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Govts still 'wait and see' for Web 2.0

Web 2.0 is still very much used by citizens as governments and large private organizations appear to be limiting their direct participation in the open environment, says a Hong Kong public official.
Written by Liau Yun Qing, Contributor

Governments and many large private organizations are still maintaining a "wait and see" attitude toward direct participation in Web 2.0--an environment which is "very much [used by] the people", said a Hong Kong government official, adding that phone calls and e-mail remain a popular way for the Special Administrative Region's citizens to send feedback.

During an interview with ZDNet Asia while in Singapore as a speaker for the SAS Forum, Hong Kong Efficiency Unit (HKEU) assistant director W.F. Yuk said that at present, Web 2.0 is more suitable for many-to-many discussions instead of one-to-many discussions. Web 2.0's openness makes it a challenge for governments as well as large corporations to give controlled responses, he noted.

Commenting on a survey which found that citizens perceived governments as unresponsive online, he pointed out that in a Web 2.0 environment, governments and large corporations can receive up to hundreds of "totally different questions", making direct responses difficult.

He added that though there are isolated examples of government officials interacting directly with the public, these are more demonstrative examples than pragmatic solutions.

While the Internet plays a part in e-government, Yuk pointed out that "e-government does not equal I-government or Internet government". E-government includes channels such as a voice-based contact center because "at the back end, everything is still a technology-based operation", he said.

Voice-based communication is an important avenue for Hong Kong citizens to reach the government's 1823 Call Centre. According to SAS figures, the 1823 Call Centre, managed by HKEU, receives about 2.65 million calls compared with 98,000 e-mail messages in a year.

The center, set up in 2001, was one of first government call centers worldwide, said Yuk, adding that it acts as a single point of contact for the government's different departments, so citizens need call in to only one location for inquiries or complaints.

Complaints make up about 10 percent of calls to the center each year, he revealed, adding that the center will then refer the case to the relevant government departments and monitor the progress.

Data mining to uncover hidden relationships
According to Yuk, a Complaints Intelligent System was designed when HKEU realized that the large volume of data gathered from complaints could be analyzed to gather in-depth understanding of the underlying problems faced by the citizens.

The system, which won the Best Public Service Application Grand Award at the Hong Kong ICT Awards 2009, deploys SAS text mining technologies to uncover the hidden relationships in the complaints through statistical modeling analyses. As a result, the center was able to move away from a reactive approach to a more proactive approach, said Yuk.

He gave the example of three different complaints made about the same location but on different issues--cleanliness, road obstruction and an illegal hawker. Previously, the reactive approach for the center was to refer the three different cases to three government departments.

With the data processed by the Complaints Intelligent System, the center was able to deduce that the illegal hawker was the root cause of the three complaints. It then notified the relevant department handling illegal hawkers about the issue, thus proactively resolving all three complaints.

HKEU, which reports to the Chief Secretary for Administration Henry Tang, is in charge of public-sector reform. In 2000, it was involved in implementing Hong Kong's public key infrastructure (PKI) framework, which provides secure e-transactions.

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