A temporary return to Australia due to COVID-19

The last few months have been a rollercoaster, and we’ve just had to make another big decision that we thought we’d share.

TL;DR: we returned to Australia last night, hopeful to get back to Canada when we can. Currently in Sydney quarantine and doing fine.

UPDATE: please note that this isn’t at all a poor reflection on Canada. To the contrary, we have loved even the brief time we’ve had there, the wonderful hospitality and kindness shown by everyone, and the excellent public services there.

We moved to Ottawa, Canada at the end of February, for an incredible job opportunity with Service Canada which also presented a great life opportunity for the family. We enjoyed 2 “normal” weeks of settling in, with the first week dedicated to getting set up, and the second week spent establishing a work / school routine – me in the office, little A in school and T looking at work opportunities and running the household.

Then, almost overnight, everything went into COVID lock down. Businesses and schools closed. Community groups stopped meeting. Everyone people are being affected by this every day, so we have been very lucky to be largely fine and in good health, and we thought we could ride it out safely staying in Ottawa, even if we hadn’t quite had the opportunity to establish ourselves.

But then a few things happened which changed our minds – at least for now.

Firstly, with the schools shut down before the A had really had a chance to make friends (she only attended for 5 days before the school shut down), she was left feeling very isolated. The school is trying to stay connected with its students by providing a half hour video class each day, with a half hour activity in the afternoons, but it’s no way to help her to make new friends. A has only gotten to know the kids of one family in Ottawa, who are also in isolation but have been amazingly supportive (thanks Julie and family!), so we had to rely heavily on video playdates with cousins and friends in Australia, for which the timezone difference only allows a very narrow window of opportunity each day. With every passing day, the estimated school closures have gone from weeks, to months, to very likely the rest of the school year (with the new school year commencing in September). If she’d had just another week or two, she would have likely found a friend, so that was a pity. It’s also affected the availability of summer camps for kids, which we were relying on to help us with A through the 2 month summer holiday period (July & August).

Secondly, we checked our health cover and luckily the travel insurance we bought covered COVID conditions, but we were keen to get full public health cover. Usually for new arrivals there is a 3 month waiting period before this can be applied for. However, in response to the COVID threat the Ontario Government recently waived that waiting period for public health insurance, so we rushed to register. Unfortunately, the one service office that is able to process applications from non-Canandian citizens had closed by that stage due to COVID, with no re-opening being contemplated. We were informed that there is currently no alternative ability for non-citizens to apply online or over the phone.

Thirdly, the Australian Government has strongly encouraged all Australian citizens to return home, warning of the closing window for international travel. . We became concerned we wouldn’t have full consulate support if something went wrong overseas. A good travel agent friend of ours told us the industry is preparing for a minimum of 6 months of international travel restrictions, which raised the very real issue that if anything went wrong for us, then neither could we get home, nor family come to us. And, as we can now all appreciate, it’s probable that international travel disruptions and prohibitions will endure for much longer than 6 months.

Finally, we had a real scare. For context, we signed a lease for an apartment in a lovely part of central Ottawa, but we weren’t able to move in until early April, so we had to spend 5 weeks living in a hotel room. We did move into our new place just last Sunday and it was glorious to finally have a place, and for little A to finally have her own room, which she adored. Huge thanks to those who generously helped us make that move! The apartment is only 2 blocks away from A’s new school, which is incredibly convenient for us – it will particularly good during the worst of Ottawa’s winter. But little A, who is now a very active and adventurous 4 years old, managed to face plant off her scooter (trying to bunnyhop down a stair!) and she knocked out a front tooth, on only the second day in the new place! She is ok, but we were all very, very lucky that it was a clean accident with the tooth coming out whole and no other significant damage. But we struggled to get any non emergency medical support.

The Ottawa emergency dental service was directing us to a number that didn’t work. The phone health service was so busy that we were told we couldn’t even speak to a nurse for 24 hours. We could have called emergency services and gone to a hospital, which was comforting, but several Ottawa hospitals reported COVID outbreaks just that day, so we were nervous to do so. We ended up getting medical support from the dentist friend of a friend over text, but that was purely by chance. It was quite a wake up call as to the questions of what we would have done if it had been a really serious injury. We just don’t know the Ontario health system well enough, can’t get on the public system, and the pressure of escalating COVID cases clearly makes it all more complicated than usual.

If we’d had another month or two to establish ourselves, we think we might have been fine, and we know several ex-pats who are fine. But for us, with everything above, we felt too vulnerable to stay in Canada right now. If it was just Thomas and I it’d be a different matter.

So, we have left Ottawa and returned to Australia, with full intent to return to Canada when we can. As I write this, we are on day 2 of the 14 day mandatory isolation in Sydney. We were apprehensive about arriving in Sydney, knowing that we’d be put into mandatory quarantine, but the processing and screening of arrivals was done really well, professionally and with compassion. A special thank you to all the Sydney airport and Qatar Airways staff, immigration and medical officers, NSW Police, army soldiers and hotel staff who were all involved in the process. Each one acted with incredible professionalism and are a credit to their respective agencies. They’re also exposing themselves to the risk of COVID in order to help others. Amazing and brave people. A special thank you to Emma Rowan-Kelly who managed to find us these flights back amidst everything shutting down globally.

I will continue working remotely for Service Canada, on the redesign and implementation of a modern digital channel for government services. Every one of my team is working remotely now anyway, so this won’t be a significant issue apart from the timezone. I’ll essentially be a shift worker for this period Our families are all self isolating, to protect the grandparents and great-grandparents, so the Andrews family will be self-isolating in a location still to be confirmed. We will be traveling directly there once we are released from quarantine, but we’ll be contactable via email, fb, whatsapp, video, etc.

We are still committed to spending a few years in Canada, working, exploring and experiencing Canadian cultures, and will keep the place in Ottawa with the hope we can return there in the coming 6 months or so. We are very, very thankful for all the support we have had from work, colleagues, little A’s school, new friends there, as well as that of friends and family back in Australia.

Thank you all – and stay safe. This is a difficult time for everyone, and we all need to do our part and look after each other best we can.

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A quick reflection on digital for posterity

On the eve of moving to Ottawa to join the Service Canada team (squee!) I thought it would be helpful to share a few things for posterity. There are three things below:

  • Some observations that might be useful
  • A short overview of the Pia Review: 20 articles about digital public sector reform
  • Additional references I think are outstanding and worth considering in public sector digital/reform programs, especially policy transformation

Some observations

Moving from deficit to aspirational planning

Risk! Risk!! Risk!!! That one word is responsible for an incredible amount of fear, inaction, redirection of investment and counter-productive behaviours, especially by public sectors for whom the stakes for the economy and society are so high. But when you focus all your efforts on mitigating risks, you are trying to drive by only using the rear vision mirror, planning your next step based on the issues you’ve already experienced without looking to where you need to be. It ultimately leads to people driving slower and slower, often grinding to a halt, because any action is considered more risky than inaction. This doesn’t really help our metaphorical driver to pick up the kids from school or get supplies from the store. In any case, inaction bears as many risks as no action in a world that is continually changing. For example, if our metaphorical driver was to stop the car in an intersection they will likely be hit by another vehicle, or eventually starve to death.

Action is necessary. Change is inevitable. So public sectors must balance our time between being responsive (not reactive) to change and risks, and being proactive towards a clear goals or future state.

Of course, risk mitigation is what many in government think they need to most urgently address however, to only engage this is to buy into and perpetuate the myth that the increasing pace of change is itself a bad thing. This is the difference between user polling and user research: users think they need faster horses but actually they need a better way to transport more people over longer distances, which could lead to alternatives from horses. Shifting from a change pessimistic framing to change optimism is critical for public sectors to start to build responsiveness into their policy, program and project management. Until public servants embrace change as normal, natural and part of their work, then fear and fear based behaviours will drive reactivism and sub-optimal outcomes.

The OPSI model for innovation would be a helpful tool to ask senior public servants what proportion of their digital investment is in which box, as this will help identify how aspirational vs reactive, and how top down or bottom up they are, noting that there really should be some investment and tactics in all four quadrants.

Innovation-Facets-Diamond-1024x630My observation of many government digital programs is that teams spend a lot of their time doing top down (directed) work that focuses on areas of certainty, but misses out in building the capacity or vision required for bottom up innovation, or anything that genuinely explores and engages in areas of uncertainty. Central agencies and digital transformation teams are in the important and unique position to independently stand back to see the forest for the trees, and help shape systemic responses to all of system problems. My biggest recommendation would be for the these teams to support public sector partners to embrace change optimism, proactive planning, and responsiveness/resilience into their approaches, so as to be more genuinely strategic and effective in dealing with change, but more importantly, to better plan strategically towards something meaningful for their context.

Repeatability and scale

All digital efforts might be considered through the lens of repeatability and scale.

  • If you are doing something, anything, could you publish it or a version of it for others to learn from or reuse? Can you work in the open for any of your work (not just publish after the fact)? If policy development, new services or even experimental projects could be done openly from the start, they will help drive a race to the top between departments.
  • How would the thing you are considering scale? How would you scale impact without scaling resources? Basically, for anything you, if you’d need to dramatically scale resources to implement, then you are not getting an exponential response to the problem.

Sometimes doing non scalable work is fine to test an idea, but actively trying to differentiate between work that addresses symptomatic relief versus work that addresses causal factors is critical, otherwise you will inevitably find 100% of your work program focused on symptomatic relief.

It is critical to balance programs according to both fast value (short term delivery projects) and long value (multi month/year program delivery), reactive and proactive measures, symptomatic relief and addressing causal factors, & differentiating between program foundations (gov as a platform) and programs themselves. When governments don’t invest in digital foundations, they end up duplicating infrastructure for each and every program, which leads to the reduction of capacity, agility and responsiveness to change.

Digital foundations

Most government digital programs seem to focus on small experiments, which is great for individual initiatives, but may not lay the reusable digital foundations for many programs. I would suggest that in whatever projects the team embark upon, some effort be made to explore and demonstrate what the digital foundations for government should look like. For example:

  • Digital public infrastructure - what are the things government is uniquely responsible for that it should make available as digital public infrastructure for others to build upon, and indeed for itself to consume. Eg, legislation as code, services registers, transactional service APIs, core information and data assets (spatial, research, statistics, budgets, etc), central budget management systems. “Government as a Platform” is a digital and transformation strategy, not just a technology approach.
  • Policy transformation and closing the implementation gap -  many policy teams think the issues of policy intent not being realised is not their problem, so showing the value of multidisciplinary, test-driven and end to end policy design and implementation will dramatically shift digital efforts towards more holistic, sustainable and predictable policy and societal outcomes.
  • Participatory governance - departments need to engage the public in policy, services or program design, so demonstrating the value or participatory governance is key. this is not a nice to have, but rather a necessary part of delivering good services. Here is a recent article with some concepts and methods to consider and the team needs to have capabilities to enable this, that aren’t just communications skills, but rather genuine and subject matter expertise engagement.
  • Life Journey programs - putting digital transformation efforts,, policies, service delivery improvements and indeed any other government work in the context of life journeys helps to make it real, get multiple entities that play a part on that journey naturally involved and invested, and drives horizontal collaboration across and between jurisdictions. New Zealand led the way in this, NSW Government extended the methodology, Estonia has started the journey and they are systemically benefiting.
  • I’ve spoken about designing better futures, and I do believe this is also a digital foundation, as it provides a lens through which to prioritise, implement and realise value from all of the above. Getting public servants to “design the good” from a citizen perspective, a business perspective, an agency perspective, Government perspective and from a society perspective helps flush out assumptions, direction and hypotheses that need testing.

The Pia Review

I recently wrote a series of 20 articles about digital transformation and reform in public sectors. It was something I did for fun, in my own time, as a way of both recording and sharing my lessons learned from 20 years working at the intersection of tech, government and society (half in the private sector, half in the public sector). I called it the Public Sector Pia Review and I’ve been delighted by how it has been received, with a global audience republishing, sharing, commenting, and most important, starting new discussions about the sort of public sector they want and the sort of public servants they want to be. Below is a deck that has an insight from each of the 20 articles, and links throughout.

This is not just meant to be a series about digital, but rather about the matter of public sector reform in the broadest sense, and I hope it is a useful contribution to better public sectors, not just better public services.

The Pia Review – 20 years in 20 slides

There is also a collated version of the articles in two parts. These compilations are linked below for convenience, and all articles are linked in the references below for context.

  • Public-Sector-Pia-Review-Part-1 (6MB PDF) — essays written to provide practical tips, methods, tricks and ideas to help public servants to their best possible work today for the best possible public outcomes; and
  • Reimagining government (will link once published) — essays about possible futures, the big existential, systemic or structural challenges and opportunities as I’ve experienced them, paradigm shifts and the urgent need for everyone to reimagine how they best serve the government, the parliament and the people, today and into the future.

A huge thank you to the Mandarin, specifically Harley Dennett, for the support and encouragement to do this, as well as thanks to all the peer reviewers and contributors, and of course my wonderful husband Thomas who peer reviewed several articles, including the trickier ones!

My digital references and links from 2019

Below are a number of useful references for consideration in any digital government strategy, program or project, including some of mine :)

General reading

Life Journeys as a Strategy

Life Journey programs, whilst largely misunderstood and quite new to government, provide a surprisingly effective way to drive cross agency collaboration, holistic service and system design, prioritisation of investment for best outcomes, and a way to really connect policy, services and human outcomes with all involved on the usual service delivery supply chains in public sectors. Please refer to the following references, noting that New Zealand were the first to really explore this space, and are being rapidly followed by other governments around the world. Also please note the important difference between customer journey mapping (common), customer mapping that spans services but is still limited to a single agency/department (also common), and true life journey mapping which necessarily spans agencies, jurisdictions and even sectors (rare) like having a child, end of life, starting school or becoming an adult.

Policy transformation

Data in Government

Designing better futures to transform towards

If you don’t design a future state to work towards, then you end up just designing reactively to current, past or potential issues. This leads to a lack of strategic or cohesive direction in any particular direction, which leads to systemic fragmentation and ultimately system ineffectiveness and cannibalism. A clear direction isn’t just about principles or goals, it needs to be something people can see, connect with, align their work towards to (even if they aren’t in your team), and get enthusiastic about. This is how you create change at scale, when people buy into the agenda, at all levels, and start naturally walking in the same direction regardless of their role. Here are some examples for consideration.

Rules as Code

Please find the relevant Rules as Code links below for easy reference.

Better Rules and RaC examples

Posted in Choose Your Own Adventure, Government, Tech | Tagged | Leave a comment

Where next: Spring starts when a heartbeat’s pounding…

Today I’m delighted to announce the next big adventure for my little family and I.

For my part, I will be joining the inspirational, aspirational and world leading Service Canada to help drive the Benefits Delivery Modernization program with Benoit Long, Tammy Belanger and their wonderful team, in collaboration with our wonderful colleagues across the Canadian Government! This enormous program aims to dramatically improve the experience of Canadians with a broad range of government services, whilst transforming the organization and helping create the digital foundations for a truly responsive, effective and human-centred public sector :)

This is a true digital transformation opportunity which will make a difference in the lives of so many people. It provides a chance to implement and really realise the benefits of human-centred service design, modular architecture (and Government as a Platform), Rules as Code, data analytics, life journey mapping, and all I have been working on for the last 10 years. I am extremely humbled and thankful for the chance to work with and learn from such a forward thinking team, whilst being able to contribute my experience and expertise to such an important and ambitious agenda.

I can’t wait to work with colleagues across ESDC and the broader Government of Canada, as well as from the many innovative provincial governments. I’ve been lucky enough to attend FWD50 in Ottawa for the last 3 years, and I am consistently impressed by the digital and public sector talent in Canada. Of course, because Canada is one of the “Digital Nations“, it also presents a great opportunity to collaborate closely with other leading digital governments, as I also found when working in New Zealand.

We’ll be moving to Ottawa in early March, so we will see everyone in Canada soon, and will be using the next month or so packing up, spending time with Australian friends and family, and learning about our new home :)

My husband and little one are looking forward to learning about Canadian and Indigenous cultures, learning French (and hopefully some Indigenous languages too, if appropriate!), introducing more z’s into my English, experiencing the cold (yes, snow is a novelty for Australians) and contributing how we can to the community in Ottawa. Over the coming years we will be exploring Canada and I can’t wait to share the particularly local culinary delight that is a Beavertail (a large, flat, hot doughnut like pastry) with my family!

For those who didn’t pick up the reference, the blog title had dual meaning: we are of course heading to Ottawa in the Spring, having had a last Australian Summer for a while (gah!), and it also was a little call out to one of the great Canadian bands, that I’ve loved for years, the Tragically Hip :)

Posted in Choose Your Own Adventure, gov20, Government, Personal, Tech | 5 Comments

Digital excellence in Ballarat

In December I had the opportunity to work with Matthew Swards and the Business Improvements team in the Ballarat Council to provide a little support for their ambitious digital and data program. The Ballarat Council developed the Ballarat Digital Services Strategy a couple of years ago, which is excellent and sets a strong direction for human centred, integrated, inclusive and data driven government services. Councils face all the same challenges that I’ve found in Federal and State Governments, so many of the same strategies apply, but it was a true delight to see some of the exceptional work happening in data and digital in Ballarat.

The Ballarat Digital Services Strategy has a clear intent which I found to be a great foundation for program planning and balancing short term delivery with long term sustainable architecture and system responsiveness to change:

  1. Develop online services that are citizen centric and integrated from the user’s perspective;
  2. Ensure where possible citizens and businesses are not left behind by a lack of digital capability;
  3. Harness technology to enhance and support innovation within council business units;
  4. Design systems, solutions and data repositories strategically but deploy them tactically;
  5. Create and articulate clear purpose by aligning projects and priorities with council’s priorities;
  6. Achieve best value for ratepayers by focusing on cost efficiency and cost transparency;
  7. Build, lead and leverage community partnerships in order to achieve better outcomes; and
  8. Re-use resources, data and systems in order to reduce overall costs and implementation times.

The Business Improvement team has been working across Council to try to meet these goals, and there has been great progress on several fronts from several different parts of the Council.  I only had a few days but got to see great work on opening more Council data, improving Council data quality, bringing more user centred approaches to service design and delivery, exploration of emerging technologies (including IoT) for Council services, and helping bring a user-centred, multi-discplinary and agile approach to service design and delivery, working closely with business and IT teams. It was particularly great to see cross Council groups around big ticket programs to draw on expertise and capabilities across the organisation, as this kind of horizontal governance is critical for holistic and coordinated efforts for big community outcomes.

Whilst in town, Matthew Swards and I wandered the 5 minutes walk to the tech precinct to catch up with George Fong, who gave us a quick tour, including to the local Tech School, as well as a great chat about digital strategies, connectivity, access, inclusiveness and foundations for regional and remote communities to engage in the digital economy. The local talent and innovation in Ballarat is great to see, and in such close vicinity to the Council itself! The opportunities for collaboration are many and it was great to see cross sector discussions about what is good for the future of Ballarat :)

The Tech School blew my mind! It is a great State Government initiative to have a shared technology centre for all the local schools to use, and included state of the art gaming, 3D digital and printing tech, a robotics lab, and even an industrial strength food lab! I told a few people that people would move to Ballarat for their kids to have access to such a facility, to which I was told “this is just one of 10 across the state”.

It was great to work with the Business Improvement team and consider ways to drive the digital and data agenda for the Council and for Ballarat more broadly. It was also great to be able to leverage so many openly available government standards and design systems, such as the GDS and DTA Digital Service Standards and the NSW Design System. Open governments approaches like this make it easier for all levels of government across the world to leverage good practice, reuse standards and code, and deliver better services for the community. It was excellent timing that the Australian National API Design Standard was released this week, as it will also be of great use to Ballarat Council and all other Councils across Australia. Victoria has a special advantage as well because of the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV), which works with and supports all Victorian Councils. The amount of great innovation and coordinated co-development around Council needs is extraordinary, and you could imagine the opportunities for better services if MAV and the Councils were to adopt a standard Digital Service Standard for Councils :)

Many thanks to Matt and the BI team at Ballarat Council, as well as those who made the time to meet and discuss all things digital and data. I hope my small contribution can help, and I’m confident that Ballarat will continue to be a shining example of digital and data excellence in government. It was truly a delight to see great work happening in yet another innovative Local Council in Australia, it certainly seems a compelling place to live :)

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Sadly leaving the NSW Government

This week was sadly my last week with the NSW Government, Department of Customer Service, formerly the Department of Finance, Services and Innovation. I am sad to be leaving such an exciting place at such an exciting time, but after 12 months of commuting from Canberra to Sydney. The hardest part of working in the NSW Government has been, by far, the commute. I have been leaving my little family every week for 3, 4 or 5 days, and although we have explored possibilities to move, my family and I have to continue living in Canberra for the time being. It has got to the point where my almost 4 year old has asked me to choose her over work, a heart breaking scenario as many will understand. 

I wanted to publicly thank everyone I worked with, particularly my amazing teams who have put their heart, soul and minds to the task of making exceptional public services in an exceptional public sector. I am really proud of the two Branches I had the privilege and delight to lead, and I know whatever comes next, that those 160 or so individuals will continue to do great things wherever they go. 

I remain delighted and amazed at the unique opportunity in NSW Government to lead the way for truly innovative, holistic and user centred approaches to government. The commitment and leadership from William Murphy, Glenn King, Greg Wells, Damon Rees, Emma Hogan, Tim Reardon, Annette O’Callaghan, Michael Coutts-Trotter (and many others across the NSW Government senior executive) genuinely to my mind, has created the best conditions anywhere in Australia (and likely the world!) to make great and positive change in the public service.

I want to take a moment to also directly thank Martin Hoffman, Glenn, Greg, William, Amanda Ianna and all those who have supported me in the roles, as well as everyone from my two Branches over that 12 months for their support, belief and commitment. It has been a genuine privilege and delight to be a part of this exceptional department, and to see the incredible work across our Branches.

I have only been in the NSW Government for 12 months, and in that time was the ED for Digital Government Policy and Innovation for 9 months, and then ED Data, Insights and Transformation for a further 3 months.

In just 9 months, the Digital Government Policy and Innovation team achieved a lot in the NSW Government digital space, including:

  • Australia’s first Policy Lab (bringing agile test driven and user centred design methods into a traditional policy team),
  • the Digital Government Policy Landscape (mapping all digital gov policies for agencies) including IoT & a roadmap for an AI Ethics Framework and AI Strategy,
  • the NSW Government Digital Design Standard and a strong community of practice to contribute and collaborate
  • evolution of the Digital NSW Accelerator (DNA) to include delivery capabilities,
  • the School Online Enrolment system,
  • an operational and cross government Life Journeys Program (and subsequent life journey based navigators),
  • a world leading Rules as Code exemplars and early exploration of developing human and machine readable legislation from scratch(Better Rules),
  • establishment of a digital talent pool for NSW Gov,
  • great improvements to data.nsw and whole of government data policy and the Information Management Framework,
  • capability uplift across the NSW public sector including the Data Champions network and digital champions,
  • a prototype whole of government CX Pipeline,
  • the Innovation NSW team were recognised as one of Apolitical’s 100+ teams teaching government the skills of the future with a range of Innovation NSW projects including several Pitch to Pilot events, Future Economy breakfast series,
  • and the improvements to engagement/support we provided across whole of government.

For the last 3 months I was lucky to lead the newly formed and very exciting Data, Insights and Transformation Branch, which included the Data Analytics Centre, the Behavioural Insights Unit, and a new Transformation function to explore how we could design a modern public service fit for the 21st century. In only 3 months we

  • established a strong team culture, developed a clear cohesive work program, strategic objectives and service offerings,
  • chaired the ethics board for behavioural insights projects, which was a great experience, and
  • were seeing new interest, leads and engagement from agencies who wanted to engage with the Data Analytics Centre, Behavioural Insights Unit or our new Transformation function.

It was wonderful to work with such a fantastic group of people and I learned a lot, including from the incredible leadership team and my boss, William Murphy, who shared the following kind words about my leaving:

As a passionate advocate for digital and transformative approaches to deliver great public services, Pia has also been working steadily to deliver on whole-of-government approaches such as Government as a Platform, service analytics and our newly formed Transformation agenda to reimagine government.

Her unique and effective blend of systems thinking, technical creativity and vision will ensure the next stage in her career will be just as rewarding as her time with Customer Service has been.

Pia has made the difficult decision to leave Customer Service to spend more time with her Canberra-based family.

The great work Pia and her teams have done over the last twelve months has without a doubt set up the NSW digital and customer transformation agenda for success.

I want to thank her for the commitment and drive she has shown in her work with the NSW Government, and wish her well with her future endeavours. I’m confident her focus on building exceptional teams, her vision for NSW digital transformation and the relationships she has built across the sector will continue.

For my part, I’m not sure what will come next, but I’m going to have a holiday first to rest, and probably spend October simply writing down all my big ideas and doing some work on rules as code before I look for the next adventure.

Posted in Aus Community, Geek Girls, gov20, Government, society5, Tech, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Digital government: it all starts with open

This is a short video I did on the importance of openness for digital government, for the EngageTech Forum 2018. I’ve had a few people reuse it for other events so I thought I should blog it properly :) Please see the transcript below. 

<Conference introductory remarks>

I wanted to talk about why openness and engagement is so critical for our work in a modern public service.

For me, looking at digital government, it’s not just about digital services, it’s about how we transform governments for the 21st century: how we do service delivery, engagement, collaboration, and how we do policy, legislation and regulation. How we make public services fit for purpose so they can serve you, the people, communities and economy of the 21st century.

For me, a lot of people think about digital and think about technology, but open government is a founding premise, a founding principle for digital government. Open that’s not digital doesn’t scale, and digital that’s not open doesn’t last. That doesn’t just mean looking at things like open source, open content and open APIs, but it means being open. Open to change. Being open to people and doing things with people, not just to people.

There’s a fundamental cultural, technical and process shift that we need to make, and it all starts with open.

<closing conference remarks>

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Lessons from Canada and France: FWD50 2018 and SIIViM

A couple of weeks ago I had a whirlwind trip to Canada, France and back again, in 6 days! I spoke at the FWD50 conference in Ottawa, Canada, which is an optimistic and inspiring event focused on the next 50 days, weeks and years of society, with a special focus on transforming our public sectors for the 21st century. Then I went to Nevers, France for SIIViM, a regional Governments event exploring digital government, open data, open source and smart cities. At both events I shared my lessons and work, as well as met with folk from the Canadian, regional French, US and Taiwanese Governments (amongst others). I also met with OECD, industry and open source folk and came back with new ideas, connections and opportunities to collaborate for our ambitious human-centred digital government transformation work in NSW. Many thanks to the FWD50 organisers and ADULLACT (a French Free Software non-profit organisation) for bringing me over and providing the opportunity to learn and share my experiences.

My contributions

I gave several speeches in my personal professional capacity (meaning I was not formally representing any of my employers past or present) which may be of interest:

Insights from Canada

In between the three presentations I gave, I got to catch up with a range of wonderful people to talk about transforming and improving public sectors.

I spoke to the Canadian School of Public Service:

  • The Canadian Government is creating a Digital Academy to develop better digital acumen across the public sector, better digital leaders, and a community that is ongoing, engaged and mutually supportive. Check out this video on the value of the Canadian Digital Academy.
  • There was strong interest in innovation of public management, including AI in regulation making.
  • They are building a modern policy capability, a tiger team approach, to support policy modernisation and transformation across government.

I visited the Canadian Digital Service and had a great chat with some of the people there, as well as a tour of their new office. It was great to see how much has been achieved in the last year and to exchange stories and lessons on trying to drive change in government. A big thank you to Sean Boot who coordinated the visit and showed me around, great to catch up Sean!

  • We spoke about the challenges faced when under pressure to deliver services whilst trying to transform government, and the need to balance foundational work (like reusable components, standards, capability uplift, modular architecture) with service redesign or improvements.
  • We spoke about legislation as code and the New Zealand entitlements engine we developed as an example of reusable rules for more integrated service delivery. I recommended the Canadian dev team chat to the NZ dev team about OpenFisca Aotearoa.
  • We spoke about emerging tech and how we can prepare public sectors for change, as well as the challenges and benefits of product vs service vs system design.
  • I heard about several great Canadian projects including one helping veterans get access to services and entitlements.
  • We also talked about GCcollab, the open source all of government collaboration suite which is being heavily used across agencies, particularly by policy folk.

I also got to catch up with some folk from the Canadian Treasury Board Secretariat to talk about open government, digital transformation, funding approaches, policy innovation and more. Thanks very much Thom Kearney who is always doing interesting things and connecting people to do interesting things :)

I managed to also get a little time to chat to Michael Karlin, who is driving the ethical AI and algorithmic transparency work in the Canadian Government. It was great to hear where the work is up to and find opportunities to collaborate.

I also met a lot of non-Canadians at the conference, a few takeaways were:

  • Audrey Tang, Digital Minister for Taiwan – Audrey was, as usual, wonderfully inspiring. Her talk pushed the audience to think much bigger and bolder about radical transparency, citizen empowerment and an engaged State. Audrey shared some great pamphlets with me in 8 languages that showed how open government in Taiwan works, which includes issues raised by citizens, prioritised by government, consulted on openly, and fixed collaboratively with citizens. Audrey also shared how they do public consultations in the local language of an area and then transcribe to Mandarin for accessibility. I love this idea and want to consider how we could do multi-lingual consultations better in Australia.
  • I caught up with the always extraordinary Audrey Lobo-Pulo who is a brilliant data scientist and advocate for Opening Government Models. Audrey introduced me to Natalie Evans Harris who had worked in the office of the US Chief Technology Officer and had a lot of expertise around digitising public services.

Insights from France

The SIIViM conference itself was fascinating. A lot of focus on open data, “Smart Cities”, IoT, Virtual Reality, and autonomous cars.

Whilst there we got into a discussion about digital asset valuation and how software/data may be measured as an asset,but is usually not valued as a public asset. Often when data is valued as an asset it quickly leads to cost recovery activities or asset depreciation which can get tricky when we are talking about foundational datasets that could be available as digital public infrastructure for digital society.

When in Paris, I was delighted to meet up with Alex Roberts from the OECD (formerly of DesignGov and Public Sector Innovation Network fame) and Jamie, to talk about innovation in government. We talked about the new OECD Declaration of Public Innovation Alex has developed which beautifully frames the four different innovation types as being across two spectrums of certainty/uncertainty, and directed/undirected, which nicely frames the different forms of innovation efforts I’ve seen over the years. Great work Alex! There is also a report on innovation in the innovation in the Canadian Government worth reading. Perhaps OECD could come to NSW Government next? ;)

I also met with Roberto Di Cosmo who founded the Software Heritage initiative, which is like a super archive for software repositories that stores the code in a uniform data model for the purpose of analysis, science and posterity. Roberto has been involved in the French Free and Open Source Software community for a long time and he told me about the French Government investment in Open Source with 200m euros invested in 10 years (40% public money and 60% private investment). Fascinating and it explains why so many great French Government technologies are Open Source!

I got to catch up with the excellent Matti Schneider, who worked with my team in New Zealand for a few weeks on OpenFisca. I highly recommend Matti’s talk about the French State Incubator (a public sector innovation lab) or another talk on turning legislation into code from New Zealand. Matti kindly gave me a short tour of central Paris from a historical context, and I got to hear about the three Parisian revolutions and see significant landmarks along the way. Fascinating, and as always, there are lessons relevant to the present moment.

To wrap it all up, Patrick introduced me to Mark from the US National Archives who shared some thoughts about https://www.lockss.org/ and the importance of ensuring validity of historic digital archives. I also met Margaret from ICANN who talked about the personal empowerment of staff to make good decisions and to engage in stopping things that are wrong, unfair or inconsistent with the mission. She encouraged me to be humble about evidence and realistic about change being inevitable.

Useful links:

Posted in Choose Your Own Adventure, gov20, Government, society5, Tech | Tagged | Leave a comment

UNDP 2018: Evidence based vs experimentation based policy

Recently I have a remote talk to a UNDP event about Evidence based versus experimentation based policy. Below are the notes.
  • We invented all of this, and we can reinvent it. We can co-create a better future for everyone, if we choose. But if we settle for making things just a bit better, a bit more sustainable, a bit anything, then we will fundamentally fail the world because change and complexity is growing exponentially, and we need an exponential response to keep up.
  • There is a dramatic shift in paradigm from control to enablement, from being a king in a castle to a node in a network, which assumes a more collaborative approach to governance.
  • Evidence based approaches are great to identify issues, but we need experimentation based approaches, equitably co-designed with communities, so create sustainable and effective solutions. Evidence based solutions often are normative rather than transformative.
  • We need both evidence and experimentation based policy making, combined with system thinking and public engagement to make a real difference.
  • Digital transformation is often mistaken for meaning the digitisation of or service design led improvement of services, but digital transformation means creating institutions that are fit for purpose for the 21st century, from policy, regulation, services, public engagement, a full rethink and redesign of our social, economic and political systems.
  • History in implementation, and we realised that it was the disconnect between policy and implementation, the idea of policy as separate to implementation is undermining the possibility of meeting the policy intent through implementation.
  • Measurement ends up being limited to the context of function rather than outcomes.
  • Urgently need to reform how we do policy, regulation and legislation, to embrace an outcomes based approach, to bring design thinking and system design into the process from the start, from policy development in the first instance.
  • Working in the open is essential to getting both the demand and supply of evidence based policy, and working openly also means engaging in the shared design of policy and services with the communities we serve, to draw on the experience, expertise and values of the communities.
  • Public Values Management
  • Evidence based AND experimentation based policy.
  • Examples:
    • Service Innovation Lab – NZ
      • Service design and delivery – rapid prototyping is trusted for service design
      • Applying design thinking to regulation and policy
      • Legislation as code – rapid testing of policy and legislation, Holidays Act, it is critical if we want to have a chance of ensuring traceable, accountable and trusted decision making by public sectors as we see more automated decision making with the adoption of AI and ML grow.
      • Simultaneous legislation and implementation, to ensure implementation has a chance of meeting the original policy intent.
    • Taiwan – Uber case study, civic deliberation
    • Their Future Matters – data driven insights and outcomes mapping and then co-design of solutions, co-design with Aboriginal NGOs
    • 50 year optimistic future – to collaboratively design what a contextual, cultural and values driven “good” looks like for a society, so we can reverse engineer what we need to put in place to get us there.
  • Final point – if we want people to trust our policies, services and legislation, we need to do open government data, models, traceable and accountable decision making, and representative and transparent public participation in policy.
  • Links:

 

Posted in Aus Community, gov20, Government | Leave a comment

Mā te wā, Aotearoa

Today I have some good news and sad news. The good news is that I’ve been offered a unique chance to drive “Digital Government” Policy and Innovation for all of government, an agenda including open government, digital transformation, technology, open and shared data, information policy, gov as a platform, public innovation, service innovation and policy innovation. For those who know me, these are a few of my favourite things :)

The sad news, for some folk anyway, is I need to leave New Zealand Aotearoa to do it.

Over the past 18 months (has it only been that long!) I have been helping create a revolutionary new way of doing government. We have established a uniquely cross-agency funded and governed all-of-government function, a “Service Innovation Lab”, for collaborating on the design and development of better public services for New Zealand. By taking a “life journey” approach, government agencies have a reason to work together to improve the full experience of people rather than the usual (and natural) focus on a single product, service or portfolio. The Service Innovation Lab has a unique value in providing an independent place and way to explore design-led and evidence-based approaches to service innovation, in collaboration with service providers across public, private and non-profit sectors. You can see everything we’ve done over the past year here  and from the first 10 week experiment here. I have particularly enjoyed working with and exploring the role of the Citizen Advice Bureau in New Zealand as a critical and trusted service delivery organisation in New Zealand. I’m also particularly proud of both our work in exploring optimistic futures as a way to explore what is possible, rather than just iterate away from pain, and our exploration of better rules for government including legislation as code. The next stage for the Lab is very exciting! As you can see in the 2017-18 Final Report, there is an ambitious work programme to accelerate the delivery of more integrated and more proactive services, and the team is growing with new positions opening up for recruitment in the coming weeks!

Please see the New Zealand blog (which includes my news) here

Professionally, I get most excited about system transformation. Everything we do in the Lab is focused on systemic change, and it is doing a great job at having an impact on the NZ (and global) system around it, especially for its size. But a lot more needs to be done to scale both innovation and transformation. Personally, I have a vision for a better world where all people have what they need to thrive, and I feel a constant sense of urgency in transitioning our public institutions into the 21st century, from an industrial age to the information age, so they can more effectively support society as the speed of change and complexity exponentially grows. This is going to take a rethink of how the entire system functions, especially at the policy and legislative levels.

With this in mind, I have been offered an extraordinary opportunity to explore and demonstrate systemic transformation of government. The New South Wales Department of Finance, Services and Innovation (NSW DFSI) has offered me the role of Executive Director for Digital Government, a role responsible for the all-of-government policy and innovation for ICT, digital, open, information, data, emerging tech and transformation, including a service innovation lab (DNA). This is a huge opportunity to drive systemic transformation as part of a visionary senior leadership team with Martin Hoffman (DFSI Secretary) and Greg Wells (GCIDO). I am excited to be joining NSW DFSI, and the many talented people working in the department, to make a real difference for the people of NSW. I hope our work and example will help raise the bar internationally for the digital transformation of governments for the benefit of the communities we serve.

Please see the NSW Government media release here.

One of the valuable lessons from New Zealand that I will be taking forward in this work has been in how public services can (and should) engage constructively and respectfully with Indigenous communities, not just because they are part of society or because it is the right thing to do, but to integrate important principles and context into the work of serving society. Our First Australians are the oldest cluster of cultures in the world, and we have a lot to learn from them in how we live and work today.

I want to briefly thank the Service Innovation team, each of whom is utterly brilliant and inspiring, as well as the wonderful Darryl Carpenter and Karl McDiarmid for taking that first leap into the unknown to hire me and see what we could do. I think we did well :) I’m delighted that Nadia Webster will be taking over leading the Lab work and has an extraordinary team to take it forward. I look forward to collaborating between New Zealand and New South Wales, and a race to the top for more inclusive, human centred, digitally enabled and values drive public services.

My last day at the NZ Government Service Innovation Lab is the 14th September and I start at NSW DFSI on the 24th September. We’ll be doing some last celebratory drinks on the evening of the 13th September so hold the date for those in Wellington. For those in Sydney, I can’t wait to get started and will see you soon!

Posted in Aus Community, gov20, Government | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Exploring change and how to scale it

Over the past decade I have been involved in several efforts trying to make governments better. A key challenge I repeatedly see is people trying to change things without an idea of what they are trying to change to, trying to fix individual problems (a deficit view) rather than recognising and fixing the systems that created the problems in the first place. So you end up getting a lot of symptomatic relief and iterative improvements of antiquated paradigms without necessarily getting transformation of the systems that generated the problems. A lot of the effort is put into applying traditional models of working which often result in the same old results, so we also need to consider new ways to work, not just what needs to be done.

With life getting faster and (arguably) exponentially more complicated, we need to take a whole of system view if we are to improve ‘the system’ for people. People sometimes balk when I say this thinking it too hard, too big or too embedded. But we made this, we can remake it, and if it isn’t working for us, we need to adapt like we always have.

I also see a lot of slogans used without the nuanced discussion they invite. Such (often ideological) assumptions can subtly play out without evidence, discussion or agreement on common purpose. For instance, whenever people say smaller or bigger government I try to ask what they think the role of government is, to have a discussion. Size is assumed to correlate to services, productivity, or waste depending on your view, but shouldn’t we talk about what the public service should do, and then the size is whatever is appropriate to do what is needed? People don’t talk about a bigger or smaller jacket or shoes, they get the right one for their needs and the size can change over time as the need changes. Indeed, perhaps the public service of the future could be a dramatically different workforce comprised of a smaller group of professional public servants complimented with and a large demographically representative group of part time citizens doing their self nominated and paid “civic duty year of service” as a form of participatory democracy, which would bring new skills and perspectives into governance, policy and programs.

We need urgently to think about the big picture, to collectively talk about the 50 or 100 year view for society, and only then can we confidently plan and transform the structures, roles, programs and approaches around us. This doesn’t mean we have to all agree to all things, but we do need to identify the common scaffolding upon which we can all build.

This blog posts challenges you to think systemically, critically and practically about five things:

    • What future do you want? Not what could be a bit better, or what the next few years might hold, or how that shiny new toy you have could solve the world’s problems (policy innovation, data, blockchain, genomics or any tool or method). What is the future you want to work towards, and what does good look like? Forget about your particular passion or area of interest for a moment. What does your better life look like for all people, not just people like you?
    • What do we need to get there? What concepts, cultural values, paradigm, assumptions should we take with us and what should we leave behind? What new tools do we need and how do we collectively design where we are going?
    • What is the role of gov, academia, other sectors and people in that future? If we could create a better collective understanding of our roles in society and some of the future ideals we are heading towards, then we would see a natural convergence of effort, goals and strategy across the community.
    • What will you do today? Seriously. Are you differentiating between symptomatic relief and causal factors? Are you perpetuating the status quo or challenging it? Are you being critically aware of your bias, of the system around you, of the people affected by your work? Are you reaching out to collaborate with others outside your team, outside your organisation and outside your comfort zone? Are you finding natural partners in what you are doing, and are you differentiating between activities worthy of collaboration versus activities only of value to you (the former being ripe for collaboration and the latter less so).
    • How do we scale change? I believe we need to consider how to best scale “innovation” and “transformation”. Scaling innovation is about scaling how we do things differently, such as the ability to take a more agile, experimental, evidence based, creative and collaborative approach to the design, delivery and continuous improvement of stuff, be it policy, legislation or services. Scaling transformation is about how we create systemic and structural change that naturally drives and motivates better societal outcomes. Each without the other is not sustainable or practical.

How to scale innovation and transformation?

I’ll focus the rest of this post on the question of scaling. I wrote this in the context of scaling innovation and transformation in government, but it applies to any large system. I also believe that empowering people is the greatest way to scale anything.

  • I’ll firstly say that openness is key to scaling everything. It is how we influence the system, how we inspire and enable people to individually engage with and take responsibility for better outcomes and innovate at a grassroots level. It is how we ensure our work is evidence based, better informed and better tested, through public peer review. Being open not only influences the entire public service, but the rest of the economy and society. It is how we build trust, improve collaboration, send indicators to vendors and influence academics. Working openly, open sourcing our research and code, being public about projects that would benefit from collaboration, and sharing most of what we do (because most of the work of the public service is not secretive by any stretch) is one of the greatest tools in try to scale our work, our influence and our impact. Openness is also the best way to ensure both a better supply chain as well as a better demand for things that are demonstrable better.

A quick side note to those who argue that transparency isn’t an answer because all people don’t have to tools to understand data/information/etc to hold others accountable, it doesn’t mean you don’t do transparency at all. There will always be groups or people naturally motivated to hold you to account, whether it is your competitors, clients, the media, citizens or even your own staff. Transparency is partly about accountability and partly about reinforcing a natural motivation to do the right thing.

Scaling innovation – some ideas:

  • The necessity of neutral, safe, well resourced and collaborative sandpits is critical for agencies to quickly test and experiment outside the limitations of their agencies (technical, structural, political, functional and procurement). Such places should be engaged with the sectors around them. Neutral spaces that take a systems view also start to normalise a systems view across agencies in their other work, which has huge ramifications for transformation as well as innovation.
  • Seeking and sharing – sharing knowledge, reusable systems/code, research, infrastructure and basically making it easier for people to build on the shoulders of each other rather than every single team starting from scratch every single time. We already have some communities of practice but we need to prioritise sharing things people can actually use and apply in their work. We also need to extend this approach across sectors to raise all boats. Imagine if there was a broad commons across all society to share and benefit from each others efforts. We’ve seen the success and benefits of Open Source Software, of Wikipedia, of the Data Commons project in New Zealand, and yet we keep building sector or organisational silos for things that could be public assets for public good.
  • Require user research in budget bids – this would require agencies to do user research before bidding for money, which would create an incentive to build things people actually need which would drive both a user centred approach to programs and would also drive innovation as necessary to shift from current practices :) Treasury would require user research experts and a user research hub to contrast and compare over time.
  • Staff mobility – people should be supported to move around departments and business units to get different experiences and to share and learn. Not everyone will want to, but when people stay in the same job for 20 years, it can be harder to engage in new thinking. Exchange programs are good but again, if the outcomes and lessons are not broadly shared, then they are linear in impact (individuals) rather than scalable (beyond the individuals).
  • Support operational leadership – not everyone wants to be a leader, disruptor, maker, innovator or intrapreneur. We need to have a program to support such people in the context of operational leadership that isn’t reliant upon their managers putting them forward or approving. Even just recognising leadership as something that doesn’t happen exclusively in senior management would be a huge cultural shift. Many managers will naturally want to keep great people to themselves which can become stifling and eventually we lose them. When people can work on meaningful great stuff, they stay in the public service.
  • A public ‘Innovation Hub’ – if we had a simple public platform for people to register projects that they want to collaborate on, from any sector, we could stimulate and support innovation across the public sector (things for which collaboration could help would be surfaced, publicly visible, and inviting of others to engage in) so it would support and encourage innovation across government, but also provides a good pipeline for investment as well as a way to stimulate and support real collaboration across sectors, which is substantially lacking at the moment.
  • Emerging tech and big vision guidance - we need a team, I suggest cross agency and cross sector, of operational people who keep their fingers on the pulse of technology to create ongoing guidance for New Zealand on emerging technologies, trends and ideas that anyone can draw from. For government, this would help agencies engage constructively with new opportunities rather than no one ever having time or motivation until emerging technologies come crashing down as urgent change programs. This could be captured on a constantly updating toolkit with distributed authorship to keep it real.

Scaling transformation – some ideas:

  • Convergence of effort across sectors – right now in many countries every organisation and to a lesser degree, many sectors, are diverging on their purpose and efforts because there is no shared vision to converge on. We have myriad strategies, papers, guidance, but no overarching vision. If there were an overarching vision for New Zealand Aotearoa for instance, co-developed with all sectors and the community, one that looks at what sort of society we want into the future and what role different entities have in achieving that ends, then we would have the possibility of natural convergence on effort and strategy.
    • Obviously when you have a cohesive vision, then you can align all your organisational and other strategies to that vision, so our (government) guidance and practices would need to align over time. For the public sector the Digital Service Standard would be a critical thing to get right, as is how we implement the Higher Living Standards Framework, both of which would drive some significant transformation in culture, behaviours, incentives and approaches across government.
  • Funding “Digital Public Infrastructure” – technology is currently funded as projects with start and end dates, and almost all tech projects across government are bespoke to particular agency requirements or motivations, so we build loads of technologies but very little infrastructure that others can rely upon. If we took all the models we have for funding other forms of public infrastructure (roads, health, education) and saw some types of digital infrastructure as public infrastructure, perhaps they could be built and funded in ways that are more beneficial to the entire economy (and society).
  • Agile budgeting – we need to fund small experiments that inform business cases, rather than starting with big business cases. Ideally we need to not have multi 100 million dollar projects at all because technology projects simply don’t cost that anymore, and anyone saying otherwise is trying to sell you something :) If we collectively took an agile budgeting process, it would create a systemic impact on motivations, on design and development, or implementation, on procurement, on myriad things. It would also put more responsibility on agencies for the outcomes of their work in short, sharp cycles, and would create the possibility of pivoting early to avoid throwing bad money after good (as it were). This is key, as no transformative project truly survives the current budgeting model.
  • Gov as a platform/API/enabler (closely related to DPI above) – obviously making all government data, content, business rules (inc but not just legislation) and transactional systems available as APIs for building upon across the economy is key. This is how we scale transformation across the public sector because agencies are naturally motivated to deliver what they need to cheaper, faster and better, so when there are genuinely useful reusable components, agencies will reuse them. Agencies are now more naturally motivated to take an API driven modular architecture which creates the bedrock for government as an API. Digital legislation (which is necessary for service delivery to be integrated across agency boundaries) would also create huge transformation in regulatory and compliance transformation, as well as for government automation and AI.
  • Exchange programs across sectors – to share knowledge but all done openly so as to not create perverse incentives or commercial capture. We need to also consider the fact that large companies can often afford to jump through hoops and provide spare capacity, but small to medium sized companies cannot, so we’d need a pool for funding exchange programs with experts in the large proportion of industry.
  • All of system service delivery evidence base – what you measure drives how you behave. Agencies are motivated to do only what they need to within their mandates and have very few all of system motivations. If we have an all of government anonymised evidence base of user research, service analytics and other service delivery indicators, it would create an accountability to all of system which would drive all of system behaviours. In New Zealand we already have the IDI (an awesome statistical evidence base) but what other evidence do we need? Shared user research, deidentified service analytics, reporting from major projects, etc. And how do we make that evidence more publicly transparent (where possible) and available beyond the walls of government to be used by other sectors?  More broadly, having an all of government evidence base beyond services would help ensure a greater evidence based approach to investment, strategic planning and behaviours.
Posted in gov20, Government, society5, Tech | 6 Comments