Service Nova Scotia eyes Web 2.0 opportunities

NIAGARA ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. – Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations is hoping to increase the value of what it offers local residents and businesses by studying the way Web 2.0 tools work, according to its deputy minister.

In an interview with at this year’s Lac Carling Congress, Greg Keefe said he was intrigued by sessions featuring high-profile government officials who discussed the ways they are using online applications to better share information and encourage collaboration with citizens. Although Service Nova Scotia isn’t a Web 2.0 adopter yet, that could change soon.

“I think there’s a real opportunity to move past consultation (with citizens) for much deeper engagement,” said Keefe. “We’re in many ways the tech shop for government. So if anyone is going to deploy (Web 2.0), it’s going to be us.”

Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations operates in 54 communities across the province and handles a variety of transactions for businesses and consumers. These include offering driver’s licences, registering vehicles and debtor counseling, among others. Many of these services are already offered through its Web site.

Keefe said the level of engagement online tools provide may depend on the service itself. Vehicle registration, for example, is the kind of thing that might only happen once every couple of years, but about three years ago Service Nova Scotia began offering a way for truck drivers to get special permits they often need for long hauls.

“It’s a very competitive business,” Keefe explained, “and our offices are usually only open from 8:00 in the morning to 8:00 at night, so this provided them an after-hours option.”

Web 2.0 could potentially provide more opportunity for two-way interactions with government, Keefe said, including policy development. Citizens might use a wiki, for instance, to voice their concerns around land use in their municipality. The trick will be creating an online environment that recognizes the context of what people are trying to say.

“Sometimes you need a way to say, ‘This is just my opinion, not the opinion of my company,'” he said. “A lot of Web 2.0 is much more free-flowing than that. It comes down to a matter of trust.”

Brian MacLeod, chief architect for the Canadian Public Sector at Open Text Corp., said some Web 2.0 tools, like wikis, work best in an internal setting where everyone knows everybody else.

“It’s great when you can use a wiki to explore ideas instead of sending around an e-mail to 15 people with an attachment,” he said. “In other areas you’re looking at applied control versus trusted content.”

Keefe said if Service Nova Scotia goes down the Web 2.0 path, it will have to be simple.

“I look at it like a service utility – people don’t want to know about all the pipes and the water treatment and all that,” he said. “They just want clean drinking water. The same is true here. They don’t care about all the back end. They just want access to the features.”

Lac Carling 2008 wraps up Tuesday.

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