I’ve been a volunteer with OpenAustralia for some time now, and I don’t think I’ve talked enough about why I admire this project so much, and why I think it’s so important. It’s because I believe in transparent, accountable and accessible government. It’s because I believe in removing the obstacles which keep people from participating in their government. And it’s because I believe in enabling and encouraging greater use of technology, especially for education. OpenAustralia supports and is informed by all these beliefs. It empowers people to use technology tools to educate themselves and participate more fully in their own government.
We’re lucky enough to have a pool of volunteer developers across Australia who are busy working on improving and extending the functionality of the OpenAustralia website and its underlying software. For example, there’s now a mobile version of OpenAustralia, and there are also a couple of nifty new features which make it easier to share and republish information from the website. You’ll now see a “Share this” button next to every speech on the OA website, so you can easily share it via social networking sites. And, for WordPress users, there’s now a PoliPress plugin that lets you easily import speeches to your wordpress blog for commentary or discussion. See the OpenAustralia news post “OpenAustralia goes mobile and gets social” for further information.
I also wanted to mention a very cool school outreach program which was developed by the Victorian Electoral Commission, called Passport to Democracy. It’s aimed at Year 9-10 students, and it’s a program which teachers can use to teach students about how the election process works, by getting students to identify and research issues that they care about, then getting them to vote on which issue they want to take local action on. I love this program for many reasons. It encourages students to think about how they can take action locally on something they care about, rather than removing them from the process by encouraging them to send a letter to their MP and sit back and wait for someone else to take action on their behalf. It is getting them to vote for ideas they care about, rather than a more abstract notion of a political party or official.
If you are a Victorian teacher (or want to recommend this program to your local teacher or high school), then visit the VEC’s Passport to Democracy page, or go to their Edublog, where you can get more information about the program, and read some feedback from a teacher at Strathmore High School.