How Asia is taking the Gov 2.0 lead and Australia needs to look north for inspiration

Over the last few days in Singapore I’ve had the opportunity to have some very interesting discussions with government and academic representatives about the state of egovernance and Government 2.0 across Asia – perspectives we all too rarely hear in Australia.

This is a major shame for government officials in Australia, who are not exposed as regularly to the fantastic insights and practices from countries that are, in some areas, leading Australia in their online engagement.

For example, South Korea has been rated first in egovernment globally since 2010 by the UN in their bi-annual E-government survey. In the latest 2012 result, Australia is ranked 12th, third in Asia-Pacific behind South Korea (1st) and then Singapore (10th) but ahead of New Zealand (13th) and Japan (18th).

I was fortunately enough to speak with a representative of the Ministry in South Korea responsible for their egovernment program and it is clear why they have achieved that position.

With support from their President down, a mandated government CIO role, long-term development strategy over more than ten years focusing on both supply (IT infrastructure) and demand (usability and access), the commitment of 1% of the government’s budget to the provision of e-services and infrastructure and a unified whole of government change program to educate and support public servants, South Korea has hit the mark on the right way to implement a major change in national institutions.

Other countries in Asia are also being dynamic and adapting to their increasingly vocal online audiences.

Malaysia, where around 60% of the population have internet access, has over 12 million Facebook users and roughly 1.6 million active Twitter users – similar to Australia’s 11.5 million and 2 million respectively. With a promise made in 1998 by the government to keep the internet censor-free, Malaysian government Ministers and Departments are making broader use of blogs for civil engagement than their counterparts in Australia.

Brunei, a small developed Asian nation that some Australians may not even be aware of (as it has only 400,000 people and a land area roughly twice that of the ACT), collaborated with South Korea to recently launch an E-Government Innovation Centre (eG InC.) designed to help the government achieve the Brunei 2035 target to establish a knowledge-based economy. The eG InC. was recognised in the 2012 Futuregov awards, winning the citizen engagement award.

I also learnt this trip about Singapore’s appointment of a Chief of Government Communications, a new role created from 1 July 2012 designed to support co-ordination, information and resource sharing across the communications teams within Singaporean national government departments.

The Singaporean government created this role after the ruling party received the lowest vote in their history and recognised that government communication was an area that could be improved to better serve citizen needs.

Some might note similarities to the situation in Australia, if not in the governance solution.

One of the initiatives launched since this appointment has been a national conversation with Singaporeans regarding their issues and expectations towards 2030, involving a year long process to engage the entire nation in identifying major concerns and trends which the government can influence.

These are only some of the stories I’ve heard over the last few days, but are representative of the steps forward being taken in Asia to adopt digital and web 2.0 technologies to improve governance and drive future productivity and national wellbeing.

While Australia has many notable achievements in the Government 2.0 area, and I was able to share a number of them with people from across the region on this trip, there is much for Australian governments to learn from the approaches being taken in nations to our near north, as well as from those far to our west such as in Europe and the Americas.

With the release of the Australian Government’s Australia in the Asian Century white paper – which was favourably commented on by many I’ve met this trip – it is time for public servants to look north for innovations and inspirations, as well as west.

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