Public servant blog mentality 'crazy': Gruen

The head of the Government 2.0 Taskforce, Dr Nick Gruen, has said that it's "crazy" that public servants don't freely comment on blogs and that a "profound cultural change" is required for a truly open government.

The head of the Government 2.0 Taskforce, Dr Nick Gruen, has said that it's "crazy" that public servants don't freely comment on blogs and that a "profound cultural change" is required for a truly open government.

The taskforce was formed to explore ways the government can use new technology to encourage greater citizen participation and promote more transparency in agency decision-making and administration.

The group's report was handed to the government last December and Dr Gruen was positive about the government's commitment in May to implement most of the recommendations.

However, he said it was still early days to win the hearts and minds of public servants.

"The real hard work starts at the agency level and the individual public servant level, but our view is it requires quite a profound cultural change and we're only at the very beginning of that," Dr Gruen told ZDNet Australia.

Public servants are afraid to comment on his blog, he said, and only in rare instances will respond using a pseudonym.

"It's kind of crazy ... I'd like to see public servants freely commenting on blogs, not in a politically contentious way but in an informative way. There are lots of things that we're a long way from people feeling confident to do."

He said Australia is headed in the right direction by distinguishing between individuals and agencies.

"Everyone else I know of has mainly talked about Web 2.0 as a tool used by agencies, by these entities that have intentions to deliver projects.

"The way the taskforce saw it was to say 'yes, that's all true but agencies are actually made up of people'. Those people have skills, which are better utilised by the community if there's a little more [information] coming out, and they'll actually be better skills if they become part of a professional discussion."

About 20 government blogs were started over the past six months, Dr Gruen said, and he expects the agencies to embrace the medium in the coming years.

He also praised Australia's use of creative commons, with the CC-BY licence being the default position for publishing material, including the 2010 budget papers.

"They all got it in the treasury. The lawyers told them it was a risky thing to do, and they said we want the budget to get out there.

"I don't know if there are any other set of budget documents in the world that have been released CC-BY."

Despite the take up of creative commons, Australia's copyright laws were heavily criticised by Dr Gruen.

"The copyright system is seriously lagging behind because it is setting up a chain of serial permissions, everyone has to get permission from everyone," Dr Gruen said at a recent lunch organised by the Internet Industry Association.

"One doesn't have to be a copyright revolutionary, one doesn't have to take away the rights for people to remunerate.

"There are all sorts of obvious ways in which we could bring about much greater value with the information resources we have but we are back with a very old system, which is copyright and a pretty unedifying political struggle."

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