Barcamp Canberra: A Gov 2.0 Postcard from Headshift, London

My slides from #barcampcanberra

A Gov 2.0 Postcard from Headshift, London

View more presentations from James Dellow.

Lots of discussion today about running a Gov 2.0 barcamp in Canberra – so keep your ears open for details.

UPDATE: For those that want to dig a little deeper with the examples I used, here are some links to sites mentioned in my presentation:

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Using Twitter as a benchmark for Australian local government use of social media

Tomorrow is #barcampcanberra and I’ll be getting up early to drive down from Wollongong for the day. I’m planning to talk about something Gov 2.0 flavoured and have been thinking about where Australia is compared to the rest of the world. For example, while at Barcamp in Canberra this week, over in the US a Government 2.0 Barcamp is taking place – they ended up capping this event at 500 people.

Now, I don’t believe Twitter is the beginning and end of social computing, but it does provide an interesting benchmark for comparison. Lets consider the UK and Australia:

Local authorities in the UK on Twitter = 90 out of 468 (approx. 20%)


Local councils in Australia on Twitter = 3 out of 677 (less than 1%).

Those 3 councils I’m aware of are the City of Sydney, Mosman and Wyong. There may be a few more, but let face it – we would need to pull a lot out the hat to match the UK‘s efforts to date.

Now, when you look at the combined 10,000 or so followers the UK councils have attracted so far in the context of the UK’s total population, you might be tempted to argue that Twitter isn’t actually having much of an impact. However, two points need to be considered:

Firstly, Twitter isn’t a numbers game – considering the low barrier of entry for establishing a Twitter presence, it provides an excellent return on investment compared to other hit and miss broadcast communication approaches – its not a passive communication tool as information is getting specifically to those that want it. Some of those Twitter followers will be acting as information brokers, so news and other information will be passed on through other information channels, including both the traditional media and other social media.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it is a sign of UK councils have far greater willingness to experiment with social media as new ways of communicating and engaging with the communities they represent.

It would be unfair of me to bash Australian local government over the head with Twitter. There are lots of reasons why government as a whole in Australia isn’t experimenting with social computing to the same degree as the UK (and the US, Canada, etc). And, as I mentioned earlier, there is more to using social computing in government than Twitter. For example, look at HeadShift’s Commission for Rural Communities case study:

“The Commission for Rural Communities ensures that governmental policies reflect the real needs of people living and working in rural England… [they] faced the challenge of uniting groups and individuals based in very different places.”

Sounds like the kind of challenge we face in this wide brown land, right?

So, if at least four Aussie councils have now done it, what’s stopping the others from at least sticking a toe in the water and start investigating the possibilities? Well, to help on that front here are some Twitter focused tips:

  • Create a personal account to learn about the medium. There are a stack of local government related organisations already on Twitter you can follow;
  • Use a tool like TwitterLocal to find people twittering from your local area; and
  • Start working on getting an RSS feed on your council Website – there are tools that will make it easy to automagically post updates to Twitter (plus you’ll kill two birds with one stone by also providing your community with the option to follow news via your RSS feed).

If you work in local government in Australia I would love to know more about what’s stopping you from experimenting with social media and social computing.

BTW This wasn’t a scientific survey of Twitter use! My rough calculation of the number of local authorities in the UK is based on data from and Wikipedia. For Australia, I used a figure from the Australian Local Government Association. I also used data for Twitter from the Local Government Engagement Online Research Blog and Also, if I’ve missed out an Aussie council on Twitter, please let me know.

UPDATE: Care of the Stap isi blog, here are examples of a few more Aussie local councils on Twitter – City of Bayswater (toe in the water, but not twittering as yet), Mitcham Council, and Toowoomba Council.

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SharePoint and Enterprise 2.0

Like anyone who works in the enterprise social computing space, Thomas Vander Wal’s post about SharePoint was essential reading. He concludes:

What is clear out of all of this is SharePoint has value, but it is not a viable platform to be considered for when thinking of enterprise 2.0. SharePoint only is viable as a cog of a much larger implementation with higher costs. It is also very clear Microsoft’s marketing is to be commended for seeding the enterprise world of the value of social software platform in the enterprise and the real value it can bring. Ironically, or maybe true to form, Microsoft’s product does not live up to their marketing, but it has helped to greatly enhance the marketplace for products that actually do live up to the hype and deliver even more value.

However, the responses have been just as interesting, like Mike Gotta, Michael Sampson, Oliver Marks, Dion Hinchcliffe, and Todd Stephens (Sharepoint versus the World, Sharepoint Bites Back and Another Sharepoint Myth Debunked).

And what about me? What do I think?

I have to say that there is certainly a ring of truth about Vander Wal‘s analysis, but… I’m not entirely convinced about the basis of his arguments.

The test for Enterprise 2.0 isn’t cost or a list features, although we do expect it to be built using Web technologies and ease of use is important. However, even in those cases Web-based doesn’t just mean Web browser based and I would claim ‘ease of use’ is in the eye of the beholder. No, the measure of SharePoint‘s Enterprise 2.0 worthiness is in how it is used and how users are allowed to use it. And there is where, from looking at the SharePoint product suite and my experiences in the field, that I have a problem with SharePoint.

Out of the box, there are trade offs in SharePoint that make it a passable document-collaboration tool, but in doing this it is structured in such a way that it also silos and constrains users and information. Beyond document-collaboration, other potentially interesting portal features, like the Business Data Catalogue, require the intervention of administrators and visionary IT management. So its a user-driven environment only within certain limits.

I’m also not convinced that SharePoint has heralded the era of Enterprise 2.0. What is has done is provided a low barrier of entry to a Collaboration capability that has been lacking in the majority of organisations and in that respect it has opened the door to Intranet 2.0, but in most cases SharePoint is deployed in a way that is very far removed from Enterprise 2.0. At this point we do start to find that the complexity in the SharePoint suite and its technical and information architecture become a barrier to using it as a platform for Enterprise 2.0 in the future – and its here Vander Wal‘s arguments start to play out. Unfortunately IT professionals only have themselves to blame if they deploy SharePoint haphazardly and get bitten by it later!

Still, there are off the shelf options that can help enrich SharePoint as a social computing tool – ReadWriteWeb covered a few of them last year – but even with these in place you will only have affected one part of your overall information workplace. That is, you’ve added some social features to your intranet (and they might have an impact), but you haven’t really evolved into Enterprise 2.0.

So, being pragmatic, what can we do about SharePoint to make it as Enterprise 2.0 friendly as possible?

  1. Implement strong foundations for Enterprise 2.0’ness – Plan your infrastructure well and implement the right governance model so you have a platform where open information access is encouraged (‘access’ means you can also find information and know about it, not just have the rights to see it) and agile development practices can be used to help quickly meet new business requirements, but all under controlled conditions (because a wild SharePoint isn’t good for anyone);
  2. Have a realistic budget – Accept the fact that you will need some additional Webparts and third-party extensions to achieve the first goal – and budget for it from the beginning; and
  3. Remember the big picture – In the process of doing all this, don’t forget to also focus on people, process and content and not just the technology.

And if all this sound too hard, well perhaps SharePoint isn’t the right choice for your organisation after all.

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A simple trust mechanism for Twitter?

How do you know that a Twitter account represents the person or organisation that they say they are? Just a thought, and this might sound complicated, but I think this could be an easy, workable solution.

  1. In the Twitter account you provide a Web link.
  2. On that related Website you include some metadata or a specific page (a bit like the way browsers detect RSS or other embedded microformats) that includes the Twitter account ID.
  3. People can then add little authentication routines into their Twitter apps that check if the Website listed confirms ownership of the Twitter account back.

Obviously it wouldn’t have to be mandatory (I mean, we still want Twitter to be fun!).

What do you think – could this work?

Alternatively, a great business model for Twitter could be to offer premium accounts that are “validated” by Twitter as authentic.

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Alas, doesn’t really exist but it is at least an idea in the US. Craig provides some commentary in the Australian context and explains that “In Australia we even go to the extent of copyrighting government data.” That’s not a good starting point but of course we have to accept that here in Australia, our history, geography and the origins of government are quite different from the US. Having said that, while we can’t avoid what happened in the past, it doesn’t mean things can’t change. Craig goes on to draw comparisons to the Wikipedia story:

“As history has recorded, countries that remove barriers to the free flow of ideas and information develop faster, are economically more successful and their people enjoy higher standards of living. Fostering innovation directly leads to national success. So in a world where some countries make data freely available, how do other nations continue to compete? To draw an analogy from the publishing world, Wikipedia disrupted the business model for Encyclopedia Britannica. By providing free ‘crowd-sourced’ information of greater depth and about the same accuracy as a highly expensive product, Britannica has been struggling to survive for years… In other words, you cannot beat openness with secrecy – the only way to remain successful is to step towards openness yourself.”

Like it not, change is coming to government around the world and Australia can’t bury its head the sand.

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2009 Intranet Innovation Awards

My, doesn’t time fly. Alex Manchester nudged me the other day and asked if I could help get the word out about Step Two Design’s 2009 Intranet Innovation Awards. Now in its third year, the aim of the awards are to:

“celebrate new ideas and innovative approaches to the design and delivery of intranets. The goal is to find these ideas (whether large or small), and to share them with the wider community.”

Since this is an Aussie initiative, I’m more than happy to spread the word. You’ll find more details on Alex’s blog. To date I think the awards have thrown up some interesting winners that reflect great examples of the state of the art, but I’m still waiting for something really innovative in the intranet space – maybe this is the year?

Perhaps part of the challenge here is throwing off the baggage associated with the word “intranet”… what do you think? What does intranet innovation mean to you?

PS You’ll find details of some of Headshift‘s own innovation with intranets on the Projects page.

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