Australia probably has one too many levels of government. State Governments are completely expendable in my view. But given we couldn’t agree to change the name of the Governor General a few years back, the likelihood of a wholesale rewrite of the constitution getting up is not even remote.
The next best thing would be to just get them off the critical path. In Australia all the money is tipped in at the top of the system. The federal level ended up with all the growth taxes so they invariably have the money. All the work gets done at the local government level so the money has to get from Canberra to your community.
The most inefficient way for that to happen is to route it through state government. But a little while ago it was decided that for Canberra to make grants to Councils directly was in many cases a breach of the Constitution (Pape v Commissioner of Taxation 2009). The federal government is only allowed to do the things the States agreed they could do in 1901. Local government is only allowed to do the things each State decided they should do in their local government Act.
Fortunately, the panel setup to consider whether local government should be recognised in the Constitution seem to have got to the nub of the matter - the money. I’ve only managed to skim the Summary and Conclusions but it seems the panel are in agreement that direct funding of Councils by the federal government is in the national best interest. The only question seems to be whether the community would support this change to the Constitution in a referendum.
This article in the MAV Bulletin gives a brief overview of how using digital signatures allowed Yarra Ranges to drop their contracts turnaround from weeks to hours. Presumably it also saves a lot of scanning to get the documents into the records system!
Communication is not a spectator sport. There is the sending and the receiving. It’s an active process. Which is why we have both the words “to speak” and “to hear”; “to write” and “to read”; “to talk” and “to listen”.
I find the hearing and listening part of the equation curiously absent in the social media space. You tweet and I twear?… twisten? Is this a coincidence or just a lag in the dynamics of language to develop a new word for a new concept? Or is it reflective of the nature of these media to be a form of niche broadcast rather than a conversation?
As governments seek avenues to engage their citizens, social media is often top of mind. The undeniable utility of twitter and facebook to rapidly disseminate information during recent disasters has reinforced this mindshare. I’d encourage you to pause though and consider the goals of your program before reflexively creating a twitter account or creating a facebook page.
Are you seeking to promote an event or communicate some information? If so, then go right ahead. The social media megaphone is likely to be an effective way to amplify your message if you get the right pitch to the right people.
Are you seeking a conversation? Do you need a means of gauging community sentiment on an issue or getting substantive input into a planning process? If so then I’m not sure social media is going to deliver what you need.
We are increasingly embracing the idea of storing data online, being able to access that data from home, from work, on our phone and tablet; as well as being able to combine that data with other online data in tools designed to achieve a single task with maximum ease and minimal effort. This transition means for most people, the software they use in their personal lives is now simpler, quicker and lets them achieve more than the software they use in their professional lives.
It seems the movement of enterprise software into the cloud in response is inevitable. In this transition it’s imortant to understand that simply pushing a system into the cloud doesn’t make it better unless its engineered to take advantage of the massive flexibility and cross linking possible on the internet.
Traditionally software was designed, written, delivered and used in discrete chunks called a program. If it was more complex, did something ‘important’ and you wanted to charge more for it, then it might get called an application. But the idea was it did what it did and pretty much kept to itself. You knew what you could do with it, and you went there to do it.
Software on the internet broke that concept because it was so easy to link to other data and other systems. Everything had to be a URL anyway so calling the URL from another system wasn’t much diferent to calling a URL from your system. Mashability is really a fundamental reason why the new web feels so seamless to people. The edges are intrinsically soft so you don’t notice as you cross them so much.
I think what Joe McKendrick is arguing in this post is that putting line of business applications with hard edges up into the cloud isn’t magically going to soften their edges.
Unless they were designed to be…
The old fuddy duddy world of enterprise software has also inexorably been moving to this world of softer boundaries albeit at a more stately pace inherent in moving large code bases made by large, conservative organisations and sold to large, conservative organisations. In this environment the same idea as a URL for everyhing was called services oreinted architecture or SOA.
The idea behind SOA is that you write your own software as if each of the parts or services stands on its own and could be called to do something by your system or another system if needs be.
SOA has many advantages. It’s a much more scalable design. If part of the system is causing a slow down you can create multiples of that service to handle the load without having to scale everyting else. SOA also allows great flexibility in distributng a system across many locations. It is also much easier to integrate between systems as a 3rd party system can call a service and get a response in exactly the same way as the system it is a part of does.
The utopic outcome would be a user undertaking a task that requires information from and actions in multiple systems being able to progress through a series of interactions as one seamless process unaware they had interacted with many systems. To me this is the real Enterprise 2.0 - not just plugging a few social media tools into the corporate network!
If you’ve looked around your workplace no doubt you’ll have noticed that the realisation of this utopia is still in motion. Some enterprise vendors quickly undertook the massive program of work to rearchitect their systems. Others took a more token approach and dressed up existing interfaces with web services. Others haven’t embraced the dream at all. Unless all your systems are in you can’t start. Until people can visualise the benefits of an integrated process there’s no pressure to rebuild an entire system. An inertial loop.
Moving an antisocial application that doesn’t play well with others into the cloud won’t magically change its fundamental temperament.
A system that is architected using SOA principles lends itself to agile interactions between other systems both inside the firewall and outside it. Moving that system to the cloud will only enhance that interactivity and reduce the security complexity behind the scenes.
In popular opinion hearing voices in your head is a bad thing. But it actually is the basis of our ability to think! As it turns out we can only think when we collaborate. Thinking is an internal collaboration.
As young children acquire language they tend to verbalise most if not all their actions. This is a key part of how they learn.
Naturally they learn to reason, to think, by verbalising the process. A child learning with her mother to solve geometric puzzles reasons through dialogue. “Where does this boat piece go?” “Look at the shape.” “Where can this pointy bit go?”
The thinking here is actually happening outside, between mother and child. As the child learns, this dialogue starts to be a conversation with self. They hold down both parts of the reasoning conversation. Then they pitch up at school and the teacher says “Sssshhh….” so they start to have the thinking conversation with themself and silently.
All reasoning is a dialogue. It’s just we learn to do it internally and silently. What does this mean for problems that canot be reasoned or thought about individually? Problems where an organisation needs to think about a problem.
Current practice for complex strategy documents requiring multi disciplinary input is that everyone drafts their bit in isolation. The document is then consolidated and sent to all authors for review. This review is a conversation but of the most simplistic kind. So it is not very deep organisational thinking.
Better organisational thinking means richer conversation; more iterations. This is what we really mean when we say collaboration.
To achieve this requires an online authoring environment. An environment that allows authors to own a section but for others to have visibility and to provide comment in real time. An environment that allows an organisation to think deeply.
Thanks to the goodness that is Radiolab for the inspiration for this post. Click the link to listen to the full podcast.
It’s harder to think of a word less acceptable in the local government lexicon than “amalgamation”. This article from WA got me thinking about it again though.
In a previous post I lamented that local government boundaries are generally a by product of political horse trading and seldom reflect a considered design according to principles of catchments or communities.
Regardless, scale is a more important issue. In my experience a Council without access to a budget of at least $70M in current terms simply can’t afford to deliver world class service, maintain its asset base and provide leadership to its community. This means it needs a benchmark population of around 70,000 residents to be able to support that kind of revenue.
In many regional areas of Australia’s this is simply not practical. The area required to catch that many people is just too large to be practical. In our urban areas it is a different story. So to propose a new Council that still serves less than 30,000 people seems to miss the point.
At the other end of the scale, the Auckland super city seems to be in danger of going to the other extreme. Each of the 8 Councils being amalgamated had sufficient scale to be financially viable to my mind. It’s not clear to me what the benefits of going beyond that scale are. What’s more, by dissolving the two tiers of regional and territorial local government into one, I fear local government in New Zealand is at risk of losing one of the better compromises in managing the dynamic between catchments and communities that I know of.
There is certainly a dynamic between the new FOI (RTI in Qld, GIPA in NSW…) and privacy obligations. This isn’t new and neither is cultural inertia. Pulling the agendas and minutes from the website citing privacy concerns is not going to win you any friends in the Office of Information Commissioner.
Planning departments in Councils have been balancing privacy and transparency for many years. The issues raised in a submission against a development application should be public. The identity of the submitter should not.
As I wrestled with the transition to the Integrated Planning Act (back in the day) it was clear we were going to need to make public access digital. This meant creating a redacted rendition of each submission. Staff had access to the original and the public only saw the redaction with the identifying details blacked out. Took some effort but it worked.
This was discussed last week at the RMAA NSW Local Government Chapter seminar with the NSW Information Commissioner. As an aside, I’m much more optimistic about the GIPA program after meeting Deirdre. Once a much broader swathe of our records systems become searchable over the web, creating privacy redacted renditions will need to become routine. This will impact on already strained labour forces in local government.
The immediate answer is that we need redaction tools embedded into our ECM systems. The ability to create a public, redacted rendition with appropriate access controls with as little effort as possible will be the gold standard here.
As we go forward you’d hope this process could be largely automated with automated identification of names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses and other common identifiers. The redaction and creation of the public rendition could then be completely automated or at worst created in one step.
Councils need to take of the Santa suit before inviting their community to participate in decision making.
Engaging with Adults
For community planning to be successful; to improve the practice of local government; to not add to the burdens of local government: we must engage with the community as adults. If we give the community authority to participate in decision making without responsibility, we treat them as children. As children the community are dependant and burden Council. We need to believe that the community are adults and are willing, even eager to take the responsibility that comes with authority.
To illustrate, let’s think about the family budget.
I want an iPod
If you have children, you understand they can’t take responsibility for the family budget. You don’t want them to. As a parent you want to create an environment that gives your child the freedom to grow into adulthood. This affects how you interact with them around what they want and what they can have. When they want a new gaming console, brand name clothing, a guitar or an iPod, you may discuss this with them but ultimately the answer is yes or no. You don’t give them authority.
Contrast this with how you discuss your projects and plans with your partner. You both take responsibility for the family budget, contributing income and effort. Undoubtedly your desires are larger than your budget. Not many of us can afford to have the new car, the overseas holiday, the new home entertainment gadgets and the landscaping all at once. This means you and your partner agree that the holiday is what you will do this year and maybe buy some new plants but do the work yourselves.
If one partner in a relationship exercises their authority without taking responsibility and buys the new car, engages the landscaper AND books the overseas holiday, problems arise. Unless both partners take responsibility, the relationship will fail.
The relationship between Council and the community is no different.
Take off the red suit.
If our community planning offers the community the authority to participate in decision making without also taking responsibility for the decisions, the process will fail. Without a doubt, granting the authority to influence the outcomes and priorities for the area, without reference to the technical, geophysical and commercial landscape will lead to an unrealistic wish list. Community planning should not be the equivalent of sitting on Santa’s knee and asking him what they want for Christmas.
A community that seeks to participate in setting the aspiration and priority for the community must also take on the responsibility that comes with this decision making. That includes deciding to increase rates, to reduce or discontinue some services so others can be expanded or introduced.
The online mandate
This idea of tying responsibility to authority in community engagement implies a sophisticated engagement. This is not just some general comments on a document. It is an interactive, multi point discussion about priorities and alternatives. It implies an ability to get hard feedback in the form of structured surveys and voting on specific proposals.
This dialogue and frequency of interaction mandates an online engagement environment. Only the web provides the platform that allows the conversation to progress quickly enough and cheaply enough to be practical.
A couple of quick forms on your website aren’t going to achieve this. To involve the community to the point where they can take responsibility for the implications of their decisions on the priorities and outcomes needs a method of disseminating detailed information that can readily be navigated without being overwhelming. It requires strong stakeholder management capabilities so the contributions of individuals across topics and engagements can be compiled allowing you to engage with that person as an individual.
In short you are going to need a dedicate online engagement environment.
The World Cup is not the only arena where the Kiwis are shading the Aussies.
There’s no two ways about it, the All Whites are performing beyond everyone’s expectations. It’s probably best encapsulated by the statistic making the rounds on Twitter. Number of professional footballers, Italy: 3,541, New Zealand: 25; Result 1:1!
I’d argue that football is not the the only area where the Kiwis punch above their weight. There are certainly aspects of their system and practice of local government that are world class, from which Australia should and in cases is, drawing inspiration.
In Australia the notion of long term planning at the local level is just emerging. The Rudd government’s national framework for local government identifies the need for Council’s to approach asset management more pro actively and over a longer horizon. The framework also articulates the need to formally link asset planning, land use planning and the vision of the community for the area.
In Queensland and New South Wales we see the national framework given voice in new requirements for Councils to have a long term community plan. The community plan needs to articulate the vision for the Council area for a period of at least ten years. Local government in both States are looking to New Zealand for guidance and example in simply achieving the massive task of getting the plan drafted and considering how they will seek meaningful community engagement on the plan.
Meanwhile, with New Zealand Councils into their second ten year plan, the best practice bar for community planning is being raised again in New Zealand.
I was fortunate last week to meet with the Objective local government user forum. One of the standout contributions was by Environment Bay of Plenty (EnvBoP). EnvBoP are the regional council for the Bay of Plenty area. Their view is that the plan itself has no value until it is implemented. Drafting the plan and engaging the community may seem like big jobs, but the value comes in implementing the plan. Jim Fretwell from EnvBoP demonstrated the way they link sections of the Community Plan to relevant goals in the strategy plan. These are in turn linked to the projects and programs in the annual plan and the corresponding provisions of the budget.
This gives the organisation clear visibility of how they are performing against the community outcomes in the long term plan. More importantly it allows them to demonstrate to the community that each of the projects and programs undertaken by Council address the community outcomes in the long term plan.
Australia, this is where you need to be. A long term community plan’s value starts in the process of aligning the technical and commercial landscape with the aspirations of the community. But this value is properly realised once the programs and projects of the Council align with community outcomes.
Now…, has anybody at Soccer Australia got the name of the all Whites coach?
With amalgamations on the agenda in WA and the super city taking shape in Auckland, I’ve been thinking about how we set local government boundaries.
Existing boundaries rarely reflect a considered design but are rather the latest compromise in the battle between the opposing forces of efficiency and community of interest. If we could start with a blank page and logically design Council boundaries, what would be the best way to go about it?
The start point for many boundaries has been traditional natural boundaries like rivers. A community on one side of a significant river was traditionally largely independent of a community on the far side. As infrastructure such as bridges connects the communities more strongly, the interactions become more frequent, the ties stronger until you only have a single community; now split by a boundary. There are many examples of this problems such as Buda and Pest and closer to home Tweed Heads and Coolangatta.
From a resource perspective, the historical boundary is even more damaging. The best efforts of one government to improve water quality in the common river counts for nought if the government across the river promotes development that uses the rivers as a destination for industrial waste.
The Case for Catchments
Setting boundaries by catchment makes a lot of sense from a natural resource perspective. Having a single entity managing a single catchment should mean a cohesive approach to the way land is used in all areas that affect a river system.
Land use planning for the catchments can consider the capacity of the catchment in terms of both natural resource capacity as well as built environment considerations. The gravity fed nature of water and waste water systems also means that land use planning and infrastructure planning will be congruous.
The problem is that natural resources catchment often conflicts with the patterns of human settlement. the scenic areas on the ranges are attractive places for settlement. But a community at the top of the range is one split between two or more catchments. One community, split by an administrative boundary. People on different sides of the same street getting different standards of service and having to drive to different centres to get that service.
Catchments and Communities?
So where does that leave us. We can’t use the river at the bottom of the valley as the boundary and we can’t use the tops of the mountains as the boundary. Is there no ‘right’ answer? The answer is different boundaries for different outcomes. Resources should be managed by catchments and services delivered by communities of interest.
This implies two organisations with two different charters. Regional organisations based on catchments undertaking resources planning. Territorial organisations based on community of interest to deliver consistent services to a whole community.
The Kiwis nearly have this right. Unfortunately the regional Councils, charged with resource planning and broad scale land use planning, seem to have boundaries that reflect historical compromise rather than natural catchments. Despite this I think it is a better bet than the completely random state boundaries in Australia which are neither regional nor catchment based.
It will be interesting to see if the unitary model we see in Auckland is a one-off like the City of Brisbane or a more general trend. I hope not!
No I don’t mean an electronic file, I mean an electronic ‘file’ as in a digital equivalent of the old cardboard folder which let you drag around a bunch of documents so you could get information on a site visit, in a meeting; wherever you needed it.
I’ve been in discussions around mobility solutions for documents for quite a few years now. The first problem was connectivity. You can’t carry around the whole document repository on a mobile device. So you either need some sort of synchronisation mechanism or a mobile network. With 3G telephone networks and increasing wi-fi options you wouldn’t muck around with synchronisation anymore.
But even with connectivity, the devices were still a problem. When I got my first Nokia with a web browser (over GPRS - roll eyes), I thought I was set. The reality though was it was really slow and hard to use. So I didn’t. When I got a 3G Motorola Razr, I thought life will be better because this will be quick. And it was. It made the 485 steps to load a web page and enter some text in a form bearable because each step happened quicker. So I did look up some movie session times on it. Once or twice.
But still the user interface was abominable (just like the snowman). I waited probably 5 years for the right device.The iPhone is easily the best mobile browsing experience I’ve had. I regularly and routinely use it to access information on the go. Important stuff like who was that actor and what else have they been in during post movie coffee discussions.
It’s good enough that we’ve released an iPhone app that gives you access to Objective on the move. It’s certainly good enough to search and retrieve document easily. Good enough to be able to capture photographs form the field. Good enough to receive and complete approvals and send information to other people.
Having said that there are still compromises. I still wouldn’t undertake complex tasks on my iPhone - like making my AFL Dream Team updates. But I’m pretty sure I would do that kind of stuff on an iPad. From what I’ve seen from afar, the extra screen real estate really opens up possibilities.
I really can imagine sitting in a meeting with an iPad and flicking through documents just like you would have done with an old cardboard file. Except you could also search for documents and words in a document. You know meetings might actually become productive if people in the meeting had access to the information they needed when they needed it.
The internet is the way most people contact government according to the foreword of this Australian Bureau of Statistics report.
How well does this reflect the views within government about electronic service delivery? I suspect folk inside Council still see face to face interactions and the phone as their primary service delivery channels with the web site still considered by many as a fringe alternative.
The other thing that popped out for me when reading this was how quickly the age divide in the use of e-government is receding. Sure, there is still a significant difference between the high 90% rates in the under 45 crowd compared to just nudging 50 in the 65+ group. But while the under 45’ers adoption of e-government has largely topped out, the use of e-government by the over 65’s has doubled in the last 5 years.
I get a strong sense that the community is moving faster than government here.
The core of any implementation of a document and records system, ECM, call if what you will, is end user take up.
I was fortunate to be part of a meeting of our community of local government Objective users this week. Hobsons Bay City Council gave a brief but punchy presentation of the way they had gone about their implementation. Lots of ticks in all the right boxes. Good process, paid attention to the cultural change, ongoing support of people as they got used to the new system and committing to monitoring success.
The end result speaks for itself. The old network shared drives have been ‘read only’ since shortly after go live and will soon be shut down entirely. This puts them in an elite position in local government. They would be the only Council, or one of very few, in Australia or New Zealand to have achieved this.
I’ve seen too many implementations of ECM technology that aren’t taken up across the organisation. So the powerful search, retrieval, access management, workflow and many other capabilities that Council has purchased are brought to bear on only a fraction of the information in the organisation.
Hobsons Bay. Getting real value from the investment they’ve made!
My colleague, David Eade, very eloquently articulating the key differences. Presentation recorded at recent IIM event.
The key message is that government cannot anticipate all the needs that its information can serve. Presenting information as an application will only address some of these needs. Presenting the data in a consumable form means that the community, market and academia can build the applications it needs.
Link to CIO interview with John Holley, Auckland Regional Council
Couple of key quotes if you’re too lazy to click… ;-)
“For me part of its was leading the organisation to change. It’s about process improvement and the government 2.0 stuff,” he says. “How do we more efficiently engage with the public? And how do I get the Gen Y people to engage with issues like transport?”
"For ARC the software was always about managing the citizen consulting process, but Holley says it is a powerful collaborative document management process that can also be used for technical publications."
The meaning of “working together on something” is under radical redefinition. This is occuring in both our workplaces and as this article shows, our schools.
Right now, when we say collaborate, we mean all creating something individually, meeting as a group now and then to review and then mashing it all together into a single document, presentation or whatever. My contribution is sharply defined. Collaboration is sporadic and infrequent.
Facebook is an evolution beyond this. My Wall is a collage of my thoughts and activities along with those of my friends and family. So it’s a collaborative outcome but with the personal boundary of each contributor’s input still clearly defined. However, the collaboration is quicker, easier and hence more frequent and iterative.
In our working lives, authoring platforms that allow multiple authors to simultaneously contribute, review, comment on a single document bring that Facebook like immediacy of frequent and iterative collaboration. This produces more consistent outcomes and saves time. Some research I was involved in this year, highlights that the time savings from collaborative authoring can save your Council $2.6M each year. These platforms preserve the allocation of responsibility and ownership of specific sections of the document that the current culture of our workplaces requires.
Relay drawing goes another step. With these kids you get the sense that they are learning from the get go to create something where the personal boundaries of the collaborators have been completely dissolved. It will be interesting to see where this takes the workplace of the next generation.
David Eade's assertion that the novelty of playing with the shiny new social media toys is starting to wear off rings true with me. And I'm not just saying that because he's a colleague of mine!
Now begins the hard work of drawing a line between the aspirations of folk in government for greater engagement and the types of tools they will need to realise it. Twitter and Facebook have inspired the possibility that these changes are possible, but they won’t be what enables it.
As I’ve written elsewhere, Gov 2.0 will require all the interactivity of Web 2.0 but with grater accountability and robustness. We are only just starting to see these tools emerge.
The last twenty years of my career have been focussed on content, process and collaboration solutions for local government in Asia Pacific. This means I deal regularly with two groups of professionals; the records industry and the local government industry. The contrast between the way these two communities engages with the vendors in their space is worth commenting on.
I can’t commend the RMAA highly enough for the productive way in which it fosters a community of interest around the profession of managing information. There is recognition of the value of multiple perspectives. At conferences and events, speakers are drawn from the ranks of practicing records managers, consultants to the industry and the vendors who supply to the industry. At these events I feel part of the community.
This is not to say some consultants and vendors don’t pitch up and gloss a thin layer of varnish over a product pitch. But this generally gets the response it deserves - being ignored.
Any practitioner who is confident enough to submit a paper to a conference will always have a deeper knowledge than any consultant or vendor. I’d have to say though, that in the ten years I worked for Council, I never once picked up the phone and talked through a problem with my opposite number in any of the adjoining Councils. It never occurred to me to do so. No one else around me did that. As a fresh university graduate straight from ‘school’, I absorbed the culture of the workplace.
As I travelled across Australia, New Zealand and Asia over the next ten years representing a vendor, I was exposed to the same set of problems in maybe close to 200 Councils. This really changed my perspective. I gained a broad appreciation of local government that I could never have developed within one organisation.
The diverse community at RMAA events showcases both this deep understanding of problems from industry practitioners as well as the broad understanding of problems from consultants and vendors.
This differs markedly when I attend local government events. It is rare delegates see presentations from anybody other than fellow practitioners. These presentations offer a deep treatment of the problem within one organisation. This single perspective view constrains the discussion of the unique and significant challenges facing local government.
Local government conferences would benefit from airing multiple perspectives around challenges such as skills shortages, financial sustainability, long term planning and increasing community engagement in decision making. The vendors at local government events have a valuable contribution to make to these conversations beyond funding the social functions at which they occur. Building an inclusive community that is across both the breadth and depth of these challenges is vital in defining creative and innovative solutions.
This week has given us some sharp focus on this difference with the Sydney Morning Herald getting access to an unreleased transport blueprint resulting in the Minister being forced to apologise to Parliament.
Government decisions often have hard commercial impacts that can favour some and disadvantage others. A new transport corridor can slash the value of properties in its path. A change to the permitted use of a piece of land can increase its value enormously. Advance knowledge of these changes provides an opportunity to profit at the expense of those who do not have this knowledge.
Public servants have high ethical standards expected of them in terms of the information they have access to in discharging their duties. Corporate systems used by government have sophisticated access control and audit to prevent and detect transmission of time sensitive confidential information to third parties.
While the tools of Web 2.0 have demonstrated that the traditional barriers to providing public access to information and including the community in decision making can now be overcome, the needs of Government are quite specific. Wikipedia has no requirements to embargo information. Most social media have no significant access control or security capabilities. These platforms simply do not have the obligations for probity and the burden of ultimate responsibility that government does.
Gov 2.0 requires tools that provide the same power to connect individuals with each other and with government. But it needs those tools to have the underpinnings of robustness, security and manageability that they demand from their corporate software systems.
As has been noted in other discussions, all the security systems in the world come to naught once people start using them. People make simple, innocent errors. There is also the fact that judicious leaking of information is a powerful political tool.
I suspect we will never know whether the early access to this information was the result of an innocent mistake or politically motivated. I do feel for the Bang the Table guys though as they have been pioneers of better community engagement through the web. Both Matt and Crispin are experienced campaigners and I know they recognise the need for collaboration platforms that acknowledge the specific requirements of government as opposed to more general purpose social media tools.
A clear, well presented consultation and communication strategy was recently sent to me by a colleague. Thanks Aaron.
So let’s set the scene. Huon Valley, Tasmania. About 40 minutes South of Hobart and as far South as you can go and still be in Australia. And, I believe home to the Gourmet Farmer - loving that show! They have just under $20M to spend each year.
Their Community Consultation and Communication Strategy is well presented with good use of visual elements, images and avoiding the customary sin of cramming too much onto each page. I like that the images are clearly of local folk and the people who work for Council. Best of all the prose is generally direct and very readable.
Let’s be clear. This document isn’t going to win any design or publishing awards. But it is obvious that thought and effort has gone into producing a document that communicates its message well. It has an approachable and authentic feel to it.
It certainly puts metro and city Councils on notice. Regional local government is lifting its game in clearly and simply communicating with their community and seeking its input into decision making.
You never know what the community might say if you ask.
Picturesque Forster on the central coast of NSW is hosting the local government chapter of the NSW RMAA seminar this week. The GM of Midcoast Water, Neil Hannington, in opening the event made some interesting comments.
Separation of the water and sewer responsibilities out of the local Councils here happened just over a decade ago. Since then Midcoast Water have invested somewhere in the vicinity of $350M (from memory) to bring the network up to required standards. This reflects the geographic spread of the towns the water and sewer network needs to cover.
Unsurprisingly this translates into what Neil acknowledged as high charges for the users of the system. It’s taken as a given, that when you charge people more, they are less happy. If you were the GM this might make you hesitate before running a customer satisfaction survey. Nevertheless MidCoast Water do ask the community for feedback on how they are performing.
Surprisingly, the folk of the central coast have expressed a high degree of satisfaction with their water supply and sewer services. Satisfaction ratings in the high 90s really is an achievement to hang your hat on.
So, go ahead and ask. You never know what your community might tell you.
Don’t you hate that sinking feeling when you realise you’ve just saved over a document you shouldn’t have?
I was working this week on a presentation. I usually prepare two copies of the slide deck. One of the downsides of Keynote is that if people want a copy of the presentation you generally need to do that as a PDF. So I need a version without the transitions and what not that Keynote does so nicely that I use to generate PDF handouts. And then there’s the version I’ll actually use for the presentation.
So I opened the file and I’m updating some of the visuals to make the point a bit clearer. In the back of my mind I’m thinking there seem to be things missing. Couple of compulsive saves later it finally clicks that I’ve opened the handouts version not the presentation version!
Gentle stream of expletives.
Then I remember Time Machine! I fire it up and get a silly little grin as every change to every file on my MacBook stretch back in time before me visually…
I select the file I’ve just buggered up, press the arrow to go back to the previous save of that file and click restore. It copies over the mess I’ve just made and I’m back to where I was before the brain fade.
Holy crap this thing actually works like it says on the box!
IKEA’s success: Swedish design or insidious commercial model? Everyone credits a minimalist Swedish design ethic as the basis of IKEA’s success but I think it’s more about their commercial model.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of the space conscious, functional yet aesthetically aware thing that IKEA does. But the stuff sells because they never ask you to make a single, big decision. They ask you to make a series of small, almost trivial decisions. You don’t need to commit to a $2,000 storage system; just a couple of poles at $60 each, a few fittings at $5 each, a shelf or two at $30 each… Sure, at the end you’ve spent a couple of thousand. But you were never asked to make a $2,000 decision.
It’s human nature to be more comfortable with a lot of small decisions than one large one. How much do you spend on coffee each year? Don’t know? Let’s say 2 cups each work day at $3.50 a cup for 48 weeks a year - the best part of $1,700. What if I offered you an annual coffee subscription for $1,200? That’s a $500 saving! Would you think about that for longer than you take to decide on another coffee?
It turns out local government publications are a bit like cups of coffee or IKEA storage systems.
As part of a recent research project I tried to find out how much the average Council spends on content generation, graphic design, printing and other production costs to publish their documents each year. As best as I can tell, this isn’t available as a single aggregated figure in any public facing document for any Council in Australia or New Zealand. I suspect it isn’t aggregated in any private document either.
So we had to go back to first principles and look at the number of documents each Council has on their website, how many are published each year, the average number of pages and the level of design of each document and develop a cost model. Our findings show that Tier 1 Councils in Australia spend about $10 million every year publishing documents and New Zealand City and Regional Council spend over $7 million (nearly $3 million for District Councils) each year.
I’m thinking that if someone had to sign a single cheque for $10 million then a lot of questions and process would be mandated. But as hundreds of individual purchasing decisions, this level of spending just happens as part of the routine fabric of the organisation and no one much asks “Can we do this better?”.
It’s the old adage, watch the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves.
Does anyone else get the irony of wilderness and environmental petitions, or is it just me?
No more! In the UK at least… The snappily titled Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 is now in force. It mandates that all Councils in the UK must provide a facility for making petitions in electronic form. Interestingly the e-petition capability at Number10.gov.uk is still in beta.
What’s the story locally? I’m not aware of any similar legislative requirements. A quick scan of the web reveals that Queensland state government has an e-petitions capability and report the experience has been entirely positive. Aside from Tasmania, that is the extent of it in Australian state government.
The LGAQ (Local Government Association Queensland) have a capability on behalf of local government in Queensland. There are no current petitions and no ability to browse past petitions so it is unclear if the facility has had much use. By contrast, the City of Wellington has a very active e-petition capability.
That seems to be the extent of e-petition capacity in ANZ…
Sure this is not the most pressing problem in local government just now, but it must be one of the easier ones to solve. Managing a bunch of database records has to be less hassle than being on the receiving end of boxes of paper! If I don’t need to be accosted during the next of my very infrequent trips to the local retail temple then I’m all for it!
Can we have a new term for social media please. I can’t think of a single example where social combined with another word is a good thing; social security, social science, social worker, social drinker. See what I mean! But anyway…
I’ve been in a number of forums where local government folk have been discussing the pros and cons of engaging in social media platforms such as twitter, facebook, youtube and the like. In discussing the pros and cons the implicit assumption is that you have a choice. Of course you have a choice! The choice though is not whether you engage in social media or not but rather whether you do it or have it done to you.
A recent post on twitter illustrates nicely. One of the local government folk I follow on Twitter whom I only know as nz_d0nk3y recently posted a photo of a protest sign exhorting citizens of Wellington to go to a facebook page that protests against the closure of Manners Mall.
So you see the question is not whether Wellington City chooses to engage on this issue with people on facebook. The question is whether they choose to initiate that particular channel of engagement or whether they are simply responding to it.