Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Can't yet see the point of Government 2.0?

Here's the NSW Baby Names Explorer.

Click on, and have fun!

Oh, and here's the story:

Declaring the fight for Freedom of Information laws largely over the Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner has held open the prospect of a new system of government in which Australians not only have access to legislation as it is being drafted, but also take part in the drafting process through blogs and wikkis.

Mr Tanner has appointed Melbourne economist Nicholas Gruen to head a 15-member task force to draw up a blueprint for what he is calling Government 2.0, reporting end of this year.

And in a sign that the task force is serious it's opened a blog at gov2.net.au staffed by volunteers.

"I can see why some people might feel uneasy about using volunteers," says Dr Gruen. "But volunteers hand out meals on wheels and no-one complains...

I've got four experienced bloggers saying they want to do it already, and I am having a competition to design the banner and logo."

"There's no prize, just bragging rights."

Two years ago New Zealand redesigned its Police Act by putting the draft legislation on a wikki and inviting comments on each paragraph.

Mr Tanner told the Age that he would be interested in doing that from next year, but for legislation involving things such as sudden tax changes or national security measures it would probably never be possible.

"But if we engage with people who have views and knowledge, and take advantage of the so-called wisdom of crowds, we can get a better result."

Dr Gruen points to a UK website entitled fixmystreet.com saying it has enabled ordinary citizens to point out and discuss the condition potholes in their streets without the government needing to send out inspectors.

"It's also about moving in a parallel track to Freedom of Information laws," says Mr Tanner.

"While they are important for controversial issues, for other issues there is every reason to make the mass of non-controversial information the government holds freely available."

"During the Victorian bush fires a private company created a mashup – a website that combined data from a range of sources – to track the location of fires on a map in real time, reducing the demand on emergency information services. That's the kind of thing I want to flourish."

But Dr Gruen says it won't be easy. "When you sign up to the public service you are warned you're liable for two years in prison if you hand out Commonwealth information. Lawyers stop government departments putting video clips on YouTube. The NSW railways doesn't want web developers to have access to its timetables" he says.

Among Dr Gruen's favourite sites already making government information freely available is one in which the NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages enables intending parents to check the popularity of childrens names in each year from 1900.

Published in today's SMH