The social web and the public sector

September 1, 2011 | Author: | Posted in Uncategorized

In 2006, at a time when the New Zealand National Police was under a great deal of scrutiny, the New Zealand Parliament directed the Minister of Police to rewrite the 50 year old Police Act. The task fell to v Police Superintendent Hamish McArdle, who immediately created a task force and asked them for their suggestions o how to accomplish the task.

Because of the spotlight they were under, the task force decided that the traditional methods of consultancy – which usually involved using a set of consultants who would write a document and then perhaps post it in the public library – would not suffice this time around. Instead, the superintendent asked his team, “How can we connect with people about what kind of policy they want to govern their police in the 21st century?” To answer that, the superintendent and his team determined that their effort would be driven by two criteria – transparency and engaging as many people as possible in the process.

An open and transparent process, they felt, would go a long way toward removing the suspicion and cynicism that the New Zealand public felt toward their police. In order to further build trust, they had to go beyond the usual experts they might consult on this matter and reach deep into the people they serve – including youth and minorities – to get their input and opinions.

They decided on a two-year phased approach using multiple methods to obtain the input they wanted and needed. In addition to traditional means of obtaining input, they decided to turn to the Web – especially the tools available through Web 2.0 – as the key part of their strategy. After a great deal of experimentation, they succeeded in finding the right balance of tools to get the input they needed. In fact, it was during their final phase when they posted a wiki to help them write the act itself that they began to see the true value of the Web 2.0 tools they were using, as they began receiving as many as 10,000 inputs a day. And while that’s not to say that all of the inputs were useful, McArdle believes that using Web 2.0 in the way they did was the key to the success of their initiative.

“One of the key outcomes,” McArdle said during an interview, “was to help the parliamentarians know that our product was well consulted – that it had community buy-in.” Another surprising result was the new ideas they received. “If this was a good process you would think we’d have heard all the ideas there could be. But the wiki brought in fresh ideas. While most of the ideas haven’t been accepted this time around, they’ve introduced new ideas, ones we wouldn’t have thought of, and brought a creative tension to the debate.”

In other words, it accomplished precisely what they wanted it to accomplish and more. It wasn’t easy. As McArdle freely admits, there were a lot of failures along the way – it wasn’t a case of build it and they will come. In fact, they did build it and found that few were interested and no one came. But at the end of the day, the utilization of Web 2.0 tools for policy deliberation and development proved to be a major success and a model for what we might look forward to in the future.

Author bio:

Himanshu is a web service consultant and advises small & medium businesses in India for search engine optimization, internet marketing, social media marketing, web designing and web development.To know more about social web visit at

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