaster or conflict management. Nor are they actively participating in networks of expertise and collaborating with them in order to improve their capacity to act.

A number of events are already taking place around the region; events the civil-military community are not engaging with. These include Bridging the Gap Think Tank, in Sydney on 21 May and the global Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) in 16 locations around the world in early June. Not actively participating in these events represents a singular missed opportunity for the civil-military sector.

Many Australian organisations across the conflict and disaster management community are now increasingly aware of the value of the use of social technologies and hyperconnectivity to improve the way they work, including during times of crisis. Several agencies, including the Attorney-General’s Department  have signalled they intend to investigate these approaches and a number of events to discuss experiences, research and views have been held.

Investigation, however, is not enough.

There is more than adequate academic and organisational research and use-in-practice evidence to show that organisations involved in official civil-military response gain measurable insight and response capability, even in the face of emergent, rapidly changing and significantly complex events when they engaged and working with technologically adept networked communities such as CrisisMappers and SBTF. In the words of GFDRR manager, Saroj Kumar Jha:

“The use of Volunteer Technology Communities (VTCs) made possible by new Web 2.0 technologies present a fundamental shift in how we can support Disaster Risk Management programs and intervene in disaster situations. We are only at the beginning of this story. The seeds planted through initiatives like the Crisis Commons and Random Hacks of Kindness hold great promise for the future.”#

Australian civil-military agencies, and in all likelihood their equivalents elsewhere need to act to improve their capacity to engage with networked communities around crisis and disaster management.

To build skills and knowledge, as the US State Department is doing in at home and globally, so too DFAT, the Department of Defence and AusAID could actively engage with the volunteer technical communities, building relationships and expertise on both sides.

An international research effort as well as events akin to RHoK and CrisisCamp, should be sponsored by civil-military organisations such as the Asia-Pacific Civil-Military Centre of Excellence and their international peers. This activity would explicitly seek to involve the various communities – VTCs, academia, the innovation sector, CrisisCommons, The Standby Task Force and others – with an aim of fostering good working relationships and incorporating culture change, tools and practices and lessons learned with respect to the inclusion of networked communities in disaster and conflict response into civil-military doctrine by July 2012.

Building trust and strong relationships is an important first step. These actions could facilitate collaboration between the official and volunteer actors in the civil-military, disaster management and crisis response sectors, would improve knowledge amongst all involved and would certainly improve the capacity to respond effectively and efficiently to events in the future.

On folly, freedom and filters

Wearing my EFA Board Member hat, I spoke today at an event at Parliament House hosted by the Menzies Research Centre in a debate with Tony McLellan of the Australian Christian Lobby. The audience was primarily members of the Australian Liberal Students Federation; young Liberals destined for jobs as political staffers and politicians.

Below is the text of my part of the debate.

Let me begin with a short anecdote.

On Monday night as we watched Four Corners and Q&A, my not-quite-13 year old daughter, Hannah, made a particularly interesting observation. “Gee, Dad,” she said, “I think I’ve just seen more rude pictures in that story than I’ve ever seen on the Internet.”

Hannah has been using the Internet since she was four.

Certainly, much of that time it has been under our supervision, but increasingly it’s not. When Hannah uses the Internet, she uses a connection at home that is completely unfiltered, neither by the router we use nor by activating the fairly comprehensive parental controls that come as a standard part of modern operating systems. She has administrator access to the machine she uses and she also knows and understands how to access and manage the home network.

Knowing I was coming here today, I conducted something of a straw poll of that observation amongst friends and acquaintances with kids of a similar age. I deliberately avoided asking only “‘Net savvy” parents.

Universally, the experience was the same; none of our children had ever inadvertently encountered pornographic or other offensive material on the Internet, let alone material of the kind that falls under the umbrella that the National Classification Code defines as Refused Classification. None of the children had filtered or managed Internet connections. All of them used computers placed in public spaces in their homes and several had their own computers in their rooms.

The most recent research into public opinion on the filter, carried out by the Safer Internet Group consisting of Google, Internet Industry Association, iiNet, Australian Council of State School Organisations and the Australian Library and Information Association and others shows a marked increase in doubts about the filter amongst parents.

There is significant opposition to the government’s filter as proposed. Rather, parents first want greater education options and at-home filtering and as a next-best option, an opt-in filter. Mandatory filtering runs a long last.

So too, our friends internationally, including most notably the US Ambassador to Australia, Jeff Bleich, speaking on Q&A have come out publicly against the filter as it stands. Ambassador Bleich, an internationally recognised authority on human rights, was particularly clear, when he said:

“We have been able to accomplish the goals that Australia has described, which is to capture and prosecute child pornographers … without having to use internet filters. We have other means and we are willing to share our efforts with [the Australian government].”

The arguments of the government and its supporters in favor of the filter regularly hang on the matter of RC material. On this, I’d like to first highlight two matters of interest that seem to cause some real confusion.

First, is the myth that all RC material is illegal. This is simply not true.

The fact is that of all material classified RC, it is only material depicting the sexual abuse of children that is that is illegal to own. For good reason. No reasonable person in today’s society believes that such material is suitable for adults to access, let alone children.

Material that falls under the RC umbrella is unquestionably sometimes distasteful or controversial or contains or depicts concepts of an adult nature; drug abuse, explicit material about abortion, guides to assisted suicide, violence. Whether you personally approve of such things or not, none of this material is illegal to possess in this country; it’s perfectly legal for me or you to own a copy of Baise Moi or The Peaceful Pill, just not to make it available for sale.

Yet the filter seeks to change this. Our classification system in Australia is something that largely works and is designed to empower adults and minors alike to make appropriate, relevant choices. When implemented, and have no doubt, the government’s plans for the filter are far from abandoned, it will take away adults’ ability to decide for themselves whether or not to access material that is by-and-large, legal in this country.

Second, is the fantasy that stumbling across material that is RC on the public web is something that occurs with frightening regularity. It’s not even easy to stumble across R- or X-rated material, not all of which is pornographic in nature and none of which will be targeted by the filter. You have to go looking for these things very deliberately. Looking for material that is RC is even harder.

The material the government proposes to filter is, in some cases, completely appropriate to access. For that which is not, child sexual abuse material, it is well known that the criminals who trade in this matter do so using tools and protocols that will not be managed by this or any other filter. Rather criminals trade their materials in private networks.

Additional dollars and human resources for law enforcement by the Australian Federal Police ought to be supported. It is only through the diligent and successful efforts of the AFP and its overseas collaborators that those people purveying child sexual abuse material are apprehended and put in jail where they belong.

Let’s look in turn at a number of the other issues around the proposed filter.

First, the matters of cyber-safety, education, self-determination and digital citizenship.

There is no question that as adults and particularly as parents, we wish to protect our society and children from danger and from exposure to deeply offensive or inappropriate material. Certainly, as a father, this is paramount in my concerns.

In order to do this, I have a responsibility. As a parent as and a member of society, it is incumbent on me to educate myself, my child and those who I come into contact with about issues such as good digital citizenship and appropriate online behaviors. Doing so helps us, particularly, to protect ourselves from threats the filter will not even address such as cyber-bullying (and bullying in the flesh-and-blood world), from online predators, from identity theft.

These issues are certainly much higher in the minds of the parents, teachers and students I speak to regularly as a part of my work than are matters like RC.

Despite the marked increase in this country of policy that erodes our freedoms, pushing back against personal determination and our ability to make decisions for ourselves, the fact is that the vast majority of Australians are not complete dullards who need the Nanny State to tell them how to run their lives. Rather, they are perfectly normal, intelligent people who are capable of self-determination, of critical thinking and decision-making.

Australian parents are largely not irresponsible and incompetent at bringing up their kids. Most of them are entirely the opposite, doing a fine job of parenting and making appropriate decisions about child rearing. They are perfectly able, as parents and adults, to decide what is and isn’t appropriate for their children to see online and elsewhere. Equally, they are able to teach their children, with help from educators, law enforcement and others, how to behave as reasonable digital citizens.

The millions of dollars the government proposes to spend on the filter, a technology that will not actually work as advertised and will be easily circumventable, would be far better spent on law enforcement and on thorough programs for teachers and parents to educate themselves on risks, on teaching how to manage their own and their children’s access to the Internet, on appropriate online behavior and, where they wish to, how to filter their own computers directly and by choice; provably the most effective form of filtering and placing the power to conduct themselves firmly in the hands of individual people rather than in the hands of a government.

In more than one research study, both here and overseas, strong evidence exists that the risks to minors of exposure to unwanted, by which I do not mean only illegal, material, are considerably overblown. Children are not irreparably damaged by seeing things that may be distasteful or inappropriate online, particularly if they are surrounded by a framework of parents, mentors, educators and other support services that can help them make sense of these things.

Even if some form of filter is ultimately introduced, it would be far better if such a thing was opt-in rather than mandatory, as it was in Labor’s original pre-election policy. This leaves the decision-making in the hands of parents, where it belongs. Indeed, many opponents of the current filter scheme have stated that their objections would largely be mitigated of opt-in was the choice.

I don’t want to spend a great deal of time on the technology, as the concepts here have been argued at length and in detail by others. Suffice it to say that, in spite of Senator Conroy’s arguments to the contrary, there are major technical issues with the filter that remain unanswered or lacking in enough detail to be satisfying:

  • secure web sites, such as we use for online banking and e-commerce cannot be filtered without making them less secure
  • there remains a risk that if a popular and culturally valuable sites such as Wikipedia, the National Gallery of Australia or YouTube were subject to a filtered URL, overall access to those sites may be measurably degraded
  • the introduction of the NBN and networks running at those speeds have not been tested under filter conditions at all
  • only material published on the web will be subject to the filter, other distribution methods such as BitTorrent, email and instant messaging, often used by criminal networks to distribute offensive material, will not be subject to the filter
  • bypassing the filter is, as admitted by Senator Conroy on more than one occasion, a trivial exercise, even for relatively non-expert users
  • mandatory filtering is less flexible and customisable than home-based, on-router or on-computer filtering

All of these issues require evidence-based, thorough answers.

The blacklist itself is problematic on a number of fronts. These too have been discussed at length, but let’s look at them briefly.
The list is secret. In a world where open government in modern democracies is receiving significant attention, this is, at the very least, interesting. We hear arguments that a secret list protects us from exposure to the URLs that contain the offensive material. However, if the URLs are filtered, in what way do we risk exposure? The argument fails its own logic. Beyond that, it’s simply offensive to me to think that any government believes that I am incapable of enough independent thought to determine what URLs I do and do not visit.

By its very secrecy, if my website ends up on the blacklist, I am unable to know how and why it got there. It’s also unclear how I get off the list if I’m there unjustifiably. What happens if someone opposed to your political views or faith manages to get your site on the list?

Secret things have a tendency to leak through the cracks. The blacklist has already been leaked once. It’s not inconceivable that it will happen again. And again. And again.

The list is tiny. In a world where the public web is now in the trillions of pages, a list of something around 10,000 URLs barely scratches the surface of any pool of offensive, let alone illegal, content that may exist.

Which brings us to criminal networks distributing child sexual abuse material – I’ve already mentioned this, but it bears repeating – these networks do not use the public web to distribute their wares. The technologies they do use – private networks and peer-to-peer – will not be filtered.

The only effective way the distribution of this illegal material can be stopped is through active law enforcement. The AFP has a highly competent cybercrime unit that could be more effective if it was the beneficiary of additional funding and resources.

Last, to matters of filtering and free speech.

Senator Conroy, on Monday night’s Four Corners, stated clearly that for the purposes of the filter, his government’s policy was to filter RC content only and that he would be amongst the many voices raised in protest should some subsequent government decide to broaden the scope of the filter.

The filter covers material legal in other forms and media. It lacks accountability and appelability which are at odds with our open democracy and markedly different to equivalent decisions that are open to scrutiny when subject to other media.

While the Senator’s and the government’s hearts may certainly be in the right place, we cannot be so certain about unknown future governments and their thoughts on the nature of what could and should be subject to filtering. It is entirely possible that over the long term not only material that is RC will be subject, but perhaps dissenting political voices, matters of taste or voices belonging to certain faiths may be censored.

So, here’s a summary of the issues as I see them:

  • there’s no serious Internet content problem to solve – you just can’t inadvertently stumble on RC or child porn on the Internet
  • even if there was, few want the government to solve it this way – there are better, more effective, more workable and more societally acceptable options
  • the technology presents a real risk – we’ve seen the trial results and the extensive analysis which points out the flaws
  • the blacklist itself is a problem – it’s secret, unappelable, deals with material that remains legal, it’s already been leaked and will again (you’ve heard of the Streisand Effect, right?)
  • the filter will not address criminal distribution of illegal material – it’s far better to ensure funding and resources for law enforcement, who are the only people equipped to deal with this problem properly
  • the filter impinges on the freedom of Australians to determine for themselves  – it represents a real shift in the ability for Australians to determine what is and isn’t appropriate for them to view online and significantly changes a fairly workable classification system in other media to cope with a medium that is changing rapidly
  • the filter will be administered by governments ill-equipped to do so – the technology and policy are complicated and problematic. We’ve seen several policy and program stumbles lately, do we want one over this?
  • there is no guarantee that future governments will not change the scope of what is filtered – the suppression of material based on moral or political grounds is anathema to what Australia is about

This is far from a simple issue.

I’d like to close with a few words from Will Briggs, an Anglican priest from my wife’s home town of Somerset, Tasmania. Will is a strong voice in the discourse on the filter. He said:

“[This issue] is best [addressed] through clear information, balanced argument, reasoned debate…[on the] multiplicity of issues… [it is] a debate which is not simply about sexual ethics but about freedom of speech, the reductionism of morality, and the role of government in society… by… simplifications in this case [we] look like simpletons.”

Nodes: The hyperconnected nervous system and digital literacy

The transformation in our culture since the mass availability of the public Internet has occurred more rapidly than any previous change in society. Like all changes that bring about a transformation, this one has, and continues to take place in leaps and bounds rather than at a linear, more manageable pace. These leaps are uncomfortable. They bring about feelings in us all that are akin to that which we feel riding a roller-coaster — some nausea, an odd sensation in the pit of the stomach, and not a little disorientation. Get used to it. It’s still going on and we’re on the biggest trip ever. At least for now.

We live today in a world of rapidly increasing connectedness. We are connected to each other as individuals and in groups in a way that changes everything. And I do mean everything — education, families, business, government, causes, empowerment, culture, globalisation. Everything. This school, indeed any school, or any government, business, organisation or person that remains disconnected for much longer risks an ever-increasing marginalisation in the face of a hyperconnected world.

Set aside for a moment that large parts of the world remain not connected to the Internet. Those parts that are are visibly, measurably different to how they were 15 years ago. They are even markedly different to five years ago.

Of real significance amongst these changes, is the change in the way humans now learn. It is important to understand that the formal education I went through, and the vast majority of those teaching today went through, bears little or no resemblance to either the way we or our kids themselves learn when left to our own devices nor to the way the real world operates. The real education revolution that needs to occur is a transformation based on that understanding.

This connectedness, which began back in the mid-90’s with the introduction of the public to the World Wide Web has introduced us all to a network of people, places and possibilities we simply did not have access to before that time. And we now depend on that network. Deeply so. It’s about trust. About relationships. And about being something more than we are, intellectually and personally, that we can be without the network.

I remember my first hesitant steps into the online world, around 20 years ago. As an early adopter, they were at 14.4K per second and on the pre-public Web world of CompuServe. After 1998, CompuServe was swallowed up in the rapid expansion of AOL, becoming just a part of that behemoth. In the years I was online with CompuServe before that, I was a part of a much smaller, yet no less fascinating network of people, places and possibilities — interacting with people far and wide, as far away as remote northern Canada, Brasil and Scotland on things that we were collectively fascinated by; science fiction, Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels and fitness.

I’m still fascinated by those and other things 15 years later. Though my community — the network I share those fascinations, and others, with — is now vastly larger and richer than I could ever have imagined in my early dabblings on CompuServe.

Size and richness are just two of the important measures of the hyperconnected world we now live in. When we go online and choose to participate in that global hyperconnected community, a third aspect takes form. We each become a cell in a great hybrid nervous system, electronic and human, that often is difficult to understand. But the core aspect of that nervous system. The very heart of it is collaboration. Sharing.

As nodes in this system, we are both sender and receiver, seeker and finder. And there is an expectation that we collaborate and share that which we both seek and find. And the very act of sharing, of collaboration, adds immense value to the network each time we participate. That value goes far beyond the simple, single act that takes place. The whole is very much greater than the sum of the parts. This sharing has been a part of what the Internet has been about since the first servers were switched on back in the late 1960’s. But now we’re in a position to do something rather more substantial.

When we first went online, none of us were quite sure what to do. I remember seeing the personal homepage of the person that introduced me to the web. It was a prototypical “About me” page. An early form of what we see today on any business web site and on the multitude of blogs and other profiles we create online. Who am I? What do I do? I like Vegemite, do you?

Well, now we know. We know who you are. We know what you do. We share your love of Vegemite and a cornucopia of other things through shared experience online. Through tweets, blog posts, Facebook status messages, pokes, likes, ratings, links.

This sharing, divorced from the tool by which it’s shared, but all borne on the same carrier wave, is where things begin to get profoundly interesting. It’s not the technology that’s the cool thing (though at times that’s cool enough), it’s what we do with it, together, that’s got legs.

Perhaps the crowning glory of the shared online experience is, rather than the color of your tractor on Farmville, the in excess of 100 million hours of effort taken to produce the English language version of Wikipedia. In the words of my colleague, friend and educator, Mark Pesce:

“…what is new about Wikipedia?  Simply this: the idea of sharing.  Wikipedia invites us all to share from our expertise, for the benefit of one another.  It is an agreement to share what we know to collectively improve our capability.  If you strip away all of the technology, and all of the hype – both positive and negative –from Wikipedia, what you’re left with is this agreement to share.”

This capability to share, and through sharing, transform culture, is the thing that has become the most powerful, most enticing, most terrifying part of what the online world offers us.

Interestingly, many schools and other educational institutions place so little value on the sharing, knowledge and effort that has gone into Wikipedia over its existence, that they ban its use as a research tool. How quaint.

Of course, as humans, we don’t always make the most of the power accorded to us. Some of the sharing done online is less than edifying — the excesses of public voyeurism through videos of bullying and the defacing of Facebook tribute pages set up by people mourning a loss and without the knowledge of how to curate that space to protect and preserve its cultural value show that sharing need not be an act that adds to the world.

Those that share negatively have learnt the skill of sharing, but not the human attributes that go alongside it of empathy, compassion, love, respect. They sometimes lack a certain maturity. Perhaps it is the case that the offline networks into which these people share — their families, friends and physical social networks also lack that maturity. Perhaps too, they are unskilled in the ways of the online world and are pushing its boundaries as a child does with parents and teachers. Or perhaps they are just getting their jollies.

On the other side of the coin, those of us that share positively do so with an astounding variety. Some of us share inanities — our lunch, a new piece of clothing. Other share deep feelings — love, anger, amazement, joy. Still more act as creators, gatherers and gardeners of knowledge, whether that’s as profound as climate science, or as superficial as better ways to play World of Warcraft. It all adds value. It all makes us senders and receivers.

If we are to send and receive, to act as a node, we must shoulder a level of responsibility in the management and distribution of the signal we carry. We must learn to become good digital citizens.

As educators, the teaching of good digital citizenship is arguably one of the most important skills you can pass to those in your charge. You have a hand, as big or bigger often, in the development of those you teach than do their parents. Not only that, their parents are often lacking in the skills needed to teach digital citizenship. Few of us were brought up with the Web as kids are today. Even five or six years ago, few online social networks existed. You are in a position both enviable and unenviable; you get to be the first adults to teach the digital natives how to be a tribe of nobles rather than savages.

Good digital citizenship is a complex notion. It involves aspects of technical competence, familiarity with changed culture and emotional intelligence all at once. Wrapping these together, and dealing with them well in the context of a rapidly changing online environment is immensely complex. Yet, we’re all exposed to this environment, and from an increasingly young age.

There’s no way to examine these three aspects in isolation from each other. They are inexorably wrapped up in each other. In examining one, so many aspects of the others are apparent that the taks is futile.

Technology moves apace. The mobile phone I use today is barely that. Rather it’s a complex converged device providing telephony, messaging (in various forms), access to the Internet in familiar ways such as email, chat and the Web as well as less familiarly, with point solution tools such as Foursquare, Twitter, Facebook, Wikipedia and the emergent augmented reality applications I can use. There’s significantly more computing power in my hand than sent the Apollo missions to the Moon. And significantly more even than the first desktop PC I owned in 1991. Let alone raw functionality.

I’ve another point to make about mobile devices, but I’ll get to that a little later.

We’ve already discussed the cultural and technological revolution wrought by the Internet, but let’s remind ourselves. This thing that was originally created to ensure the persistence of United States’ defence information in the face of the outbreak of nuclear war and pass esoteric data between academics has utterly reshaped Western society and is having no less impact in Asia and Africa, though the tools being used there to conduct that impact are somewhat different.

The Pew Internet and American Life project reported last year that 46 per cent of US adults have used a social network on at least one occasion, with 27 per cent using one within a day of being surveyed. Here in Australia, the latest ComScore research indicates a massive 96 per cent social network membership of some sort amongst Internet using adults. With more than a quarter of Australians with an active Facebook profile, there is a massive community out there connecting and sharing. Granted, it’s not all deep, but it’s certainly meaningful.

But how meaningful? The answer is very.

Being connected to each other online, rather than being a large pool of unconnected points, has had a number of profound behavioral impacts. We now use social networks more than we use email and search. This has singular implications for society; the very way we interact, share, relate, trust and learn has been transformed and continues to undergo transformation, much of which we can’t yet begin to imagine. The very behaviors and changes we’re seeing are themselves emergent and unpredictable. And their implications are significant.

Let’s start early.

Today, children begin forming relationships of real substance in preschool. It’s at about the same time many of them are beginning to use the Internet. It’s not inconceivable that many children will establish loose ties with each other at this early stage that will persist through hyperconnectedness across the span of their lives. I can see this in my own daughter, Hannah, who has maintained a relationship with her best friend from child care, Shannon. They connect regularly from half a world away, and in just a few weeks, will see each other physically for the first time in seven years when we visit them on a trip to Washington DC.

As she matures, Hannah is adding more and more relationships to the network she exists within. They possess both physical and virtual elements, and will continue to do so over the coming years. She has the opportunity to foster and maintain a network on a scale that I simply could not at her age, and cannot now, no matter how many people I meet and enjoy the company of.

The value of that network, as it grows and is curated; as she cherry picks who to be close to and who to be loosely associated with, grows in value with each node added. Each new cell in the system provides value not only to its neighbors, but also to the distant, loose connections. It may be a connection several years and many steps away from the hub that is Hannah, that proves of special value at some point in the future.

But this also illustrates a problem. The sheer scale of the network that Hannah will exist in is orders of magnitude greater than that of her grandparents’ and still significantly larger than that of her adept, but still, digital immigrant, Dad. The only way this network will be able to be easily maintained will be through careful, ongoing curation and breaking of the network down into more granular chunks — these are Debating Club people, and overseas friends, and swimming friends, and people I know through Mum and Dad. That kind of curation is simple at small scales, but incredibly difficult on the scale that Hannah will need to manage.

On top of the vast number of relationships having to be managed, is an ever increasing volume of data that needs to be made sense of — email, links, web sites, news, video, audio, podcasts, and more. It’s simply not possible to store this in your head. The notion of our tools as “outboard brain” has real credence; whether we’re collecting information for a public speaking engagement as I did using Evernote, or storing easily forgotten phone numbers in our mobile phones, conveniently synced with our contacts online, or making lists of friends and where they fit into our lives on Facebook.

So, how does this fit into education?

My belief, as someone who is not an educator, but is passionately interested in both my own ongoing education and that of my daughter, is that hyperconnectedness has so fundamentally changed education that the model we’ve operated under to now is no longer relevant. We have little time left to change and it’s not going to come with the Education Revolution.

As hard as it is to keep up with technological changes, the emergence of new platforms and tools, and an understanding of the benefits and risks they may offer the networked teacher, student or parent, is a core skill for modern educators.

Equally, an understanding of the culture of the network is critical. Who connects to who. Why? How? To what end? Where is the value? What is my role in this new world where the value accorded expertise is decaying as access to factual material, and even rich interpretation and context is becoming a trivial task.

It’s simply not good enough to say “I don’t have the time” or “It’s too hard, I can’t keep up.” Others do, and are. And your students certainly are. If you can’t be their guide through the technological changes, you can no longer be the mentor they need in the networked age of education.

The model for the class room, from a child’s first day at child care right through to the very end of tertiary education is fundamentally broken. We still operate according to rules established in the 19th Century to train compliant workers for the factories of England’s Industrial Revolution. I’ve also seen it described more than once, so I don’t lay claim to the idea, as the “airplane model”; get in, sit down, face forward and be quiet.

In schools now, too often, technology is a part-utilised add-on. More often, it’s crippled. And the network of connections? Ill-used and piecemeal, even in the best schools.

When I talk with educators, many know what they should do, but have lacked the resources to do so. We now have those resources at hand, if we use them and share.

Education must become the place where the network is best utilised. Where use of tools is taught well and goes deep. We now have the resources to create an age where the boundaries of the classroom break down, where the exploratory learning we so value in giving small children is extended to the class for older children.

The hyperconnected world has created a new way of doing things that run strongly counter to the power relationship inherent in education before now. The conflict that this sets up will be the deciding factor. Can education change to cope with the open, shared, collaborative future of the hyperconnected world, or will it try to insist on maintaining its position of power and thus disengage from learners who will go about seeking their own learning?

Let’s then look at some real-world, practical examples, beginning with one of my personal bugbears, blocking and filtering the school network and providing students and teachers with crippled hardware.

It was back in February 2009 that I wrote a fairly short piece entitled Blocking never works. I absolutely stand by the core premise of that piece, which is that providing people with whom you work — in the context of schools that’s teachers, other staff and students — with a less than full access experience to their hardware, software and online access infantilises them. Imagining that this crippled experience is somehow better and provides you shiny, happy people who will compliantly obey your edicts is foolish at best and deeply damaging in many cases. Better to, as I said in that article:

“…make sure your [people] are empowered to use social tools at work but also understand with crystal clarity what is and isn’t acceptable.”

Now, of course, I have no problem with schools trying to block porn from their network. It’s a rare workplace that such access is ever necessary. But the sheer availability of such stuff and the ease with which it can be sought, and make no mistake, it must be sought, it cannot be “stumbled across” as the Communications Minister would have us believe, makes the task fairly pointless. Rather, I say teach proper behaviors. Make students and staff aware that their Internet use can and will be logged. Being watched is as good or better filter than a filter itself.

Further, and research bears this out in a multitude of cases, schools and workplaces that have filtered Internet access are more likely to have cases of attempts at inappropriate access than those that have unfiltered access accompanied by appropriate guides to behavioral expectations. They also tend to have students and staff with less rich understanding of what it takes to be a responsible and safe digital citizen with a well-managed and appropriately curated online identity.

Here in Australia, the NSW DET is notorious as a particularly stringent restricter of access to hardware, software and the Internet. The people at the Department have obviously not read the report from their British colleagues at the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills, whose report, The safe use of new technologies, released in February this year noted in particular that in respect to locked down systems such as those being released under the laptops for schools program here:

“this approach had disadvantages in the schools visited. As well as taking up time and detracting from learning, it did not encourage the pupils to take responsibility for their actions.”

Far better to teach some responsible behaviors and technical skills in order to manage the tools properly.

Additionally, the same report noted that with respect to managed, but not locked down systems, including hardware, software and Internet access, that an environment of collaboration and sharing, where responsibility was given and expected to be taken that it:

“…[provided] them with richer learning experiences; and [enabled them] to bridge the gap between systems at school and the more open systems outside school.”

In other words, blocking access to the Internet, and particularly to social tools — the parts that form the third places in the network — may ultimately prove more distracting — and potentially more dangerous — to students.

We hear, more often perhaps than we like, about how difficult it is to engage kids with technology. I don’t think we should be surprised at all. After all, the moment they enter class, we make it abundantly clear that the core piece of technology that connects them into the network, their mobile phones, is anathema to the learning experience. This too has been given the lie in several pieces of research. One particular case in the US, mobile phones, ubiquitous amongst students, are used as a teaching tool, providing access to teaching resources of various sorts and being used as a way to notify students of work due. This school finds they have less misuse of the technology than if they banned it.

And of course, this becomes progressively more difficult as students get older. You won’t find an adult educator who can successfully get a class to switch off their devices. Far better to have students use them productively in class than sneaking furtive use when your back is turned.

Next, let’s look at the way kids learn and the benefits available to teachers through the network of sharing.

For teachers, as much as students, the network or organisations and individuals available to them extends now well beyond the classroom, the school and even the city you live in. Failing to take advantage of this network, placing yourself both as the hub of your own network and as simply a point in the multitude of other connected networks, does you a great disservice.

Imagine this network; you are connected to your peers through shared experience, knowledge and understanding, your students are connected to each other by the same network, you and the students are connected. And that network then extends out through a multitude of nodes, each providing a slightly difference perspective, or pool of knowledge or set of experiences. This network, which, given its scale, might as well be infinite, extends to parents, the community. The classroom stops being four walls, some desks and chairs. The physical construct becomes as irrelevant as the intellectual one. Neither hold any longer.

The class, no longer bound by a room, can observe itself from the outside, or observe and participate in any other event or happening. The potential richness of this experience is limitless. Equally, the outside can observe the class, in context, in real time or after. Parents can see the magic happen.

Today, Hannah’s learning environment is the entire world. Arguably it’s larger than that. More specifically, it’s this — Hannah’s learning environment is the hyperconnected world she finds herself a part of on a constant basis. She’s connected continually to experiences and groups from which she learns and contextualizes. Most of those are not mediated in a classroom environment, and many of them are amongst her peers. This will become more so as her ability to socialise and collaborate with her peers increases in complexity and becomes more refined.

As a group they, and others like them, are entirely collaborative, conversational and community focused. She’s connected into these learning experiences on a constant basis through mobile phones, her iPod, the tools she uses like wikis, blogs, online bookmarking and social networks, and any one of the several ‘Net-connected devices she encounters during the course of her day. Often, those experiences are massively parallel — IM and text, while reading or editing something online and listening to something else or conversing with the group in the room. Hannah and her peers are a part of an environment beyond the classroom that empowers them and puts them in control. That allows them to follow the white rabbit down the hole of connectedness until their curiosity is sated. This form of learning is also multi-directional. Hannah teaches as much as she learns. The network responds to her as much as she to it. They are, as Don Tapscott puts it, “the ‘Net Generation”.

Arguably, her learning experiences in the classroom are becoming progressively more irrelevant as the learning experiences she undertakes beyond the class — deliberately or coincidentally — more directly prepare her and equip her with the skills she will need to successfully tackle the 21st Century. She is more connected to, and more contextually so, to what digital ethnographer Kevin Kelly termed “The One” than any generation before her.

In generations to come, this will be seen as natural. Right now, it presents an enormous challenge to many educators and education bureaucrats and policymakers in the political arena as they struggle to keep up. Certainly the Prime Minister and Education Minister, as keenly interested as they are in education, by no means envisioned this as their Education Revolution.

This approach is as accessible to teachers as it is to students. You can and ought to participate in the richness the network affords. Your own literacy in the tools, the culture and the network itself is a critical component of your ability to mentor students through the emotional, social and technical maze that they are navigating. If you are left behind, you will, in short order, decrease in relevance to modern learning. That places you in an unenviable position; unable to adequately mentor your students and teach them not only the content of their class but what it means in the greater context of their existence as humans in the 21st Century, you may find yourself and your outdated skills consigned to the same scrapheap the Industrial Age classroom model finds itself.

To move to where I propose teaching and learning needs to go is no trivial task. It will require a singular will and no small amount of reimagining what the school experience looks like. But we’ve done this before, in so many parts of society, including schools when we transformed from the unstructured learning and one-to-one transfer of skills largely based around the family farm to industrialised society where we went off to work leaving our children in the charge of others to be taught. This will be no less a leap.

But now, we have the network not only to learn from, but to help us. Its value is manifold. We can use the network and the sharing we do on it to transform education as much as we use it as a tool of education.

Imagine the possibilities.

Cluetrains, Conversations, Trust and Openness

When you’re given just 20 minutes to cover the notion of the more open business models the proliferation of social networks encourage, there’s not a great deal of time to waffle. Hopefully I didn’t the other day, when I gave this talk to close off the speaker sessions at the Technology to Drive Growth workshop at the National Growth Summit conference in Sydney.

Today’s business world suffers many problems, many of them seemingly intractable through their complexity and frequently changing scope. These problems now have a name, wicked problems.

A 2008 survey by Neutron Group and Stanford University asked 1500 executives to cite the most complex of the wicked problems they faced. Looking at just the third:

Innovating at the increasing speed of change

we can see that change is a big issue.

The increasing pervasiveness of access to the Internet and the empowerment that access places in the hands of the stakeholders of a business – staff, executives, stakeholders and especially customers – makes business innovation a key differentiator today. If we go online to look for a new fridge, or computer, or flowers for Valentine’s Day, or a holiday, there’s so much on offer that we need a better way of making a choice. Often, we’ll choose the most innovative provider of that service or product.

But what do I mean by innovative? A few year back, everyone was defining this in terms of Seth Godin’s Purple Cow. I think that’s a good starting point. We do want remarkable products. But flowers are flowers, right? A fridge is a fridge? A book from Amazon is the same as the book from Borders. So it’s rarely the product itself that’s the differentiating point.

The differentiation point is, in part, reputation and customer focus. Which provider do my trusted, expert friends recommend. What is it about the provider that they recommend? Is it incredible customer service? Is it the little touches like chocolate mints in amongst my hardware orders (like one online store I shop at does)? Is it that they put a human face on an otherwise faceless company?

Let’s focus on the last of those points, because it goes very directly to the point of one of my favorite books, The Cluetrain Manifesto, and to the heart of what I’m talking about.

While Cluetrain presents us with a comprehensively argued 95 theses for better, more human business, I want to focus on just the first. Markets are conversations.

Anyone whose ever been to a fresh produce market in Australia, or open air markets anywhere in the world will understand this completely. Things get done in business in these situations because people talk to each other and act in a human way.

Market segmentation, one of the favorite tools of businesses over a certain size, divides their potential customer base into demographics they can then target their sales and marketing efforts at. I’d argue that while you might want to do this to understand what your market consists of, it gives you no insight into who your market consists of. And, in today’s connected, ever-changing world, we need to know who we’re providing our product or service to because they are so empowered by the hyperconnected world they live in that the market segments break down.

Every customer is now a market segment of one.

And you better know them. Personally. And treat them like a human being.

Because, it’s a demonstrated fact that if you don’t, it’s going to backfire on you in a big way. You could suffer irreparable brand and business damage if you fail to treat your customers like humans.

So you do you behave like a human business and treat your customers the way they frankly deserve to be treated; as humans?

Start by listening. Listen online and off. Make sure you know what people are saying about you, about your products and about your competitors.

And, when you hear something, reach out. Ask “how can we make this better?” or “how can we improve?” or, perhaps unusually, point out someone saying bad about a competitor to that competitor and let them know they need to fix it. If they don’t, then it’s your chance to get that customer. After you’ve been the good guy first.

It’s not that hard. It’s just a case of ensuring that in all things, you continue to act like a human, instead of that inhuman construct we’ve managed to create for ourselves, the business. Sometimes, that acting like a human leads to good that you can’t immediately measure in dollars but that has a profound impact (BTW, great job on this Telstra. You won a lot of friends for this).

At the core of behaving like a human in business is the notion of trust. Particularly trusting your staff, every one of them, to be a face for the business and empowering them to take action on behalf of the business to do good, to solve problems and to make sure that issues go to the person in the business who knows how to solve them.

And trust your customers. They know better than you what they want from your offering. So ask them. Not as you’re about to take something to market, but all through the process from concept to delivery. It’s like having a 24x7x365 focus group on hand. And you know what? Do something nice for the customers that helped, something human, if they made the product better by their ideas.

Business has always been about keeping secrets. About hiding your ideas. But what happens when you switch that on its head. You don’t necessarily have to go the whole radical transparency route, but what about exposing your ideas, your thinking, and the humans that work for you? Make these things your point of differentiation. Make them the things that keep you innovative as you adopt an approach that keeps you agile and razor focussed on delivering the best products and services you can.

When you hide, and keep unnecessary secrets from your customers (of course there will always be things you don’t reveal – but think about what they should be), your failures can, and will go global as disgruntled customers, some of them with mighty big soapboxes, point out your failings. You get what you deserve.

It is far better to be out there, being human, being trusting and trustworthy, being open. Wouldn’t you rather be a part of the conversation than the subject of it?

I believe by combining these factors into a formula, we can have a little fun with this, and also make some sense. So here it is.

Conversation + Trust + Openness = Delight, or more simply C + T + O = :D

Focus on that. Imagine.

Only Connect

The presentation below is the slide deck from my opening keynote at yesterday’s AIS NSW ICT Integration Conference 2009: eConsumers or eProducers?

It went over very well. The teachers and other educators seemed enthused by my contribution to their event. A sound file, that I will sync with the slides, is coming.

The title, from the dedication in E.M. Forster‘s Howard’s End urges that we “live in fragments no longer“. Pretty amazing for something from 100 years ago. In education, that we teach and educate in fragments no longer is a key success factor to my mind.

Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer.

Government 2.0 – reinventing eGovernment or something different?

This short talk is to be delivered to the IBM Smarter Workforce – Government Leadership Forum on 9 September 2009.

“Every dystopia is a utopia turned inside out… The problem isn’t in the basic idea, it’s in the arrogance of implementation. It’s in the idea that we will get it right the first time.”
– Steven Lloyd Wilson #

Government 2.0 is more than just eGovernment with a new name. eGovernment in Australia has largely focused on delivery of services and programs via online or connected means – an admirable agenda that has in large part been successful in the 10 or so years it has been a priority. But online delivery is just a part of what Government 2.0 offers.

My personal view is that Government 2.0 is an unhelpful term. As with Enterprise 2.0 and Web 2.0 before it, it somewhat unintentionally puts technology in people’s minds and creates visions of something large, expensive and complex that will be done to government rather than by government and misses the point about the groundswell culture and practice change supported by technology that is arguably the more substantial and world-changing aspect of the thing.

Tim O’Reilly, one of the co-creators of the term Web 2.0, and now passionate Government 2.0 advocate, describes Government 2.0 as requiring a shift to platform thinking, where government provides the platform for amazing things to happen – think highways, the Internet, GPS (all originally created by government) – and builds services on it, but also opens it up in order for citizens and business to build their own applications, products and services. Ones not considered or even dreamed of by government, but using the infrastructure and data provided by government.

Still, this description focuses on the tools and technology. I think the end game Tim is moving towards is systems thinking – considering government and all the things it does as a part of much larger, contextual puzzle. If we focus on the tools and technology, we risk becoming obsessed with minutiae that hide the real possibilities.

To my mind, the tools and technology are the scaffolding upon which Government 2.0 can be built – a critical part of the whole, but not the answer in and of itself. Rather, for Government 2.0 to succeed, we should focus on the models delivered by 2.0 thinking – lightweight, agile, responsive over reactive, prepared to make small mistakes, open, collaborative – and the fact that at its heart, it’s about people.

So, let’s begin with a useful definition, the definition used by the very active Australian Government 2.0 community that has gathered on Google Groups to discuss the subject. I’ve chosen this definition not just because I had a hand in making it, but also because I think it’s one of the most balanced out there:

Government 2.0 is not specifically about social networking or technology based approaches to anything. It represents a fundamental shift in the implementation of government – toward an open, collaborative, cooperative arrangement where there is (wherever possible) open consultation, open data, shared knowledge, mutual acknowledgment of expertise, mutual respect for shared values and an understanding of how to agree to disagree. Technology and social tools are an important part of this change but are essentially an enabler in this process.

You’ll see from the definition that there’s a significantly larger picture that needs to be understood, explored, experimented with and ultimately implemented to make Government 2.0 the reality it can be.

Government 2.0 makes a deliberate effort to break down what can seem impenetrable barriers of bureaucracy and introduce a more human face to the executive arm of government. Public servants are encouraged to engage with each other and with the public where possible, within their own spheres of expertise. Rather than outbound communication from agencies to the public, the discourse becomes conversation – amongst the public sector, between the public sector and the community, and amongst the various parts of the community itself. This conversational approach offers many benefits – the public sector is kept constantly attuned to the needs and wants of the public, the public is less baffled by bureaucracy as they are in more frequent touch.

Borrowing heavily from the culture of Open Source, Government 2.0 assumes that publicly open, multiple and rapid iterations of policy, of programs, of ideas is a good thing. Not necessarily for everything government does, but as and where appropriate. Adopting this practice allows for a more agile approach to policy development and program delivery. The big bang approaches of the past where services delivered by the public sector are found to not be suitable for some reason but are unchangeable and therefore an expensive waste of funds and effort due to the implementation model, can be replaced with an approach that sees things tested in public and subject to change as shifting priorities and needs are identified.

The Government 2.0 Taskforce itself is using this model to help identify the priorities the public want to see returned to the government in its report. So too are events such as Senator Kate Lundy’s Public Sphere, which have proved measurably successful and have cast the net wide for input and expertise. Efforts in other jurisdictions too, have seen significant success in prioritising policy, funding and human resource needs. Just last week several announcements here and overseas moved the conversation along.

New Zealand’s State Services Commission has announced NZGOAL, an experiment in licensing Public Sector Information with an appropriate license in order to adopt, as they say in the announcement, “principles which embrace, among other things, the notions of open access, open licensing, creativity, authenticity, non-discrimination and open formats”. They very deliberately state it is an experiment, designed to be iterated and improved over time through input from many sources. This announcement and what it means has been noticed here and as far away as the UK by senior members of the Parliament, as well as by advocates of more open licensing of PSI.

In Australia, we have moves in this direction too. The FoI reform agenda will necessarily see a change in licensing for some material, it’s a change that has already been adopted by some organisations and there is help available from the Government Information Licensing Framework for agencies unsure how they should more permissively license their data for reuse

Just last Friday, NSW Premier, Nathan Rees announced at the first NSW Sphere event that not only would the NSW Government be sponsoring a $100,000 competition for development of applications that made innovative use of public sector data, but also that “Governments have to overcome old habits of secrecy and control. We’ve got to be interactive. The old one-way street style of politics has to go.”

This announcement bore more than a passing resemblance to the Prime Minister’s words in last week’s John Paterson Oration at the Australia New Zealand School of Government Annual Conference, where he emphasised the need for an innovative, open, outward-looking APS and a culture within the APS that supports these things. It also echoed the words of outgoing Commissioner Lynelle Briggs who has more than once stated the need for a citizen-centric public sector and the need to look outside the boundaries of agencies to academia, to business and to the public themselves by using systems thinking to solvewicked problems“.

The solving of wicked problems and a truly citizen-centric approach to government will mean that the ability for the public sector and the legislature to connect closely and collaborate with those outside government must be enhanced. Amongst other things, approaches like this support and enhance the government’s Social Inclusion agenda.

Moving our public sector to a culture, set of practices and technologies that actively embraces Government 2.0 is high on the agenda of the current government with the Taskforce due to report on its findings at the end of December, the Prime Minister expressing his desire to see these types of changes and Minister Lindsay Tanner strong in his support for culture, practice and technological change that will support this agenda. I have no doubt that it presents a significant challenge for public servants of every generation, but the promise it holds can deliver better evidence-based policy, more targeted programs and an open environment where the public sector is no longer an inscrutable mystery to large parts of the community but is something made up of real, approachable human beings with names and who really care about us – it’s not that these things aren’t already the case, but by adoption of Government 2.0 they become a given.

Government 2.0 is so much more than just eGovernment with a new name.

In closing, I’d like to quote the position on Government 2.0 from the Obama campaign.

“We need to connect citizens with each other to engage them more fully and directly in solving the problems that face us. We must use all available technologies and methods to open up the federal government, creating a new level of transparency to change the way business is conducted … giving [people] the chance to participate in government deliberations and decision-making in ways that were not possible only a few years ago.”
– Obama campaign policy statement #