Peter Shergold.

Peter Shergold.

The public service must find the will to vastly extend its embrace of social media to create a "digital democracy" marked by far greater citizen participation.

That's the recipe given by Peter Shergold, a former head of the Department Prime Minister and Cabinet, for transforming the Australian Public Service.

The challenges facing the public service require a different type, not just an improved version of what already exists, he says.

"The potential for democratic renaissance will require a new type of public servant, no longer just the policy adviser, the legislative drafter, the regulator, the service provider or the contractor but the facilitator," he says.

"These will be public servants who take pride in operating at the centre of reinvigorated democratic processes."

In a wide-ranging analysis, Professor Shergold, now Chancellor of the University of Western Sydney, says Australia needs to rebuild and rearticulate the structures of democratic governance, recognising that it requires greater collaboration between the public sector and the private and community sectors.

"New forms of partnership are required to provide public benefit in unexpected ways and, in the process, to revitalise participatory engagement of citizens in the life of the nation," he says in an article in the Australian Journal of Public Administration.

"To achieve these goals the operation of public services (collectively) and the role of public servants (individually) will have to be transformed.

"The good news is that in this digital age there exists the technological capacity to create interactive democratic processes.

"E-government presently remains too narrowly conceived as the provision of government information or basic transactions, its ambit can be vastly extended.

"No longer is it necessary for political influence to be wielded through the traditional approaches of industry lobbying or community advocacy.

"The opportunity now exists to harness the wisdom of the citizenry in service design through on-line forums and wiki approaches to program improvement and legislative reform.

"Social media offers the means to create digital democracy, marked by far greater citizen participation.

"The tradition of town-hall meetings and written submissions to public enquiries can be revitalised in virtual ways, unconstrained by time or place.

"More direct forms of citizen engagement are already available.

"What is needed is the will to use the accessibility of ICT for democratic purpose.