Yesterday I attended Public Sphere 2 which was run by Senator Kate Lundy in the main committee room at Parliament House. The topic of this Public Sphere was Open Government: Policy & Practice, all Public Spheres run by Kate Lundy have the over arching topic of Government 2.0. My role in yesterdays event was to monitor the twitter stream for questions put to individual speakers and to retweet outstanding relevant tweets as well as intermittently tweeting the latest stats on the #publicsphere hash tag.
One thing which astounded me was that there were virtually no questions directed at speakers from the twitter stream after an initial burst of 10 questions during the first morning session. There was only one single question directed at a speaker during the rest of the day. To give some perspective on this there were 31 presentations and during the first session there were 4 speakers, why were there no questions from the twitter stream for the other 26 presentations. This was a stark contrast to how the twitter stream behaved during the first Public Sphere, there were way too many questions from the twitter stream during Public Sphere 1, we had to choose only 2 questions per speaker.
I thought about it today and I believe the reason for this is the subject matter of Public Sphere 2. Public sphere 1 was about the National Broadband Network and how high speed broadband would change the way we use the Internet. This is a very hot topic for all Australians and is not just a topic for people who have a strong interest in Government, therefore the audience were more informed and more passionate about the broadband topic and already had a very strongly formed opinion on the topic. Hence way more questions were put to speakers. The broad topic of Government policy regarding Government 2 had not already been a hot topic on twitter hence the majority of twitter users who participated were less prepared.
The lack of questions from the twitter stream did not particularly worry me yesterday as the twitter stream was going ballistic, it was extremely hard to keep up with it and remain focused. My eyes never left the screen except for a period when the wifi went awry. Over 2600 tweets flew past my eyes yesterday, from over 300 participants. The topic is still doing well today and the tweets are up to over 2700 tweets with 322 participants. I have left my hash tag search in place from yesterday and have again been monitoring the stream today and answering questions where I can.
In fact the conversation in the stream has turned to an effort to expand Public Sphere and take it to the NSW Government with many contributors very eager to see this happen. I see this as a natural stepping stone to expanding the Public Sphere model we have developed across all levels of Government, this will give all levels of Government easy access to public opinion on Government making it incredibly open and collaborative.