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Online Public Consultation and Civic Engagement


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Paper presented at: To blog or not blog? Government and Citizen e-Participation May 2009 - Learnings from Federal Government trials and international experiences, by Jim Macnamara, Professor of Public Communication and Director Australian Centre for Public Communication, University of Technology, Sydney. May 2009

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Online Public Consultation and Civic Engagement

  1. 1. THINK. CHANGE. DO Online public consultation UTS: and civic engagement Learnings from Federal Government Trials and International Experiences Jim Macnamara PhD, FPRIA, FAMI, CPM, FAMEC Professor of Public Communication & Director, Australian Centre for Public Communication
  2. 2. THINK. CHANGE. DO Terms  E-government  Government 2.0  E-democracy  E-citizenship UTS:  Digital democracy  Teledemocracy  Cyberdemocracy
  3. 3. THINK. CHANGE. DO Terms  E-government • Primarily the online delivery of services  E-democracy • “The use of Web technologies to engage citizens in UTS: debate, discussion, consultation and online voting” (Kearns, 2002, p. 11) • Online submissions • Online voting • Online public consultation • Online civic engagement in democratic processes
  4. 4. THINK. CHANGE. DO E-government: E-democracy  Initiatives underway internationally • US – Clinton adminstration 1993-97. Mainly services − FirstGov site Sept 2002 – now • Canada – bilingual site opened Dec 1995. Now Government of Canada or Gouvernement du Canada UTS: − • UK – a long history of development − – registration of services − – for accessing govt documents − – petitions − site − − launched Mar 2004 − Directionlessgov –
  5. 5. THINK. CHANGE. DO E-government: E-democracy  New Zealand •  UK Cabinet Power of Information Task Force (UK Cabinet, 2009) • 3,000 government Web sites – aim to reduce to 1,000 UTS: • Review report 2007; final report 2009  Australia (federally) • One of the first to publish Hansard • Webcast Parliamentary proceedings • National Office of the Information Economy (NOIE) established in 1997 • Office of Government Online 2000 • Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) replaced NOIE in 2004
  6. 6. THINK. CHANGE. DO E-government: E-democracy - Australia  Future Challenges for E-Government (AGIMO 2004) • Noted an “international trend towards online service delivery and greater citizen interaction” • Most focus on service delivery  Better Practice Checklist on Online Policy UTS: Consultation (AGIMO 2004)  Election of the Rudd government (Kevin07) new focus  Consulting with Government – Online (AGIMO, June 2008)  Minister Tanner announced online consultation trials July 2008
  7. 7. THINK. CHANGE. DO Federal Online Consultation Trials  Three (3) online consultation trials launched Dec 2008 – Mar 2009 • Department of Broadband and Digital Economy blog to discuss digital economy UTS: • Department of Employment and Work Relations forum for teachers/educators on early education • Attorney-General’s Department consultation site
  8. 8. THINK. CHANGE. DO 10 Key learnings 1. Planning is key  Planning must address • Clear intent and objectives • Choose the right platform to suit objectives UTS: • Moderation policy (light touch important) • Resources • Evaluation  Planning should involve three key parties • Senior policy officers – high-level support • IT/Web technical staff – technically strong and secure • Communication staff – must be communicative
  9. 9. THINK. CHANGE. DO 10 Key Learnings 2. Controversial issues can hijack consultation • Minister Conroy’s announcement of proposed internet filtering (‘Clean Feed’) sent DBDE blog into meltdown • AG’s site targeted by long-running campaign for an Australian Bill of Rights UTS: • DEWR forum launched amid collapse of the nation’s largest childcare provider, ABC Learning Centres
  10. 10. THINK. CHANGE. DO UTS: “Prominent Australian bloggers have lashed the Federal Government over its first attempt at public consultation via a blog, which has already been hijacked by critics of its plan to censor the internet.”
  11. 11. UTS: THINK. CHANGE. DO Online consultation
  12. 12. THINK. CHANGE. DO 10 Key Learnings 3. Time frame – fast response required • A challenge in Public Service environment • Guidelines and fast-tracking required 4. Resources UTS: • Dedicated staff required to handle large volume of blog posts, comments, e-mails, etc 5. Culture • Public Service culture presents some challenges • ‘Champions’ required to change PS culture (UK) • PS staff also need protection from political blame (UK) 6. Design and navigation • Citizens should not have to know how government works to find things (UK)
  13. 13. THINK. CHANGE. DO 10 Key Learnings 7. Language • Citizens should be able to talk in their language • Policy on slang, swearing, humour, parody, etc • Flexibility (Macnamara, 2008) • Voting, seconding, favourites, etc UTS: 8. Can be government-hosted or third party – “managed e-citizenship” or “autonomous e- citizenship” (Stephen Coleman, 2008) • Government sites can be intimidating, remote, unknown • “Fish where the fish are” – eg. GetUp, NetMums • Probably need a combination of both
  14. 14. THINK. CHANGE. DO 10 Key Learnings 9. Specialist sense making tools and processes required – for both government and citizens For Government For Citizens Monitoring (listening) Background reading (sidebars) UTS: Stock responses, placeholders Categorising Data/text mining Simple voting, supporting Categorising Editors (summaries) Argumentation software* Argumentation software* * MIT Deliberatorium (formerly Collaboratorium) (Klein 2007)
  15. 15. THINK. CHANGE. DO Key Learnings 10. While controversial issues present challenges to open environments, day-to-day consultation and engagement within communities of interest/practice is well suited to online • UTS: Museums (eg. War Memorial) • Arts and cultural organisations • Austrade • Basic taxation questions (ATO)  Public consultation and civic engagement required/desirable beyond major policy making
  16. 16. THINK. CHANGE. DO References Coleman, S. (2008). Doing IT for themselves: Management versus autonomy in youth e-citizenship. In W. Bennett, Civic life online: Learning how digital media can engage youth (pp. 189-206). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Department of Finance and Deregulation. (2008). E-democracy community of practice. Retrieved February 1, 2009 from government/better-practice-and-collaboration/cop/e-democracy.html Hirst, M., & Harrison, J.( 2007). Communication and new media: From broadcast UTS: to narrowcast. South Melbourne: Oxford University Press. Kearnes, I. (2002). Code red: Progressive politics in the digital age. London: Institute for Public Policy Research. Klein, M. (2007). The MIT Collaboratorium: Enabling effective large-scale deliberation for complex problems. MIT Sloan School of Management Working Paper 4679-08, 31 December. Retrievefd November 7, 2008 from Macnamara, J. (2008). Internet media and the public sphere: The 2007 Australian e-electioneering experience, Media International Australia, no. 29, November, pp. 7-19. UK Cabinet Office. (2009). Power of Information Task Force Report, February. Retrieved April 28, 2009 from