My blood just wants to say hello to you, my soul is so afraid to realize… that public servants probably don’t need Twitter at work

Sighingly, I sighed a big sigh (sightastically so) when I heard about the Government 2.0 taskforce… thingy.

According to the superconfusing, co-trans-communicative blogpage 1.7:

The Government 2.0 Taskforce (‘Taskforce’) will advise and assist the Government to:

  • make government information more accessible and usable — to establish a pro-disclosure culture around non-sensitive public sector information;
  • make government more consultative, participatory and transparent — to maximise the extent to which government utilises the views, knowledge and resources of the general community;
  • build a culture of online innovation within Government — to ensure that government is receptive to the possibilities created by new collaborative technologies and uses them to advance its ambition to continually improve the way it operates;
  • promote collaboration across agencies with respect to online and information initiatives — to ensure that efficiencies, innovations, knowledge and enthusiasm are shared on a platform of open standards; and
  • identify and/or trial initiatives that may achieve or demonstrate how to accomplish the above objectives.

The Taskforce will advise Government on structural barriers that prevent, and policies to promote, greater information disclosure, digital innovation and online engagement including the division of responsibilities for, and overall coordination of, these issues within government. [‘About’, Source]

That’s all good and dandy, and very 1980s.  Hooray for fresh new ideas.

This week, they released a multistructured end-user interfaced report, freshly and innovatively pro-titled ‘Engage: Getting on with Government 2.0‘.

Freak me sideways, internets. Freak me sideways.

Okay, maybe I’m not being positive enough about all this new jargon and awkward colloquialisms (‘Getting on with’? Really?).  This is a Brave New World of Innovation!  As a mid-twenties male, I should be all about 2.0.  I mean, ‘2.0’ means instant success! Windows 2.0 brought us Microsoft Word and Excel.  Version 2.0 was my introduction to Garbage.  iSnack 2.0 was renamed because it didn’t live up to the 2.0 standard.

Engage seems scarily iSnackish.  From the introduction:

[A]s people engage, possibilities – foreseeable and otherwise – are unlocked through the invention, creativity and hard work of citizens, business and community organisations. [Engage, Source]

In more cutting edge news: Water is wet!

Who would have guessed that inventions would ‘unlock’ possibilities?  Which stoned undergraduate philosophy student helped them write that line?  ‘Woah… And, like, possibilities are totally, like, unlocked through inventions and the whole world might be a computer game…’  Thank you, writers of Engage for your insightful and extremely nontrivial comments.

Even better is a few lines after that where they state that the ‘need for public servants to continue to be professional and apolitical’ restrains too much in the way of radical Gov2.0 changes, and that ‘[c]reating the culture and practices that can seize the new opportunities but yet stay true to enduring public service values will not be easy’.  In the very next line: ‘We have little to lose, and much to gain from moving boldly in this direction’.  Yup, apparently Captain Kirk thinks that losing the public service values is small potatoes when compared to the benefits of being able to read Government Brand Twitter.

Look, it’s not all bad.  The recommendation that government agencies move towards open source software (while keeping security issues in mind) is a great way for agencies to reduce their IT operating costs.  And encouraging departments to create user-friendly websites is also a good idea.  But these are in no way new or innovative ideas.  The report is more gleam than substance and, if you’ve got your cynical hats on, it seems that might be the idea.  ‘Just look at all this Government 2.0 going on!  Haven’t we moved mountains to show how cutting edge we all are?’

But the enterprise is fraught with risks.  We barely go a semester without hearing of some government agency releasing private information to the public domain.  In Victoria, for example, the government is being criticised (rightly so) for releasing the police records of protesters.  If we attempt to make the public service more public, how long will it be before things get released which shouldn’t and individual public servants start becoming public figures?  Are we going to have a string of Godwin Greches if public servants are given the opportunity to cause media spectacles?  How does all this public contact gel with the need to be apolitical if public servants are personally more accessible?

Maybe we should focus more on the ‘service’ aspect and less on the public aspect.

In other news, new Zelda game out today.  Best handheld Zelda to date.  More on its awesomeness later.

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Author: Mark Fletcher

Mark Fletcher is a Canberra-based blogger and policy wonk who writes about conservatism, atheism, and popular culture. Read his blog at OnlyTheSangfroid. He tweets at @ClothedVillainy

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