Labour plans Web 2.0 push for open government

Former government CIO tells panel session that policies are already in place

The Labour Party is planning a web 2.0-facilitated public consultation in the next few weeks to help it formulate a policy for “open and transparent government”.

Labour’s ICT spokesperson, Claire Curran, revealed the plan in the course of a panel discussion on “the politics of open” at the open-source conference, in Wellington.

The consultation will begin with suggestions on Labour’s blog, RedAlert, and is likely to include a wiki and a Twitter discussion channel, as well as at least one physical public event.

During the discussion, Curran held out increasing openness in government as a way of overcoming growing public cynicism with the process of government and politics.

“There has been a disconnect between the people and politicians,” she says, “and that’s why these new [digital] media are important.”

Pia Waugh, advisor to Australian Senator Kate Lundy, outlined the Australian Federal government’s moves towards a more “citizen-centric” style, where a member of the public should be able easily to find information relevant to them, without having to traverse the information systems of several government agencies.

What Australia has already done and what it plans to do under the ambitious heading of Government 2.0, will provide an example for the evolving Labour policy, says Curran.

The panel discussion rounded off a day of presentations and debates on the achievement of openness in both the “open government” and “open source/open standards” sense in the public sector.

A key question that emerged in government use of open source and open ICT standards is whether failures to date lies in a lack of policy or a lack of will to put the policy into effect.

“The policy is clear,” insisted former government CIO Laurence Millar, displaying policy statements from the website “encouraging” agencies to look at open source software. “This is not about policy; it’s about changing attitudes.”

Many of the audience, however, were unconvinced. Use of weak words like “encourage” still give plenty of opportunity to opt out of paying any real attention to openness, they said. There was considerable feeling that stronger policy is needed.

Government’s eGIF interoperability framework is seldom explicitly recognised in tender documents, said consultant Colin Jackson.

The New Zealand government has made its own moves towards opening up data, with the site — but only six months after independent developers Nat Torkington and Glen Barnes instituted, Millar pointed out. There’s a lesson there, he says; that it’s not enough to talk about openness; someone has to get up and do something practical.

Open data, however, is only part of it, says Waugh.

“We need to look at everything the government could do to create opportunity for businesses, individuals or NGOs [non-governmental organisations] to innovate on the basis of what government does.”

Government could open the APIs to its applications, for example and make sure that open standards are being used.

A silo attitude within and between agencies is a handicap to a positive interface with the public, the meeting agreed. Curran pointed to the incompatible systems operated by District Health Boards as a handicap to the effective provision on health data to its customers.

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