There are minefields here.
Consider the Bureau of Meteorology, for example: They receive significant income by selling aviation-related forecasting and observation data to the major airlines — Some 8-figure sum per year.
The major airlines consequently believe that because they’re paying for the data that makes it theirs, so they’d prefer that it wasn’t freely available; And if it was freely available, they’d be disinclined to pay for it, which would mean that the BoM probably wouldn’t accumulate it and publish it anymore.
So the only reason the BoM is producing this data is because it’s being paid for, and those paying for it have enough influence to affect what this Government agency does with the result.
I think that’s a retrograde outcome, and alternative funding sources for the BoM should be sourced so that all of the data they produce can be available to all Australian citizens.
I’m sure there are contrary views which think that a user-pays BoM is perfectly consistent with whatever their favourite ideology happens to be.
These are points worth debating. In the background, though, it’s worth keeping in mind that the price that is set for Government data isn’t necessarily related to the economic value of the data if it’s freely released
Moreover, is it proper for the government to “allow” debate and dissent, and be the arbiter of “moderation”?
Some forums online are community-moderated. One the one hand that means the forum publisher loses an element of control over the direction the community takes the forum; On the other hand, it means the forum publisher can enjoy relaxed “time and labour costs” of the kind described in para 122 above.
There’s no technical reason why the same forum can’t be moderated in multiple different ways, reflecting different standards and directions of different groups. If the database of comments is “open and accessible” then third parties can make their own decisions about credibility and worth of commentary.
I concur with Craig’s comment above.
I’d also point out that the release of Obama’s birth certificate has been cheer-lead mostly by the deranged pundits on Fox News, and “birthers” online are followers rather than leaders. Because the whole process has been tracked online, all but a tiny-minority of bug-eating crazies know that the entire issue is a big joke perpetuated by large doses of weapons-grade stupidity.
Finally: If legalization of marijuana comes out of Obama’s online consultations, perhaps he should have a legalization-of-marijuana policy that stakes out a position on the issue. Personally I couldn’t care less, but if it’s an issue that some folks think is important enough to get organized over, _why shouldn’t_ it be on the agenda? Would it hurt to put out a position paper?
The key point here is that Government often comes into an issue as a novice, with a start-up period of learning about issues that experts have often been following for decades.
That slow-start sometimes detracts from the Government’s credibility within the community of experts, because while they’re getting up to speed they’re perceived as thrashing about and making rookie mistakes over issues which, to the experts, are well-understood and straightforward.
Compounding the problem, sometimes it seems that Governments invariably change policy direction as soon as they begin to master an issue, which sends the fact-finding missions right back to square one to start again.
An excellent example is telecommunications policy, where Governments of both stripes have participated in 25 years of utter, abysmal failure. In an environment where many in the industry understand it enough to make millions, Government has been ham-fisted and open to manipulation by vested interests simply because they haven’t understood enough about the subject to know any better. Both parties’ policies have been obstacles to progress, failing to deliver what the industry has needed, the citizenry have wanted, or what the Government of the day has visualized as its policy objectives. The telecommunications industry has succeeded in spite of Government policy, rather than because of it.
That situation isn’t unique: Farmers, unions, school principals, airlines, soldiers and virtually everyone else have stories to tell along the same lines. The stories all have common elements, where the Government performs some kind of consultation, draws some wildly bizarre conclusions, then attempts to implement actions based on those conclusions.
The Government can’t be an expert in everything, and it shouldn’t try. What it should be doing is creating societal frameworks which enable the people who know what they’re doing to succeed — even if they disagree with each other and follow different directions, and even if some of the people who claim they know what they’re talking about turn out to be wrong.
And step one of that process involves discussion, rather than the cycles of listen/dictate that so often undermine meritorious best efforts.
(disclosure: I work in the telecommunications industry. I’m speaking as an individual, not on behalf of my employer)
A point worth considering (which is, I know, out of scope):
If a Government-published comment from a citizen could potentially breach the Privacy Act and create cause to involve the Privacy Commissioner, but a similar comment posted on a third-party blog wouldn’t, then perhaps it is the Privacy Act that has the problem rather than the mode of engagement chosen by the Government.
Point out that publication in proprietary formats represents a barrier to participation in Government, because citizens cannot access Government publications unless and until they’ve paid license fees to private corporations.
Also point out that maintaining multiple formats creates double-handling costs for the public service, so in the interests of efficiency the preference should be to choose one open format rather than supporting lots of formats in the hope that a citizen can read/modify at least one of them.
Proofreading amendment: Should CVS be CSV ?
A related question: What back-end processes within Government can/should be changed to enable front-end openness?
For example: We can insist on publication of CSV or XML data from Government repositories, but if the public service says, “All the source data comes in on written application forms, and converting it to CSV or XML is too costly,” then CSV/XML publication won’t happen.
If Government processes are changed so that data is stored and manipulated in open, expressive formats throughout its entire lifecycle, then pointing to a stage in that lifecycle where publication should happen becomes more technically and economically feasible.
This comes down to a fundamental view of what Government is for.
If one is of the view that the purpose of Government is to shape society into some kind of ideal, where everyone is on the same page working to some kind of utopian goal, then Web2.0 has very little to offer. In that world view, the Government has already worked out what it’s going to do and the job of the citizen is to either help it get there (usually by means of constructive “submissions”, but only when “consulted”) or get out of the way and let the Government do its thing.
If one is of the view that the role of the Government is to act as a kind of social lubricant to enable citizens to employ their own ideals in furtherance of their own goals, then that’s where Web2.0 is strong. Enabling that outcome requires the Government to be part of the conversation, so that it can see where obstacles are and apply its resources appropriately to smoothing the way for citizens without creating more problems than it solves. Government can be a remarkably blunt instrument, which needs to be wielded with care.
I suspect that the slowness of Web2.0 adoption comes from the fact that those of us who support this initiative are in the latter mindset, while much of the Government and its accompanying bureaucracy are in the former mindset.
Resolving this schism is, IMHO, one of the paramount challenges of Government 2.0.