Australia, U.K. put government data online

Australians like "blegs" on their blogs

Australia's government is using Facebook to sign up firefighting volunteers. The United Kingdom now offers links to data on neighborhoods and schools.

Governments in both countries are putting agency data online for the first time to make it accessible to the public, officials said at the Gov. 2.0 Expos on May 26.

In Australia, a task force of experts drew up a Government 2.0 plan to publish data and engage the public with wikis, blogs and social media. The central government drew up policies for public service employees.

“Under the guidelines for online engagement, the idea is to be apolitical, professional and respectful, and to engage in robust policy discussions,” Nicholas Gruen, who chaired the Government 2.0 task force, said at a seminar at the Expo.

The principles have been applied in public Web sites to help students search for college programs, to assist the public in locating public toilets, and to include comments from the public in a review of tax policies. The government’s Facebook page for signing up and honoring firefighting volunteers has attracted more than 9,000 fans, he said.

One popular method of engagement is to ask the public’s help in solving a problem by posting a “bleg,” which is a question posted on a blog, Gruen said.

Another idea is to offer customized information to people willing to provide their personal information, said Kate Lundy, a member of the Australian Parliament. For example, a visitor to a Web site on school choices would instantly receive responses to queries, but if people choese to provide further details about their situations— such as age, sex, level of education or income — the site offers much more tailored and detailed information, she said.

“If you give me more information, you get more service,” Lundy said.

In the U.K., the government uses the data.gov.uk Web site to offer government data to the public in linked formats. Tim Berners-Lee, who headed a task force on open government, said there is some competition with the White House’s Data.gov, which offers federal data sets online.

“Data.gov opened first, but data.gov.uk had more information on it,” Berners-Lee said. “We have seen them leapfrogging over each other.”

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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