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Friday, 31 July 2009 08:21

Feeding the Black Box: Decision-making 2.0

With the release of the Public Sphere 2: Government 2.0 briefing paper from Kate Lundy’s office, it is worth noting the success so far of the Public Sphere venture. But it also highlights some slightly skewed expectations about where Gov 2.0 initiatives can take us and how fast we’ll get there.

So, what did we learn? First, we learned that corporate sponsorship banners in a policy discussion inside a Parliamentary committee room look out of place. (This government was brought to you by … Not quite, but you know what I mean.)

Next, we learned of the giant-sized appetite for 2.0 everything among the tech elite, and that there is huge scope across Government for improving information management and the better use of new ICT tools in the public consultation process.

But we won’t really start to know where all this is going (or how to get there) until Public Sphere moves into non-ICT fields of interest. If the complaint from politicians about real-world Town Hall meetings is that you see the same faces, and hear the same voices, then – just like real life – you may just get the same (slightly crazier) voices online.

How influential do Gov 2.0 advocates hope to be and what will they consider a successful project?

If people are expecting direct feedback from Ministers’ offices regarding Public Sphere submissions – and an understanding of what influence the submission did or did not have on policy decisions – they are going to be disappointed.

It's is a democracy, not a Super-Democracy.

Decisions are made in a black box (Cabinet rules being the best example). You can feed as much information as you like into the box, but you don’t get to peek inside.

And that’s a good thing. It’s why we have elections. We actually want our elected officials to make those decisions on our behalf having consulted widely. Sure, the wisdom of the crowd is a wonderful thing, but there are an awful lot of crowds in the community.

And while input on Gov 2.0 from a group of Gov 2.0 advocates is equally wonderful, it is just one view.

Just like you don’t want environmental decisions based on the vocal input of environmentalists, or business sector decisions based on the only the business community. That’s just how it is.

And on expectations...

The paper produced at the first Public Sphere event on the National Broadband Network was delivered to Stephen Conroy’s office a couple of months ago. A quick call to his office reveals it “has been read and is being considered.”

And that’s all you’re going to hear about it. There’s the black box. But for all the hard work of many people that went into Public Sphere, that’s how it should be. You’re not going to have Minister’s offices responding any more than if you’d put your efforts into writing a submission to a Senate committee yourself, or if you’d written directly to the Minister, or attended a Town Hall meeting.

“Dear Sir/Madam, The Minister thanks you for your interest in this important issue and welcomes your valuable input. Et cetera. Et cetera.” No gold star for best idea (although that's something that maybe the Gov2.0 Taskforce might be willing to look at.)

Frankly, the great reforms that I most most interested in seeing to broaden participatory democracy (is that even a term? Surely a tautology?) are the relatively simple process improvements that deliver easier and more timely access to Government information.

This is where the Gov 2.0 taskforce will have its greatest impact.

And if I can ask for one single precious thing for Christmas? Can someone please give the Hansard people more resources?!

Anything to speed up the publication of committee hearing transcripts. A week to get a transcript from a Senate committee hearing on the National Broadband Network? C’mon, a week?

Hansard is the lifeblood. Will someone Two-Dot-Oh that, please?

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