“Open” Government 2010?

by Diane on 29/06/2010

Open Government New Zealand 2010 – This was the title of an “un-conference” I attended yesterday. It was an event organised by Microsoft, which got me a little confused in the beginning. New Zealand, and Wellington in particular, has a crowd of really good and active people in the Open Government movement – there has been a barcamp last year and great work is underway to make Government data available and usable to the public. Having attended a couple of barcamps and being one of the organisers of Wellington’s Flashcamp (which is technically not really an “un-conference”) I have a pretty clear idea what such an event should look like: an open invitation to contribute and discuss, an exchange of knowledge and experience, and at the end of the day a list of ideas, visions, action points as outcome of the day. All of that in a relaxed environment, with piles of butcher paper, post-its, black-red-green-blue markers and lots of coffee. When I first saw the website for yesterday’s event, it was pretty clear that this wasn’t what the organisers had in mind. Registration was subject to confirmation by the organiser, most parts of the “un-conference” seemed to be pre-organised and opportunity to contribute was limited – also you had to put some effort into proposing a topic or voting on a topic someone else had proposed.

And still I wanted to go. I had missed the first barcamp, but I think it’s important to get involved in the topic. I know that within some Government departments there is no awareness of the need to open up to the public. Neither when it comes to making collected data available for reuse, nor when it comes to changing the way Government communicates from broadcasting messages to getting into real conversations with members of the public. And since this promised to be different from what I know and from how I would run such an event, I was keen to go. My “application” for registration was accepted and there I was.

Funny enough one of the big confusions of the day was which hashtag to use for Twitter. This should have been a no-brainer, since the event’s website displayed a Twitter feed hashtagged with #opengovnz, from my point of view this would have determined which one to use. But since this was pretty close to the previous barcamp’s #opengovtnz it led to some confusion and in the end we had a vote. Strangely enough the choice was between #opengov2010 and #opengovt2010 – I have no idea where these eventually came from, but others were happy to raise their hands in favour of one or the other and finally #opengovt2010 was used.

I don’t want to get too much into detail for the main parts of the conference, others (including Brenda Wallace and Colin Jackson) have done that already. But I’m keen to share some of my observations/things I’ve learnt. They are in no particular order, just a random collections of thoughts:

  • FYI.org.nz can be used to make Official Information Act requests
  • IRD has built an online consultation forum that can be reused by other Government agencies (I hope they are all aware of this, and not individually building their own online consultation tools)
  • Sometimes people are being asked in job interviews to provide their potential employer with access to their personal Facebook account (WTF???)
  • Over time, silly things we said online won’t matter anymore, because either everyone else will have sent some drunk Facebook status updates as well, or because they won’t be found in the flood of personal information
  • Politicians receive a lot of useless comments on Facebook
  • Blocking staff access to social online networks isn’t a good idea
  • Government agencies should trust their employees and reward positive online interaction with the public
  • It’s time to replace “If you build it they will come” with “If you open it, they will build it”
  • Useful + Usable = Used

My personal conclusion: it was actually a good event, if you let go of the idea that this was an un-conference. Those who were there are interested in change and improvement. Not sure if those working for Government agencies will go back and discuss, and if they do, I hope they’ll get listened to. But a seed is planted and over time we might see more openness in Government. If those who attended yesterday could ally with those already working on it, both sides could probably benefit.

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: