The Open Victoria Project: Open-Government Widgets for Enhanced Citizen-Government Dialogue

This is a project I am trying to develop at the moment. It is a proposal for a small prototype project. Any takers?

Synopsis

Opening of the 57th Parliament, 21 December 2010

The Open Victoria Project will investigate and improve access to online Victorian State Government knowledge bases in a high-capacity broadband era. The project will repurpose and make available a set of portable generic widget applications for a new type of civic engagement that includes the capacity for users to selectively choose from data and video sources aggregated from parliament and online political environments (ie. ‘issue crawling’). The project will a) audit the data already being released by state government particularly within the Victorian Public Sector Information Release Framework (PSRIF) and 2) specify the additional data sources—beyond, for example, Hansard and Legislation and Bill—that may need to be released.[1] The data identified will be incorporated in the Open Victoria Project within a Personal Learning Environment (PLE) educational-context, encouraging civic participation in governance, citizen-government dialogue, and better understandings of the democratic choices available to citizens. Included will also be a widget that tracks selected MPs in terms of their parliamentary and committee activities, contextualised with documents, videos and other relevant media. The outputs of the investigation will promote openness, accountability and strong democracy in the state of Victoria through leveraging at a state level the Federal Government’s investment in the National Broadband Network (NBN).

The increased penetration of high-capacity broadband into domestic spaces and civic society creates the imperative that government respond appropriately through creating the ‘democratic services and associated applications that may be used online or through other new broadband enabled convergent devices, such as smart TVs and mobile pads.

Summary of proposal

The Open Victoria Project will be a theoretically informed, prototype platform that exposes parliamentary information as well as citizen produced information in a way that it is useful for the promotion of a two-way dialogue between political representatives and the public. It will do this through an approach that utilises communication tools and services that largely already exist (such as iGoogle, Twitter, Facebook etc.), but have not been fully utilised nor understood in a political sense, by the public, civil society, pressure groups, associations  nor by elected representatives.  Rather than building a completely new platform, as has been the case with a number of somewhat underutilised government initiatives, the project will take advantage of largely existing and heavily used social network platforms and provide tools and services to augment their existing capacity for informing and communicating government policy processes. There is already a movement in this direction through the large EU funded WeGov project, Google widgets, and other significant projects in the US and Europe.[2]

The Open Victoria Project aligns the Victorian Government’s own Government 2.0 action plan; particularly in terms of the priority areas of ‘engaging communities and citizens’ and ‘opening up government data to promote greater transparency’.[3] The data will be searchable by geo-location, post-code, and trending issues, as well as by legislation and MP, and will provide tools and methods to encourage the relationship between government and polity; particularly in terms of the ‘socialisation’ of government data. As the Victorian Government 2.0 Action Plan states:

Research has found that usage of social media and social networking sites has increased with 45% of Australians reporting regular use, up from 38% in 2008. This growth is across all age groups although there are differences in patterns and type of use between age groups. For example, older Australians are now responsible for expanding the reach of online social networking, indicating that Web 2.0 is not just a Gen Y phenomenon. There has also been a significant increase in use of the Internet to interact with government and a corresponding reduction in traditional methods of communication, such as by mail or in-person.[4]

 In summary, the aims of the project are to:

  • Audit the ‘democratic data’ being released under the Victorian Public Sector Information Release Framework (PSRIF) including video and other large data sources;
  • To identify the gaps, both institutionally and technically, and indicate the additional data sources that may need to be released and how and how broadband may enable this.
  • Aggregate data released under the PSRIF so that is may be ‘socialised’ within existing social networks.
  • Build a set of generic and transposable widgets utilising a Personal Learning Environment conceptual framework

Conclusion: Project Outcomes:

The chief significance of this research is that it will contribute to civic society, to the democratic participation, to a better informed citizenry and legislature, and to our growing knowledge of the impact of high-speed computing networks on the democratic processes. The NBN will drive the adoption of a large number of devices and services and it is vital that ‘democratic services’ are developed as a part of this and that ongoing research is undertaken. ‘Smart’ and ‘Hybrid’ Television and hand-held and other devises connected to the NBN offer enormous opportunity for politics; both formal and informal. It is vital that we understand these newer forms of information politics and the ‘democratic services’ that are required to benefit from the platforms that are already in popular use. Project outcomes include:

  • A published audit of the ‘democratic data’ that is being released by the Victorian Public Sector Information Release Framework (PSRIF)
  • Published recommendations on the nature and extent of additional data and information that needs to be released and in what form (ie. including which web services end-points are available)
  • A test-bed prototype utilising the NeCTAR cloud and the IBES test bed consisting of a generic widget-style system to utilise government data on high-performance broadband networks
  • A prototype utilising a Personal Learning Environment (PLE) conceptual framework to add-value to the information sources gathered


[2]  WeGov Project, Seventh Framework Programme, EU, http://www.wegov-project.eu/ (Accessed 15 June 2012).

[3] Government 2.0 Action Plan Victoria, eGovernment Resource Centre, State Government Victoria,    <http://www.egov.vic.gov.au/victorian-government-resources/government-2-0-action-plan/government-2-0-action-plan-victoria.html> (Accessed 15 June, 2012).

[4] Ibid

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