James Dellow from Headshift speaking on "If it isn’t broken, why fix it?" at the Public Sphere event on Government 2.0, hosted by Senator Kate Lundy on the 22nd June 2009.

The slides for this talk are available here:

The rest of the videos from the day are linked from the schedule at:

All slides are available at:

Transcript below:

Just a bit of background about Headshift, the company I work for. They do originate in the UK and the reason I mention that is they have been involved over there with quite a few projects in the government and third sector space. So while I am going to talk conceptually, I guess I am able to tap into a lot of experience of what's going on in the UK in particular. Just for myself as well, I am a consultant but I have studied public sector administration back in the UK, before I came to Australia in '95 and I have worked in the federal and health sectors, so again, I am not sort of making this up as I go along. There is some sort of experience behind this, but I am going to talk conceptually and I will talk about why I want to do that as we go through.

So, moving on. Reality TV meets government. My feeling is that the way people sort of look at things like Twitter, Facebook and Youtube, people sort of say, well that's all well and good. You know, is it really meaningful, is it really making a difference? Now I am sure at the moment one of the things that's top of mind for everyone are the events going on in Iran and it's sort of, from a Government 2.0 perspective it's quite interesting. I mean it's a terrible thing that is going on in Iran, for us it is quite exciting to see Twitter, the ability to see photos, share video, it really brings the events in Iran to the world. But when I look at Australia though, we are a pretty stable democracy. I can be pretty sure that when I go to vote that my votes can be counted correctly. So twitter is great to raise the profile of events in Iran, but I am not so sure it applies to events in Australia where we don't face those same issues. So hey, maybe we don't need Government 2.0.

I want to sort of look at that a bit differently because I think some of the focus has been on the technology. The technology is important but we can get a bit carried away looking at a particular technology and going that's it that's government 2.0, its twitter. For example, seeing as though we have got a pretty stable democracy, maybe someone could build a nice little iPhone application so that I can sit in a cafe on election day I can cast my vote. That would be really nice for me but I don't think it would be particularly ground breaking in terms of Australian democracy. Maybe we need to take it a step further and this is a screen shot from I think American Idol, I couldn't get one of Australian Idol that was a creative commons. But we can take it a step further. Lets abolish parliament, give everyone an iPhone and we can vote on everything. I don't think we want that either though because I certainly don't want to be across and I don't want to be across every bill that goes through parliament. I sort of have to trust that some people will take a look at it and make the right decision for me so I think in a way, and again, reflecting on Michael talk, there is a level of citizen engagement involved in politics, having debates, but I don't think that's the whole picture of what Government 2.0 is all about.

So what I am going to do is, I am going to cut through the technology hype, I am not going to talk about technology. What I am going to talk about instead is tanks. As a technology, it has no information technology in it at all. That’s actually a photo of a tank from the First World War. When we look at the shape of that tank it kind of looks familiar, but it is different from what we might imagine a tank looks like today. It's quite interesting, for that tank to appear in the First World War, there are quite a few different factors involved. So the title of the slide there is: It's not not about technology. And well, the tank is something pretty much of technology, but you know, there were different factors involved. So firstly there had to be a need, a demand for tanks and you know World War One was almost completely different from almost every war, every war that had gone before it. So there was a need for new solutions. The other thing is they needed the right materials, technologies, because people had been thinking about this idea of a tank for centuries, having some kind of armoured defence vehicle. They also needed mass production, but you know, they also needed the right design. They also need to know how to apply it the right way to that type of warfare. Now World War One was quite a point of change for the military or at least the Western World in terms of the military, because until then cavalry had pretty much been the technology of choice. They were your elite shock troops, they were multi-purpose, they could bring things to the front, but World War One changed all that. But you know they kept trying to use cavalry. A lot of the military technicians wanted to use horses because that is what they were familiar with. They looked at this thing and they said, I don't know what this is. In fact they were used pretty much to support infantry in the first instance. But, you know, eventually cavalry were replaced and armoured vehicles, mechanised vehicles replaced the horse as the tool of choice in the military. We might question whether that change in World War One applies to the modern day with this move to more guerrilla and terrorist networks. But again this thing was a product of its environment. It was a product of technology but also a product of other things going on. So yeh, it's not not about the technology.

Just to draw in another military story, again to take you out of this context of focusing on the Web 2.0 technologies is that *** inaudible*** a brilliant mathematician, he was a code breaker during the Second World War. After the war, he had all of these great ideas for this sort of software. He wanted to develop computers that were multipurpose, but he ran into the British Scientific Establishment who sort of looked at him and said you want to build a machine that’s going to solve unspecified problems. But that establishment had a very pre-computing industrial world view. You didn't build a tool to solve multiple problems; you built a specific tool to solve a specific problem.

Now ***inaudible*** obviously he was a homosexual, and he eventually committed suicide, he was very much treated as an outcast and it didn't help in the ability for him to have his ideas adopted. But you know the interesting thing is though that the British establishment ignored Shearing, and it was the US that actually went on to build the first successful commercial computers in the 1950's, not Great Britain, despite the fact that all of the brains around computing was in the UK at that time.

Okay so the point here is that we are seeing this new thing emerge called Government 2.0. It's a real risk that we actually do get stuck in old points of view and that we don't recognise what's actually emerging, what's different. They could have kept using those tanks of that shape, but they actually learned from experience how they could apply them and they improved. So this tank is not a metaphor by the way for social media or Government 2.0. What it is a metaphor for though is that understanding that it's not not about the technology, but you know it’s also our view of how the technology, what it can do, what it can actually do.

Okay. So what I am going to do now is run through four patterns or themes if you like that I see is what is actually different about Government 2.0 and I am going to position those by showing you a picture which is kind of the anti-pattern or the anti-theme and also then explain what this new theme might exist of.

So we will move on to the first one. That’s vote here written on that bin. And the new pattern is Mass participation. As I said before, it's not about having people sitting in cafes voting on this and that all the time, because in a way we can get more and more votes, that doesn't mean we can get better and better outcomes. What mass participation is actually about is getting people involved as participants. It's about doing things. It's not just about having debates and discussions although they're an important part of it. It's not about micro-voting. So it's about collaboration around knowledge and information. We have heard the term crowd sourcing mentioned earlier, so it's about bringing together, together ideas to get the feed but it's not necessarily about giving them the vote through that process. It's about listening to the ideas they have, trying to find out what the people over there know that the people over here don’t know.

There is also, and I think this is particularly relevant to government 2.0 is we step out of the broader web 2.0 space is there is also a role to have citizens participate in governance. Now this theme around mass participation as we go through the other three patterns I am going to talk about are actually all linked together. So certainly there is this idea that we can bring lots of people together to look at issues and make sure the right thing is being done. That doesn't necessarily answer how we go about doing it, but that is certainly one of the, one of the first patterns we are seeing with Government 2.0.

The next pattern is Fix it Ourself. So the anti-pattern is self service. Government has got on the e-government agenda, they have put lots of things online but you know self service isn't always in the interest of the citizen or the consumer. Often self service is about getting me to enter data for someone else. That's not what Government 2.0 is about. It's not about enabling more self service for government. That helps government not me. What it's actually about is enabling people to fix things themself. So we go back to that first pattern of mass participation. Let’s actually bring people together to actually fix things. Solve problems in their communities. It’s about the brokering and sharing of knowledge and resources. Mash outs of local community owned data with government data so that they can actually react to problems in their own local environment. It’s about also community building, linking together people who share a common problem or a common issue. Its also about collaboration around action and doing. So that’s our second pattern. It’s about fixing it ourselves, not just getting self service access to data and information in new ways.

The third pattern- Networks of Communication. Again, Michael touched on this earlier and I think there will also be some presentations that talk about this. The old pattern and I love the poster, Weapons of Mass Communication. That has certainly been the theme, both in government and the private sector. We need to control the message because you know one of the interesting things about Web 2.0 and these new technologies is they’re creating networks of communication. The important thing for government to realise is that you can't control those networks. One of the interesting things like and again I will mention Open Australia because I think that that is one of the leading examples in this country of Government 2.0 is that you get a bunch of people come together and they can build a solution. It can do something that government perhaps should have but for one reason or another hasn't been able to do themselves. It's not a question of having access to huge amounts of resources to make a lot of difference. It comes back to the networks of communication, though it doesn't have to be negative, it doesn't have to be anti-government, "we can build this if you can't". In fact we have got to see this as an opportunity because what we can do with networks of communication is, first of all, biral distribution- we can actually get to people who aren't on your mailing list. The other interesting thing is tapping into those other patterns of mass participation and fixing it yourself, we can let people remix, re work that message so that it's actually relevant to different communities. The problem with mass media is that we typically deal with one message. We only get so much bandwidth to send that message out. So, you know, it might hit a few people and you know funnily before I had children I never saw adverts for nappies. Since I have had four children, I see adverts for nappies everywhere. Okay. It's a bit hit and miss. But with networks of communication we can tailor those messages because different groups out there can actually pick them up and re-work them and re-use them. And you can imagine of course there are examples around bushfires, alert systems where a viral approach to getting those messages out can be more effective. On the radio this morning they were reading out some of the travel news. The announcer was complaining about a change to a website where he got some of that travel information. So we king of assume that oh it's on the radio it's all very well organised but this guy is just going to the website. So those viral networks are actually already appearing. The information distribution system is changing.

The last pattern I want to talk about is negotiating controls. The anti-pattern is that someone comes up with the rules and we have to have rules because often we don't have transparency in processes. So we need to make sure we have checks and balances. What we can do with Government 2.0 is actually replace some of those heavy duty policies, procedures, laws, regulation and actually have transparency around control, so that people do the right thing because they know they are being observed. The good thing about that is also that they are agile and flexible in terms of dealing with new challenges. "Oh you don't fit the procedure, we can't deal with that". Well if you move towards more negotiated controls then we actually can do that.

Now they are the four patterns. I know I am a bit short of time. Some of you in the room may still not be convinced- "oh okay that’s great, these are these new patterns but why should I still bother?" I think that there are a couple of different view points. These are some photos of people who sell The Big Issue: the magazine for the homeless. Now on one level, for those of you who are interested in hard numbers, we can probably track the money. You're the seller, you pay five, I earn half. We can add that up and say well that’s the value of The Big Issue. On another level, people just look at that and say that's a social good we just need to do it. I think there is another thing. When we actually look at The Big Issue, what do they actually do, not only are they about a distribution system for a magazine, they are actually a support network for those homeless people and they actually tailor that support to every homeless person, because no homeless person is the same. Now I can't imagine a government being able to do that.

Now I think there is a bit of a mistake again with how we think about Government 2.0. We say we have just got to re-work government, make it more social add blogs, add wikis add twitter and get people talking. I actually think that's the wrong view point. Okay. One of the problems with The Big Issue is we can't actually replicate that model. It's got a lot of people and organisations behind it. What we have with Government 2.0 is the ability to solve lots of complex issues, lots of small issues that we perhaps wouldn't normally get on the agenda, issues that need lots of feedback. There's issues around, sorry I've just got to check my notes here, there are issues that are perhaps too costly or involve too much information. Now it's not about as I said, re-wiring government to solve those issues. We actually need to turn that value question around and say we need to put in infrastructure and enable government and/or citizens, depending on the situation, to solve their own problems. So it's a bit of a balance here. It's not just about re-working government, it's about re-working society. And that also leads back to this point that government doesn't actually get a final say in whether we adopt Government 2.0 or not. It's both. It's the community and government that is going to make that final decision.

Finally, my last side, just to inject a little bit of humour into things because this is Australia- we can't be too serious. This is a screen shot from a short clip of a British comedy called That Mitchell and Webb look and it's about Bronze Age orientation day. In this clip someone brings a messenger from another tribe to a couple of Stone Age workers saying, let me just quote this: "Stone is dead. Prepare for the age of bronze". Now part of the comedy in this clip is of course that there were no change consultants, there was no training program for the Bronze Age. It just happened over quite a length of time. In fact in Western Europe the Bronze Age period is about 2000-800BC. But, you know, in other parts of the world it was either before, later or not at all. Back then change happened very slowly. Okay. Today things are changing very fast. The telephone, some of the statistics I saw, still hasn't reached one hundred percent adoption in the US. And it took about seventy five years to reach about ninety percent. The internet reached fifty percent adoption in the US within fifteen years. So things are changing very fast. Now the modern computing age is less than one hundred years old. Certainly it has affected how we manage, how we administer government, but the actual mechanisms government and society haven't changed that much.

So there are three things I am going to leave you with. Well actually four things. Firstly, don't be afraid of bronze, unless of course someone is attacking you with a bronze axe, in which case you should be afraid. So be part of it. if you are not going to be part of it, you should be afraid. Three serious points though. Government 2.0 changes the roll of government, so rolls in government will change. One of the things Stone Age workers realise in this sketch is they're going to be out of a job and that's a reality of technology, it does change things. If we don't take advantage of Government 2.0, our wide brown land, which sits on the other side of the world, there are other countries like the UK, the US and Canada that are diving into Government 2.0. So we can either be part of it or not part of it. But we risk missing out in terms of innovation, nations getting efficiencies from Government 2.0.

And finally. The point I made earlier. Government institutions and politicians aren't the only stake holders that will get to make that decision about Government 2.0. Thankyou.

Loading more stuff…

Hmm…it looks like things are taking a while to load. Try again?

Loading videos…