December 19, 2003 | Graham

Queensland opposition launches “dobber” Internet site

National Party leader Lawrence Springborg has taken an early lead in the Queensland election cyber race with a “dobber” site. While the major parties have their own slick campaigning sites, Springborg’s is the first, to my knowledge, to venture where the ’net demands you go: the frightening (to political minders especially) world of interactivity.
Springborg’s site invites residents to send him tip-offs about government waste. As it stands it is little more than the front-end to a postbox. You can log on and fill in a form which generates a report to the webmaster so that it can be dealt with.
Why would you use this site? I’m not sure. It does make submission of ideas easier, particularly if you are sitting in front of a computer most of the day, but this could in fact be a negative. If there is serious abuse or misuse of government money, then surely someone who wanted to report it would be motivated enough to use the traditional means of letter, phone or face to face. A system which is too easy to use, and which facilitates anonymity, is likely to generate its own waste by producing too many unsubstantiated, trivial and potentially mischievous claims.
In fact, allowing anonymity almost guarantees a good feed of the trivial, because it suggests you are not putting a really high value on the information that you are receiving.
Perhaps the site will develop over time. The Internet is great for fishing expeditions, but you need to put the cyber equivalent of burley into the water to get the fish really excited. While some of the informants will want to be anonymous, others will want full recognition of their contributions. That means, if they post to the site, they should be able to see their contributions up on the site as well as the contributions of others. They should also be able to see the results of tip-offs. To encourage certain types of feedback the site should also feature issues that the Opposition is currently pursuing – nothing like priming the pumps. a pioneering Australian consumer website does most of these things very well.
Of course campaign managers will be concerned about publishing too much information lest the Government take advantage of it. In some exceptional cases this will be a legitimate concern because the issue will need a high impact media campaign to find the mark. But there should be a lot of more minor issues which will never be significant enough to be upfront in the campaign, but which deserve to be aired. There is undoubtedly an audience for this sort of information for which this site could become an alternative media source.
Once an issue is aired on the site it also gives the Opposition the initiative. If the government fixes any of the problems that appear on the site, no matter how advanced the solution was before it became public, the Opposition can claim the credit. In fact, the government potentially loses the ability to claim any credit for issues that the Opposition and its army of waste vigilantes raises. The site can also operate as a media center for the press, giving them a fund of stories for those slow news days.
To his credit Springborg says that the site “will continue to operate if the National-Liberal Coalition is elected to office”. This is a claim to be cached for later reference, just in case. Peter Beattie should pre-empt the Opposition initiative by launching his own “dobber” site to prove that even though he is in government he is still listening to the electorate.
I’m not sure how serious the Opposition is about the site, so I’ve designed a real world experiment. I dropped them a note using their form, and suggested that someone call me. I’ll let you know the time and date when that happens. That will be a real indicator as to how long Springborg is likely to keep his cyber lead.

Posted by Graham at 12:11 pm | Comments (1) |
Filed under: Uncategorized

1 Comment

  1. Thanks, Graham – nice to catch up with you.

    Comment by Roger Harcourt — December 22, 2003 @ 8:32 am

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