Previously on this blog I’ve outlined a couple of themes of mine about Government 2.0. In a comment on a draft APS Social Manifesto I elaborated on both things and so I thought I’d reproduce them here.
I think what you’re trying to do is worthwhile. However culture change is a difficult business. There’s not all that much difference between your manifesto, and the APSC guidelines and the declaration of open government. There are some concrete things in there which are a bit stronger and more directive (ie that access to social media should be actively promoted), but its feel is similar.
Essentially the conventions under which the public service operate are not at all easy to define and specify. What can a public servant say, and what can’t they say in public? Well that is always quite contested ground and people like Ken Henry adopt a fairly expansive view of the convention at times. Others like Terry Moran don’t.
Now it all has to be renegotiated and it’s only the beginning to issue new guidelines or even a ‘manifesto’. Then one must work through the cultural labour of things happening, those things being contested and then we find out how it plays out. In all this, those of us who value what Government 2.0 can bring to government will be hoping for expansive interpretations, but it’s simply not at all easy to specify in advance the nuances of the way these ideas will or even should be interpreted (except for making broad statements of what presumptions one might hope those making the judgements were making.)
I like this point in the draft manifesto: “support and encourage unstructured online conversations between members of the APS and other State/Territory jurisdictions.” In fact I’d like to see it go a little further. I would support a ‘principle of gregariousness’ or at least some major pushing of public servants towards a presumption that they can (and should) speak to others about their work with a view to communicating as much as would be prudent about what they’re doing, what issues and evidence would be helpful in doing their jobs.
As we argued in our report this:
- Increases the value of their skills to the community – by giving better community access to it;
- Helps to further develop those skills
- Helps inform decision making and public sector activity with a greater awareness of what is happening outside the service.
But even setting this out is sufficient to make it clear that, in doing so, judgement is required – which calls for a cultural labour of some magnitude.
Of interest also is this statement in the draft: “In the last century managerialism predominated In the 21st century the social organisation is assuming that position.” My response to those claims are:
- Managerialism only really raised it’s (not too pretty) head from the 1980s on – not through the 20th century
- I too dislike managerialism
- But ‘social organisation’ doesn’t really mean anything – to me anyway. Managerialism is a ‘social organisation’.
One of the weaknesses of the Government 2.0 ‘movement’ is that it is not clear about what such things mean, though there’s a kind of flavour of ‘people power’ about it. Participation is seen as a self-evidently good thing. I broadly agree with this and I’m happy to use Kate Lundy’s expression ‘participatory government’ to refer to what’s desirable – which is to say that, wherever the community can participate in the work of the government (meaning generally the work that is legitimated by the – party political – government of the day that is to be presumed to be a good thing.
But I think it is critical to give this sensibility context and to distance it from ‘participatory democracy’ which I am (as a matter of presumption) broadly hostile to. I support representative politics as the ultimate source of political power in Australia. We have the ability to have a fairly pure system of participatory democracy in Australia – all Australian voters could vote online and in effect disintermediate parliament. I would view that as a disaster, but it’s clearly more participatory and in some fundamental sense more democratic.
I spoke about this in an interview which sets out some ideas I’ve since developed – though in presentations that are not yet up on the net. In fact one of the things that drives open source production methods is highly uneven levels of contribution and also hierarchy. So alongside the massive increase in the possibilities for participation which if there is any task to be deliberated upon and done is presumptively a good thing, the new online world also creates a new, alternative and in many ways healthier ecology of elite formation. One in which contribution trumps formal status. I’ve tried to expand these ideas in a couple of speeches, one of which is due for posting on the net, but it’s not there yet.