Govt unleashes web 2.0 taskforce

The Federal Government today launched a taskforce to investigate web 2.0's ability to make government more transparent and increase community engagement.

The Federal Government today launched a taskforce to investigate web 2.0's ability to make government more transparent and increase community engagement.

A video introduction to the taskforce (Credit: Federal Govt)

The taskforce will table a report at the end of this year on how government information can become more accessible and usable, how the government can make use of the views, resources and knowledge of the public, and how to promote collaboration across agencies. After the report the taskforce will disband.

Comments on the taskforce abounded this morning in Twitter under the tag #publicsphere from people participating in Senator Kate Lundy's Public Sphere open government event in Canberra. Many tweets were supportive, pointing out sites where web 2.0 has worked which the government could examine, while others were concerned about the taskforce's commitment to open standards and innovation given Microsoft's involvement.

The taskforce will be chaired by Dr Nicholas Gruen, CEO of Lateral Economics. It also features some prominent members including Australian Government CIO Ann Steward as deputy chair, Google Australia engineering director Alan Noble, Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations CIO Glenn Archer, assistant secretary for the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy Mia Garlick, Microsoft public sector director Pip Marlow and former NEHTA CEO Dr Ian Reinecke.

According to Gruen on the taskforce blog site, the taskforce has been formed on the back of other governments riding on the "magic carpet of web 2.0" such as the UK and the US. Gruen pointed out that the taskforce wasn't the government's first foray into web 2.0, since the federal government had just completed a six-month trial. "But it will be the first attempt to deal with these issues in a systematic way," he said.

Finance Minister Lindsey Tanner and Communications Minister Stephen Conroy's first go at blogging was one of the tentative steps into the digital world that Gruen was referring to. The blogs were open to comments for 18 days.

The taskforce won't just be dishing out advice, but will be distributing funds from a $2.45 million pool to support the development of web 2.0 tools and applications which enable engagement between the government and community or support use of government information. The grants will either be in the form of funding for pilots and projects or in the form of prizes for innovative applications. The money might also be used to engage consultants for advice on web 2.0 in government.

Those hoping to obtain funds don't apply directly, but participate in competitions seeking ideas and designs for consideration.

The $2.45 million is coming partly from Microsoft, from a fund established in 2001 to support government IT projects. A proportion of the software giant's revenue from selling to the Australian Government between 2001 and 2008 went into the fund. The arrangement ended when the Australian Government entered into a new volume sourcing agreement with the vendor.

According to the taskforce's website, Microsoft will not have a role in deciding which projects are funded. Other contributions to the fund were also welcome.