Nicholas Gruen on Gov 2.0 in Australia and cultural change

“I began the Gov 2.0 taskforce thinking that open government was a kind of civil rights agenda, even if it has economic costs,” said Nicholas Gruen last week in Santa Clara at the Strata Conference. Gruen headed Australia’s Gov 2.0 taskforce. “At the end of it, I realized that open government was actually a really powerful economic driver.”

Why? Gruen pointed to the efficiencies presented inside of government by improved communication and the opportunities to ask citizens for ideas and solutions to problems. “Even if our team said we couldn’t do it technically, I just said we’ll tell everyone that we need help and approach it that way.” Asking questions was, he said, an effective means of accomplishing many tasks much faster than they would have been otherwise.

In a video interview, embedded below, Gruen talked more about the state of Gov 2.0 in Australia and some of his thoughts of the economics involved His comments on cultural change will be of particular interest those focused on technology as a panacea to inefficiency or engagement.

The recent historic flooding in Australia created an urgent use case for improved communications between the public and government. “When you look at the Queensland floods, the Facebook of the police department use blew people away,” said Gruen. “Their links got many comments and compliments.”

For more about how social media combine with geospatial mapping in crisis response, read about a new online application from geospatial mapping giant ESRI that applies trend analysis to help responders to Australia’s recent floods create relevance and context from citizen-generated reports.

Achieving better outcomes through technology isn’t just about setting up a Facebook page or Twitter account, emphasized Gruen. Public servants have to be willing to share information that matters to citizens and in turn listen to feedback from the public to create better feedback loops.

“This is a cultural transformation,” said Gruen. “You can’t impose that. You can’t dictate it.”

Further reading:Gov 2.0 Down Under: Australia and Open Government

“Participation partition” the newest facet of the digital divide, warns Gruen

Disparities in access to the Internet have been persistent since the scratchy sounds of a modem were first heard in offices, basements and schools. In recent years, the digital divide has grown to encompass smartphones usage, differentiation of broadband Internet and open data’s role in empowering the empowered.

Dr. Nicholas Gruen, CEO of Lateral Economics and the former chair of the Government 2.0 Taskforce in Australia, warned the audience at the Smart Government 2010 conference in Melbourne of a new dimension to the digital divide: a “participation partition” that favors citizens who are more active engaging in online discourse.

“The world is leaning towards favouring those who participate,” said Gruen. “They have more fun and more influence. If you participate more in your local school and local democracy, you’re going to have more say and more power. I see these things as very healthy, but there isn’t an equality of outcomes for everyone.”

As Rob O’Brien reported in Government News, Australia’s Gov 2.0 Taskforce pushed government entities to participate more online themselves, including encouraging public sector officials and workers to use with social media tools.

“We’ve now got 20 government blogs, that’s a great start. What we don’t have is people participating on blogs,” Mr Gruen said. “I’m not suggesting they should be making controversial comments, but just be a member of a group of people talking about policy issues.”

Redefining Public/Private Partnerships

Dr. Gruen was a featured speaker at the Gov 2.0 Summit in Washington, where he explored public goods in the context of open government and digital citizenship. His talk is embedded below:

For more on what’s been happening in technology and government in Australia, see my report on Gov 2.0 Down Under: Australia and Open Government.