[LINK] Australian Government Web Publishing Guide Review

Tom Worthington Tom.Worthington at tomw.net.au
Fri Jul 3 08:51:46 AEST 2009

The Department of Finance and Deregulation is reviewing the Web 
Publishing Guide provided for federal government agencies 
<http://webpublishing.agimo.gov.au/>. I went along to a Focus Group 
Session on Thursday, run by TNS Social Research. This was 
entertaining, if not very useful. There is another group scheduled 
for early July.

Another of the participants was Pia Waugh, policy advisor to Senator 
Lundy, who sat through the whole session happily making notes on her 
3G enabled sub-notebook. Also present was one of the most experienced 
web experts in government service and a government web master. This 
was a very opinionated group of people for any researcher to handle, 
but they handled us well.

There were two government representatives observing from another room 
by video camera. Along with the plate of chocolate biscuits and the 
weak instant coffee, this made it seem a little too much like an 
episode from the ABC TV comedy "The Hollowmen".

What we were there for was explained to us, we introduced ourselves 
and then were asked questions about the Web Publishing Guide. This 
was frustrating, as the questions tended to be about if we liked the 
web site, while we wanted to discuss policy behind the guidelines.

The Web Publishing Guide is fine, with a good web site. However, many 
of the issues we discussed were problems with policy, not layout. As 
an example the Copyright Notices for government web pages are clearly 
articulated in the guide, but the policy is outdated and 
counter-productive. Similarly the "Branding" is clearly stated, but 
is contrary to good web design principles, as well as wasting 
government ICT resources.

A major problem with the web guidelines is that they are separate 
from other government publishing guidance. The excellent "Style 
manual" is now a commercial publication not available electronically. 
This reflects the lack of a coherent information policy in the 
Australian Government.

No doubt those undertaking this review are expert in focus groups and 
are well meaning. However, it was an irony worthy of "The Hollowmen" 
that I could not comment on web publishing via the web and instead 
had to travel to the other side of Canberra to do so in person.

Those who initiated this focus group need to start using ICT to 
develop and promulgate ICT policy. The obvious first step in 
consulting about web guidelines is via the web.

Senator Lundy and Pia Waugh demonstrated how to do government policy 
in the Internet age last week with the "Government 2.0" event at 
Parliament House. We blogged, we Twittered, we streamed, we talked 
and now the results are being turned into government policy proposals 
via a Wiki <http://wiki.katelundy.com.au/PublicSphere2>.

More than ten years ago Geoff Huston gave a powerful presentation to 
government and industry in Canberra about the role of the Internet. 
He described the OSI protocol favoured by government as a small 
creature about to be squashed by the oncoming Internet juggernaut on 
the information superhighway. Events have proven him correct and 
those of us who were still supporting GOSIP were wrong.

A new analogy is needed for a new millennium. Perhaps we could say 
that government policy makers are large fish swimming around in a 
small pond of information. The pond is shrinking by the day, as the 
real information evaporates into the Internet cloud. The policy 
makers need to evolve or be left stuck in the mud.

I will be teaching how to use the web for developing complex 
strategies from July at the Australian National University, in the 
course "COMP7310: Green ICT Strategies"  (it is not too late to 
enroll): <http://cs.anu.edu.au/students/comp7310/>.

More comments and links in my blog: 

Tom Worthington FACS HLM tom.worthington at tomw.net.au Ph: 0419 496150
Director, Tomw Communications Pty Ltd            ABN: 17 088 714 309
PO Box 13, Belconnen ACT 2617                      http://www.tomw.net.au/
Adjunct Senior Lecturer, Australian National University  

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