Essays: Improving the Public Policy Cycle Model

I don’t have nearly enough time to blog these days, but I am doing a bunch of writing for university. I decided I would publish a selection of the (hopefully) more interesting essays that people might find interesting :) Please note, my academic writing is pretty awful, but hopefully some of the ideas, research and references are useful. 

For this essay, I had the most fun in developing my own alternative public policy model at the end of the essay. Would love to hear your thoughts. Enjoy and comments welcome!

Question: Critically assess the accuracy of and relevance to Australian public policy of the Bridgman and Davis policy cycle model.

The public policy cycle developed by Peter Bridgman and Glyn Davis is both relevant to Australian public policy and simultaneously not an accurate representation of developing policy in practice. This essay outlines some of the ways the policy cycle model both assists and distracts from quality policy development in Australia and provides an alternative model as a thought experiment based on the authors policy experience and reflecting on the research conducted around the applicability of Bridgman and Davis’ policy cycle model.

Background

In 1998 Peter Bridgman and Glyn Davis released the first edition of The Australian Policy Handbook, a guide developed to assist public servants to understand and develop sound public policy. The book includes a policy cycle model, developed by Bridgman and Davis, which portrays a number of cyclic logical steps for developing and iteratively improving public policy. This policy model has attracted much analysis, scrutiny, criticism and debate since it was first developed, and it continues to be taught as a useful tool in the kit of any public servant. The fifth edition of the Handbook was the most recent, being released in 2012 which includes Catherine Althaus who joined Bridgman and Davis on the fourth edition in 2007.

The policy cycle model

The policy cycle model presented in the Handbook is below:

bridgman-and-davis

The model consists of eight steps in a circle that is meant to encourage an ongoing, cyclic and iterative approach to developing and improving policy over time with the benefit of cumulative inputs and experience. The eight steps of the policy cycle are:

  1. Issue identification – a new issue emerges through some mechanism.

  2. Policy analysis – research and analysis of the policy problem to establish sufficient information to make decisions about the policy.

  3. Policy instrument development – the identification of which instruments of government are appropriate to implement the policy. Could include legislation, programs, regulation, etc.

  4. Consultation (which permeates the entire process) – garnering of external and independent expertise and information to inform the policy development.

  5. Coordination – once a policy position is prepared it needs to be coordinated through the mechanisms and machinations of government. This could include engagement with the financial, Cabinet and parliamentary processes.

  6. Decision – a decision is made by the appropriate person or body, often a Minister or the Cabinet.

  7. Implementation – once approved the policy then needs to be implemented.

  8. Evaluation – an important process to measure, monitor and evaluate the policy implementation.

In the first instance is it worth reflecting on the stages of the model, which implies the entire policy process is centrally managed and coordinated by the policy makers which is rarely true, and thus gives very little indication of who is involved, where policies originate, external factors and pressures, how policies go from a concept to being acted upon. Even to just develop a position resources must be allocated and the development of a policy is thus prioritised above the development of some other policy competing for resourcing. Bridgman and Davis establish very little in helping the policy practitioner or entrepreneur to understand the broader picture which is vital in the development and successful implementation of a policy.

The policy cycle model is relevant to Australian public policy in two key ways: 1) that it both presents a useful reference model for identifying various potential parts of policy development; and 2) it is instructive for policy entrepreneurs to understand the expectations and approach taken by their peers in the public service, given that the Bridgman and Davis model has been taught to public servants for a number of years. In the first instance the model presents a basic framework that policy makers can use to go about the thinking of and planning for their policy development. In practise, some stages may be skipped, reversed or compressed depending upon the context, or a completely different approach altogether may be taken, but the model gives a starting point in the absence of anything formally imposed.

Bridgman and Davis themselves paint a picture of vast complexity in policy making whilst holding up their model as both an explanatory and prescriptive approach, albeit with some caveats. This is problematic because public policy development almost never follows a cleanly structured process. Many criticisms of the policy cycle model question its accuracy as a descriptive model given it doesn’t map to the experiences of policy makers. This draws into question the relevance of the model as a prescriptive approach as it is too linear and simplistic to represent even a basic policy development process. Dr Cosmo Howard conducted many interviews with senior public servants in Australia and found that the policy cycle model developed by Bridgman and Davis didn’t broadly match the experiences of policy makers. Although they did identify various aspects of the model that did play a part in their policy development work to varying degrees, the model was seen as too linear, too structured, and generally not reflective of the at times quite different approaches from policy to policy (Howard, 2005). The model was however seen as a good starting point to plan and think about individual policy development processes.

Howard also discovered that political engagement changed throughout the process and from policy to policy depending on government priorities, making a consistent approach to policy development quite difficult to articulate. The common need for policy makers to respond to political demands and tight timelines often leads to an inability to follow a structured policy development process resulting in rushed or pre-canned policies that lack due process or public consultation (Howard, 2005). In this way the policy cycle model as presented does not prepare policy-makers in any pragmatic way for the pressures to respond to the realities of policy making in the public service. Colebatch (2005) also criticised the model as having “not much concern to demonstrate that these prescriptions are derived from practice, or that following them will lead to better outcomes”. Fundamentally, Bridgman and Davis don’t present much evidence to support their policy cycle model or to support the notion that implementation of the model will bring about better policy outcomes.

Policy development is often heavily influenced by political players and agendas, which is not captured in the Bridgman and Davis’ policy cycle model. Some policies are effectively handed over to the public service to develop and implement, but often policies have strong political involvement with the outcomes of policy development ultimately given to the respective Minister for consideration, who may also take the policy to Cabinet for final ratification. This means even the most evidence based, logical, widely consulted and highly researched policy position can be overturned entirely at the behest of the government of the day (Howard, 2005) . The policy cycle model does not capture nor prepare public servants for how to manage this process. Arguably, the most important aspects to successful policy entrepreneurship lie outside the policy development cycle entirely, in the mapping and navigation of the treacherous waters of stakeholder and public management, myriad political and other agendas, and other policy areas competing for prioritisation and limited resources.

The changing role of the public in the 21st century is not captured by the policy cycle model. The proliferation of digital information and communications creates new challenges and opportunities for modern policy makers. They must now compete for influence and attention in an ever expanding and contestable market of experts, perspectives and potential policies (Howard, 2005), which is a real challenge for policy makers used to being the single trusted source of knowledge for decision makers. This has moved policy development and influence away from the traditional Machiavellian bureaucratic approach of an internal, specialised, tightly controlled monopoly on advice, towards a more transparent and inclusive though more complex approach to policy making. Although Bridgman and Davis go part of the way to reflecting this post-Machiavellian approach to policy by explicitly including consultation and the role of various external actors in policy making, they still maintain the Machiavellian role of the public servant at the centre of the policy making process.

The model does not clearly articulate the need for public buy-in and communication of the policy throughout the cycle, from development to implementation. There are a number of recent examples of policies that have been developed and implemented well by any traditional public service standards, but the general public have seen as complete failures due to a lack of or negative public narrative around the policies. Key examples include the Building the Education Revolution policy and the insulation scheme. In the case of both, the policy implementation largely met the policy goals and independent analysis showed the policies to be quite successful through quantitative and qualitative assessment. However, both policies were announced very publicly and politically prior to implementation and then had little to no public narrative throughout implementation leaving the the public narrative around both to be determined by media reporting on issues and the Government Opposition who were motivated to undermine the policies. The policy cycle model in focusing on consultation ignores the necessity of a public engagement and communication strategy throughout the entire process.

The Internet also presents significant opportunities for policy makers to get better policy outcomes through public and transparent policy development. The model down not reflect how to strengthen a policy position in an open environment of competing ideas and expertise (aka, the Internet), though it is arguably one of the greatest opportunities to establish evidence-based, peer reviewed policy positions with a broad range of expertise, experience and public buy-in from experts, stakeholders and those who might be affected by a policy. This establishes a public record for consideration by government. A Minister or the Cabinet has the right to deviate from these publicly developed policy recommendations as our democratically elected representatives, but it increases the accountability and transparency of the political decision making regarding policy development, thus improving the likelihood of an evidence-based rather than purely political outcome. History has shown that transparency in decision making tends to improve outcomes as it aligns the motivations of those involved to pursue what they can defend publicly. Currently the lack of transparency at the political end of policy decision making has led to a number of examples where policy makers are asked to rationalise policy decisions rather than investigate the best possible policy approach (Howard, 2005). Within the public service there is a joke about developing policy-based evidence rather than the generally desired public service approach of developing evidence-based policy.

Although there are clearly issues with any policy cycle model in practise due to the myriad factors involved and the at times quite complex landscape of influences, by constantly referencing throughout their book the importance of “good process” to “help create better policy” (Bridgman & Davis, 2012), they both imply their model is a “good process” and subtly encourage a check-box style, formally structured and iterative approach to policy development. The policy cycle in practice becomes impractical and inappropriate for much policy development (Everett, 2003). Essentially, it gives new and inexperienced policy makers a false sense of confidence in a model put forward as descriptive which is at best just a useful point of reference. In a book review of the 5th edition of the Handbook, Kevin Rozzoli supports this by criticising the policy cycle model as being too generic and academic rather than practical, and compares it to the relatively pragmatic policy guide by Eugene Bardach (2012).

Bridgman and Davis do concede that their policy cycle model is not an accurate portrayal of policy practice, calling it “an ideal type from which every reality must curve away” (Bridgman & Davis, 2012). However, they still teach it as a prescriptive and normative model from which policy developers can begin. This unfortunately provides policy developers with an imperfect model that can’t be implemented in practise and little guidance to tell when it is implemented well or how to successfully “curve away”. At best, the model establishes some useful ideas that policy makers should consider, but as a normative model, it rapidly loses traction as every implementation of the model inevitably will “curve away”.

The model also embeds in the minds of public servants some subtle assumptions about policy development that are questionable such as: the role of the public service as a source of policy; the idea that good policy will be naturally adopted; a simplistic view of implementation when that is arguably the most tricky aspect of policy-making; a top down approach to policy that doesn’t explicitly engage or value input from administrators, implementers or stakeholders throughout the entire process; and very little assistance including no framework in the model for the process of healthy termination or finalisation of policies. Bridgman and Davis effectively promote the virtues of a centralised policy approach whereby the public service controls the process, inputs and outputs of public policy development. However, this perspective is somewhat self serving according to Colebatch, as it supports a central agency agenda approach. The model reinforces a perspective that policy makers control the process and consult where necessary as opposed to being just part of a necessarily diverse ecosystem where they must engage with experts, implementers, the political agenda, the general public and more to create robust policy positions that might be adopted and successfully implemented. The model and handbook as a whole reinforce the somewhat dated and Machiavellian idea of policy making as a standalone profession, with policy makers the trusted source of policies. Although Bridgman and Davis emphasise that consultation should happen throughout the process, modern policy development requires ongoing input and indeed co-design from independent experts, policy implementers and those affected by the policy. This is implied but the model offers no pragmatic way to do policy engagement in this way. Without these three perspectives built into any policy proposal, the outcomes are unlikely to be informed, pragmatic, measurable, implementable or easily accepted by the target communities.

The final problem with the Bridgman and Davis public policy development model is that by focusing so completely on the policy development process and not looking at implementation nor in considering the engagement of policy implementers in the policy development process, the policy is unlikely to be pragmatic or take implementation opportunities and issues into account. Basically, the policy cycle model encourages policy makers to focus on a policy itself, iterative and cyclic though it may be, as an outcome rather than practical outcomes that support the policy goals. The means is mistaken for the ends. This approach artificially delineates policy development from implementation and the motivations of those involved in each are not necessarily aligned.

The context of the model in the handbook is also somewhat misleading which affects the accuracy and relevance of the model. The book over simplifies the roles of various actors in policy development, placing policy responsibility clearly in the domain of Cabinet, Ministers, the Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet and senior departmental officers (Bridgman and Davis, 2012 Figure 2.1). Arguably, this conflicts with the supposed point of the book to support even quite junior or inexperienced public servants throughout a government administration to develop policy. It does not match reality in practise thus confusing students at best or establishing misplaced confidence in outcomes derived from policies developed according to the Handbook at worst.

spheres-of-government

An alternative model

Part of the reason the Bridgman and Davis policy cycle model has had such traction is because it was created in the absence of much in the way of pragmatic advice to policy makers and thus has been useful at filling a need, regardless as to how effective is has been in doing so. The authors have however, not significantly revisited the model since it was developed in 1998. This would be quite useful given new technologies have established both new mechanisms for public engagement and new public expectations to co-develop or at least have a say about the policies that shape their lives.

From my own experience, policy entrepreneurship in modern Australia requires a highly pragmatic approach that takes into account the various new technologies, influences, motivations, agendas, competing interests, external factors and policy actors involved. This means researching in the first instance the landscape and then shaping the policy development process accordingly to maximise the quality and potential adoptability of the policy position developed. As a bit of a thought experiment, below is my attempt at a more usefully descriptive and thus potentially more useful prescriptive policy model. I have included the main aspects involved in policy development, but have included a number of additional factors that might be useful to policy makers and policy entrepreneurs looking to successfully develop and implement new and iterative policies.

Policy-model

It is also important to identify the inherent motivations of the various actors involved in the pursuit, development of and implementation of a policy. In this way it is possible to align motivations with policy goals or vice versa to get the best and most sustainable policy outcomes. Where these motivations conflict or leave gaps in achieving the policy goals, it is unlikely a policy will be successfully implemented or sustainable in the medium to long term. This process of proactively identifying motivations and effectively dealing with them is missing from the policy cycle model.

Conclusion

The Bridgman and Davis policy cycle model is demonstrably inaccurate and yet is held up by its authors as a reasonable descriptive and prescriptive normative approach to policy development. Evidence is lacking for both the model accuracy and any tangible benefits in applying the model to a policy development process and research into policy development across the public service continually deviates from and often directly contradicts the model. Although Bridgman and Davis concede policy development in practise will deviate from their model, there is very little useful guidance as to how to implement or deviate from the model effectively. The model is also inaccurate in that is overly simplifies policy development, leaving policy practitioners to learn for themselves about external factors, the various policy actors involved throughout the process, the changing nature of public and political expectations and myriad other realities that affect modern policy development and implementation in the Australian public service.

Regardless of the policy cycle model inaccuracy, it has existed and been taught for nearly sixteen years. It has shaped the perspectives and processes of countless public servants and thus is relevant in the Australian public service in so far as it has been used as a normative model or starting point for countless policy developments and provides a common understanding and lexicon for engaging with these policy makers.

The model is therefore both inaccurate and relevant to policy entrepreneurs in the Australian public service today. I believe a review and rewrite of the model would greatly improve the advice and guidance available for policy makers and policy entrepreneurs within the Australian public service and beyond.

References
(Please note, as is the usual case with academic references, most of these are not publicly freely available at all. Sorry. It is an ongoing bug bear of mine and many others).

Althaus, C, Bridgman, P and Davis, G. 2012, The Australian Policy Handbook. Sydney, Allen and Unwin, 5th ed.

Bridgman, P and Davis, G. 2004, The Australian Policy Handbook. Sydney, Allen and Unwin, 3rd ed.

Bardach, E. 2012, A practical guide for policy analysis: the eightfold path to more effective problem solving, 4th Edition. New York. Chatham House Publishers.

Everett, S. 2003, The Policy Cycle: Democratic Process or Rational Paradigm Revisited?, The Australian Journal of Public Administration, 62(2) 65-70

Howard, C. 2005, The Policy Cycle: a Model of Post-Machiavellian Policy Making?, The Australian Journal of Public Administration, Vol. 64, No. 3, pp3-13.

Rozzoli, K. 2013, Book Review of The Australian Policy Handbook: Fifth Edition., Australasian Parliamentary Review, Autumn 2013, Vol 28, No. 1.

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The new citizenship: digital citizenship

Recently I was invited to give a TEDx talk at a Canberra event for women speakers. It was a good opportunity to have some fun with some ideas I’ve been playing with for a while around the concept of being a citizen in the era of the Internet, and what that means for individuals and traditional power structures in society, including government. A snipped transcript below. Enjoy and comments welcome :) I’ve put a few links that might be of interest throughout and the slides are in the video for reference.

Video is at http://www.youtube.com/embed/iqjM_HU0WSw

Digital Citizenship

I want to talk to you about digital citizenship and how, not only the geek will inherit the earth but, indeed, we already have. All the peoples just don’t know it yet.

Powerful individuals

We are in the most exciting of times. People are connected from birth and are engaged across the world. We are more powerful as individuals than ever before. We have, particularly in communities and societies like Australia, we have a population that has all of our basic needs taken care of. So we have got time to kill. And we’ve got resources. Time and resources gives a greater opportunity for introspection which has led over the last hundred years in particular, to enormous progress. To the establishment of the concept of individual rights and strange ideas like the concept that animals might actually have feelings and perhaps maybe shouldn’t be treated awfully or just as a food source.

We’ve had these huge, enormous revolutions and evolutions of thought and perspective for a long, long time but it’s been growing exponentially. It’s a combination of the growth in democracy, the rise of the concept of individual rights, and the concept of individuals being able to participate in the macro forces that shape their world.

But it’s also a combination of technology and the explosion in what an individual can achieve both as a individual but also en mass collaborating dynamically across the globe. It’s the fact that many of us are kind of fat, content and happy and now wanting to make a bit of a difference, which is quite exciting. So what we’ve got is a massive and unprecedented distribution of power.

Distributed power

We’ve got the distribution of publishing. The ability to publish whatever you want. Whether you do it through formal mechanisms or anonymously. You can distribute to a global audience with less barriers to entry than ever before. We have the distribution of the ability to communicate with whomever your please. The ability to monitor, which has traditionally been a top down thing for ensuring laws are followed and taxes are paid. But now people can monitor sideways, they can monitor up. They can monitor their governments. They can monitor companies. There is the distribution of enforcement. This gets a little tricky because if anyone can enforce than anyone can enforce any thing. And you start to get a little bit of active concerns there but it is an interesting time. Finally with the advent of 3D printing starting to get mainstream, we’re seeing the massive distribution of, of property.

And if you think about these five concepts – publishing, communications, monitoring, enforcement and property – these five power bases have traditionally been centralised. We usually look at the industrial revolution and the broadcast age as two majors periods in history but arguably they’re both actually part of the same era. Because both of them are about the centralised creation of stuff – whether it’s physical or information – by a small number of people that could afford to do so, and then distributed to the rest of the population.

The idea that anyone can create any of these things and distribute it to anyone else, or indeed for their own purposes is a whole new thing and very exciting. And what that means is that the relationship between people and governments and industry has changed quite fundamentally. Traditional institutions and bastions of any sort of power are struggling with this and are finding it rather scary but it is creating an imperative to change. It is also creating new questions about legitimacy and power relations between people, companies and governments.

Individuals however, are thriving in this environment. There’s always arguments about trolls and about whether the power’s being used trivially. The fact is the Internet isn’t all unicorns or all doom. It is something different, it is something exciting and it is something that is empowering people in a way that’s unprecedented and often unexpected.

The term singularity is one of those fluffy things that’s been touted around by futurists but it does have a fairly specific meaning which is kind of handy. The concept of the distance between things getting smaller. Whether that’s the distance between you and your publisher, you and your food, you and your network or you and your device. The concept of approaching the singularity is about reducing those distances between. Now, of course the internet has reduced the distance between people quite significantly and I put to you that we’re in a period of a “democratic singularity” because the distance between people and power has dramatically reduced.

People are in many ways now as powerful as a lot of the institutions which frame and shape their lives. So to paraphrase and slightly turn on it’s head the quote by William Gibson: the future is here and it is already widely distributed. So we’ve approached the democratic singularity and it’s starting to make democracy a lot more participatory, a lot more democratic.

Changing expectations

So, what does this mean in reality? What does this actually translate to for us as people, as a society, as a “global village”, to quote Marshall McLuhan. There’s quite massive changing expectations of individual. I see a lot of people focused on the shift in power from the West to the East. But I believe the more interesting shift is the shift in power from institutions to individuals.

That is the more fascinating shift not just because individuals have power but because it is changing our expectations as a society. And when you start to get a massive change of expectations across an entire community of people, that starts to change behaviors, change economics, change socials patterns, change social norms. 

What are those changing expectations? Well, the internet teaches us a lot of things. The foundation technical principles of the internet are effectively shaping the social characteristics of this new society. This distributed society or “Society 5″ if you will.

Some of the expectations are the ability to access what you want. The ability to talk to whom you want. The ability to cross reference. When I was a kid and you did a essay on anything you had to go look at Encyclopedia Britannica. It was a single source of truth. The concept that you could get multiple perspectives, some of which might be skewed by the way, but still to concept of getting the context of those different perspectives and a little comparison was hard and alien for the average person. Now you can often talk to someone who is there right now let alone find myriad sources to help inform your view. You can get a point of comparison against traditionally official sources like a government source or media report. People online start to intuitively understand that the world’s actually a lot more gray than we are generally taught in school and such. Learning that the world is gray is great because you start to say, “you know what? You could be right and I could be right and that doesn’t make either perspective necessarily invalid, and that isn’t a terrible thing.” It doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive or a zero sum game, or a single view of history. We can both have a perspective and be mutually respectful in a lot of cases and actually have a more diverse and interesting world as a result.

Changing expectations are helping many people overcome barriers that traditionally stopped them from being socially successful: economically, reputationally, etc. People are more empowered to basically be a superhero which is kinda cool. Online communities can be one of the most exciting and powerful places to be because it starts to transcend limitations and make it possible for people to excel in a way that perhaps traditionally they weren’t able to. So, it’s very exciting. 

Individual power also brings a lot of responsibility. We’ve got all these power structures but at the end of the day there’s usually a techie implementing the big red button so the role of geeks in this world is very important. We are the ones who enable technology to be used for any agenda. Everything is basically based on technology, right? So everything is reliant upon technology. Well, this means we are exactly as free as the tools that we use. 

Technical freedom

If the tool that you’re using for social networking only allows you to talk to people in the same geographic area as you then you’re limited. If the email tool you’re using only allows you to send to someone who has another secure network then you’re only as free as that tool. Tech literacy becomes an enabler or an inhibitor, and it defines an individuals privacy. Because you might say to yourself, oh you know, I will never tell anyone where I am at a particular point in time cause I don’t want someone to rob my house while I’m out on holiday. But you’ll still put a photo up that you’re Argentina right now, because that’s fun, so now people know. Technical literacy for the masses is really important but largely, at this point, confined to the geeks. So hacker ethos ends up being a really important part of this.

For those that don’t know, hacker is not a rude word. It’s not a bad word. It’s the concept of having a creative and clever approach to technology and applying tech in cool and exciting ways. It helps people scratch an itch, test their skills, solve tricky problems collaboratively. Hacker ethos is a very important thing because you start to say freedom, including technical freedom is actually very, very important. It’s very high on the list. And with this ethos, technologists know that to implement and facilitate technologies that actually hobble our fellow citizens kind of screws them over.

Geeks will always be the most free in a digital society because we will always know how to route around the damage. Again, going back to the technical construct of the internet. But fundamentally we have a role to play to actually be leaders and pioneers in this society and to help lead the masses into a better future.

Danger!

There’s also a lot of other sorts of dangers. Tools don’t discriminate. The same tools that can lead a wonderful social revolution or empower individuals to tell their stories is the same technology that can be used by criminals or those with a nefarious agenda. This is an important reason to remember we shouldn’t lock down the internet because someone can use it for a bad reason in the same way we don’t ban cars just because someone used a vehicle to rob a bank. The idea of hobbling technology because it’s used in a bad way is a highly frustrating one.

Another danger is “privilege cringe”. In communities like Australia we’re sort of taught to say, well, you’ve got privilege because you’ve been brought up in a safe stable environment, you’ve got an education, you’ve got enough money, you’ve got a sense of being able to go out and conquer the world. But you’ve got to hide that because you should be embarrassed of your opportunities when so many others have so little. I suggest to you all that you in this room, and pretty much anyone that would probably come and watch a TED event or go to a TED talk or watch it online, is the sort of person who is probably reasonably privileged in a lot of ways and you can use your privilege to influence the world in a powerful and positive way.

You’ve got access to the internet which makes you part of the third of the world that has access. So use your privilege for the power of good! This is the point. We are more powerful than ever before so if you’re not using your power for the power of good, if you’re not actually contributing to making the world a better place, what are you doing?

Hipsters are a major danger. Billy Bragg made the perfect quote which is, cynicism is the perfect enemy of progress. There is nothing more frustrating than actually making progress and having people tear you down because you haven’t done it exactly so.

Another danger is misdirection. We have a lot of people in Australia who want to do good. That’s very exciting and really cool. But Australians tend to say, I’m going to go to another country and feed some poor people and that’ll make me feel good, that’ll be doing some good and that’ll be great. Me personally, that would really not be good for people because I don’t cook very well. Deciding how you can actually contribute to making the world a better place in a way is like finding a lever? You need to identify what you are good at, what real differences you can make when you apply your skills very specifically. Where do you push to get a major change rather than, rather than contributing to actually maintaining the status quo? How do you rewrite the rules? How do you actually help those people that need help all around the world, including here in Australia, in a way that actually helps them sustainably? Enthused misdirection is I guess where I’m getting at.

And of course, one of the most frustrating dangers is hyperbole. It is literally destroying us. Figuratively speaking ;)

So there’s a lot of dangers, there’s a lot of issues but there is a lot of opportunities and a lot of capacities to do awesome. How many people here have been to a TED talk of some sort before? So keep your hand up if, after that, you went out and did something world changing. OK. So now you’re gonna do that, yeah? Right. So next time we do this all of those hands will stay up.

Progress

I’ll make couple of last points. My terrible little diagram here maps the concept that if you look at the last 5,000 years. The quality of life for individuals in a many societies has been down here fairly low for a long time. In millennia past, kings come and go, people get killed, properties taken. All sorts of things happen and individuals were very much at the behest of the powers of the day but you just keep plowing your fields and try to be all right. But is has slowly improved over a long time time, and the collective epiphany of the individual starts to happen, the idea of having rights, the idea that things could be better and that the people could contribute to their own future and democracy starts to kick off. The many suffrage movements addressing gender, ethnicity and other biases with more and more individuals in societies starting to be granted more equal recognition and rights.

The last hundred years, boom! It has soared up here somewhere. And I’m not tall enough to actually make the point, right? This is so exciting! So where are we going to go next?

How do we contribute to the future if we’re not involved in shaping the future. If we aren’t involved, then other powerful individuals are going to shape it for us. And this, this is the thing I’ve really learned by working in government, but working in the Minister’s office, by working in the public service. I specifically went to work in for a politician – even though I’m very strongly apolitical – to work in the government and in the public service because I wanted to understand the executive, legislative, and administrative arms of the entity that shapes our lives so much. I feel like I have a fairly good understanding of that now and there’s a lot of people who influence your lives every day.

Tipping point

Have we really hit this tipping point? You know, is it, is it really any different today than it was yesterday? Well, we’ve had this exponential progress, we’ve got a third of the world online, we’ve got these super human powerful individuals in a large chunk of different societies around the world. I argue that we have hit and passed the tipping point but the realisation hasn’t hit everyone yet.

So, the question is for you to figure out your super power. How do you best contribute it to making the world a better place?

Powers and kryptonite

For me, going and working in a soup kitchen will not help anybody. I could possibly design a robot that creates super delicious and nutritional food to actually feed people. But me doing it myself would actually probably give them food poisoning and wouldn’t help anyone. You need to figure out your specific super powers so you can deploy them to some effect. Figure out how you can contribute to the world. Also figure out your kryptonite.

What biases do you have in place? What weaknesses do you have? What things will actually get in the way of you trying to do what you’re doing? I quite often see people apply critical analysis and critical thinking tools without any self-awareness and the problem is that we are super clever beings and we can rationalize anything we want if, emotionally, we like it or dislike it.

So try and have both self-awareness and critical analysis and now you’ve got a very powerful way to do some good. So I’m going to just finish with a quote.

JFDI

What better place than here? What better time than now? All hell can’t stop us now — RATM

The future is being determined whether you like it or not. But it’s not really being determined by the traditional players in a lot of ways. The power’s been distributed. It’s not just the politicians or the scholars or the researchers or corporates. It’s being invented right here, right now. You are contributing to that future either passively or actively. So you may as well get up and be active about it.

We’re heading towards this and we’ve possibly even hit the tipping point of a digital singularity and a democratic singularity. So, what are you going do about it? I invite you to share with me in the creating the future together.

Thank you very much.

You might also be interested in my blog post on Creating Open Government for a Digital Society and I think the old nugget of noblesse oblige applies here very well.

Posted in gov20, Government, society5, Tech | Leave a comment

Antarctica Adventure!

Recently I adventured to Antarctica. It’s not every day you get to say that and it has always been a dream of mine to travel to the south pole (or close to it!) and to see the glaciers, penguins, whales and birds that inhabit such a remote environment. There is something liberating and awesome (in the full sense of the word) in going somewhere where very few humans have traveled. Especially for someone like me who is spends so much time online.

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Being Australian and unused to real cold, I think I was also attracted to exploring a truly cold problem with travelling to Antarctica is, as it turns out, the 48-60 hours of torment you need to go through to get there and to get back. The Drake Passage is the strip of open sea between the bottom of South America and the Peninsula of the Antarctic continent. It is by far the most direct way by ship to get to Antarctica and the port town of Ushuaia is well set up to support intrepid travelers in this venture. We took off from Ushuaia on a calm Wednesday afternoon and within a few hours, were into the dreaded Drake. I found whilst ever I was lying down I was ok but walking around was torture! So I ended up staying in bed about 40 hours by which time it had calmed down significantly. See my little video of the more calm but still awful parts :) And that was apparently a calm crossing! Ah well, turns out I don’t have sea legs. At least I wasn’t actually sick and I certainly caught up with a few months of sleep deprivation so arguably, it was the perfect enforced rest!

Now the adventure begins! We were accompanied by a number of stunning and enormous birds, including Cape Pestrels and a number of Albatrosses. Then we came across a Blue Whale which is apparently quite a rare thing to see in the Drake. It gave us a little show and then went on its way. We entered the Gerlache Strait and saw our first ice which was quite exciting, but by the end of the trip these early views were just breadcrumbs! We landed at Cuverville Island which was stunning! I had taken the snowshoeing option and so with 12 other adventurous travellers, we started up the snow covered hill to get some better views. We saw a large colony of Gentoo penguins which was fun, they are quite curious and cute creatures. We had to be careful to not block any “penguin highways” so often was giving way to scores of them as we explored. We saw a Leopard Seal in the water, which managed to catch one unfortunate penguin for lunch.

We then landed at Neko Harbour, our first step onto the actual Antarctic continent! Again, more stunning views and Gentoo penguins. We had the good fortune to also have time that day to land at Port Lockroy, an old British station in Antarctica and the southern most post office in the world. I send a bunch of postcards to friends and family on the 23rd December, I guess we’ll see how long they take to make the trip. We got to see a number of the Snowy Sheathbill birds, which is a bit of a scavenger. It eats everything, including penguin poo, which is truly horrible. Although their eating habits are awful, they are quite beautiful and I was lucky enough to score a really good shot of one mid flight.

The next day we traveled down the Lemaire Channel to Petermann Island where we saw more Gentoo penguins, but also Adalie penguins, which are terribly cute! Again we did some snowshoeing which was excellent. I took some time to just sit and drink in the remoteness and the pristine environment that is Antarctica. It was humbling and wonderful to remember how truly small we all are and the magnificence of this world on which we reside. We saw some Minke Whales in the water beside the ship.

In the afternoon we broke through a few kilometres of ice and took the small boats (zodiacs) a short distance, then walked a half kilometre over ocean ice to land at Vernadsky Base, a Ukranian scientific post. The dozen or so scientists there hadn’t seen any other humans for 8 months are were very pleased to see us :) All of them were men and when I asked why there weren’t any women scientists there I had a one word answer from our young Ukranian guide: politics. Interesting… At any rate it was fascinating and it looks like they do some incredible science down there. There was also a small Elephant Seal who crawled up to the bar to say hi. They also have the southern most bar in the world, and there were treated to home made sugar based vodka, which was actually pretty good. So good in fact that one of the guests from our ship drank a dozen shots, then exchanged her bra in exchange for some snow mobile moonlighting around the base. Was quite hilarious and poor expedition leader dealt with it very diplomatically.

To cap off a fantastic day, the catering crew put on a BBQ on the deck of the Ocean Nova which was a cold but excellent affair. The mulled wine and hot apple dessert went down particularly well against the cold! We did a trivia night which was great fun, and our team, “The Rise of the Gentoo” won! There was much celebration though the sweet victory was snatched from us when they found a score card for a team that hadn’t been marked. Ah well, all is fair in love and war! I had only one question for our expedition leader, would we see any Orca? Orca are a new favourite animal of mine. They are brilliant, social and strategic animals. Well worth looking into.

The next morning we were woken particularly early as there were some Orca in the water! I was first on deck, in my pyjamas and I have to admit I squealed quite a lot, much to the amusement of our new American friends. At one point I saw all five Orca come to the surface and I could only watch in awe. They really are stunning animals. I learned from the on board whale expert that Orca have some particularly unique hunting techniques. Often the come across a seal or two on a small iceberg surrounded by water and ao they swim up to it in formation and then dive and hit their tails simultaneously creating a small tidal wave that washes the seal off into the water ready for the taking. Very clever animals. Then they always share the spoils of a hunt amongst the pod, and often will simply daze a victim to teach young Orca how to hunt before dealing a death blow. Apparently Orca have been known to kill much larger animals including Humpback Whales.

Anyway, the rest of day we did some zodiac trips (the small courier boats) around Paradise Harbour which was bitterly cold, and then around the Melchior Islands in Dallman Bay which was spectacular. One of the birds down here is the Antarctic Cormorant, closely related to the Cormorants in Australia. They look quite similar :) We got to see number of them nesting. Going back through the Drake I had to confine myself to my room again, which meant I missed seeing Humpback Whales. This was unfortunate but I really did struggle to travel around the ship when in the Drake without getting very ill.

On a final note, I traveled with the Antarctica XX1, which has a caring and wonderful crew. The crew includes scientists, naturists, biologists and others who genuinely love Antarctica. As a result we had a number of amazing lectures throughout the trip about the wildlife and ecosystem of Antarctica. Learning about Krill, ice flow, climate change and the migratory patterns of the whales was awesome. I wish I had been able to attend more talks but I couldn’t get up during most of the Drake :/ The rest of the crew who looked after navigation, feeding us, cleaning and all the other operations were just amazing. A huge thank you to you all for making this voyage the trip of a lifetime!

One thing I didn’t anticipate was the land sickness! 24 hours after getting off the boat and I still feel the sway of the ocean! All of my photos, plus a couple of group photos and a video or two are up on my flickr account in the Antarctica 2013 set at http://www.flickr.com/photos/piawaugh/sets/72157638364999506/ You can also see photos from Buenos Aires if you are interested at http://www.flickr.com/photos/piawaugh/sets/72157638573728155/

A special thank you also to Jamie, our exhibition leader who delivered an incredible itinerary under some quite trying circumstances, and all the expedition crew! You guys totally rock :)

I met some amazing new friends on the trip, and got to spend some quality time with existing friends. You don’t go on adventures like this without meeting other people of a similar adventurous mindset, which is always wonderful.

For everyone else, I highly highly recommend you check out the Antarctica XXI (Ocean Nova) trips if you are interested in going to Antarctica or the Arctic.

For all my linux.conf.au friends, yes I did scope out Antartica for a potential future conference, but given the only LUGs there are Gentoos, I think we should all spare ourselves the pain ;)

Below are links to some additional reading about the places we visited as provided by the Antarctic XX1 crew, the list of animals that were sighted throughout the journey and some other bits and pieces that might be of interest. Below are also some excellent quotes about Antarctica that were on the ship intranet that I just had to post to give you a flavour of what we experienced :)

  • AXXI_Logbook_SE2-1314 (PDF) Log book for the trip. Includes animals we saw, where we went and some details of our activities. Lovely work by the Antarctica XXI crew :)
  • Daily-program (PDF) – our daily program for the journey
  • Info-landings (PDF) – information about the landing sites we went to

The church says the earth is flat, but I know that it is round, for I have seen the shadow on the moon, and I have more faith in a shadow than in the church. — Ferdinando Magallanes

We were the only pulsating creatures in a dead world of ice. — Frederick Albert Cook

Below the 40th latitude there is no law; below the 50th no god; below the 60th no common sense and below the 70th no intelligence whatsoever. — Kim Stanley Robinson

I have never heard or felt or seen a wind like this. I wondered why it did not carry away the earth. — Cherry-Garrard

Great God ! this is an awful place. — Robert Falcon Scott, referring to the South Pole

Human effort is not futile, but Man fights against the giant forces of Nature in the spirit of humility. — Ernest Shackleton

Had we lived I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance and courage of my companions …. These rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale. — Robert Falcon Scott

People do not decide to become extraordinary. They decide to accomplish extraordinary things. — Edmund Hillary

Superhuman effort isn’t worth a damn unless it achieves results. — Ernest Shackleton Adventure is just bad planning. — Roald Amundsen

For scientific leadership, give me Scott; for swift and efficient travel, Amundsen; but when you are in a hopeless situation, when there seems to be no way out, get on your knees and pray for Shackleton. — Sir Raymond Priestley

Posted in Personal | Tagged | 2 Comments

The imperatives for changing how we do government

Below are some of the interesting imperatives I have observed as key drivers for changing how governments do things, especially in Australia. I thought it might be of interest for some of you :) Particularly those trying to understand “digital government”, and why technology is now so vital for government services delivery:

  • Changing public expectations – public expectations have fundamentally changed, not just with technology and everyone being connected to each other via ubiquitous mobile computing, but our basic assumptions and instincts are changing, such as the innate assumption of routing around damage, where damage might be technical or social. I’ve gone into my observations in some depth in a blog post called Online Culture – Part 1: Unicorns and Doom (2011).
  • Tipping point of digital engagement with government – in 2009 Australia had more citizens engaging with government  online than through any other means. This digital tipping point creates a strong business case to move to digitally delivered services, as a digital approach enables more citizens to self serve online and frees up expensive human resources for our more vulnerable, complex or disengaged members of the community.
  • Fiscal constraints over a number of years have largely led to IT Departments having done more for less for years, with limited investment in doing things differently, and effectively a legacy technology millstone. New investment is needed but no one has money for it, and IT Departments have in many cases, resorted to being focused on maintenance rather than project work (an upgrade of a system that maintains the status quo is still maintenance in my books). Systems have reached a difficult point where the fat has been trimmed and trimmed, but the demands have grown. In order to scale government services to growing needs in a way that enables more citizens to self service, new approaches are necessary, and the capability to aggregate services and information (through open APIs and open data) as well as user-centric design underpins this capability.
  • Disconnect between business and IT – there has been for some time a growing problem of business units disengaging with IT. As cheap cloud services have started to appear, many parts of government (esp Comms and HR) have more recently started to just avoid IT altogether and do their own thing. On one hand this enables some more innovative approaches, but it also leads directly to a problem in whole of government consistency, reliability, standards and generally a distribution of services which is the exact opposite of a citizen centric approach. It’s important that we figure out how to get IT re-engaged in the business, policy and strategic development of government such that these approaches are more informed and implementable, and such that governments use, develop, fund and prioritise technology in alignment with a broader vision.
  • Highly connected and mobile community and workforce – the opportunities (and risks) are immense, and it is important that governments take an informed and sustainable approach to this space. For instance, in developing public facing mobile services, a mobile optimised web services approach is more inclusive, cost efficient and sustainable than native applications development, but by making secure system APIs and open data available, the government can also facilitate public and private competition and innovation in services delivery.
  • New opportunities for high speed Internet are obviously a big deal in Australia (and also New Zealand) at the moment with the new infrastructure being rolled out (FTTP in both countries), and setting up to better support and engaging with citizens digitally now, before mainstream adoption, is rather important and urgent.
  • Impact of politics and media on policy – the public service is generally motivated to have an evidence-based approach to policy, and where this approach is developed in a transparent and iterative way, in collaboration with the broader society, it means government can engage directly with citizens rather than through the prism of politics or the media, each which have their own motivations and imperatives.
  • Prioritisation of ICT spending – it is difficult to ensure the government investment and prioritisation of ICT projects aligns with the strategic goals of the organisation and government, especially where the goals are not clearly articulated.
  • Communications and trust – with anyone able to publish pretty much anything, it is incumbent on governments to be a part of the public narrative as custodians of a lot of information and research. By doing this in a transparent and apolitical way, the public service can be a value and trusted source.
  • The expensive overhead of replication of effort across governments – consolidating where possible is vital to improve efficiencies, but also to put in place the mechanisms to support whole of government approaches.
  • Skills – a high technical literacy directly supports the capacity to innovate across government and across the society in every sector. As such this should be prioritised in our education systems, way above and well beyond “office productivity” tools.

Note: I originally had some of this in another blog post about open data and digital government in NZ, buried some way down. Have republished with some updated ideas.

Posted in gov20, Government | 2 Comments

Embrace your inner geek: speech to launch QUT OSS community

This was a speech I gave in Brisbane to launch the QUT OSS group. It talks about FOSS, hacker culture, open government/data, and why we all need to embrace our inner geek :)

Welcome to the beginning of something magnificent. I have had the luck, privilege and honour to be involved in some pretty awesome things over the 15 or so years I’ve been in the tech sector, and I can honestly say it has been my involvement in the free and Open Source software community that has been one of the biggest contributors.

It has connected me to amazing and inspiring geeks and communities nationally and internationally, it has given me an appreciation of the fact that we are exactly as free as the tools we use and the skills we possess, it has given me a sense of great responsibility as part of the pioneer warrior class of our age, and it has given me the instincts and tools to do great things and route around issues that get in the way of awesomeness.

As such it is really excited to be part of launching this new student focused Open Source group at QUT, especially one with academic and industry backing so congratulations to QUT, Red Hat, Microsoft and Tech One.

It’s also worth mentioning that Open Source skills are in high demand, both nationally and internationally, and something like 2/3 of Open Source developers are doing so in some professional capacity.

So thanks in advance for having me, and I should say up front that I am here in a voluntary capacity and not to represent my employer or any other organisation.

Who am I? Many things: martial artist, musician, public servant, recently recovered ministerial adviser, but most of all, I am a proud and reasonably successful geek.

Geek Culture

So firstly, why does being a geek make me so proud? Because technology underpins everything we do in modern society. It underpins industry, progress, government, democracy, a more empowered, equitable and meritocratic society. Basically technology supports and enhances everything I care about, so being part of that sector means I can play some small part in making the world a better place.

It is the geeks of this world that create and forge the world we live in today. I like to go to non-geek events and tell people who usually take us completely for granted, “we made the Internet, you’re welcome”, just to try to embed a broader appreciation for tech literacy and creativity.

Geeks are the pioneers of the modern age. We are carving out the future one bit at a time, and leading the charge for mainstream culture. As such we have, I believe, a great responsibility to ensure our powers are used to improve life for all people, but that is another lecture entirely.

Geek culture is one of the driving forces of innovation and progress today, and it is organisations that embrace technology as an enabler and strategic benefit that are able to rapidly adapt to emerging opportunities and challenges.

FOSS culture is drawn very strongly from the hacker culture of the 60′s and 70′s. Unfortunately the term hacker has been stolen by the media and spooks to imply bad or illegal behaviours, which we would refer to as black hat hacking or cracking. But true hacker culture is all about being creative and clever with technology, building cool stuff, showing off one’s skills, scratching an itch.

Hacker culture led to free software culture in the 80′s and 90′s, also known as Open Source in business speak, which also led to a broader free culture movement in the 90′s and 00′s with Creative Commons, Wikipedia and other online cultural commons. And now we are seeing a strong emergence of open government and open science movements which is very exciting.

Open Source

A lot of people are aware of the enormity of Wikipedia. Even though Open Source well predates Wikipedia, it ends up being a good tool to articulate to the general population the importance of Open Source.

Wikipedia is a globally crowdsourced phenomenon than, love it or hate it, has made knowledge more accessible than every before. I personally believe that the greatest success of Wikipedia is in demonstrating that truth is perception, and the “truth” held in the pages of Wikipedia ends up, ideally anyway, being the most credible middle ground of perspectives available. The discussion pages of any page give a wonderful insight to any contradicting perspectives or controversies and it teaches us the importance of taking everything with a grain of salt.

Open Source is the software equivalent of Wikipedia. There are literally hundreds of thousands if not millions of Open Source software projects in the world, and you would used thousands of the most mature and useful ones every day, without even knowing it. Open Source operating systems like Linux or MINIX powers your cars, devices, phones, telephone exchanges and the majority of servers and super computers in the world. Open Source web tools like WordPress, Drupal or indeed WikiMedia (the software behind Wikipedia) power an enormous amount of websites you go to everyday. Even Google heavily uses Open Source software to build the worlds most reliable infrastructure. If Google.com doesn’t work, you generally check your own network reliability first.

Open Source is all about people working together to scratch a mutual itch, sharing in the development and maintenance of software that is developed in an open and collaborative way. You can build on the top of existing Open Source software platforms as a technical foundation for innovation, or employ Open Source development methodologies to better innovate internally. I’m still terrified by the number of organisations I see that don’t use base code revision systems and email around zip files!

Open Source means you can leverage expertise far beyond what you could ever hope to hire, and you build your business around services. The IT sector used to be all about services before the proprietary lowest common denominator approach to software emerged in the 80s.

But we have seen the IT sector largely swing heavily back to services, except in the case on niche software markets, and companies compete on quality of services and whole solution delivery rather than specific products. Services companies that leverage Open Source often find their cost of delivery lower, particularly in the age of “cloud” software as a service, where customers want to access software functionality as a utility based on usage.

Open Source can help improve quality and cost effectiveness of technology solutions as it creates greater competition at the services level.

The Open Source movement has given us an enormous collective repository of stable, useful, innovative, responsive and secure software solutions. I must emphasise secure because many eyes reviewing code means a better chance of identifying and fixing issues. Security through obscurity is a myth and it always frustrates me when people buy into the line that Open Source is somehow less secure than proprietary solutions because you can see the code.

If you want to know about government use of Open Source, check out the Open Source policy on the Department of Finance and Deregulation website. It’s a pretty good policy not only because it encourages procurement processes to consider Open Source equally, but because it encourages government agencies to contribute to and get involved in the Open Source community.

Open Government

It has been fascinating to see a lot of Open Source geeks taking their instincts and skills with them into other avenues. And to see non-technical and non-Open Source people converging on the same basic principles of openness and collaboration for mutual gain from completely different avenues.

For me, the most exciting recent evolution of hacker ethos is the Open Government movement.

Open Government has always been associated with parliamentary and bureacratic transparency bureaucratic, such as Freedom of Information and Hansard.

I currently work primarily on the nexus where open government meets technology. Where we start to look at what government means in a digital age where citizens are more empowered than ever before, where globalisation challenges sovereignty, where the need to adapt and evolve in the public service is vital to provide iterative, personalised and timely responses to new challenges and opportunities both locally and globally.

There are three key pillars of what we like to call “Government 2.0”. A stupid term I know, but bear with me:

  1. Participatory governance – this is about engaging the broader public in the decision making processes of government to both leverage the skills, expertise and knowledge of the population for better policy outcomes, and to give citizens a way to engage directly with decisions and programs that affect their every day lives. Many people think about democratic engagement as political engagement, but I content that the public service has a big role to play in engaging citizens directly in co-developing the future together.
  2. Citizen centricity – this is about designing government services with the citizen at the centre of the design. Imagine if you will, and I know many in the room are somewhat technical, imagine government as an API, where you can easily aggregate information and services thematically or in a deeply personalised way for citizens, regardless of the structure or machinery of government changes. Imagine being able to change your address in one location, and have one place to ask questions or get the services you need. This is the vision of my.gov.au and indeed there are several initiatives that delivery on this vision including the Canberra Connect service in the ACT, which is worth looking at. In the ACT you can go into any Canberra Connect location for all your Territory/Local government needs, and they then interface with all the systems of that government behind the scenes in a way that is seamless to a citizen. It is vital that governments and agencies start to realise that citizens don’t care about the structures of government, and neither should they have to. It is up to us all to start thinking about how we do government in a whole of government way to best serve the public.
  3. Open and transparent government – this translates as both parliamentary transparency, but also opening up government data and APIs. Open data also opens up opportunities for greater analysis, policy development, mobile service delivery, public transaprency and trust, economic development through new services and products being developed in the private sector, and much more.

Open Data

Open data is very much my personal focus at the moment. I’m now in charge of data.gov.au, which we are in the process of migrating to an excellent Open Source data repository called CKAN which will be up soon. There is currently a beta up for people to play with.

I also am the head cat herder for a volunteer run project called GovHack which ran only just a week ago, where we had 1000 participants from 8 cities, including here in Brisbane, all working with government data to build 130 new hacks including mashups, data visualisations, mobile and other applications, interactive websites and more. GovHack shows clearly the benefits to society when you open up government data for public use, particularly if it is available in a machine readable way and is available under a very permissive copyright such as Creative Commons.

I would highly recommend you check out my blog posts about open data around the world from when I went to a conference in Helsinki last year and got to meet luminaries in this space including Hans Rosling, Dr Tim Hubbard and Rufus Pollock. I also did some work with the New Zealand Government looking at NZ open data practice and policy which might be useful, where we were also able to identify some major imperatives for changing how governments work.

The exciting thing is how keen government agencies in Federal, State, Territory and Local governments are to open up their data! To engage meaningfully with citizens. And to evolve their service delivery to be more personalised and effective for everyone. We are truly living in a very exciting time for technologists, democracy and the broader society.

Though to be fair, governments don’t really have much choice. Citizens are more empowered than ever before and governments have to adapt, delivery responsive, iterative and personalised services and policy, or risk losing relevance. We have seen the massive distribution now of every traditional bastion of power, from publishing, communications, monitoring, enforcement, and even property is about to dramatically shift, with the leaps in 3D printing and nano technologies. Ultimately governments are under a lot of pressure to adapt the way we do things, and it is a wonderful thing.

The Federal Australian Government already has in place several policies that directly support opening up government data:

Australia has also recently signed up to the Open Government Partnership, an international consortia of over 65 governments which will be a very exciting step for open data and other aspects of open government.

At the State and Territory level, there is also a lot of movement around open data. Queensland and the ACT launched your new open data platform late last year with some good success. NSW and South Australia have launched new platforms in the last few weeks with hundreds of new data sets. Western Australia and Victoria have been publishing some great data for some time and everyone is looking at how they can do so better!

Many local governments have been very active in trying to open up data, and a huge shout out to the Gold Coast City Council here in Queensland who have been working very hard and doing great things in this space!

It is worth noting that the NSW government currently have a big open data policy consultation happening which closes on the 17th June and is well worth looking into and contributing to.

Embracing geekiness

One of my biggest bug bears is when people say “I’m sorry the software can’t do that”. It is the learned helplessness of the tech illiterate that is our biggest challenge for innovating and being globally competitive, and as countries like Australia are overwhelming well off, with the vast majority of our citizens living high quality lives, it is this learned helplessness that is becoming the difference between the haves and have nots. The empowered and the disempowered.

Teaching everyone to embrace their inner geek isn’t just about improving productivity, efficiency, innovation and competitiveness, it is about empowering our people to be safer, smarter, more collaborative and more empowered citizens in a digital world.

If everyone learnt and experienced even the tiniest amount of programming, we would all have embedded that wonderful instinct that says “the software can do whatever we can imagine”.

Open Source communities and ethos gives us a clear vision as to how we can overcome every traditional barrier to collaboration to make awesome stuff in a sustainable way. It teaches us that enlightened self interest in the age of the Internet translates directly to open and mutually beneficial collaboration.

We can all stand on the shoulders of giants that have come before, and become the giants that support the next generation of pioneers. We can all contribute to making this world just a bit more awesome.

So get out there, embrace your inner geek and join the open movement. Be it Open Source, open government or open knowledge, and whatever your particular skills, you can help shape the future for us all.

Thank you for coming today, thank you to Jim for inviting me to be a part of this launch, and good luck to you all in your endeavours with this new project. I look forward to working with you to create the future of our society, together.

Posted in Aus Community, education, FOSS, gov20, Government, society5 | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

So you want to change the world?

Recently I spoke at BarCamp Canberra about my tips and tricks to changing the world. I thought it might be useful to get people thinking about how they can best contribute to the world, according to their skills and passions.

Completely coincidentally, my most excellent boss did a talk a few sessions ahead of me which was the American Civil War version of the same thing :) I highly recommend it. John Sheridan – Lincoln, Lee and ICT: Lessons from the Civil War.

So you want to change the world?

Here are the tactics I use to some success. I heartily recommend you find what works for you. Then you will have no excuse but to join me in implementing Operation World Awesomeness.

The Short Version:

No wasted movement.

The Long Version:

1) Pick your battles: there are a million things you could do. What do you most care about? What can you maintain constructive and positive energy about even in the face of towering adverseries and significant challenges? What do you think you can make a difference in? There is a subtle difference between choosing to knock down a mountain with your forehead, and renting a bulldozer. If you find yourself expending enormous energy on something, but not making a difference, you need to be comfortable to change tactics.

2) Work to your strengths: everyone is good at something. If you choose to contribute to your battle in a way that doesn’t work to your strengths, whatever they are, then you are wasting energy. You are not contributing in the best way you can. You need to really know yourself, understand what you can and can’t do, then do what you can do well, and supplement your army with the skills of others. Everyone has a part to play and a meaningful way to contribute. FWIW, I work to know myself through my martial arts training, which provides a useful cognitive and physical toolkit to engage in the world with clarity. Find what works for you. As Sun Tzu said: know yourself.

3) Identify success: Figure out what success actually looks like, otherwise you don’t have either a measurement of progress, nor a measurement of completion. I’ve seen too many activists get caught up on a battle and continued fighting well beyond the battle being won, or indeed keep hitting their heads against a battle that can’t be won. It’s important to continually be monitoring and measuring, holding yourself to account, and ensuring you are making progress. If not, change tactics.

4) Reconnaissance: do your research. Whatever your area of interest there is likely a body of work that has come before you that you can build upon. Learn about the environment you are working in, the politics, the various motivations and interests at play, the history and structure of your particular battlefield. Find levers in the system that you can press for maximum effect, rather than just straining against the weight of a mountain. Identify the various moving parts of the system and you have the best chance to have a constructive and positive influence.

5) Networks & Mentors: identify all the players in your field. Who is involved, influential, constructive, destructive, effective, etc. It is important to understand the motivations at play so you can engage meaningfully, collaboratively and build a mutually beneficial network in the persuit of awesomeness. Strong mentors are a vital asset and they will teach you how to navigate the rapids and make things happen. A strong network of allies is also vital to keep you on track, and accountable, and true to your own purpose. People usually strive to meet the expectations of those around them, so surround yourself with high expectations. Knowing your network also helps you identify issues and opportunities early.

6) Sustainability: have you put in place a succession plan? How will your legacy continue on without you? It’s important if your work is to continue on that it not be utterly reliant upon one individual. You need to share your vision, passion and success. Glory shared is glory sustained, so bring others on board, encourage and support them to succeed. Always give recognition and thanks to people who do great stuff.

7) Patience: remember the long game. Nothing changes overnight. It always take a lot of work and persistence, and remembering the long game will help during those times when it doesn’t feel like you are making progress. Again, your network is vital as it will help you maintain your strength, confidence and patience :) Speaking of which, a huge thanks to Geoff Mason for reminding me of this one on the day.

8) Shifting power: it is worth noting that we are living in the most exciting of times. Truly. Individuals are more empowered than ever before to do great things. The Internet has created a mechanism for the mass distribution of power, but putting into the hands of all people (all those online anyway), the tools to:

  1. publish and access knowledge;
  2. communicate and collaborate with people all around the world;
  3. monitor and hold others to account including companies, governments and individuals;
  4. act as enforcers for whatever code or law they uphold. This is of course quite controversial but fascinating nonetheless; and
  5. finally, with the advances in 3D printing and nanotechnology, we are on the cusp of all people having unprecedented access to property.

Side note: Poverty and hunger, we shall overcome you yet! Then we just urgently need to prioritise education of all the people. But that is a post for another day :) Check out my blog post on Unicorns and Doom, which goes into my thoughts on how online culture is fundamentally changing society.

This last aspect is particularly fascinating as it changes the game from one between the haves and the have nots, to one between those with and those without skills and knowledge. We are moving from a material wealth differentiation in society towards an intellectual wealth differentiation. Arguable we always had the latter, but the former has long been a bastion for law, structures, power and hierarchies. And it is all changing.

“What better place than here, what better time than now?” — RATM

Posted in gov20, Government, society5, Tech | 5 Comments

I am so thankful – the gap is sorted

I will be doing a longer blog post about the incredible adventure it was to bring Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Rosemary Leith to Australia 10 days ago, but tonight I have had something just amazing happen that I wanted to briefly reflect upon.

I feel humbled, amazed and extremely extremely thankful to be part of such an incredible community in Australia and New Zealand, and a lot of people have stood up and supported me with something I felt very uncomfortable having to deal with.

Basically, a large sponsor pulled out from the TBL Down Under Tour (which I was the coordinator for, supported by the incredible and hard working Jan Bryson) just a few weeks before the start, leaving us with a substantial hole in the budget. I managed to find sponsorship to cover most of the gap, but was left $20k short (for expenses only) and just decided to figure it out myself. Friends rallied around and suggested the crowdsourcing approach which I was hesitant to do, but eventually was convinced it wouldn’t be a bad thing.

We crowdsourced less than two days ago and raised around $6k ($4,800 on GoGetFunding and $1,200 from Jeff’s earlier effort). This was incredible, especially the wonderfully supportive and positive comments that people left. Honestly, it was amazing. And then, much to my surprise and shock, Linux Australia offered to contribute the rest of the $20k. Silvia is closing the crowdsourcing site as I write this and I’m thankful to her for setting it up in the first place.

I am truly speechless. And humbled. And….

It is worth noting that stress and exhaustion aside, and though I put over 350 hours of my own time into this project, for me it has been completely worth it. It has brought many subjects dear to my heart into the mainstream public narrative and media including open government, open data, open source, net neutrality, data retention and indeed, the importance of geeks. I think such a step forward in public narrative will help us take a few more steps towards the the future where Geeks Rule Over Kings ;) (my lca2013 talk)

It was also truly a pleasure to hang out with Tim and Rosemary who are extremely lovely people, clever and very interesting to chat to.

For the haters :) No I am not suffering from cultural cringe. No I am not needing an external voice to validate perspectives locally. There is only one TBL and if he was Australian I’d still have done what I did :P

More to come in the wrap up post on the weekend, but thank you again to all the individuals who contributed, and especially to Linux Australia for offering to fill the gap. There are definitely lessons learnt from this experience which I’ll outline later, but if I was an optimist before, this gives me such a sense of confidence, strength and support to continue to do my best to serve my community and the broader society as best I can.

And I promise I won’t burn out in the meantime ;)

Po is looking forward to spending more time with his human. We all made sacrifices :) (old photo courtesy of Mary Gardiner)

Posted in Aus Community, Linux Australia, linux.conf.au, Personal | 14 Comments

My NZ Open Data and Digital Government Adventure

On a recent trip to New Zealand I spent three action packed days working with Keitha Booth and Alison Stringer looking at open data. These two have an incredible amount of knowledge and experience to share, and it was an absolute pleasure to work with them, albeit briefly. They arranged meetings with about 3000* individuals from across different parts of the NZ government to talk about everything from open data, ICT policy, the role of government in a digital era, iterative policy, public engagement and the components that make up a feasible strategy for all of the above.

It’s important to note, I did this trip in a personal capacity only, and was sure to be clear I was not representing the Australian government in any official sense. I saw it as a bit of a public servant cultural exchange, which I think is probably a good idea even between agencies let alone governments ;)

I got to hear about some of the key NZ Government data projects, including data.govt.nz, data.linz.govt.nz, the statistical data service, some additional geospatial and linked data work, some NZ government planning and efforts around innovation and finding more efficient ways to do tech, and much more. I also found myself in various conversations with extremely clever people about science and government communications, public engagement, rockets, circus and more.

It was awesome, inspiring, informative and exhausting. But this blog post aims to capture the key ideas from the visit. I’d love your feedback on the ideas/frameworks below, and I’ll extrapolate on some of these ideas in followup posts.

I’m also looking forward to working more collaboratively with my colleagues in New Zealand, as well as from across all three spheres of government in Australia. I’d like to set up a way for government people in the open data and open government space across Australia/New Zealand to freely share information and technologies (in code), identify opportunities to collaborate, share their policies and planning for feedback and ideas, and generally work together for more awesome outcomes all round. Any suggestions for how best to do this? :) GovDex? A new thing? Will continue public discussions on the Gov 2.0 mailing list, but I think it’ll be also useful to connect govvies privately whilst encouraging individuals and agencies to promote their work publicly.

This blog post is a collaboration with the wonderful Alison Stringer, in a personal capacity only. Enjoy!

* 3000 may be a wee stretch :)

Table of Contents

Open Data

  • Strategic/Policy Building Blocks
  • Technical Building Blocks
  • References

Digital and Open Government

  • Some imperatives for changing how we do government
  • Policy/strategic components

Open data

Strategic/policy building blocks

Below are some basic building blocks we have found to be needed for an open data strategy to be sustainable and effective in gaining value for both the government and the broader community including industry, academia and civil society. It is based on the experiences in NZ, Aus and discussions with open data colleagues around the world. Would love your feedback, and I’ll expand this out to a broader post in the coming weeks.

  • Policy- open as the default, specifically encouraging and supporting a proactive and automated disclosure of government information in an appropriate, secure and sustainable way. Ideally, each policy should be managed as an iterative and live document that responds to changing trends, opportunities and challenges:
    • Copyright and licensing – providing clear guidance that government information can be legally used. Using simple, permissive and known/trusted licences is important to avoid confusion.
    • Procurement – procurement policy creates a useful and efficient lever to establish proactive “business as usual” disclosure of information assets, by requiring new systems to support such functionality and publishing in open data formats from the start. This also means the security and privacy of data can be built into the system.
    • Proactive publishing – a policy of proactive disclosure helps avoid the inefficiencies of retrospective data publishing. It is important to also review existing assets and require an implementation plan from all parts of government on how they will open up their information assets, and then measure, monitor and report on the progress.
  • Legislation – ensuring any legislative blockers to publishing data are sorted, for instance, in some jurisdictions civil servants are personally liable if someone takes umbrage to the publication of something. Indeed there may be some issues here that are perceptions as opposed to reality. A review of any relevant legislation and plan to fix any blockers to publishing information assets is recommended.
  • Leadership/permission – this is vital, especially in early days whilst open data is still being integrated as business as usual. It should be as senior as possible.
  • Resourcing – it is very hard to find new money in governments in the current fiscal environment. However, we do have people. Resourcing the technical aspects of an open data project would only need a couple of people and a little infrastructure that can both host and point to data and data services. The UK open data platform runs on less than £460K per year, including the costs of three staff). But there needs to be a policy of distributed publishing. In the UK there are ~760 registered publishers of data throughout government. It would be useful to have at least one data publisher (probably to work part of their job only and alongside the current senior agency data champion role) who spends a day or two a week just seeking out and publishing data for their department, and identifying opportunities to automate data publishing with the data.govt.nz team.
  • Value realisation – including:
    • Improved policy development across government through better and early access to data and tools to use data
    • Knowledge transfer across government, especially given so many senior public servants are retiring in the coming years
    • Improved communication of complex issues to the public, better public engagement and exploration of data – especially with data visualisation tools
    • Monitoring, reporting, measuring clear outcomes (productivity savings, commercialisation, new business or products/projects, innovation in government, improved efficiency in Freedom of Information responses, efficiencies in not replicating data or reports, effectiveness and metrics around projects, programs and portfolios)
    • Application of data in developing citizen centric services and information
    • Supporting and facilitating commercialisation opportunities
  • Agency collaboration – the importance of agency collaboration can not be overstated. Especially on sharing/using/reusing data, on sharing knowledge and skills, on public engagement and communications. Also on working together where projects or policy areas might be mutually beneficial and on public engagement such that there is a consistent and effective dialogue with citizens. This shouldn’t be a bottlenecked approach, but rather a distributed network of individuals at different levels and in different functions.
  • Technology – need to have the right bits in place, or the best policy/vision won’t go anywhere :) See below for an extrapolation on the technical building blocks.
  • Public engagement – a public communications and engagement strategy is vital to build and support a community of interest and innovation around government data.

Technical building blocks

Below are some potential technical building blocks for supporting a whole of government(s) approach to information management, proactive publishing and collaboration. Let me know what you think I’m missing :)

Please note, I am not in any way suggesting this should be a functional scope for a single tool. On the contrary, I would suggest for each functional requirement the best of breed tool be found and that there be a modular approach such that you can replace components as they are upgraded or as better alternatives arise. There is no reason why a clever frontend tool couldn’t talk to a number of backend services.

  • Copyright and licensing management – if an appropriately permissive copyright licence is applied to data/content at the point of creation, and stored in the metadata, it saves on the cost of administration down the track. The Australian Government default license has been determined as Creative Commons BY, so agencies and departments should use that, regardless of whether the data/content is ever publishing publicly. The New Zealand government recommends CC-BY as the default for data and information published for re-use.
  • An effective data publishing platform(s) (see Craig Thomler’s useful postabout different generations of open data platforms) that supports the publishing, indexing and federation of data sources/services including:
    • Geospatial data – one of the pivotal data sets required for achieving citizen centric services, and in bringing the various other datasets together for analysis and policy development.
    • Real time data – eg, buses, weather, sensor networks
    • Statistical data – eg census and surveys, where raw access to data is only possible through an API that gives a minimum number of results so as to make individual identification difficult
    • Tabular data – such as spreadsheets or databases of records in structured format
  • Identity management – for publishers at the very least.
  • Linked data and metadata system(s) – particularly where such data can be automatically inferred or drawn from other systems.
  • Change control – the ability to push or take updates to datasets, or multiple files in a dataset, including iterative updates from public or private sources in a verifiable way.
  • Automation tools for publishing and updating datasets including where possible, from their source, proactive system-to-system publishing.
  • Data analysis and visualisation tools – both to make it easier to communicate data, but also to help people (in government and the public) analyse and interact with any number of published datasets more effectively. This is far more efficient for government than each department trying to source their own data visualisation and analysis tools.
  • Reporting tools – that clearly demonstrate status, progress, trends and value of open data and open government on an ongoing basis. Ideally this would also feed into a governance process to iteratively improve the relevant policies on an ongoing basis.

Some open data references

Digital and Open Government

Although I was primarily in New Zealand to discuss open data, I ended up entering into a number of discussions about the broader aspects of digital and open government, which is entirely appropriate and a natural evolution. I was reminded of the three pillars of open government that we often discuss in Australia which roughly translate to:

  • Transparency
  • Participation
  • Citizen centricity

There is a good speech by my old boss, Minister Kate Lundy, which explains these in some detail.

I got into a couple of discussions which went into the concept of public engagement at length. I highly recommend those people check out the Public Sphere consultation methodology that I developed with Minister Kate Lundy which is purposefully modular so that you can adapt it to any community and how they best communicate, digitally or otherwise. It also is focused on getting evidence based, peer reviewed, contextually analysed and useful actual outcomes. It got an international award from the World eDemocracy Forum, which was great to see. Particularly check out how we applied computer forensics tools to help figure out if a consultation is being gamed by any individual or group.

When I consider digital government, I find myself standing back in the first instance to consider the general role of government in a digital society. I think this is an important starting point as our understanding is broadly out of date. New Zealand has definitions in the State Sector Act 1988, but they aren’t necessarily very relevant to 2013, let alone an open and transparent digital government.

Some imperatives for changing how we do government

Below are some of the interesting imperatives I have identified as key drivers for changing how we do government:

  • Changing public expectations – public expectations have fundamentally changed, not just with technology and everyone being connected to each other via ubiquitous mobile computing, but our basic assumptions and instincts are changing, such as the innate assumption of routing around damage, where damage might be technical or social. I’ve gone into my observations in some depth in a blog post called Online Culture – Part 1: Unicorns and Doom (2011).
  • Tipping point of digital engagement with government – in 2009 Australia had more citizens engaging with government  online than through any other means. This digital tipping point creates a strong business case to move to digitally delivered services, as a digital approach enables more citizens to self serve online and frees up expensive human resources for our more vulnerable, complex or disengaged members of the community.
  • Fiscal constraints over a number of years have largely led to IT Departments having done more for less for years, with limited investment in doing things differently, and effectively a legacy technology millstone. New investment is needed but no one has money for it, and IT Departments have in many cases, resorted to being focused on maintenance rather than project work (an upgrade of a system that maintains the status quo is still maintenance in my books). Systems have reached a difficult point where the fat has been trimmed and trimmed, but the demands have grown. In order to scale government services to growing needs in a way that enables more citizens to self service, new approaches are necessary, and the capability to aggregate services and information (through open APIs and open data) as well as user-centric design underpins this capability.
  • Disconnect between business and IT – there has been for some time a growing problem of business units disengaging with IT. As cheap cloud services have started to appear, many parts of government (esp Comms and HR) have more recently started to just avoid IT altogether and do their own thing. On one hand this enables some more innovative approaches, but it also leads directly to a problem in whole of government consistency, reliability, standards and generally a distribution of services which is the exact opposite of a citizen centric approach. It’s important that we figure out how to get IT re-engaged in the business, policy and strategic development of government such that these approaches are more informed and implementable, and such that governments use, develop, fund and prioritise technology in alignment with a broader vision.
  • Highly connected and mobile community and workforce – the opportunities (and risks) are immense, and it is important that governments take an informed and sustainable approach to this space. For instance, in developing public facing mobile services, a mobile optimised web services approach is more inclusive, cost efficient and sustainable than native applications development, but by making secure system APIs and open data available, the government can also facilitate public and private competition and innovation in services delivery.
  • New opportunities for high speed Internet are obviously a big deal in Australia and New Zealand at the moment with the new infrastructure being rolled out (FTTP in both countries), and setting up to better support and engaging with citizens digitally now, before mainstream adoption, is rather important and urgent.
  • Impact of politics and media on policy – the public service is generally to have an evidence-based approach to policy, and where this approach is developed in a transparent and iterative way, in collaboration with the broader society, it means government can engage directly with citizens rather than through the prism of politics or the media, each which have their own motivations and imperatives.
  • Prioritisation of ICT spending – it is difficult to ensure the government investment and prioritisation of ICT projects aligns with the strategic goals of the organisation and government, especially where the goals are not clearly articulated.
  • Communications and value realisation – with anyone able to publish pretty much anything, it is incumbent on governments to be a part of the public narrative as custodians of a lot of information and research. By doing this in a transparent and apolitical way, the public service can be a value and trusted source.
  • The expensive overhead of replication of effort across governments – consolidating where possible is vital to improve efficiencies, but also to put in place the mechanisms to support whole of government approaches.
  • Skills – a high technical literacy directly supports the capacity to innovate across government and across the society in every sector. As such this should be prioritised in our education systems, way above and well beyond “office productivity” tools.

Policy/strategic components

  • Strategic approach to information policy – many people looking at information policy tend to look deeply at one or a small number of areas, but it is only in looking at all of the information created by government, and how we can share, link, re-use, and analyse that we will gain the significant policy, service delivery and social/economic benefits and opportunities. When one considers geospatial, tabular, real time and statistical (census and survey) data, and then the application of metadata and linked data, it gets rather complicated. But we need to be able to interface effectively with these different data types.
  • Facilitating public and private innovation – taking a “government as a platform” approach, including open data and open APIs, such that industry and civil society can innovate on top of government systems and information assets, creating new value and services to the community.
  • Sector and R&D investment – it is vital that government ensured that the investment in digital industries, internal innovation and indeed R&D more broadly, aligns with the strategic vision. This means understanding how to measure and monitor digital innovation more effectively and not through the lens of traditional approaches that may not be relevant, such as the number of patents and other IP metrics. The New Zealand and Australian business and research community need to make the most of their governments’ leadership in Open Government. The Open Government Partnership network might provide a way to build upon and export this expertise.
  • Exports – by creating local capacity in the arena of improved and citizen-centric services delivery, Australia and New Zealand set themselves up nicely for exporting services and products to Asia Pacific, particularly given the rapid uptake of countries in the region to join the Open Government Partnership which requires signatories to develop plans around topics such as open data, citizen centricity and parliamentary transparency, all of which we are quite skilled in.
  • Distributed skunkworks for government – developing the communities/spaces/tools across government to encourage and leverage the skills and enthusiasm of clever geeks both internally (internal hackdays, communities of practice) and externally (eg – GovHack). No one can afford new resources, but allocating a small amount of time from the existing workforce who are motivated to do great things is a cost efficient and empowering way to create a distributed skunkworks. And as people speak to each other about common problems and common solutions we should see less duplication of these solutions and improved efficiency across agencies.
  • Iterative policy – rethinking how policy is developed, implemented, measured and governed to take a more iterative and agile approach that a) leverages the skills and expertise of the broader community for more evidence based and peer reviewed policy outcomes and b) is capable of responding effectively and in a timely manner to new challenges and opportunities as they arise. It would also be useful to build better internal intelligence systems for an improved understanding of the status of projects, and improved strategic planning for success.
  • An Information Commissioner for New Zealand – an option for a policy lead on information management to work closely with departments to have a consolidated, consistent, effective and overall strategic approach to the management, sharing and benefits realisation of government information. This would also build the profile of Open Government in New Zealand and hopefully be the permanent solution to current resourcing challenges. The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, and similar roles at State level, include the function of Information Commissioner, Privacy Commissioner and Free of Information Commissioner, and these combined give a holistic approach to government information policy that ideally balances open information and privacy. In New Zealand it could be a role that builds on recent information policies, such as NZGOAL which is designed, amongst other things, to replace bespoke content licences. Bespoke licences create an unnecessary liability issue for departments.
  • Citizen centricity – the increasing importance of consolidating government service and information delivery, putting citizens (and business) at the centre of the design. This is achieved through open mechanisms (eg, APIs) to interface with government systems and information such that they can be managed in a distributed and secure way, but aggregated in a thematic way.
  • Shared infrastructure and services – the shared services being taken up by some parts of the New Zealand Government is very encouraging to see, particularly when such an approach has been very successful in the ACT and SA state governments in Australia, and with several shared infrastructure and services projects at a national level in Australia including the AGIMO network and online services, and the NECTAR examples (free cloud stack tools for researchers). Shared services create the capacity for a consistent and consolidated approach, as well as enable the foundations of citizen centric design in a practical sense.

Some additional reading and thoughts

Digital literacy and ICT skills – should be embedded into curriculum and encouraged across the board. I did a paper on this as a contribution to the National Australian Curriculum consultation in 2010 with Senator Kate Lundy which identified three areas of ICT competency: 1) Productivity skills, 2) Online engagement skills, & 3) Automation skills as key skills for all citizens. It’s also worth looking at the NSW Digital Citizenship courseware. It’s worth noting that public libraries are a low cost and effective way to deliver digital services, information and skills to the broader community and minimise the issue of the digital divide.

Media data – often when talking about open data, media is completely forgotten. Video, audio, arts, etc. The GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives and museums) are all over this and should be part of the conversation about how to manage this kind of content across whole of government.

Just a few additional links for those interested, somewhat related to some of the things I discussed this last week.

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

Getting started in the Australian Public Service

I worked for Senator Kate Lundy from April 2009 till January 2012. It was a fascinating experience learning how the executive and legislative arms of government work and working closely with Kate, who is extremely knowlegable and passionate about good policy and tech. As someone who is very interested in the interrelation between governments, society, the private sector and technology, I could not have asked for a better place to learn.

But last October (2011) I decided I really wanted to take the next step and expand my experience to better understand the public service, how policy goes from (and to) the political sphere from the administrative arm of government, how policy is implemented in practise and the impact/engagement with the general public.

I sat back and considered where I would ideally like to work if I could choose. I wanted to get an insight to different departments and public sector cultures across the whole govenrment. I wanted to work in tech policy, and open government stuff if at all possible. I wanted to be in a position where I might be able to make a difference, and where I could look at government in a holistic way. I think a whole of government approach is vital to serving the public in a coherent and consistent way, as is serious public engagement and transparency.

So I came up with my top three places to work that would satisfy this criteria. My top option happened to have a job going which I applied for and by November I was informed I was their first choice. This was remarkable and I was very excited to get started, but also wanted to tie up a few things in Kate’s office. So we arranged a starting date of January 31st 2012.

What is the job you ask? You’ll have to wait till the end of the post ;)

Unfortunately for me, because I was already 6 months into a Top Secret Positive Vetting (TSPV) process (what you need for a Ministerial office in order to work with any classified information), and that process had to be completed, even though I needed a lower level for the new job. I was informed back in October that it should be done by Christmas.

So I blogged on my last day with Kate about what I had learned and indicated that I was entering the public service to get a better understanding of the administrative arm of government. There was some amusing speculation, and it has probably been the worst kept secret around Canberra for the last year :)

Of course, I thought I would be able to update my “Moving On” blog post within a few weeks or so. It ended up taking another 10 months for my clearance to finalise. TSPV does take a while, and I’m a little more complicated a case than the average bear given my travel and online profile :)

As it turns out, the 10 months presented some useful opportunities. During the last year I did a bunch of contracting work looking largely at tech policy, some website development, and I ended up working for the ACT Government for the last 5 months.

In the ACT Government I worked in a policy role under Mick Chisnall, the Executive Director of the ACT Government Information Office. That was a fantastic learning experience and I’d like to thank Mick for being such a great person to work with and learn from. I worked on open government policy, open data policy and projects (including the dataACT launch, and some initial work for the Canberra Digital Community Connect project), looked at tech policies around mobile, cloud, real time data, accessibility and much more. I also helped write some fascinating papers around the role of government in a digital city. Again, I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with excellent people with vision. A huge thanks to Mick Chisnall, Andrew Cappie-Wood, Pam Davoren, Christopher Norman, Kerry Webb, James Watson, Greg Tankard, Gavin Tapp and all the people I had the opportunity to work with. I learnt a lot, much of which will be useful in my new role.

It also showed me that the hype around “shared services” being supposedly terrible doesn’t quite map reality. For sure, some states have had significant challenges, but in some states it works reasonably well (nothing is perfect) and presents some pretty useful opportunities for whole of government service delivery.

Anyway, so my new job is at AGIMO as Divisional Coordinator for the Agency Services Division, working directly to John Sheridan who has long been quite an active and engaged voice in the Australian Gov 2.0 scene. I started a week and a half ago and am really enjoying it already. I think there are some great opportunities for me through this job to usefully serve the public and the broader public service. I look forward to making my mark and contributing to the pursuit of good tech in government. I’m also taking the role of Media Coordinator for AGIMO, and supporting John in his role.

I’ve met loads of brilliant people working in the public service across Australia, and I’m looking forward to learning a lot. I’m also keen to take a very collaborative approach (no surprises there), so I’m looking at ways to better enable people to work together across the APS and indeed, across all government jurisdictions in Australia. There is a lot to be gained by collaboration between the Federal, States/Territories and Local spheres of government, particularly when you can get the implementers and policy developers working together rather than just those up the stack.

So, if you are in government (any sphere) and want to talk open government, open data, tech policy, iterative policy development, public engagement, or all the things, please get in touch. I’m hoping to set up an open data working group to bring together the people in various governments doing great work across the country and I’ll be continuing to participate in the Gov 2.0 community, now from within the tent :)

Posted in gov20, Government, Personal | 6 Comments

Best. RickRoll. Ever.

I have a tale to tell – a tale of adventure, suspense and many many lulz.

A month ago was my birthday. As many of you know, I love surprises. So when my brother Touie told me to keep the 21st November free for my birthday present without any clues I was ecstatic.

What could it be?! A event, dinner, gig, circus, deep sea diving, lunar trip!! The options endless, as my imagination played with all the possibilities and impossibilities. It provided a few days great entertainment.

Earlier this week he rang to check I was still keeping the evening free, so I started musing again. But I’ve had a lot on, so didn’t really stop to think carefully about what it could be. It only occurred to me to check what was on in Canberra late this evening, but I didn’t want to ruin the surprise.

Touie picked me and we drove to the city. As we got close I was instructed to put my jacket over my head. We pulled up in a car park somewhere and he decided he needed to fashion a real blindfold to improve the surprise. As he started to take off his sock I yelled “hell no!”, and I fashioned a crude blindfold from some duct tape (both my father and brother are refrigeration mechanics, duct tape is always close to hand :)).

The blindfold went on and I was led about 300m to a venue. Up steps, down steps, across roads, my hearing enhanced by the sudden lack of sight, cars on either side of us and then into a venue. At one point I could swear I could smell circus smells, but I think I was just being ambitious.

People around found it quite entertaining as my brother told them to not give it away. We went to buy some mechandise and the salespeople were telling me I was “going to love it”. I was ordered a small of something whilst I tried to figure out what was going on, and the merchandise turned out to be a tshirt thrust into my hands. So I’m at a gig of some sort? Wasn’t quite ready to let go of the circus idea :)

I was led *into* the gig, up and down stairs and when we got to our row the blindfold came off and I was faced by a musician I didn’t recognise on stage, playing random songs. Confused I moved into my seat and tried to figure it out.

The shirt!

I switched on my phone and looked at the front of the shirt.

Capital R

Capital R eh? What the?

Turning the shirt over I struggled to read the text, but when I did…

“Rick Astley Australian Tour”

Touie and the tour tshirt

No. Way. No WAY. NOWAY! I laughed in my seat for 10 mins whilst the intro act was on, trying to not be overtly rude. I had been rickrolled in an EPIC fashion. By my brother. I would not live this down.

Then Rick came on, and I have to say, in spite of myself, it was actually a hilarious concert. He’s a funny guy.

The crowd was full on. It’s a Wednesday night for goodness sake, and we had women (and indeed a few men) throwing themselves on the stage, giving Rick roses, getting up to sing, holding Rick Astley printouts on sticks and some people even brought out their cassettes and vinyl, holding them up whilst singing every word. It was…. intense.

They didn’t play *the* song till last thing in the night, but some of the new songs were actually quite good, he did some excellent covers of motown and old songs, and the biggest moment of cognitive dissonance was Rick Astley, on the drums, playing and singing “Highway to Hell”. Seriously. The sound quality on my phone left a lot to be desired so check this out instead. Prepare for your own cognitive dissonance :)

And I still am stunned by the fact I have now been to *AND ENJOYED* a Rick Astley concert. What on earth is going on.

One of his new songs, Superman, wasn’t half bad either.

Posted in Personal | 4 Comments