FWD50 Keynote: The Tipping Point

I was invited to an incredible and inaugural conference in Canada called FWD50 which was looking at the next 50 days, months and years for society. It had a digital government flavour to it but had participants and content from various international, national and sub-national governments, civil society, academia, industry and advocacy groups. The diversity of voices in the room was good and the organisers committed to greater diversity next year. I gave my keynote as an independent expert and my goal was to get people thinking bigger than websites and mobile apps, to dream about the sort of future we want as a society (as a species!) and work towards that. As part of my talk I also explored what the big paradigm shifts have happened (note the past tense) and potential roles for government (particularly the public sector) in a hyper connected, distributed network of powerful individuals. My slides are available here (simple though they are). It wasn’t recorded but I did an audio recording and transcribed. I was unwell and had lost my voice so this is probably better anyway :)

The tipping point and where do we go from here

I’ve been thinking a lot over many years about change and the difference between iteration and transformation, about systems, about what is going on in the big picture, because what I’m seeing around the world is a lot of people iterating away from pain but not actually iterating towards a future. Looking for ways to solve the current problem but not rethinking or reframing in the current context. I want to talk to you about the tipping point.

We invented all of this. This is worth taking a moment to think. We invented every system, every government, every means of production, we organised ourselves into structures and companies, all the things we know, we invented. By understanding we invented we can embrace the notice we aren’t stuck with it. A lot of people start from the normative perspective that it is how it is and how do we improve it slightly but we don’t have to be constrained to assumption because *we* invented it. We can take a formative approach.

The reason this is important is because the world has fundamentally changed. The world has started from a lot of assumptions. This (slide) is a map of the world as it was known at the time, and it was known for a long time to be flat. And at some point it became known that the world was not flat and people had to change their perspective. If we don’t challenge those assumptions that underpin our systems, we run the significant risk of recreating the past with shiny new things. If we take whatever the shiny thing is today, like blockchain or social media 10 years ago, and take that shiny thing to do what we have always done, then how are we progressing? We are just “lifting and shifting” as they like to say, which as a technologist is almost the worst thing I can hear.

Actually understanding the assumptions that underpin what we do, understanding the goal that we have and what we are trying to achieve, and actually having to make sure that we intentionally choose to move forward with the assumptions that we want to take into the future is important because a lot of the biases and assumptions that underpin the systems that we have today were forged centuries or even millennia ago. A long time before the significant paradigm shifts we have seen.

So I’m going to talk a little bit about how things have changed. It’s not that the tipping point is happening. The tipping point has already happened. We have seen paradigm shifts with legacy systems of power and control. Individuals are more individually powerful than ever in the history of our species. If you think way back in hunter and gatherer times, everyone was individually pretty powerful then, but it didn’t scale. When we moved to cities we actually started to highly specialise and become interdependent and individually less powerful because we made these systems of control that were necessary to manage the surplus of resource, necessary to manage information. But what’s happened now through the independence movements creating a culture of everyone being individually powerful through individual worthy of rights, and then more recently with the internet becoming a distributor, enabler and catalyst of that, we are now seeing power massively distributed.

Think about it. Any individual around the world that can get online, admittedly that’s only two thirds of us but it’s growing every day, and everyone has the power to publish, to create, to share, to collaborate, to collude, to monitor. It’s not just the state monitoring the people but the people monitoring the state and people monitoring other people. There is the power to enforce your own perspective. And it doesn’t actually matter whether you think it’s a good or bad thing, it is the reality. It’s the shift. And if we don’t learn to embrace, understand and participate in it,particularly in government, then we actually make ourselves less relevant. Because one of the main things about this distribution of power, that the internet has taught us fundamentally as part of our culture that we have all started to adopt, is that you can route around damage. The internet was set up to be able to route around damage where damage was physical or technical. We started to internalise that socially and if you, in government, are seen to be damage, then people route around you. This is why we have to learn to work as a node in a network, not just a king in a castle, because kings don’t last anymore.

So which way is forward. The priority now needs to be deciding what sort of future do we want. Not what sort of past do we want to escape. The 21st century sees many communities emerging. They are hyper connected, transnational, multicultural, heavily interdependent, heavily specialised, rapidly changing and disconnected from their geopolitical roots. Some people see that as a reason to move away from having geopolitically formed states. Personally I believe there will always be a role for a geographic state because I need a way to scale a quality of life for my family along with my fellow citizens and neighbours. But what does that mean in an international sense. Are my rights as a human being being realised in a transnational sense. There are some really interesting questions about the needs of users beyond the individual services that we deliver, particularly when you look in a transnational way.

So a lot of these assumptions have become like a rusty anchor that kept us in place in high tide, but are drawing us to a dangerous reef as to water lowers. We need to figure out how to float on the water without rusty anchors to adapt to the tides of change.

There are a lot of pressures that are driving these changes of course. We are all feeling those pressures, those of us that are working in government. There’s the pressure of changing expectations, of history, from politics and the power shift. The pressure of the role of government in the 21st century. Pressure is a wonderful thing as it can be a catalyst of change, so we shouldn’t shy away from pressure, but recognising that we’re under pressure is important.

So let’s explore some of those power shifts and then what role could government play moving forward.

Paradigm #1: central to distributed. This is about that shift in power, the independence movements and the internet. It is something people talk about but don’t necessarily apply to their work. Governments will talk about wanting to take a more distributed approach but followup with setting up “my” website expecting everyone to join or do something. How about everyone come to “my” office or create “my” own lab. Distributed, when you start to really internalise what that means, if different. I was lucky as I forged a lot of my assumptions and habits of working when I was involved in the Open Source community, and the Open Source community has a lot of lessons for rest of society because it is on the bleeding edge of a lot of these paradigm shifts. So working in a distributed way is to assume that you are not at the centre, to assume that you’re not needed. To assume that if you make yourself useful that people will rely on you, but also to assume that you rely on others and to build what you do in a way that strengthens the whole system. I like to talk about it as “Gov as a Platform”, sometimes that is confusing to people so let’s talk about it as “Gov as an enabler”. It’s not just government as a central command and controller anymore because the moment you create a choke point, people route around it. How do we become a government as an enabler of good things, and how can we use other mechanisms to create the controls in society. Rather than try to protect people from themselves, why not enable people to protect themselves. There are so many natural motivations in the community, in industry, in the broader sector that we serve, that we can tap into but traditionally we haven’t. Because traditionally we saw ourselves as the enforcer, as the one to many choke point. So working in a distributed way is not just about talking the talk, it’s about integrated it into the way we think.

Some other aspects of this include localised to globalised, keeping in mind that large multinational companies have become quite good at jurisdiction shopping for improvements of profits, which you can’t say is either a good or bad thing, it’s just a natural thing and how they’re naturally motivated. But citizens are increasingly starting to jurisdiction shop too. So I would suggest a role for government in the 21st century would be to create the best possible quality of life for people, because then you’ll attract the best from around the world.

The second part of central to distributed is simple to complex. I have this curve (on the slide) which shows green as complexity and red as government’s response to user needs. The green climbs exponentially whilst the red is pretty linear, with small increases or decreases over time, but not an exponential response by any means. Individual needs are no longer heavily localised. They are subject to local, national, transnational complexities with every extra complexity compounded, not linear. So the increasing complexities in people’s lives, and the obligations, taxation, services and entitlements, everything is going up. So there is a delta forming between what government can directly do, and what people need. So again I contend that the opportunity here particularly for the public sector is to actually be an enabler for all those service intermediaries – the for profit, non profit, civic tech – to help them help themselves, help them help their customers, by merit of making government a platform upon which they can build. We’ve had a habit and a history of creating public infrastructure, particularly in Australia, in New Zealand, in Canada, we’re been very good at building public infrastructure. Why have we not focused on digital infrastructure? Why do we see digital infrastructure as something that has to be cost recovered to be sustainable when we don’t have to do cost recovery for every thing public road. I think that looking at the cost benefits and value creation of digital public infrastructure needs to be looks at in the same way, and we need to start investing in digital public infrastructure.

Next paradigm shift, analog to digital, or slow to very fast. I like to joke that we use lawyers as modems. If you think about regulation and policy, we write it, it is translated by a lawyer or drafter into regulation or policy, it is then translated by a lawyer or drafter or anyone into operational systems, business systems, helpdesk systems or other systems in society. Why wouldn’t we make our regulation as code? The intent of our regulation and our legislative regimes available to be directly consumed (by the systems) so that we can actually speed up, automate, improve consistency of application through the system, and have a feedback loop to understand whether policy changes are having the intended policy effect.

There are so many great things we can do when we start thinking about digital as something new, not just digitising an analog process. Innovation too long was interpreted as a digitisation of a process, basic process improvements. But real digitisation should a a transformation where you are changing the thing to better achieve the purpose or intent.

The next paradigm is scarcity to surplus. I think this is critical. We have a lot of assumptions in our systems that assume scarcity. Why do we still have so many of our systems assume scarcity when surplus is the opportunity. Between 3D printing and nanotech, we could be deconstructing and reconstructing new materials to print into goods and food and yet a large inhibitor of 3D printing progress is copyright. So the question I have for you is do we care more about an 18h century business model or do we care about solving the problems of our society. We need to make these choices. If we have moved to an era of surplus but we are getting increasing inequality, perhaps the systems of distribution are problematic? Perhaps in assuming scarcity we are protecting scarcity for the few at the cost of the many.

Next paradigm is normative to formative, “please comply”. For the last hundred years in particular we have perfected the art of broadcasting images of normal into our houses, particularly with radio and television. We have the concept of set a standard or rule and if you don’t follow we’ll punish you, so a lot of culture is about compliance in society. Compliance is important for stability, but blind compliance can create millstones. A formative paradigm is about not saying how it is but in exploring where you want to go. In the public service we are particularly good at compliance culture but I suggest that if we got more people thinking formatively, not just change for changes sake, but bringing people together on their genuinely shared purpose of serving the public, then we might be able to take a more formative approach to doing the work we do for the betterment of society rather than ticking the box because it is the process we have to follow. Formative takes us away from being consumers and towards being makers. As an example, the most basic form of normative human behaviour is in how we see and conform to being human. You are either normal, or you are not, based on some externally projected vision of normal. But the internet has shown us that no one is normal. So embracing that it is through our difference we are more powerful and able to adapt is an important part of our story and culture moving forward. If we are confident to be formative, we can always trying to create a better world whilst applying a critical eye to compliance so we don’t comply for compliance sake.

Now on the back of these paradigm shifts, I’d like to briefly about the future. I spoke about the opportunity through surplus with 3D printing and nanotech to address poverty and hunger. What about the opportunities of rockets for domestic travel? It takes half an hour to get into space, an hour to traverse the world and half an hour down which means domestic retail transport by rocket is being developed right now which means I could go from New Zealand to Canada to work for the day and be home for tea. That shift is going to be enormous in so many ways and it could drive real changes in how we see work and internationalism. How many people remember Total Recall? The right hand picture is a self driving car from a movie in the 90s and is becoming normal now. Interesting fact, some of the car designs will tint the windows when they go through intersections because the passengers are deeply uncomfortable with the speed and closeness of self driving cars which can miss each other very narrowly compared to human driving. Obviously there are opportunities around AI, bots and automation but I think where it gets interesting when we think about opportunities of the future of work. We are still working on industrial assumptions that the number of hours that we have is a scarcity paradigm and I have to sell the number of hours that I work, 40, 50, 60 hours. Why wouldn’t we work 20 hours a week at a higher rate to meet our basic needs? Why wouldn’t we have 1 or 2 days a week where we could contribute to our civic duties, or art, or education. Perhaps we could jump start an inclusive renaissance, and I don’t mean cat pictures. People can’t thrive if they’re struggling to survive and yet we keep putting pressure on people just to survive. Again, we are from countries with quite strong safety nets but even those safety nets put huge pressure, paperwork and bureaucracy on our most vulnerable just to meet their basic needs. Often the process of getting access to the services and entitlements is so hard and traumatic that they can’t, so how do we close that gap so all our citizens can move from survival to thriving.

The last picture is a bit cheeky. A science fiction author William Gibson wrote Johnny Pneumonic and has a character in that book called Jones, a cyborg dolphin to sniff our underwater mines in warfare. Very dark, but the interesting concept there is in how Jones was received after the war: “he was more than a dolphin, but from another dolphin’s point of view he might have seemed like something less.” What does it mean to be human? If I lose a leg, right now it is assumed I need to replace that leg to be somehow “whole”. What if I want 4 legs. The human brain is able to adapt to new input. I knew a woman who got a small sphere filled with mercury and a free floating magnet in her finger, and the magnet spins according to frequency and she found over a short period of time she was able to detect changes in frequency. Why is that cool and interesting? Because the brain can adapt to foreign, non evolved input. I think that is mind blowing. We have the opportunity to augment our selves not to just conform to normal or be slightly better, faster humans. But we can actually change what it means to be human altogether. I think this will be one of the next big social challenges for society but because we are naturally so attracted to “shiny”, I think that discomfort will pass within a couple of generations. One prediction is that the normal Olympics has become boring and that we will move into a transhuman olympics where we take the leash off and explore the 100m sprint with rockets, or judo with cyborgs. Where the interest goes, the sponsorship goes, and more professional athletes compete. And what’s going to happen if your child says they want to be a professional transhuman olympian and that they will add wings or remove their legs for their professional career, to add them (or not) later? That’s a bit scary for many but at the same time, it’s very interesting. And it’s ok to be uncomfortable, it’s ok to look at change, be uncomfortable and ask yourself “why am I uncomfortable?” rather than just pushing back on discomfort. It’s critical more than ever, particularly in the public service that we get away from this dualistic good or bad, in or out, yours or mine and start embracing the grey.

So what’s the role of government in all this, in the future. Again these are just some thoughts, a conversation starter.

I think one of our roles is to ensure that individuals have the ability to thrive. Now I acknowledge I’m very privileged to have come from a social libertarian country that believe this, where people broadly believe they want their taxes to go to the betterment of society and not all countries have that assumption. But if we accept the idea that people can’t thrive if they can’t survive, then our baseline quality of life if you assume an individual starts from nothing with no privilege, benefits or family, provided by the state, needs to be good enough for the person to be able to thrive. Otherwise we get a basic structural problem. Part of that is becoming master buildings again, and to go to the Rawl’s example from Alistair before, we need empathy in what we do in government. The amount of times we build systems without empathy and they go terribly wrong because we didn’t think about what it would be like to be on the other side of that service, policy or idea. User centred design is just a systematisation of empathy, which is fantastic, but bringing empathy into everything we do is very important.

Leadership is a very important role for government. I think part of our role is to represent the best interests of society. I very strongly feel that we have a natural role to serve the public in the public sector, as distinct from the political sector (though citizens see us as the same thing). The role of a strong, independent public sector is more important than ever in a post facts “fake news” world because it is one of the only actors on the stage that is naturally motivated, naturally systemically motivated, to serve the best interests of the public. That’s why open government is so important and that’s why digital and open government initiatives align directly.

Because open with digital doesn’t scale, and digital without open doesn’t last.

Stability, predictability and balance. It is certainly a role of government to create confidence in our communities, confidence creates thriving. It is one thing to address Maslov’s pyramid of needs but if you don’t feel confident, if you don’t feel safe, then you still end up behaving in strange and unpredictable ways. So this is part of what is needed for communities to thrive. This relates to regulation and there is a theory that regulation is bad because it is hard. I would suggest that regulation is important for the stability and predictability in society but we have to change the way we deliver it. Regulation as code gets the balance right because you can have the settings and levers in the economy but also the ability for it to be automated, consumable, consistent, monitored and innovative. I imagine a future where I have a personal AI which I can trust because of quantum cryptography and because it is tethered in purpose to my best interests. I don’t have to rely on whether my interests happen to align with the purpose of a department, company or non-profit to get the services I need because my personal bot can figure out what I need and give me the options for me to make decisions about my life. It could deal with the Government AI to figure out the rules, my taxation, obligations, services and entitlements. Where is the website in all that? I ask this because the web was a 1990s paradigm, and we need more people to realise and plan around the idea that the future of service delivery is in building the backend of what we do – the business rules, transactions, data, content, models – in a modular consumable so we can shift channels or modes of delivery whether it is a person, digital service or AI to AI interaction.

Another role of government is in driving the skills we need for the 21st century. Coding is critical not because everyone needs to code (maybe they will) but more than that coding teaches you an assumption, an instinct, that technology is something that can be used by you, not something you are intrinsically bound to. Minecraft is the saviour of a generation because all those kids are growing up believing they can shape the world around them, not have to be shaped by the world around them. This harks back to the normative/formative shift. But we also need to teach critical thinking, teach self awareness, bias awareness, maker skills, community awareness. It has been delightful to move to New Zealand where they have a culture that has an assumed community awareness.

We need of course to have a strong focus on participatory democracy, where government isn’t just doing something to you but we are all building the future we need together. This is how we create a multi-processor world rather than a single processor government. This is how we scale and develop a better society but we need to move beyond “consultation” and into actual co-design with governments working collaboratively across the sectors and with civil society to shape the world.

I’ll finish on this note, government as an enabler, a platform upon which society can build. We need to build a way of working that assumes we are a node in the network, that assumes we have to work collaboratively, that assumes that people are naturally motivated to make good decisions for their life and how can government enable and support people.

So embrace the tipping point, don’t just react. What future do you want, what society do you want to move towards? I guess I’ve got to a point in my life where I see everything as a system and if I can’t connect the dots between what I’m doing and the purpose then I try to not do that thing. The first public service job I had I got in and automated a large proportion of the work within a couple of weeks and then asked for data.gov.au, and they gave it to me because I was motivated to make it better.

So I challenge you to be thinking about this every day, to consider your own assumptions and biases, to consider whether you are being normative or formative, to evaluate whether you are being iterative or transformative, to evaluate whether you are moving away from something or towards something. And to always keep in mind where you want to be, how you are contributing to a better society and to actively leave behind those legacy ideas that simply don’t serve us anymore.

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RegTech – a primer for the uninitiated

Whilst working at AUSTRAC I wrote a brief about RegTech which was quite helpful. I was given permission to blog the generically useful parts of it for general consumption :) Thanks Leanne!

Overview – This brief is the most important thing you will read in planning transformation! Government can’t regulate in the way we have traditionally done. Traditional approaches are too small, too slow and too ineffective. We need to explore new ways to regulate and achieve the goal of a stronger financial sector resistance to abuse that leverages data, automation, machine learning, technology and collaboration. We are here to help!

The key here is to put technology at the heart of the business strategy, rather than as simply an implementation mechanism. By embracing technology thinking, which means getting geeks into the strategy and policy rooms, we can build the foundation of a modern, responsive, agile, proactive and interactive regulator that can properly scale.

The automation of compliance with RegTech has the potential to overcome individual foibles and human error in a way that provides the quantum leap in culture and compliance that our regulators, customers, policy makers and the community are increasingly demanding… The Holy Grail is when we start to actually write regulation and legislation in code. Imagine the productivity gains and compliance savings of instantaneous certified compliance… We are now in one of the most exciting phases in the development of FinTech since the inception of e-banking.Treasurer Morrison, FinTech Australia Summit, Nov 2016

On the back of the FinTech boom, there is a growth in companies focused on “RegTech” solutions and services to merge technology and regulation/compliance needs for a more 21st century approach to the problem space. It is seen as a logical next step to the FinTech boom, given the high costs and complexity of regulation in the financial sector, but the implications for the broader regulatory sector are significant. The term only started being widely used in 2015. Other governments have started exploring this space, with the UK Government investing significantly.

Core themes of RegTech can be summarised as: data; automation; security; disruption; and enabling collaboration. There is also an overall drive towards everything being closer to real-time, with new data or information informing models, responses and risk in an ongoing self-adjusting fashion.

  • Data driven regulation – better monitoring, better use of available big and small data holdings to inform modelling and analysis (rather than always asking a human to give new information), assessment on the fly, shared data and modelling, trends and forecasting, data analytics for forward looking projections rather than just retrospective analysis, data driven risk and adaptive modelling, programmatic delivery of regulations (regulation as a platform).
  • Automation – reporting, compliance, risk modelling of transactions to determine what should be reported as “suspicious”, system to system registration and escalation, use of machine learning and AI, a more blended approach to work combining humans and machines.
  • Security – biometrics, customer checks, new approaches to KYC, digital identification and assurance, sharing of identity information for greater validation and integrity checking.
  • Disruptive technologies – blockchain, cloud, machine learning, APIs, cryptography, augmented reality and crypto-currencies just to start!
  • Enabling collaboration – for-profit regulation activities, regulation/compliance services and products built on the back of government rules/systems/data, access to distributed ledgers, distributed risk models and shared data/systems, broader private sector innovation on the back of regulator open data and systems.

Some useful references for the more curious:

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Iteration or Transformation in government: paint jobs and engines

I was recently at an event talking about all things technology with a fascinating group of people. It was a reminder to me that digital transformation has become largely confused with digital iteration, and we need to reset the narrative around this space if we are to realise the real opportunities and benefits of technology moving forward. I gave a speech recently about major paradigm shifts that have brought us to where we are and I encourage everyone to consider and explore these paradigm shifts as important context for this blog post and their own work, but this blog post will focus specifically on a couple of examples of actual transformative change worth exploring.

The TL;DR is simply that you need to be careful to not mistake iteration for transformation. Iteration is an improvement on the status quo. Transformation is a new model of working that is, hopefully, fundamentally better than the status quo. As a rule of thumb, if what you are doing is simply better, faster or cheaper, that it is probably just iterative. There are many examples from innovation and digital transformation agendas which are just improvements on the status quo, but two examples of actual transformation of government I think are worth exploring are Gov-as-an-API and mutually beneficial partnerships to address shared challenges.

Background

Firstly, why am I even interested in “digital transformation”? Well, I’ve worked on open data in the Australian Federal Government since 2012 and very early on we recognised that open data was just a step towards the idea of “Gov as a Platform” as articulated by Tim O’Reilly nearly 10 years ago. Basically, he spoke about the potential to transform government into Government as a Platform, similar (for those unfamiliar with the “as a platform” idea) to Google Maps, or the Apple/Google app stores. Basically government could provide the data, content, transaction services and even business rules (regulation, common patterns such as means testing, building codes, etc) in a consumable, componentised and modular fashion to support a diverse ecosystem of service delivery, analysis and products by myriad agents, including private and public sector, but also citizens themselves.

Seems obvious right? I mean the private sector (the tech sector in any case) have been taking this approach for a decade.

What I have found in government is a lot of interest in “digital” where it is usually simply digitising an existing process, product or service. The understanding of consumable, modular architecture as a strategic approach to achieve greater flexibility and agility within an organisation, whilst enabling a broader ecosystem to build on top, is simply not understood by many. Certainly there are pockets that understand this, especially at the practitioner level, but agencies are naturally motivated to simply delivery what they need in isolation from a whole of government view. It was wonderful to recently see New Zealand picking up a whole of government approach in this vein but many governments are still focused on simple digitisation rather than transformation.

Why is this a problem? Well, to put it simply, government can’t scale the way it has traditionally worked to meet the needs and challenges of an increasingly changing world. Unless governments can transform to be more responsive, adaptive, collaborative and scalable, then they will become less relevant to the communities they serve and less effective in implementing government policy. Governments need to learn to adapt to the paradigm shifts from centrist to distributed models, from scarcity to surplus resources, from analogue to digital models, from command and control to collaborative relationships, and from closed to open practices.

Gov as an API

On of the greatest impacts of the DTO and the UK Government Digital Service has been to spur a race to the top around user centred design and agile across governments. However, these methods whilst necessary, are not sufficient for digital transformation, because you too easily see services created that are rapidly developed and better for citizens, but still based on bespoke siloed stacks of technology and content that aren’t reconsumable. Why does this matter? Because there are loads of components needed for multiple services, but siloed service technology stacks lead to duplication, a lack of agility in iterating and improving the user experience on an ongoing basis, a lack of programmatic access to those components which would enable system to system automation, and a complete lack of the “platform” upon which an ecosystem could be built.

When I was at the interim DTO in 2016, we fundamentally realised that no single agency would ever be naturally motivated, funded or mandated to deliver services on behalf of someone else. So rather than assuming a model wherein an agency is expected to do just that, we started considering new models. New systems wherein agencies could achieve what they needed (and were mandated and funded) to do, but where the broader ecosystem could provide multi-channel services delivery where there is no wrong door for citizens to do what they need. One channel might be the magical “life events” lens, another might be third parties, or State and Territory Governments, or citizen mashups. These agents and sectors have ongoing relationships with their users allowing them to exponentially spread and maintain user-centred design in way that government by itself can not afford to do, now or into the future.

This vision was itself was just a reflection of the Amazon, Google Maps, the Apple “apps store” and other platform models so prevalent in the private sector as described above. But governments everywhere have largely interpreted the “Gov as a Platform” idea as simply common or shared platforms. Whilst common platforms can provide savings and efficiencies, it has not enabled the system transformation needed to get true digital transformation across government.

So what does this mean practically? There are certainly pockets of people doing or experimenting in this space. Here are some of my thoughts to date based on work I’ve done in Australia (at the interim DTO) and in New Zealand (with the Department of Internal Affairs).

Firstly you can largely identify four categories of things involved in any government service:

  • Content – obvious, but taking into account the domain specific content of agencies as well as the kind of custodian or contextual content usually managed by points of aggregation or service delivery
  • Data – any type of list, source of intelligence or statistics, search queries such as ABN lookups
  • Transaction services – anything a person or business interacts with such as registration, payments, claims, reporting, etc. Obviously requires strict security frameworks
  • Business rules – the regulation, legislation, code, policy logic or even reusable patterns such as means testing which are usually hard coded into projects as required. Imagine an authoritative public API with the business logic of government available for consumption by everyone. A good example of pioneering work in this space is the Regulation as a Platform work by Data61.

These categories of components can all be made programmatically available for the delivery of your individual initiative and for broader reuse either publicly (for data, content and business rules) or securely (for transaction services). But you also need some core capabilities that are consumable for any form of digital service, below are a few to consider:

  • Identity and authentication, arguably also taking into account user consent based systems which may be provided from outside of government
  • Service analytics across digital and non digital channels to baseline the user experience and journey with govt and identify what works through evidence. This could also fuel a basic personalisation service.
  • A government web platform to pull together the government “sedan” service
  • Services register – a consumable register of government services (human services) to draw from across the board.

Imagine if we tool a conditional approach to matters, where you don’t need to provide documentation to prove your age (birth certificate, licence, passport), all of which give too much information, but rather can provide a verifiable claim that yes I am over the required age. This would both dramatically reduce the work for gov, and improve the privacy of people. See the verifiable claims work by W3C for more info on this concept, but it could be a huge transformation for how gov and privacy operates.

The three key advantages to taking this approach are:

  1. Agency agility – In splitting the front end from a consumable backend, agencies gain the ability to more rapidly iterate the customer experience of the service, taking into account changing user needs and new user platforms (mobile is just the start – augmented reality and embedded computing are just around the corner). When the back end and front end of a service are part of the one monolithic stack, it is simply too expensive and complicated to make many changes to the service.
  2. Ecosystem enablement – As identified above, a key game changer with the model is the ability for others to consume the services to support and multi-channel of services, analysis and products delivered by the broader community of government, industry and community players.
  3. Automation – the final and least sexy, though most interesting from a service improvement perspective, is automation. If your data, content, transaction systems and rules are programmatically available, suddenly you create the opportunity for the steps of a life event to be automated, where user consent is granted. The user consent part is really important, just to be clear! So rather than having 17 beautiful but distinct user services that a person has to individually complete, a user could be asked at any one of those entry points whether they’d like the other 16 steps to be automatically completed on their behalf. Perhaps the best way government can serve citizens in many cases is to get out of the way :)

Meaningful and mutually beneficial collaboration

Collaboration has become something of a buzzword in government often resulting in meetings, MOUs, principle statements or joint media releases. Occasionally there are genuine joint initiatives but there are still a lot of opportunities to explore new models of collaboration that achieve better outcomes.

Before we talk about how to collaborate, we need to address the elephant in the room: natural motivation. Government often sees consultation as something nice to have, collaboration as a nice way of getting others to contribute to something, and co-design as something to strive across the business units in your agency. If we consider the idea that government simply cannot meet the challenges or opportunities of the 21st century in isolation, if we acknowledge that government cannot scale at the same pace of the changing domains we serve, then we need to explore new models of collaboration where we actively partner with others for mutual benefit. To do this we need to identify areas for which others are naturally motivated to collaborate.

Firstly, let’s acknowledge there will always be work to do for which there are no naturally motivated partners. Why would anyone else want, at their own cost, to help you set up your mobility strategy, or implement an email server, or provide telephony services? The fact is that a reasonable amount of what any organisation does would be seen as BAU, as commodity, and thus only able to be delivered through internal capacity or contractual relationships with suppliers. So initiatives that try to improve government procurement practices can iteratively improve these customer-supplier arrangements but they don’t lend themselves to meaningful or significant collaboration.

OK, so what sort of things could be done differently? This is where you need to look critically at the purpose of your agency including the highest level goals, and identify who the natural potential allies in those goals could be. You can then approach your natural allies, identify where there are shared interests, challenges or opportunities, and collectively work together to co-design, co-invest, co-deliver and co-resource a better outcome for all involved. Individual allies could use their own resources or contractors for their contribution to the work, but the relationship is one of partnership, the effort and expertise is shared, and the outcomes are more powerful and effective than any one entity would have delivered on their own. In short, the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

I will use the exciting and groundbreaking work of my current employer as a real example to demonstrate the point.

AUSTRAC is the Australian Government financial intelligence agency with some regulatory responsibilities. The purpose of the agency is threefold: 1) to detect and disrupt abuse of the financial system; 2) to strengthen the financial system against abuse; and 3) to contribute to the growth of the Australian economy. So who are natural allies in these goals… banks, law enforcement and fraud focused agencies, consumer protection organisations, regulatory organisations, fintech and regtech startups, international organisations, other governments, even individual citizens! So to tap into this ecosystem of potential allies, AUSTRAC has launched a new initiative called the “Fintel Alliance” which includes, at its heart, new models of collaborating on shared goals. There are joint intelligence operations on major investigations like the Panama Papers, joint industry initiatives to explore shared challenges and then develop prototypes and references implementations, active co-design of the new regulatory framework with industry, and international collaborations to strengthen the global financial system against abuse. The model is still in early days, but already AUSTRAC has shown that a small agency can punch well above it’s weight by working with others in new and innovative ways.

Other early DTO lessons

I’ll finish with a few lessons from the DTO. I worked at the DTO for the first 8 months (Jan – Sept 2015) when it was being set up. It was a crazy time with people from over 30 agencies thrust together to create a new vision for government services whilst simultaneously learning to speak each other’s language and think in a whole of government(s) way. We found a lot of interesting things, not least of all just how pervasive the siloed thinking of government ran. For example, internal analysis at the DTO of user research from across government agencies showed that user research tended to be through the narrow lens of an agency’s view of “it’s customers” and the services delivered by that agency. It was clear the user needs beyond the domain of the agency was seen as out of scope, or, at best, treated as a hand off point.

We started writing about a new draft vision whilst at the DTO which fundamentally was based on the idea of an evidence based, consumable approach to designing and delivering government services, built on reusable components that could be mashed up for a multi-channel ecosystem of service delivery. We tested this with users, agencies and industry with great feedback. Some of our early thinking is below, now a year and a half old, but worth referring back to:

One significant benefit of the DTO and GDS was the cycling of public servants through the agency to experience new ways of working and thinking, and applying an all of government lens across their work. This cultural transformation was then maintained in Australia, at least in part, when those individuals returned to their home agencies. A great lesson for others in this space.

A couple of other lessons learned from the DTO are below:

  • Agencies want to change. They are under pressure from citizens, governments and under budget constraints and know they need better ways to do things.
  • A sandbox is important. Agencies need somewhere to experiment, play with new tools, ideas and methods, draw on different expertise and perspectives, build prototypes and try new ideas. This is ideally best used before major projects are undertaken as a way to quickly test ideas before going to market. It also helps improve expectations of what is possible and what things should cost.
  • Everyone has an agenda, every agency will drive their own agenda with whatever the language of the day and agendas will continue to diverge from each other whilst there is not common vision.
  • Evidence is important! And there isn’t generally enough AoG evidence available. Creating an evidence base was a critical part of identifying what works and what doesn’t.
  • Agile is a very specific and useful methodology, but often gets interpreted as something loose, fast, and unreliable. Education about proper agile methods is important.
  • An AoG strategy for transformation is critical. If transformation is seen as a side project, it will never be integrated into BAU.
  • Internal brilliance needs tapping. Too often govt brings in consultants and ignores internal ideas, skills and enthusiasm. There needs to be a combination of public engagement and internal engagement to get the best outcomes.

I want to just finish by acknowledging and thanking the “interim DTO” team and early leadership for their amazing work, vision and collective efforts in establishing the DTO and imagining a better future for service delivery and for government more broadly. It was an incredible time with incredible people, and your work continues to live on and be validated by service delivery initiatives in Australia and across the world. Particular kudos to team I worked directly with, innovative and awesome public servants all! Sharyn Clarkson, Sean Minney, Mark Muir, Vanessa Roarty, Monique Kenningham, Nigel O’Keefe, Mark McKenzie, Chris Gough, Deb Blackburn, Lisa Howdin, Simon Fisher, Andrew Carter, Fran Ballard and Fiona Payne :) Also to our contractors at the time Ruth Ellison, Donna Spencer and of course, the incredible and awesome Alex Sadleir.

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Service Innovation in New Zealand – the new digital transformation

Over the past fortnight I have had the pleasure and privilege of working closely with the Service Innovation team in the New Zealand Government to contribute to their next steps in achieving proper service integration. It was an incredible two weeks as part of an informal exchange between our agencies to share expertise and insights. I am very thankful for the opportunity to work with the team and to contribute in some small way to their visionary, ambitious and world leading agenda. I also recommend everyone watch closely the work of Service Innovation team, and contact them if you are interested in giving feedback on the model.

I spent a couple of weeks in New Zealand looking at their “Service Innovation” agenda, which is, I can confidently say, one of the most exciting things I’ve ever seen for genuine digital transformation. The Kiwis have in place already a strong and technically sound vision for service integration, a bunch of useful guidance (including one of the best gov produced API guides I’ve ever seen!) and a commitment to delivering integrated services as a key part of their agenda and programme along with brilliant skills and visionaries across government.

I believe New Zealand will be the one to watch over the coming year and, with a little luck, they could redefine the baseline for what everyone should be aspiring to. They could be the first government to properly demonstrate Gov as a Platform, not just better digital government, which is quite exciting! Systemic change and transformation generally happens once a generation if you are lucky, so do keep an eye on the Kiwis. They are set to  leave us all behind!

There is more internal documentation which I encourage the team to publish, like the Federated Services Model Reference Architecture and other gems.

In a couple of weeks, on the back of a raft of ongoing work, we analysed why it is with such great guidance available, why would siloed approaches still be happening? We found that the natural motivations of agencies would always drive an implementation that was designed to meet the specific agency needs rather than the system needs across government. That was unsurprising but the new insight was the service delivery teams themselves, who wanted to do the best possible implementations but with little time and resource, and high expectations, couldn’t take the time needed to find, read, interpret, translate into practice and verify implementation of the guidance. Which is quite fair! So we looked at models of reducing the barriers for those teams to do things better by providing reusable infrastructure and reference implementations, and either changing or tweaking the motivations of agencies themselves.

This is an ongoing piece of work, but fundamentally we looked at the idea that if we made the best technical path also the easiest path for service delivery teams to follow, then there would be a reasonable chance of a consumable systems approach to delivering these services. If support and skills was available with tools, code, dev environments, reference implementations, lab environments and other useful tools for designing and delivering government services faster, better and cheaper, then service delivery teams and agencies both would have a natural motivation to take that approach. Basically, we surmised that vision and guidance probably needed to be supplemented by implementation to make it real, moving from policy to application.

It is great to see other jurisdictions like New Zealand starting to experiment and implement the consumable mashable government model! I want to say a huge thank you to the New Zealand Government for sharing their ideas, but mostly for now picking up and being in such a great position to show everyone what Gov as a Platform and Gov as an API should look like. I wish you luck and hope to be a part of your success, even just in a small way!

Rock on.

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Choose your own adventure – keynote

This is a blog version of the keynote I gave at linux.conf.au 2017. Many thanks to everyone who gave such warm feedback, and I hope it helps spur people to think about systemic change and building the future. The speech can be watched at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J6IqGuxCKa8.

I genuinely believe we are at a tipping point right now. A very important tipping point where we have at our disposal all the philosophical and technical means to invent whatever world we want, but we’re at risk of reinventing the past with shiny new things. This talk is about trying to make active choices about how we want to live in future and what tools we keep or discard to get there. Passive choices are still a choice, they are choosing the status quo. We spend a lot of our time tinkering around the edges of life as it is, providing symptomatic relief for problems we find, but we need to take a broader systems based view and understand what systemic change we can make to properly address those problems.

We evolved over hundreds of thousands of years using a cooperative competitive social structure that helped us work together to flourish in every habitat, rapidly and increasingly evolve an learn, and establish culture, language, trade and travel. We were constantly building on what came before and we built our tools as we went.

In recent millennia we invented systems of complex differentiated and interdependent skills, leading to increasingly rapid advancements in how we live and organise ourselves physically, politically, economically and socially, especially as we started building huge cities. Lots of people meant a lot of time to specialise, and with more of our basic needs taken care of, we had more time for philosophy and dreaming.

Great progress created great surplus, creating great power, which we generally centralised in our great cities under rulers that weren’t always so great. Of course, great power also created great inequalities so sometimes we burned down those great cities, just to level the playing field. We often took a symptomatic relief approach to bad leaders by replacing them, without fundamentally changing the system.

But in recent centuries we developed the novel idea that all people have inalienable rights and can be individually powerful. This paved the way for a massive culture shift and distribution of power combined with heightened expectations of individuals in playing a role in their own destiny, leading us to the world as we know it today. Inalienable rights paved the way for people thinking differently about their place in the world, the control they had over their lives and how much control they were happy to cede to others. This makes us, individually, the most powerful we have ever beed, which changes the game moving forward.

You see, the internet was both a product and an amplifier of this philosophical transition, and of course it lies at the heart of our community. Technology has, in large part, only sped up the cooperative competitive models of adapting, evolving and flourishing we have always had. But the idea that anyone has a right to life and liberty started a decentralisation of power and introduced the need for legitimate governance based on the consent of citizens (thank you Locke).

Citizens have the powers of publishing, communications, monitoring, property, even enforcement. So in recent decades we have shifted fundamentally from kings in castles to nodes in a network, from scarcity to surplus or reuse models, from closed to open systems, and the rate of human progress only continues to grow towards an asymptoic climb we can’t even imagine.

To help capture this, I thought I’d make a handy change.log on human progress to date.

# Notable changes to homo sapiens – change.log
## [2.1.0] – 1990s CE “technology revolution & internet”
### Changed
– New comms protocol to distribute “rights”. Printing press patch unexpectedly useful for distributing resources. Moved from basic multi-core to clusters of independent processors with exponential growth in power distribution.

## [2.0.0] – 1789 CE “independence movements”
### Added
– Implemented new user permissions called “rights”, early prototype of multi-core processing with distributed power & comms.

## [1.2.0] – 1760 CE “industrial revolution”
### Changed
– Agricultural libraries replaced by industrial libraries, still single core but heaps faster.

## [1.1.1] – 1440 CE “gutenberg”
### Patched
– Printing press a minor patch for more efficient instructions distribution, wonder if it’d be more broadly useful?

## [1.1.0] – 2,000 BCE “cities era”
### Changed
– Switched rural for urban operating environment. Access to more resources but still on single core.

## [1.0.0] – 8,000 BCE “agricultural revolution”
### Added
– New agricultural libraries, likely will create surplus and population explosion. Heaps less resource intensive.

## [0.1.0] – 250,000 BCE “homo sapiens”
### Added
– Created fork from homo erectus, wasn’t confident in project direction though they may still submit contributions…

(For more information about human evolution, see https://www.bighistoryproject.com)

The point to this rapid and highly oversimplified historical introduction is threefold: 1) we are more powerful than ever before, 2) the rate of change is only increasing, and 3) we made all this up, and we can make it up again. It is important to recognise that we made all of this up. Intellectually we all understand this but it matters because we often assume things are how they are, and then limit ourselves to working within the constraints of the status quo. But what we invented, we can change, if we choose.

We can choose our own adventure, or we let others choose on our behalf. And if we unthinkingly implement the thinking, assumptions and outdated paradigms of the past, then we are choosing to reimplement the past.

Although we are more individually and collectively powerful than ever before, how often do you hear “but that’s just how we’ve always done it”, “but that’s not traditional”, or “change is too hard”. We are demonstrably and historically utter masters at change, but life has become so big, so fast, and so interrelated that change has become scary for many people, so you see them satisfied by either ignoring change or making iterative improvements to the status quo. But we can do better. We must do better.

I believe we are at a significant tipping point in history. The world and the very foundations our society were built on have changed, but we are still largely stuck in the past in how we think and plan for the future. If we don’t make some active decisions about how we live, think and act, then we will find ourselves subconsciously reinforcing the status quo at every turn and not in a position to genuinely create a better future for all.

So what could we do?

  • Solve poverty and hunger: distributed property through nanotechnology and 3D printing, universal education and income.
  • Work 2 days a week, automate the rest: work, see “Why the Future is Workless” by Tim Dunlop
  • Embrace and extend our selves: Transhumanism, para olympics, “He was more than a dolphin, but from another dolphin’s point of view he might have seemed like something less.” — William Gibson, from Johnny Mnemonic. Why are we so conservative about what it means to be human? About our picture of self? Why do we get caught up on what is “natural” when almost nothing we do is natural.
  • Overcome the tyranny of distance: rockets for international travel, interstellar travel, the opportunity to have new systems of organising ourselves
  • Global citizens: Build a mighty global nation where everyone can flourish and have their rights represented beyond the narrow geopolitical nature of states: peer to peer economy, international rights, transparent gov, digital democracy, overcome state boundaries,
  • ?? What else ?? I’m just scratching the surface!

So how can we build a better world? Luckily, the human species has geeks. Geeks, all of us, are special because we are the pioneers of the modern age and we get to build the operating system for all our fellow humans. So it is our job to ensure what we do makes the world a better place.

rOml is going to talk more about future options for open source in the Friday keynote, but I want to explore how we can individually and collectively build for the future, not for the past.

I would suggest, given our role as creators, it is incumbent on us to both ensure we build a great future world that supports all the freedoms we believe in. It means we need to be individually aware of our unconscious bias, what beliefs and assumptions we hold, who benefits from our work, whether diversity is reflected in our life and work, what impact we have on society, what we care about and the future we wish to see.

Collectively we need to be more aware of whether we are contributing to future or past models, whether belief systems are helping or hindering progress, how we treat others and what from the past we want to keep versus what we want to get rid of.

Right now we have a lot going on. On the one hand, we have a lot of opportunities to improve things and the tools and knowledge at our disposal to do so. On the other hand we have locked up so much of our knowledge and tools, traditional institutions are struggling to maintain their authority and control, citizens are understandably frustrated and increasingly taking matters into their own hands, we have greater inequality than ever before, an obsession with work at the cost of living, and we are expected to sacrifice our humanity at the alter of economics

Questions to ask yourself:

Who are/aren’t you building for?
What is the default position in society?
What does being human mean to you?
What do we value in society?
What assumptions and unconscious bias do you have?
How are you helping non-geeks help themselves?
What future do you want to see?

What should be the rights, responsibilities and roles of
citizens, governments, companies, academia?

Finally,we must also help our fellow humans shift from being consumers to creators. We are all only as free as the tools we use, and though geeks will always be able to route around damage, be that technical or social, many of our fellow humans do not have the same freedoms we do.

Fundamental paradigm shifts we need to consider in building the future.

Scarcity → Surplus
Closed → Open
Centralised → Distributed
Analogue → Digital
Belief → Rationalism
Win/lose → Cooperative competitive
Nationalism → Transnationalism
Normative humans → Formative humans

Open source is the best possible modern expression of cooperative competitiveness that also integrates our philosophical shift towards human rights and powerful citizens, so I know it will continue to thrive and win when pitted against closed models, broadly speaking.

But in inventing the future, we need to be so very careful that we don’t simply rebuild the past with new shiny tools. We need to keep one eye always on the future we want to build, on how what we are doing contributes to that future, and to ensuring we have enough self awareness and commitment to ensuring we don’t accidentally embed in our efforts the outdated and oftentimes repressive habits of the past.

To paraphrase Gandhi, build the change you want to see. And build it today.

Thank you, and I hope you will join me in forging a better future.

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Retiring from GovHack

It is with a little sadness, but a lot of pride that I announce my retirement from GovHack, at least retirement from the organising team :) It has been an incredible journey with a lot of amazing people along the way and I will continue to be it’s biggest fan and support. I look forward to actually competing in future GovHacks and just joining in the community a little more than is possible when you are running around organising things! I think GovHack has grown up and started to walk, so as any responsible parent, I want to give it space to grow and evolve with the incredible people at the helm, and the new people getting involved.

Just quickly, it might be worth reflecting on the history. The first “GovHack” event was a wonderfully run hackathon by John Allsopp and Web Directions as part of the Gov 2.0 Taskforce program in 2009. It was small with about 40 or so people, but extremely influential and groundbreaking in bringing government and community together in Australia, and I want to thank John for his work on this. You rock! I should also acknowledge the Gov 2.0 Taskforce for funding the initiative, Senator at the time Kate Lundy for participating and giving it some political imprimatur, and early public servants who took a risk to explore new models of openness and collaboration such as Aus Gov CTO John Sheridan. A lot of things came together to create an environment in which community and government could work together better.

Over the subsequent couple of years there were heaps of “apps” competitions run by government and industry. On the one hand it was great to see experimentation however, unfortunately, several events did silly things like suing developers for copyright infringement, including NDAs for participation, or setting actual work for development rather than experimentation (which arguably amounts to just getting free labour). I could see the tech community, my people, starting to disengage and become entirely and understandably cynical of engaging with government. This would be a disastrous outcome because government need geeks. The instincts, skills and energy of the tech community can help reinvent the future of government so I wanted to right this wrong.

In 2012 I pulled together a small group of awesome people. Some from that first GovHack event, some from BarCamp, some I just knew and we asked John if we could use the name (thank you again John!) and launched a voluntary, community run, annual and fun hackathon, by hackers for hackers (and if you are concerned by that term, please check out what a hacker is). We knew if we did something awesome, it would build the community up, encourage governments to open data, show off our awesome technical community, and provide a way to explore tricky problems in new and interesting ways. But we had to make is an awesome event for people to participate in.

It worked.

It has been wonderful to see GovHack grow from such humble origins to the behemoth it is today, whilst also staying true to the original purpose, and true to the community it serves. In 2016 (for which I was on maternity leave) there were over 3000 participants in 40 locations across two countries with active participation by Federal, State/Territory and Local Governments. There are always growing pains, but the integrity of the event and commitment to community continues to be a huge part of the success of the event.

In 2015 I stepped back from the lead role onto the general committee, and Geoff Mason did a brilliant job as Head Cat Herder! In 2016 I was on maternity leave and watched from a distance as the team and event continued to evolve and grow under the leadership of Richard Tubb. I feel now that it has its own momentum, strong leadership, an amazing community of volunteers and participation and can continue to blossom. This is a huge credit to all the people involved, to the dedicated national organisers over the years, to the local organisers across Australia and New Zealand, and of course, to all the community who have grown around it.

A few days ago, a woman came up to me at linux.conf.au and told me about how she had come to Australia not knowing anyone, and gone to GovHack after seeing it advertised at her university, and she made all her friends and relationships there and is so extremely happy. It made me teary, but also was a timely reminder. Our community is amazing. And initiatives like GovHack can be great enablers for our community, for new people to meet, build new communities, and be supported to rock. So we need to always remember that the projects are only as important as how much they help our community.

I continue to be one of GovHack’s biggest fans. I look forward to competing this year and seeing where current and future leadership takes the event and they have my full support and confidence. I will be looking for my next community startup after I finish writing my book (hopefully due mid year :)).

If you love GovHack and want to help, please volunteer for 2017, consider joining the leadership, or just come along for fun. If you don’t know what GovHack is, I’ll see you there!

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How we got here, Chapter 1: Clever Monkeys

This is a book I am working on, hopefully due for completion by early 2017. The purpose of the book is to explore where we are at, where we are going, and how we can get there, in the broadest possible sense.  It is in “stream of consciousness” phase so your comments, feedback and constructive criticism are welcome! The final text of the book will be freely available under a Creative Commons By Attribution license. A book version will be sent to nominated world leaders, to hopefully encourage the necessary questioning of the status quo and smarter decisions into the future. Additional elements like references, graphs, images and other materials will be available in the final digital and book versions and draft content will be published weekly. Please subscribe to the blog posts by RSS and/or join the mailing list for updates.

Back to the book overview or table of contents for the full picture.

If we look back at our earliest roots, humans have some pretty special characteristics that define and drive us, even today, and have made us arguably the most successful species in the world. We have populated every continent, developed complex social structures and specialisation of labour, shaped the environment around us, even traveled to the moon. The rate of human change, progress and indeed, evolution, is only getting faster over time. Though there are certainly issues around the sustainability of how we currently live, we have also come to an age of greater self awareness as a species of our impact, capabilities and responsibilities and can develop new ways to live more sustainably.

By understanding the basic but persistent characteristics of our collective psyche, we can better understand what will drive our decisions and trends of our future.The core human characteristics that collectively differentiate us from other animals are language and symbology, collaboration and specialisation, cumulative learning, curiosity and our thirst for fun.

Language and symbology has given us the ability to both communicate and record ideas, but also to`explore and express abstract concepts. Because we are a highly social and collaborative animal, we also have the ability to share the workload and specialise, such that individuals can become highly skilled at a subset of the skills needed for the group survival and prosperity. This in turn makes us more interdependent on the rest of the group, as highly specialised individuals are necessarily without all the skills needed to prosper. This is no less the case today than it was in ancient hunter and gather communities, though the necessary interdependence of individuals is often forgotten amidst  modern ideologies of liberalism and individual rights. The individual needs the collective to share the load of survival in order to have the comfort, time and space to thrive, otherwise that individual little time to think or develop skills beyond the next meal or shelter. As such, the good of the collective is necessary for the good of the individual. One of the interesting things about our social structures, work specialisation and necessary interdependence is that it fosters some element of stability and predictability in life, which we also are taught to pursue. Stability and predictability have historically made it easier to survive and thrive however, this was easier when the rate of change was slower. In any case, stability and predictability when combined with basic needs being met also creates opportunity for growth and advancement.

The characteristics that most significantly contributed to the rise and rise of homo sapiens is our capacity for cumulative learning and cooperative competition. Individuals inherit knowledge, and then build upon that foundation to develop new knowledge, continually passing exchange, enhancing and improving. As very early humans started to travel and trade, knowledge was increasingly exchanged between different groups creating an increased rate of development. The introduction of modern and instantaneous global communications pushed that capacity even further with cumulative learning – and the progress of invention and ideas – becoming faster than ever, with more people than ever able to contribute to and derive from a collective knowledge commons. The fact that the Internet also harbours unprecedented amounts of entertainment with which individuals could simply spend their life creating nothing of substance does not take away from the fact that same individual, if motivated, could educate themselves on almost anything to contribute to making a better world. With so many people so immediately and easily connected around the world, we also have new means of cooperating and competing. Even when our basic needs are met, we still have an inherent instinct to work with others to improve things. Often cooperation and competition are presented as zero sum game principles however, historically, it is by both cooperating and competing that we have flourished. Cooperating on the common, and competing on the distinct. Both are built into everyday life, from sharing cookies with schoolmates at an athletics competition, to sharing workspaces of competing startups in business incubators. In an era of surplus, many of us aren’t competing for resources at the cost of others, but rather are competing with ideas, beliefs and a changing perspectives of success. All competition naturally builds on the back of cooperation as the best of the best will stand on the shoulders of giants who have come before. Similarly, all cooperation is built on a little competition as the people involved in any venture will try harder with their peers watching, and will strive to be the best they can.

Finally, our natural curiosity and fun seeking natures continually compel us to explore the world around us and improve our lives. Curiosity is certainly not unique to humans however, our constant thirst for knowledge, for ever more shiny distractions and entertainment, for invention and fun, can help in predicting how we may behave in future. Once something, anything, becomes uninteresting or onerous, people tend to look elsewhere. Whatever people find interesting (or can be convinced to be interested in) becomes the basis for new markets, entertainment, memes, finances, invention and development. We like to play. In every form of human society throughout time we have made time to have fun, even when our basic needs aren’t met. We have made play such an important part of our lives that we have created entire areas of specialisation that appear to serve no purpose apart from pleasure, though often contain the ingredients for developing skills, building social cohesion and sharing knowledge. Play is a critical part of human development and life, and we tend to work hard to improve our lives specifically to make space and time for fun.

Although we have developed many complicated systems for how we survive and thrive, we are in fact fairly predictable in our basic desires and motivations. We crave shiny things, new knowledge, social acceptance and control over our lives. We aim to make our lives easier so we can have more time to play. We arm ourselves with the tools required to satisfy our desires (whether innate or influenced) and can build on the efforts and knowledge of those who have come before to constantly innovate and improve, working cooperatively and competitively with others around us. We try to avoid what we aren’t naturally motivated to do, and we like to explore and enjoy the world around us, seeking ever new and exciting experiences. Regardless of how complicated a system we build, these traits have endured and apply to us at both a macro and micro level. For instance, an organisation or body of people is no more likely to do something not in its best interest as an individual, and are just as likely to react badly to existential threats. This should shape how we design and deliver public policy, laws, services, regulation and other broad programs but we often build new systems without taking a pragmatically empathetic view to those affected.

These basic characteristics have brought us here and continue to underpin our lives, so they can tell us something about the fundamental trajectory of human development over time and into the future. They also demonstrate clearly the opportunity to thrive when basic needs are met.

References to include research papers on psychology, rate of evolution, anthropological and historical references to growth and changes in human society including emergence of highly interdependent specialisation, research on human motivations and thrive vs survive reactions.

Back to the book overview or table of contents for the full picture.

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Choose Your Own Adventure, Please!

This is a book I am working on, hopefully due for completion by early 2017. The purpose of the book is to explore where we are at, where we are going, and how we can get there, in the broadest possible sense.  Your comments, feedback and constructive criticism are welcome! The final text of the book will be freely available under a Creative Commons By Attribution license. A book version will be sent to nominated world leaders, to hopefully encourage the necessary questioning of the status quo and smarter decisions into the future. Additional elements like references, graphs, images and other materials will be available in the final digital and book versions and draft content will be published weekly. Please subscribe to the blog posts by the RSS category and/or join the mailing list for updates.

Overview

Where are we going and how do we get there? An optimistic book about our future as a species that shows how our global society is changing, what opportunities lie ahead, and what we need to collectively address if we are to create the kind of life we all want to lead. It challenges individuals, governments and corporations to critically assess the status quo, to embrace the opportunities of the new world, and to make intelligent choices for a better future.

We have seen a fundamental shift of several paradigms that underpinned the foundations of our society, but now hold us back. Like a rusty anchor that provided stability in high tide, we are now bound to a dangerous reef as the water lowers. We have seen a shift from central to distributed, from scarcity to surplus and from closed to open systems, wherein the latter of each is proving significantly more successful in the modern context. And yet, many of our assumptions are based on the default idea that centricity, scarcity and closed are the desired state. Are they?

There are many books that talk about technology and the impact it has had on our lives, but technology is only part of the story. The immense philosophical shift, particularly over the past 250 years, has created a modern perspective that all people can be influential, successful and mighty, certainly compared to our peasant ancestors who had very little control over their destinies. People — normal people — are more individually powerful than ever in the history of our species and this has enormous consequences for where we are heading and the opportunities ahead. This distribution of power started with the novel idea that individuals might have inalienable rights, and has been realised through the dramatic transformation of the Internet and wide spread access to modern technologies and communications.

How can we use this power to build a better world? Are we capable of identifying, challenging and ultimately changing the existing ideologies and systems that act to maintain a status quo established in the dark ages? We have come to a fascinating fork in our collective road where we can choose to either maintain a world that relies upon outdated models of scarcity that rely upon inequality, or we can explore new models of surplus and opportunity to see where we go next, together.

This book is in three parts and will include case studies, research and references and questions about the status quo:

  • How we got here – looking at the history of modern society including our strengths, weaknesses and major turning points in getting where we are today, including the massive distribution of power from the centre to the periphery over recent centuries and decades. It will also consider the combination of human traits that have served us so well including communication, shared cumulative learning, curiosity, cooperation and competition, experimentation and a constant quest for new forms of stimulation.
  • Where we are going – human nature itself hasn’t changed fundamentally and we can look at trends over time and our basic desire for ever more shiny to make some predictions about where we are heading in the short and longer term. It will also consider what great opportunities lie ahead of us such as nanotech and 3D printing to address poverty and hunger, the possibilities of human augmentation given the brain’s capability to adapt to genuinely foreign inputs, the inevitable shift from the Olympics to the Paralympics, and the shift from nationalism to transnationalism, with significant implications for politics and other traditional geopolitically defined power structures.
  • How do we get there – the final part of the book will look at the artificial systems, thinking and structures we have put in place that will continue to hold us back from our potential until we address them, systemically. It will cover how the law is always behind reality, how a variety of entrenched systems of thinking present the next major philosophical hurdles to progress, how centrist competitive models are failing against distributed cooperative models, and how our ability to move forward relies on being able to let go of the past. This chapter will cover traditional thinking about property, copyright and law, capitalism and zero sum thinking, traditional belief systems, globalism and digital literacy issues.

Below is a more detailed index of draft chapters which will be linked as they are written on this blog for your interest and feedback. Many thanks to everyone who has encouraged me in doing this, and I hope to make you all proud :) Enjoy!

Table of Contents

Foreword & Introduction

Book 1: Where did we come from

The skills, attributes and context that brought us to where we are.

  1. Clever monkeys – key traits that brought us to where we are
  2. Many hands make light work – the growth of communities and diversification of skills
  3. From gods to people – emergence of rationalism, science and democracy
  4. Emancipation or individualism – human rights, suffrage movements and liberalism
  5. Kings in castles to nodes in networks – the shift from centralised to distributed power
  6. Scarcity to surplus – prosperity and surplus changes how we behave and evolve
  7. The global village – coming into the 21st century, we are increasingly connected

Book 2: Where we are going

Some predictions, opportunities and analysis of where we are likely to go, based on trends and the consistent predictable human attributes explored in Book 1.

  1. Massive distribution of everything – things will only get further distributed, so what does this mean for how powerful individuals could become?
  2. Augmented humanism – wearable and embedded tech is just the first step, so what does it means to be human and how far could we go? Why limit ourselves to replicating human limitations in technology when we could dramatically enhance our selves?
  3. Restoring cooperative competition – models of cooperative competitive are clearly succeeding but how far can it go, what is the role of traditional power structures (like government) and how can we enable people rather than things?
  4. Challenging the bell curve – “normal” was broadly popularised and promoted with mass media (radio and television) but the Internet has laid bare our immense variety. Perhaps there is no norm in the future?
  5. The ghost in the machine – automation, robotics, AI and how we blend the best  of technology and humans for a symbiotic future without outsourcing what makes us human. How does this change us, our lives and work as we know it?
  6. Competitive citizenships – companies already jurisdiction shop for the most beneficial environment, and citizens have started doing the same. With the reducing cost of travel and access to global work opportunities, nations will have to start properly competing to attract and retain citizens.
  7. Distributed democracy – how can our lives be more broadly represented in a transnational sense when national institutions are limited to national interests?

Book 3: How do we get there

What are the key things we need to question moving forward and make conscious decisions about if we are to fully explore new possibilities for the future.

  1. Open society, open future
  2. Property and commons
  3. Overcoming collective amnesia, tribalism and othering
  4. Competition and cooperation
  5. Religion and reality
  6. Economy vs society
  7. Nationalism vs transnationalism

Conclusion and call to action

Individuals, governments, corporations and all other human created entities, what roles, responsibilities and rights should you have into the future? What sort of future do you want for your children? What can you do about it today?

Note: the index will change over time, as the book develops :)

Posted in Choose Your Own Adventure | 1 Comment

Moving to …

Last October data.gov.au was moved from the Department of Finance to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) and I moved with the team before going on maternity leave in January. In July of this year, whilst still on maternity leave, I announced that I was leaving PM&C but didn’t say what the next gig was. In choosing my work I’ve always tried to choose new areas, new parts of the broader system to better understand the big picture. It’s part of my sysadmin background – I like to understand the whole system and where the config files are so I can start tweaking and making improvements. These days I see everything as a system, and anything as a “config file”, so there is a lot to learn and tinker with!

Over the past 3 months, my little family (including new baby) has been living in New Zealand on a bit of a sabbatical, partly to spend time with the new bub during that lovely 6-8 months period, but partly for us to have the time and space to consider next steps, personally and professionally. Whilst in New Zealand I was invited to spend a month working with the data.govt.nz team which was awesome, and to share some of my thoughts on digital government and what systemic “digital transformation” could mean. It was fun and I had incredible feedback from my work there, which was wonderful and humbling. Although tempting to stay, I wanted to return to Australia for a fascinating new opportunity to expand my professional horizons.

Thus far I’ve worked in the private sector, non-profits and voluntary projects, political sphere (as an advisor), and in the Federal and State/Territory public sectors. I took some time whilst on maternity leave to think about what I wanted to experience next, and where I could do some good whilst building on my experience and skills to date. I had some interesting offers but having done further tertiary study recently into public policy, governance, global organisations and the highly complex world of international relations, I wanted to better understand both the regulatory sphere and how international systems work. I also wanted to work somewhere where I could have some flexibility for balancing my new family life.

I’m pleased to say that my next gig ticks all the boxes! I’ll be starting next week at AUSTRAC, the Australian financial intelligence agency and regulator where I’ll be focusing on international data projects. I’m particularly excited to be working for the brilliant Dr Maria Milosavljevic (Chief Innovation Officer for AUSTRAC) who has a great track record of work at a number of agencies, including as CIO of the Australian Crime Commission. I am also looking forward to working with the CEO, Paul Jevtovic APM, who is a strong and visionary leader for the organisation, and I believe a real change agent for the broader public sector.

It should be an exciting time and I look forward to sharing more about my work over the coming months! Wish me luck :)

Posted in gov20, Government, Personal | Tagged | 3 Comments

Pia, Thomas and Little A’s Excellent Adventure – Final days

Well, the last 3 months just flew past on our New Zealand adventure! This is the final blog post. We meant to blog more often but between limited internet access and being busy getting the most of our much needed break, we ended up just doing this final post. Enjoy!

Photos were added every week or so to the flickr album.
Our NZ Adventure

Work

I was invited to spend 4 weeks during this trip working with the Department of Internal Affairs in the New Zealand Government on beta.data.govt.nz and a roadmap for data.govt.nz. The team there were just wonderful to work with as were the various people I met from across the NZ public sector. It was particularly fascinating to spend some time with the NZ Head Statistician Liz MacPherson who is quite a data visionary! It was great to get to better know the data landscape in New Zealand and contribute, even in a small way, to where the New Zealand Government could go next with open data, and a more data-driven public sector. I was also invited to share my thoughts on where government could go next more broadly, with a focus on “gov as an API” and digital transformation. It really made me realise how much we were able to achieve both with data.gov.au from 2013-2015 and in the 8 months I was at the Digital Transformation Office. Some of the strategies, big picture ideas and clever mixes of technology and system thinking created some incredible outcomes, things we took for granted from the inside, but things that are quite useful to others and are deserving of recognition for the amazing public servants who contributed. I shared with my New Zealand colleagues a number of ideas we developed at the DTO in the first 8 months of the “interim DTO”, which included the basis for evidence based service design, delivery & reporting, and a vision for how governments could fundamentally change from siloed services to modular and mashable government. “Mashable government” enables better service and information delivery, a competitive ecosystem of products and services, and the capability to automate system to system transactions – with citizen permission of course – to streamline complex user needs. I’m going to do a dedicated blog post later on some of the reflections I’ve had on that work with both data.gov.au and the early DTO thinking, with kudos to all those who contributed.

I mentioned in July that I had left the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (where data.gov.au was moved to in October 2015, and I’ve been on maternity leave since January 2016). My next blog post will be about where I’m going and why. You get a couple of clues: yes it involves data, yes it involves public sector, and yes it involves an international component. Also, yes I’m very excited about it!! Stay tuned ;)

Fishing

When we planned this trip to New Zealand, Thomas has some big numbers in mind for how many fish we should be able to catch. As it turned out, the main seasonal run of trout was 2 months later than usual so for the first month and a half of our trip, it looked unlikely we would get anywhere near what we’d hoped. We got to about 100 fish, fighting for every single one (and keeping only about 5) and then the run began! For 4 weeks of the best fishing of the season I was working in Wellington Mon-Fri, with Little A accompanying me (as I’m still feeding her) leaving Thomas to hold the fort. I did manage to get some great time on the water after Wellington, with my best fishing session (guided by Thomas) resulting in a respectable 14 fish (over 2 hours). Thomas caught a lazy 42 on his best day (over only 3 hours), coming home in time for breakfast and a cold compress for his sprained arm. All up our household clocked up 535 big trout (mostly Thomas!) of which we only kept 10, all the rest were released to swim another day. A few lovely guests contributed to the numbers so thank you Bill, Amanda, Amelia, Miles, Glynn, Silvia and John who together contributed about 40 trout to our tally!

Studies

My studies are going well. I now have only 1.5 subjects left in my degree (the famously elusive degree, which was almost finished and then my 1st year had to be repeated due to doing it too long ago for the University to give credit for, gah!). To finish the degree, a Politics degree with loads of useful stuff for my work like public policy, I quite by chance chose a topic on White Collar Crime which was FASCINATING!

Visitors

Over the course of the 3 months we had a number of wonderful guests who contributed to the experience and had their own enjoyable and relaxing holidays with us in little Turangi: fishing, bushwalking, going to the hot pools and thermal walks, doing high tea at the Tongariro Chateau at Whakaapa Village, Huka Falls in Taupo, and even enjoying some excellent mini golf. Thank you all for visiting, spending time with us and sharing in our adventure. We love you all!

Little A

Little A is now almost 8 months old and has had leaps and bounds in development from a little baby to an almost toddler! She has learned to roll and commando crawl (pulling herself around with her arms only) around the floor. She loves to sit up and play with her toys and is eating her way through a broad range of foods, though pear is still her favourite. She is starting to make a range of noises and the race is on as to whether she’ll say ma or da first :) She has quite the social personality and we adore her utterly! She surprised Daddy with a number of presents on Father’s Day, and helped to make our first family Father’s Day memorable indeed.

Salut Turangi

And so it’s with mixed feelings that we bid adieu to the sleepy town of Turangi. It’s been a great adventure, with lots of wonderful memories and a much-needed chance to get off the grid for a while, but we’re both looking forward to re-entering respectable society, catching up with those of you that we haven’t seen for a while, and planning our next great adventure. We’ll be back in Turangi in February for a different adventure with friends of ours from the US, but that will be only a week or so. Turangi is a great place, and if you’re ever in the area stop into the local shopping centre and try one of the delicious pork and watercress or lamb, mint and kumara pies available from the local bakeries – reason enough to return again and again.

Posted in Personal | 2 Comments