Local Government 2.0

Looking at the ways in which the ideas and trends around "Gov 2.0" will look and feel in the ever practical world of local government in Australia and New Zealand.



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  1. Comparing the social media experience in Australian and US diplomacy.  A battle to get a single twitter feed vs over 600 social media accounts and training diplomats in batches of 50.  Guess who’s who?

  2. 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.

  3. Engaging Responsibly

    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.  

  4. Planning to Act

    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.

    Bay of Plenty Context Map

    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?

  5. 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.

     ECM  Apple  iPad  iPhone  LG 2.0 
  6. Great practical article on the community engagement journey at the Sunshine Coast.

  7. Gov 2.0 ≠ Web 2.0

    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.

  8. Great contributions on a wide variety of topics by some clever folk.  Quite chuffed to have been asked to contribute.

  9. 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.

  10. It’s not always bad news

    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.