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Australia’s Government 2.0 Future Part 4

Over the first three of my postings on the future direction of Australia’s Government 2.0 I identified three drivers that will shape politics, government and society over the next 20 years:

  1. Sharing information creating new knowledge that in turn leads to shared power between citizens, corporations and government (such as social regulation).
  2. Self-expression leading to new forms of social engagement and new relationships that in turn lead to better understanding of context and relevancy (such as fit-for-purpose rules).
  3. Addressing complex issues in an open and collaborative way transcending institutional, jurisdictional and geographic boundaries (such as networked policy and networked regulation).

Over time intelligence gathering, problem solving and service delivery will become less centralized and more distributed. Risk will be shared. Responsibility will be shared. Communicating and facilitating – letting ourselves be seen – are set to become core skills for public servants.

The potential implications from this dynamic over the next 20 years are profound. For large parts of government, centralised, standardised, institutionally structured rules will be far less durable in the more complex dynamic of openness and transparency. At the moment ‘Government 2.0′ is more like ‘Government’ as it has been for the last 100 years or so but with the addition of new tools. Connecting and communicating with external parties chiefly remains a responsibility for media and public relations specialists.  What’s needed are less structures that limit opportunities for fresh thinking, innovation and creativity, not more of the same.

Rule making will need to become adaptable and flexible for relevancy and fit-for-purpose. Processes will need to be scaled for social interaction as well as institutions. Relationships that matter will be meaningful relationships – interpersonal relationships that foster mutual understanding. Reputation and influence will matter much more in getting things done. The scale and scope of networked policy and regulation will scale naturally to suit the context – hyper-local through to completely global.

There are already examples of networked policy and networked regulation to guide government such as the open and transparent processes in the development of software and operating systems. But the most important dynamic over the next 20 years will be social, as those people ‘born digital’ enter the workforce and their networked ways of doing things become the norm and not the exception.  The workplace will change as more people connect, communicate and collaborate without going through centralised gateways. Such group connections have the potential to be powerful learning environments – far better able to adapt to shifting circumstances, and through being far better informed, more able to identify and implement fit for purpose solutions.

Getting there will be a transitionary process with new models of government and governance emerging from increased integration between decentralised networks of interconnected individuals and traditional models of centralised information production, problem solving and service delivery.

2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Minty-Fresh™.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 3,300 times in 2010. That’s about 8 full 747s.

 

In 2010, there were 7 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 114 posts. There were 3 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 115kb.

The busiest day of the year was September 14th with 43 views. The most popular post that day was Social media has created a new layer of influencers.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were clicologoexisto.wordpress.com, twitter.com, socialnomics.net, mycrazyreader.info, and bigextracash.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for brian solis, conversation prism brian solis, social networks, expressing capability, and conversation prism.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Social media has created a new layer of influencers August 2008
1 comment

2

About December 2007
2 comments

3

Mobiles and Social Web over the next 10 years: five megatrends February 2010

4

Largest increase in expressing capability in history June 2009

5

Trends and developments in communications and media technology, applications and use April 2009

Wisdom 2.0

For a long time I held the view that the value from strategic thinking and foresight is in applying that knowledge to developing strategic action plans.  Like many others I guess I started to question my assumptions while reading Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s The Black Swan.  From my point of view, Taleb’ s message basically was that people were fooling themselves by thinking that, in a constantly changing, unpredictable world, it is possible to really know what action to take that will be sustainable over time.

The challenge as I feel Taleb would define it is to constantly review and refine what to do in a world we don’t really understand as well as we think we do. The skill sets here are to be constantly alert to new, potentially disruptive developments, and to have the agility and resilience to take timely action. It’s like having a ‘ceaseless quest for learning’.

So it was with some pleasure that I found just that phrase – ceaseless quest for learning – in Umair Haque’s The Wisdom Manifesto. Haque used the phrase in the context of renewal: that the measure of a day spent wisely is a day where you learn five new things.  And Haque – as with Taleb – utterly debunks strategy as a worthwhile activity. For example Haque describes strategy to develop ‘best practice’ as limited in that it adds nothing new compared to the inherent value in wisdom from finding “…new ideas, concepts, and solutions” and “…acting on what people, communities and society lack”. The effort is not physical and intellectual energy but emotional and ethical too.

According to Taleb, being alert to constant flux and change necessarily involves regular interaction with people such as in cafes and attending social events – developing extended networks of relationships. It’s about being out there, tuned in and fully engaged. It’s not a new idea of course – the coffee houses in 18th century London and Vienna were hotbeds of innovation and creative thinking.

For organisations based on hierarchical layers and formulaic compliance protocols, that kind of wisdom lies beyond the pale. For those organisations really intent on finding new ideas and solutions, and where they are disposed to a ceaseless quest for learning (ie. they want to be wise organisations) then their people must be out there interacting with people – customers, clients, communities and citizens. This is where the internet and Web 2.0 or Enterprise 2.0 interaction kicks in. Haque refers to Starbucks crowd-sourced learning from mystarbucksidea. Perhaps it can encapsulated in the term ‘Wisdom 2.0′.

While ‘strategy’ seems to be limited, I still feel that strategic thinking still holds – indeed I feel it is central to the ‘ceaseless quest for learning’. Strategic thinking involves suspending your assumptions, being capable of dealing with ambiguity and uncertainty. That’s why I’m so active in social networking and social media – so I can tap into the constant flow of information and interact with people I would not otherwise have the opportunity to do so. So ‘Wisdom 2.0′ has meaning to me.

Leveraging value from the enterprise, social networks and generalists

In working on a system to promote sharing among co-workers, Sir Tim Berners-Lee ended up inventing the World Wide Web. Twenty years later and we still have enterprises struggling along with walled-garden silos and command and control management. Skilled specialists pursue narrow interests independently from others in the organisation. Information and knowledge of potential value to “colleagues” is not shared. The dominant mental model for enterprises like that is a strident independence and win/loose culture determined to do things just by themselves. The game is all about competition. There is no room for collaboration and sharing. It is so last century.

Ironic isn’t it, especially when so much has been written about the social web. Not that there can be any doubting the power of the web to connect people, to express their views and share. In Wikipedia, Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams provided many examples of firms have benefited from crowd-sourced innovative ideas.Clay Shirky has described the power of the social web to connect people and to do things together without the need for centralised organisation.

It’s nothing short of extraordinary really when so much innovation, creativity and resilience comes from openness and  integrating web-based collaboration within the workplace. The amount of shareholder value eroding by the day must be staggering.

What’s going on? It’s a clash of culture: the open nature of the web causes friction when it rubs up against the command and control nature of the enterprise, largely to do with power. So the main problem is social. Perceived reputation, status and financial reward is wrapped up in authoritarian regimes.

There are limiting social factors though. Many people are reluctant to speak out. I’ve lost count of how many people have said to me “But I can’t think of anything to say”. There are those who prefer to be led rather than to lead. Given the rapid rise of social networking sites, many people lack experience in web literacy. The sheer scale of information on the web is over-whelming. Aggregation and curation tools and techniques such as tagging, creating lists, book-marking and filtering are mastered by just a few digital literati. So it’s important to leverage from those willing to express themselves and willing to share. They are the new creators of value…although there is one other, and that’s the generalist.

Last Friday I attended the Media 2010 seminar in Sydney, Australia. The event attracted a a lot of influential industry people – a very good sign. but back to the generalist, One of the presenters was Saneel Radia, SVP at Denuo, Chicago.

Seneel used a term I’ve not heard of before – intersectional innovation. It’s where a generalist works with specialists injecting alternative perspectives from which new insights and creative design can emerge. From an enterprise perspective, the trick is to “empower generalists via accountability”. I grasped the value immediately. As a generalist working in strategic foresight I am too familiar with the dead weight barriers to innovation from specialists. Resilience comes from questioning assumptions and established patterns of behaviour. There is a lower chance of that happening within teams of specialists whose knowledge of things outside their field is limited. The value from generalists comes when pointing to related developments that are changing the paradigm.

Seems like the term ‘intersectional innovation’ was coined by Frans Johansson back in 2004 when he published The Medici Effect. Frans blogs here.  I’ve got to look into this!

Of course, it’s not all about openness and sharing. Intellectual property remains a driver of wealth. Apple did not develop the iPhone through open-source design. Google has its search engine secrets. Yet both Apple and Google create value from the open nature of the internet and the social web. There is life in the enterprise for sure!

In my view then, firms looking for resilience and new value need to blend social networks and generalists into the operations of their business.

Embracing the networked age

It’s December again and there’s the usual stream of forecasts for the new year.  I find many of them to be interesting, a few more than others. Goodness knows they seem to be latched onto by many people. Otherwise hide-bound by the stack of work in front of them, the new year is a time for reflection and contemplation for many. But 12-month forecasts are of limited value. What of the underlying drivers of social and economic change over the longer-term? Not so much is heard about them, even though they are so much more powerful.  So this posting is my contribution to the longer-term view, and what actions are more likely to be sustaining value over time.

Readers of this blog may well be familiar with the drivers of change that I’ll cover here. Those in businesses and in government who have adopted practices that embrace collaboration and co-creation  are already on message. So this posting is intended for others who are looking for a path forward in the networked age. So please share.

The Old Institutional Power Elites Will Adapt or Fade Away

By far the most powerful message is to those who cling on to institutional power.  I have some questions for you. Judging by your actions to date, what prospects are there for you to redress climate change and other, pressing environmental degradation? With the loss of confidence in financial markets and the efficient markets hypothesis, what policies do you have to renew economic and social well-being? Do you know the difference between innovation and competition? What faith do you have in resolving religious, cultural, social and economic divides? What do you think your legacy will be to future generations?

I raise those questions because of my concern that too many digital migrants are trapped in institutional mindsets that they find hard to break-away from. The thing is, there are too many divides, too many entrenched views held by people in inward-looking institutions, views that would otherwise be challenged by openness and transparency. For institutional power is being re-balanced with the networked power of the social web. Innovation, creativity and new forms of value now flow from networked publics formed on the social web. Not so much from stand-alone businesses.

The power of the social web is from people connecting to others, expressing themselves and sharing. Compare those things with institutional life, where the dominant features are siloed hierarchies, conformity to rules and to dominant actors, and hoarding information. Institutions tend to fence-off and shut down innovation, creativity and new perspectives.

The Rise of Digital Generations

Evidence of just how different those people born to the digital age are is very obviously in communications. Mobile phones, particularly smartphones with internet connectivity, are the dominant device used by young people for communicating with friends, for self-expression, finding, sharing or generating information, or for organising and managing activities. Digital generations seek out like-minded people and peer-groups to share stuff, to learn, and to create new things. Digital generations do things for themselves. They are far less reliant on institutions than their parents are.

In social networks online, they learn to take responsibility, and to collaborate with others, for economic, environmental and social benefits. They do not seek permission, but give themselves permission to build relationships, reputation and trust between themselves. They can do that because interacting online gives them the experience, the know-how and the power to act. Placing more trust in their own networks than with family or institutions, there is a re-balancing of power relationships in society.

Politicians, the media and brands are all finding it necessary to reach out to digital generations. They compete for their time and for their attention. Governments are finding that there are knowledgeable and informed stakeholders in the public who can and do contribute ideas and options for new policies and programs through interacting online. There is a new dawn for citizen engagement, empowered by the unprecedented ease of participation that the social web affords. That will lead to a re-balancing of power between representative democracy and more direct forms of citizen participation in decision-making.

The core competencies in interacting online are openness, transparency and collaboration. The new competitive advantages are to be found from collaborating across institutional boundaries through trusted relationships. But as I say, the scale of openness, transparency and collaboration online is unprecedented. Change has been so rapid, there are few models to guide people. So the digital generation has developed their own literacy, their own peer relationships and their own networks to operate in the networked age. They do so because of their interactions, and relationships and trust come out of interactions.

What a contrast

Oh, how different is the networked society that from the 20th century, where big business and big government dominated relatively passive consumers and passive citizens. Educated in prescribed syllabus schools, living in disconnected suburban communities, employed in specialised and meaningless work, consuming one-size fits all news and information and standardised government services, with families split by globalisation… baby boomer and Gen X lives have been controlled by others to a large degree. The old power elites controlled the generation and distribution of information; controlled the allocation of scarce resources; oversaw the degradation of ecosystems; and created artificial scarcity (such as in the supply of money and restrictions on the exchange of goods and services). Within their institutions, they ruled the day.

But that time is up.

For the enduring characteristics of social existence are in connections, self-expression and sharing. They also happen to be the underpinning values of the digital generation. Information is no longer scarce. Connectivity is no longer scarce. Bottlenecks have broken down. What was scarce is now abundant. It’s no contest folks.

Solving environmental and economic crises, resolving cultural conflicts and social divides will not be easy. But I have optimism that the networked age will find sustainable solutions.  In contrast, the old power elites just continue to show how inept their institutional frameworks are. A re-balancing is coming…are you on board?

Take action

If you and/or your organisation are inward-looking, independent and not already networked online, then get started. Experiment by reaching out to others. Learn what others are saying about you. Learn digital media literacy. Learn by doing. It’s OK. You can do it.

Sure, you will make mistakes. No one is perfect. The know-how will come to you. You will get better. You will get rewards.

So, get on to Twitter. Join Facebook, Sign-up to LinkedIn. Experiment with Ning. Create a blog. Subscribe to others’ blogs. Participate with your colleagues on Yammer. See what others are viewing on YouTube. Get on to Google Wave to see what real-time collaboration can do. Reach out. And above all, participate – get yourself engaged online.

Best wishes for 2010

Government 2.0 Taskforce draft report – a centralised response to decentralised action

The Government 2.0 Taskforce draft report released earlier this week more than delivers against their terms of reference. They have exceeded expectations. I’m really pleased! There has been international interest in the draft report. From the U.K. Glyn Moody said that the report is  an inspiring document. Those who have been participating in the deliberations are pleased. Stephen Collins put it this way “The release earlier this week of the draft report of the Government 2.0 Taskforce has the potential to be a watershed moment in the management and delivery of government and its services to the people of Australia”.  Nat Boehm is  really impressed, really excited.

So there is much to get enthusiastic about. But as others have indicated, the hard yards lie ahead. Stephen Collins tempered his expectations by raising concerns- quite rightly in my view – about the ongoing momentum once the final report is handed in on 31 December 2009. I agree with Stephen – it would be a shame to lose the momentum achieved so far. Craig Thomler has been open about the challenges ahead in implementing Gov2.0. Indeed, the Taskforce report is right up front in stating that “the greatest barrier to Government 2.0 is cultural” (page ix).

It’s fair to say that the rapid rise of social media and social networking over the last few years has left many people in organisations with business models, management systems and ways of working that are not only difficult to adapt to the networked society of 2009 – they are just too slow to keep up with the ongoing state of flux and change. Just to be clear, that applies to many in the private sector as well as in government.

But these developments that are so challenging for industrial-age institutions and practices are not are fad, they are not ephemeral. It’s what people want.  Indeed, the changes going on are all about the people. Self-expression, connecting with others and sharing are basic social needs. They are not going to go away. The underpinning technologies of broadband infrastructure, protocols and standards have generated innovative applications and services that internet users around the world have embraced like a duck takes to water.

Process wise, there has been a strong congruence in the work of the Taskforce with the philosophy and the practice of openness, transparency and participation. There has been many opportunities for citizens to contribute to the work of the Taskforce. I have been particularly impressed with the high quality of interaction on the  Taskforce blog. Sure, I’ve said some things could have been done better bur really I’m not fussed about that. There is time still to influence the final report by commenting on the draft. The way the Taskforce has worked has been so different to the way that the machinery of government usually works. That is a signal message in itself.

All well and good. But that brings me to my one remaining area of concern. The Taskforce proposes that a lead agency take responsibility for Government 2.0 policy and provide leadership, guidance and support to agencies and public servants. The agency would consult with relevant agencies through a Government 2.0 Steering Group. In other words, form a committee. Now that is classic public service stuff and would almost ensure that the momentum collapses.

However, developments in the networked society will not wait for guidance from a government committee. I’m enough of a realist to know that a lead agency and steering group are likely actions assuming the Government runs with the recommendations. But those actions need not defer ongoing agency progress in adapting to networked ways of working.  Like the revised APSC guidance on the use of social media, which I see as being permissive and encouraging, I say there is scope for the Taskforce to recommend that agencies start taken action now, or go further than they have so far, in leading the transformation to Government 2.0. Such permissive action is entirely consistent with Web 2.0. People do not need permission to express themselves and to be innovative on the Web. So to with government agencies. Sure, it means taking responsibility for actions that are taken. But then, internet users expect other users to take responsibility for their actions online. So let’s get some more action happening here. Sure, agencies can be guided by centralised processes. But in the end, it will be people in the agencies and their networks online – decentralised networks and ways of working – that will be the change agents over time.

Network Literacy

Howard Rheingold has put up the first video in what will hopefully be a series of talks about networked literacy. Drawing on the insights of some eminent people (David Reed, Lawrence Lessig, Manuel Castells, Duncan Watts, Yochai Benkler as well as himself) Rheingold spoke of what I feel is a very important view: that understanding how networks work – in a social and economic sense as well as technically – can influence how much freedom, wealth & participation might be experienced in the 21st century. I agree with that.

From a technical perspective, understanding the end-to-end principle is important to know why & how the architecture of the internet was designed so that content can flow from one end point to another without centralised permission or control. Understanding the social drivers behind the formation of human networks and their ability to self-organise  – drivers that go back to ancient human history – is necessary to get a feel for why the internet is such a powerful participative tool. It’s why the web has been so transformative. It’s why we now life in a networked society. Understanding the difference between individual freedoms enabled by the internet vs. institutional control is at the heart of appreciating why the 20th century power elites find the web to be so disruptive, why they now battle for control, and why others strive to maintain internet freedoms. Some see the transformative web as a threat, others see it as an opportunity. Those that achieve network literacy are more likely to see, and to grasp, the opportunities and generate new forms of value.

Understanding any of these social, economic and technical spheres individually is a challenge. Understanding them all – especially in relation to one another – is overwhelmingly the greatest challenge. It’s a challenge that exceeds the capabilities of any one discipline, department, value-chain or service/product line. It’s a challenge that Howard Rheingold appears to have grasped, and I commend him for it.

However, there are others at work on this issue beyound those that Howard is currently drawing from. A couple of weeks prior to viewing Howard’s video, I was pleased to see that danah boyd and co at the Digital Youth Project have released Hanging Out, Messing Around, And Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media. They write about youth-driven peer-based learning. They say there is “an opportunity to define, in partnership with youth, the shape of online participation and expression and new networked, institutional structures of peer-based learning”.  In other words, the task is to adapt to the web – to new forms of interconnection and expression – by participating in the process. I now see that these insights are an example of network literacy in action; of seeing where the opportunities are to generate new value.

So I feel that networked literacy is a competency necessary to grasp the opportunities lying ahead. Networked literacy is a competency necessary to gain comparative advantage. But most importantly, networked literacy is necessary to know what to promote and what to safeguard against, in order to make the most of the transformative web.

The return of social capital, part 1

Henry Jenkin’s blog of his interview with S. Craig Watkins resonated with my own passion about the role that social media is playing in restoring social capital in everyday lives. I will post a few blogs on this and related topics over the next few weeks. In future postings I’ll also be expressing my views on the role sociology has in gaining a better understanding and clarity about all of this.

The main thrust of this posting is to contrast the destructive role that TV has played in regard to social capital, with the role that social media is playing in generating social capital.

To begin with allow me to clarity what I mean when using the term ‘social capital’. I’m sure there are any number of interpretations but for me what get’s my juices flowing is the quality and ease of connections that bind people and communities together. I’m referring to the ability of people to connect with others, to share things and to express themselves. The social glue that’s forged is based on mutual trust and reciprocity.

While the 20th century was an age of transformative technological and economic change and a  rise in corporate institutional power over people in developed and developing countries, it was also a time of a great winding back of the social ties that bind friends and families together. Now, there are a whole bunch of factors behind that such as suburbanisation and geo-physical division between home and work, household and family and play and civic activities; both parents in the workforce; the diaspora associated with globalisation and the relative ease and low cost of travel… and the role of the media. With the separation of home from work and shopping and so on, there have been far fewer opportunities for neighborliness, the forging of mutual trust and reciprocity that comes from regular social interaction. Social dislocation lies behind some of the feelings of distrust and loose relationships between employees and employers and in the political process and the everyday lives of people. There other factors too but that’s enough to paint the picture.

The role that media has played in the weakening of social capital has been through reducing people to passive, socially isolated consumers of content. Watkins spoke of sociologist Robert Putnam’s findings about TV watching, in particular that it “comes at the expense of nearly every social activity outside the home, resulting in the erosion of social capital”. That is not always the case of course. Major sporting events televised live are often shared with groups of people. But the isolating nature of TV that I refer to makes up the bulk of viewing time.

And so to the clarity that Watkins brings to understanding what attracts so many people to computer and mobile screens in the 21st century. A common perception among digital immigrants is that time spent with small digital screens is unsocial. Watkins found that time on digital screens is “first and foremost a social activity”.  Instead of “screen time” being a social dislocation, computing screen time is, increasingly, time to connect with others, share things and to express yourself. Time spent connecting via a mobile or social network site is time spent in expression and sharing. Time spent on mobiles and online is time spend creating, shaping and influencing content.

Watkins suggest that “…if network TV is to have a meaningful future it will have to permit its audience to not only access content across multiple platforms but also encourage audiences to shape and influence content, too”. The operative action here is being permissive.  That means letting go of control and going with the flow. Letting go of control brings new challenges to maintain the relationship…like forging mutual trust and reciprocity. TV must go social to survive. I suspect there are similar challenges for other 20th century institutions.

Government 2.0: no change without culture shift

Australian Government 2.0 Taskforce member Martin Stewart-Weeks has put up a really good posting on the culture shift necessary to thrive in the Web 2.0 world. Martin’s posting revealed a deep knowledge of the societal issues involved in online engagement, issues that are far more challenging than designing or selecting Web 2.0 tools.

The challenges and opportunities outlined in Martin’s posting are challenges and opportunities for citizens and lobbyists as well as for public servants and policy makers. Here is a taste of what he had to say:

As governments and the public sector start to do the same [get value from Web 2.0], they will encounter the same challenge as others have, which is that these new tools don’t just change structures and processes, they change behaviour as well. In order to thrive in this kind of world – connected, contingent, collaborative – you have to adopt a certain set of behaviours that are similarly open, interactive and engaged. The obvious conclusion is simple, but demanding – no change without culture shift.

This is the big challenge underlying the ability for governments to make the most of this new way of working and these new tools for democratic conversation. If they want to use them to improve the design of public services, to empower citizens to use information to create new services themselves or to harness more powerful combinations of knowledge and expertise for better policy, then they have to embrace the consequent shift of culture and behaviour too.

As it turns out, this is much harder than it sounds in the public sector, although it’s true that it’s turned out to be much harder in the corporate sector too (even though they might not always admit it). As the Issues Paper points out, we’ve spent quite some time defining what it is that constitutes the requisite behaviour from a public servant, including things like impartiality, balance, fairness and the absence of partisan political advocacy.

The problem, though, is that these definitions were shaped in a world fundamentally different to the one which ‘government 2.0’ is ushering in, including especially the speed with which issues emerge and change, the level of transparency about government thinking and activity and the complexity of the ideas and inputs now clamouring not just to be heard but to be influential.

Somehow we have to find a way for public servants to be able to engage with this world on terms that are both satisfying and safe. Assuming that the twin extremes of prohibition and unfettered licence are unlikely to work, we have to set about finding some new territory somewhere along that spectrum that is fit for purpose.

I have no idea where that point on the spectrum is. My inclination is to be more permissive than not. But perhaps more useful than any single attempt to pick the new sweet spot is to encourage a process of active and energetic experimentation that will get us closer to that outcome, and more quickly, than simply sitting around talking about it.”

Martin went on to say that “For the public sector too, the rising demand for innovation in policy development, program design and delivery and organisational practice is enabled, and sometimes accelerated, by the new tools themselves. In that sense, the rapid spread of use and influence by social networking technologies, and the habits of mind and culture that they reflect and reinforce, is becoming an inescapable feature of public innovation in its own right.”

I found Martin’s description of Web 2.0 to be a good supplement the Issues Paper released by the Taskforce earlier this month. Although the paper provided a good overview of the aim and benefits of Government 2.0, there was one sticking point for me. To say that “The central theme of Web 2.0 is moving away from point to point communications and towards many to many communication and collaboration” just does not sit right with me. For a start the term ‘point to point’ is a technical one and not explained in the paper. Point to point communication is defined by some as direct communication between two end points not using the internet (such as a two-way telephone call). And by others it is used in a broadcasting sense, say like radio communication between two fixed stations. As for me, the central theme of Web 2.0 is participation & interaction. Pure and simple.

Biodiversity and water scarcity – what role for social media?

I participated in a sustainability forum hosted by Melbourne consultancy group Futureye yesterday. This posting provides a brief overview of the issues and notes the role that ICT’s play – and might play even more –  in the process.

Guest speaker was Dr Megan Clark, CEO, CSIRO. The theme of Dr Clark’s presentation was on the coming together of three tempests: the global financial crisis, climate change and the greatest migration of humankind to urban areas in the world’s history that may mark a fundamental turning point in the evolution of the world’s economy. In meeting the ensuing challenges, Dr Clark believes that society needs to move from a paradigm of resource exploitation to one where ecosystems and their services are properly valued. This is starting to occur in terms of the increasing commoditisation of water and carbon. She suggests that the same will inevitably need to happen with the biodiverisity and ecosystems that provide our food and amenity values.

The new scarcities in society are water and biodiversity. If ecosystems were to be valued on Australia’s balance sheet they would show as diminishing assets – although Australia has a comparatively rich biodiversity to other countries apparently. On the liability side of such a balance sheet would be carbon – too much carbon in the air that is. Even though our knowledge of biodiversity is relatively low, making it difficult to value, increasing scarcity awareness has given rise to venture capitalists buying rights to biodiverse land. Thinking of reviewing superannuation plans anyone?

In comparison, Australia knows more about water and the value of it – an outcome that the CSIRO has contributed significantly to. In developing and continuing to build on our knowledge about water, the CSIRO has developed a Water Resources Observation Network (WRON).  In developing WRON, the CSIRO use sensor networks in rivers, web robots in its distributed ICT network, and platforms such as Google Maps to monitor and record rainfall events and monitor dam levels. “Web-based reporting tools can be delivered to suit the individual needs of various end-users, and raw data, forecasts and predictions processed by sophisticated computer models can be used to support and justify informed management decisions” (extract from WRON website).

While I feel that the CSIRO is showing great leadership, I wondered what greater role communications and media might play, not only in monitoring and reporting on the state of play with regards to water and biodiversity, but in building awareness and motivating action. In response to my question along those lines, Dr Clark said that the CSIRO are still learning how to utilise these tools to much greater effect. That’s good – let’s watch this space. At this stage though, I can’t help but feel that  communications and media has a greater role to play – particularly social media – in building awareness, in contributing data, and in creating valuations for our scarce resources. For there is one significant difference between the early 21st century and the prior history of humankind: we know have information abundance together with the potential for massively networked social action. Powerful forces indeed that could be harnessed to help meet the challenges of the three tempests.