Choose Your Own Adventure, Please!

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

Overview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Table of Contents

Foreword & Introduction

Book 1: Where did we come from

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

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

Book 2: Where we are going

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

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

Book 3: How do we get there

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

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

Conclusion and call to action

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

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

Posted in Choose Your Own Adventure | Leave a comment

Moving to …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Work

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

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

Fishing

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

Studies

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

Visitors

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

Little A

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

Salut Turangi

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

Posted in Personal | 2 Comments

Personal submission to the Productivity Commission Review on Public Sector Data

My name is Pia Waugh and this is my personal submission to the Productivity Commission Review on Public Sector Data. It does not reflect the priorities or agenda of my employers past, present or future, though it does draw on my expertise and experience in driving the open data agenda and running data portals in the ACT and Commonwealth Governments from 2011 till 2015. I was invited by the Productivity Commission to do a submission and thought I could provide some useful ideas for consideration. I note I have been on maternity leave since January 2016 and am not employed by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet or working on data.gov.au at the time of writing this submission. This submission is also influenced by my work and collaboration with other Government jurisdictions across Australia, overseas and various organisations in the private and community sectors. I’m more than happy to discuss these ideas or others if useful to the Productivity Commission.

I would like to thank all those program and policy managers, civic hackers, experts, advocates, data publishers, data users, public servants and vendors whom I have had the pleasure to work with and have contributed to my understanding of this space. I’d also like to say a very special thank you to the Australian Government Chief Technology Officer, John Sheridan, who gave me the freedom to do what was needed with data.gov.au, and to Allan Barger who was my right hand man in rebooting the agenda in 2013, supporting agencies and helping establish a culture of data publishing and sharing across the public sector. I think we achieved a lot in only a few years with a very small but highly skilled team. A big thank you also to Alex Sadleir and Steven De Costa who were great to work with and made it easy to have an agile and responsive approach to building the foundation for an important piece of data infrastructure for the Australian Government.

Finally, this is a collection of some of my ideas and feedback for use by the Productivity Commission however, it doesn’t include everything I could possibly have to say on this topic because, frankly, we have a small baby who is taking most of my time at the moment. Please feel free to add your comments, criticisms or other ideas to the comments below! It is all licensed as Creative Commons 4.0 By Attribution, so I hope it is useful to others working in this space.

The Importance of Vision

Without a vision, we stumble blindly in the darkness. Without a vision, the work and behaviours of people and organisations are inevitably driven by other competing and often short term priorities. In the case of large and complex organisms like the Australian Public Service, if there is no cohesive vision, no clear goal to aim for, then each individual department is going to do things their own way, driven by their own priorities, budgets, Ministerial whims and you end up with what we largely have today: a cacophony of increasingly divergent approaches driven by tribalism that make collaboration, interoperability, common systems and data reuse impossible (or prohibitively expensive).

If however, you can establish a common vision, then even a strongly decentralised system can converge on the goal. If we can establish a common vision for public data, then the implementation of data programs and policies across the APS should become naturally more consistent and common in practice, with people naturally motivated to collaborate, to share expertise, and to reuse systems, standards and approaches in pursuit of the same goal.

My vision for public data is two-pronged and a bit of a paradigm shift: data by design and gov as an API! “Data by design” is about taking a data driven approach to the business of government and “gov as an API” is about changing the way we use, consume, publish and share data to properly enable a data driven public service and a broader network of innovation. The implementation of these ideas would create mashable government that could span departments, jurisdictions and international boundaries. In a heavily globalised world, no government is in isolation and it is only by making government data, content and services API enabled and reusable/interfacable, that we, collectively, can start to build the kind of analysis, products and services that meet the necessarily cross jurisdictional needs of all Australians, of all people.

More specifically, my vision is a data driven approach to the entire business of government that supports:

  • evidence based and iterative policy making and implementation;

  • transparent, accountable and responsible Government;

  • an open competitive marketplace built on mashable government data, content and services; and

  • a more efficient, effective and responsive public service.

What this requires is not so simple, but is utterly achievable if we could embed a more holistic whole of government approach in the work of individual departments, and then identify and fill the gaps through a central capacity that is responsible for driving a whole of government approach. Too often we see the data agenda oversimplified into what outcomes are desired (data visualisations, dashboards, analysis, etc) however, it is only in establishing multipurpose data infrastructure which can be reused for many different purposes that we will enable the kind of insights, innovation, efficiencies and effectiveness that all the latest reports on realising the value of data allude to. Without actual data, all the reports, policies, mission statements, programs and governance committees are essentially wasting time. But to get better government data, we need to build capacity and motivation in the public sector. We need to build a data driven culture in government. We also need to grow consumer confidence because a) demand helps drive supply, and b) if data users outside the public sector don’t trust that they can find, use and rely upon at least some government data, then we won’t ever see serious reuse of government data by the private sector, researchers, non-profits, citizens or the broader community.

Below is a quick breakdown of each of these priorities, followed by specific recommendations for each:

data infrastructure that supports multiple types of reuse. Ideally all data infrastructure developed by all government entities should be built in a modular, API enabled way to support data reuse beyond the original purpose to enable greater sharing, analysis, aggregation (where required) and publishing. It is often hard for agencies to know what common infrastructure already exists and it is easy for gaps to emerge, so another part of this is to map the data infrastructure requirements for all government data purposes, identify where solutions exist and any gaps. Where whole of government approaches are identified, common data infrastructure should be made available for whole of government use, to reduce the barrier to publishing and sharing data for departments. Too often, large expensive data projects are implemented in individual agencies as single purpose analytics solutions that don’t make the underlying data accessible for any other purpose. If such projects separated the data infrastructure from the analytics solutions, then the data infrastructure could be built to support myriad reuse including multiple analytics solutions, aggregation, sharing and publishing. If government data infrastructure was built like any other national infrastructure, it should enable a competitive marketplace of analysis, products and service delivery both domestically and globally. A useful analogy to consider is the example of roads. Roads are not typically built just from one address to another and are certainly not made to only support certain types of vehicles. It would be extremely inefficient if everyone built their own custom roads and then had to build custom vehicles for each type of road. It is more efficient to build common roads to a minimum technical standard that any type of vehicle can use to support both immediate transport needs, but also unknown transport needs into the future. Similarly we need to build multipurpose data infrastructure to support many types of uses.

greater publisher capacity and motivation to share and publish data. Currently the range of publishing capacity across the APS is extremely broad, from agencies that do nothing to agencies that are prolific publishers. This is driven primarily by different cultures and responsibilities of agencies and if we are to improve the use of data, we need to improve the supply of data across the entire public sector. This means education and support for agencies to help them understand the value to their BAU work. The time and money saved by publishing data, opportunities to improve data quality, the innovation opportunities and the ability to improve decision making are all great motivations once understood, but generally the data agenda is only pitched in political terms that have little to no meaning to data publishers. Otherwise there is no natural motivation to publish or share data, and the strongest policy or regulation in the world does not create sustainable change or effective outcomes if you cannot establish a motivation to comply. Whilst ever publishing data is seen as merely a compliance issue, it will be unlikely for agencies to invest the time and skills to publish data well, that is, to publish the sort of data that consumers want to use.

greater consumer confidence to improve the value realised from government data. Supply is nothing without demand and currently there is a relatively small (but growing) demand for government data, largely because people won’t use what they don’t trust. In the current landscape is difficult to find data and even if one can find it, it is often not machine readable or not freely available, is out of date and generally hard to use. There is not a high level of consumer confidence in what is provided by government so many people don’t even bother to look. If they do look, they find myriad data sources of ranging quality and inevitably waste many hours trying to get an outcome. There is a reasonable demand for data for research and the research community tends to jump through hoops – albeit reluctantly and at great cost – to gain access to government data. However, the private and civic sectors are yet to seriously engage apart form a few interesting outliers. We need to make finding and using useful data easy, and start to build consumer confidence or we will never even scratch the surface of the billions of dollars of untapped potential predicted by various studies. The data infrastructure section is obviously an important part of building consumer confidence as it should make it easier for consumers to find and have confidence in what they need, but it also requires improving the data culture across the APS, better outreach and communications, better education for public servants and citizens on how to engage in the agenda, and targeted programs to improve the publishing of data already in demand. What we don’t need is yet another “tell us what data you want” because people want to see progress.

a data driven culture that embeds in all public servants an understanding of the role of data in the every day work of the public service, from program management, policy development, regulation and even basic reporting. It is important to take data from being seen as a specialist niche delegated only to highly specialised teams and put data front and centre as part of the responsibilities of all public servants – especially management – in their BAU activities. Developing this culture requires education, data driven requirements for new programs and policies, some basic skills development but mostly the proliferation of an awareness of what data is, why it is important, and how to engage appropriate data skills in the BAU work to ensure a data driven approach. Only with data can a truly evidence driven approach to policy be taken, and only with data can a meaningful iterative approach be taken over time.

Finally, obviously the approach above requires an appropriately skilled team to drive policy, coordination and implementation of the agenda in collaboration with the broader APS. This team should reside in a central agenda to have whole of government imprimatur, and needs a mix of policy, commercial, engagement and technical data skills. The experience of data programs around the world shows that when you split policy and implementation, you inevitably get both a policy team lacking in the expertise to drive meaningful policy and an implementation team paralysed by policy indecision and an unclear mandate. This space is changing so rapidly that policy and implementation need to be agile and mutually reinforcing with a strong focus on getting things done.

As we examine the interesting opportunities presented by new developments such as blockchain and big data, we need to seriously understand the shift in paradigm from scarcity to surplus, from centralised to distributed systems, and from pre-planned to iterative approaches, if we are to create an effective public service for the 21st century.

There is already a lot of good work happening, so the recommendations in this submission are meant to improve and augment the landscape, not replicate. I will leave areas of specialisation to the specialists, and have tried to make recommendations that are supportive of a holistic approach to developing a data-driven public service in Australia.

Current Landscape

There has been progress in recent years towards a more data driven public sector however, these initiatives tend to be done by individual teams in isolation from the broader public service. Although we have seen some excellent exemplars of big data and open data, and some good work to clarify and communicate the intent of a data driven public service through policy and reviews, most projects have simply expanded upon the status quo thinking of government as a series of heavily fortified castles that take the extraordinary effort of letting in outsiders (including other departments) only under strictly controlled conditions and with great reluctance and cost. There is very little sharing at the implementation level (though an increasing amount of sharing of ideas and experience) and very rarely are new initiatives consulted across the APS for a whole of government perspective. Very rarely are actual data and infrastructure experts encouraged or supported to work directly together across agency or jurisdiction lines, which is a great pity. Although we have seen the idea of the value of data start to be realised and prioritised, we still see the implementation of data projects largely delegated to small, overworked and highly specialised internal teams that are largely not in the habit of collaborating externally and thus there is a lot of reinvention and diversity in what is done.

If we are to realise the real benefits of data in government and the broader economy, we need to challenge some of the status quo thinking and approaches towards data. We need to consider government (and the data it collects) as a platform for others to build upon rather than the delivery mechanism for all things to all people. We also need to better map what is needed for a data-driven public service rather than falling victim to the attractive (and common, and cheap) notion of simply identifying existing programs of work and claiming them to be sufficient to meet the goals of the agenda.

Globally this is still a fairly new space. Certain data specialisations have matured in government (eg. census/statistics, some spatial, some science data) but there is still a lack of a cohesive approach to data in any one agency. Even specialist data agencies tend to not look beyond the specialised data to have a holistic data driven approach to everything. In this way, it is critical to develop a holistic approach to data at all levels of the public service to embed the principles of data driven decision making in everything we do. Catalogues are not enough. Specialist data projects are not enough. Publishing data isn’t enough. Reporting number of datasets quickly becomes meaningless. We need to measure our success in this space by how well data is helping the public service to make better decisions, build better services, develop and iterate responsive and evidence based policy agendas, measure progress and understand the environment in which we operate.

Ideally, government agencies need to adopt a dramatic shift in thinking to assume in the first instance that the best results will be discovered through collaboration, through sharing, through helping people help themselves. There also needs in the APS to be a shift away from thinking that a policy, framework, governance structure or other artificial constructs are sufficient outcomes. Such mechanisms can be useful, but they can also be a distraction from getting anything tangible done. Such mechanisms often add layers of complexity and cost to what they purport to achieve. Ultimately, it is only what is actually implemented that will drive an outcome and I strongly believe an outcomes driven approach must be applied to the public data agenda for it to achieve its potential.

References

In recent years there has been a lot of progress. Below is a quick list to ensure they are known and built upon for the future. It is also useful to recognise the good work of the government agencies to date.

  • Public Data Toolkit – the data.gov.au team have pulled together a large repository of information, guidance and reports over the past 3 years on our open data toolkit at http://toolkit.data.gov.au. There are also some useful contributions from the Department of Communications Spatial Policy Branch. The Toolkit has links to various guidance from different authoritative agencies across the APS as well as general information about data management and publishing which would be useful to this review.

  • The Productivity Commission is already aware of the Legislative and other Barriers Workshop I ran at PM&C before going on maternity leave, and I commend the outcomes of that session to the Review.

  • The Financial Sector Inquiry (the “Murray Inquiry”) has some excellent recommendations regarding the use of data-drive approaches to streamline the work and reporting of the public sector which, if implemented, would generate cost and time savings as well as the useful side effect of putting in place data driven practices and approaches which can be further leveraged for other purposes.

  • Gov 2.0 Report and the Ahead of the Game Report – these are hard to find copies of online now, but have some good recommendations and ideas about a more data centric and evidence based public sector and I commend them both to the Review. I’m happy to provide copies if required.

  • There are many notable APS agency efforts which I recommend the Productivity Commission engage with, if they haven’t already. Below are a few I have come across to date, and it is far from an exhaustive list:

    • PM&C (Public Data Management Report/Implementation & Public Data Policy Statement)

    • Finance (running and rebooting data.gov.au, budget publishing, data integration in GovCMS)

    • ABS (multi agency arrangement, ABS.Stat)

    • DHS (analytics skills program, data infrastructure and analysis work)

    • Immigration (analytics and data publishing)

    • Social Services (benefits of data publishing)

    • Treasury (Budget work)

    • ANDS (catalogue work and upskilling in research sector)

    • NDI (super computer functionality for science)

    • ATO (smarter data program, automated and publications data publishing, service analytics, analytics, dev lab, innovationspace)

    • Industry (Lighthouse data integration and analysis, energy ratings data and app)

    • CrimTRAC and AUSTRAC (data collection, consolidation, analysis, sharing)

  • Other jurisdictions in Australia have done excellent work as well and you can see a list (hopefully up to date) of portals and policies on the Public Data Toolkit. I recommend the Productivity Commission engage with the various data teams for their experiences and expertise in this matter. There are outstanding efforts in all the State and Territory Governments involved as well as many Local Councils with instructive success stories, excellent approaches to policy, implementation and agency engagement/skills and private sector engagement projects.

Som current risks/issues

There are a number of issues and risks that exist in pursuing the current approach to data in the APS. Below are some considerations to take into account with any new policies or agendas to be developed.

  • There is significant duplication of infrastructure and investment from building bespoke analytics solutions rather than reusable data infrastructure that could support multiple analytics solutions. Agencies build multiple bespoke analytics projects without making the underpinning data available for other purposes resulting in duplicated efforts and under-utilised data across government.

  • Too much focus on pretty user interfaces without enough significant investment or focus on data delivery.

  • Discovery versus reuse – too many example of catalogues linking to dead data. Without the data, discovery is less than useful.

  • Limitations of tech in agencies by ICT Department – often the ICT Department in an agency is reticent to expand the standard operating environment beyond the status quo, creating an issue of limitation of tools and new technologies.

  • Copyright and legislation – particularly old interpretations of each and other excuses to not share.

  • Blockers to agencies publishing data (skills, resources, time, legislation, tech, competing priorities e.g. assumed to be only specialists that can do data).

  • Often activities in the public sector are designed to maintain the status quo (budgets, responsibilities, staff count) and there is very little motivation to do things more efficiently or effectively. We need to establish these motivations for any chance to be sustainable.

  • Public perceptions about the roles and responsibilities of government change over time and it is important to stay engaged when governments want to try something new that the public might be uncertain about. There has been a lot of media attention about how data is used by government with concerns aired about privacy. Australians are concerned about what Government plans to do with their data. Broadly the Government needs to understand and engage with the public about what data it holds and how it is used. There needs to be trust built to both improve the benefits from data and to ensure citizen privacy and rights are protected. Where government wants to use data in new ways, it needs to prosecute the case with the public and ensure there are appropriate limitations to use in place to avoid misuse of the data. Generally, where Australians can directly view the benefit of their data being used and where appropriate limitations are in place, they will probably react positively. For example, tax submission are easier now that their data auto-fills from their employers and health providers when completing Online Tax. People appreciate the concept of having to only update their details once with government.

Benefits

I agree with the benefits identified by the Productivity Commission discussion paper however I would add the following:

  • Publishing government data, if published well, enables a competitive marketplace of service and product delivery, the ability to better leverage public and academic analysis for government use and more broadly, taps into the natural motivation of the entire community to innovate, solve problems and improve life.

  • Establishing authoritative data – often government is the authoritative source of information it naturally collects as part of the function of government. When this data is not then publicly available (through anonymised APIs if necessary) then people will use whatever data they can get access to, reducing the authority of the data collected by Government

  • A data-drive approach to collecting, sharing and publishing data enables true iterative approaches to policy and services. Without data, any changes to policy are difficult to justify and impossible to track the impact, so data provides a means to support change and to identify what is working quickly. Such feedback loops enable iterative improvements to policies and programs that can respond to the changing financial and social environment the operate in.

  • Publishing information in a data driven way can dramatically streamline reporting, government processes and decision making, freeing up resources that can be used for more high value purposes.

Public Sector Data Principles

The Public Data Statement provides a good basis of principles for this agenda. Below are some principles I think are useful to highlight with a brief explanation of each.

Principles:

  • build for the future - legacy systems will always be harder to deal with so agencies need to draw a line in the sand and ensure new systems are designed with data principles, future reuse and this policy agenda in mind. Otherwise we will continue to build legacy systems into the future. Meanwhile, just because a legacy system doesn’t natively support APIs or improved access doesn’t mean you can’t affordably build middleware solutions to extract, transform, share and publish data in an automated way.

  • data first - wherever data is used to achieve an outcome, publish the data along with the outcome. This will improve public confidence in government outcomes and will also enable greater reuse of government data. For example, where graphs or analysis are published also publish the data. Where a mobile app is using data, publish the data API. Where a dashboard is set up, also provide access to the underpinning data.

  • use existing data, from the source where possible - this may involve engaging with or even paying for data from private sector or NGOs, negotiating with other jurisdictions or simply working with other government entities to gain access.

  • build reusable data infrastructure first - wherever data is part of a solution, the data should be accessible through APIs so that other outcomes and uses can be realised, even if the APIs are only used for internal access in the first instance.

  • data driven decision making to support iterative and responsive policy and implementations approaches – all decisions should be evidence based, all projects, policies and programs should have useful data indicators identified to measure and monitor the initiative and enable iterative changes backed by evidence.

  • consume your own data and APIs - agencies should consider how they can better use their own data assets and build access models for their own use that can be used publicly where possible. In consuming their own data and APIs, there is a better chance the data and APIs will be designed and maintained to support reliable reuse. This could raw or aggregate data APIs for analytics, dashboards, mobile apps, websites, publications, data visualisations or any other purpose.

  • developer empathy - if government agencies start to prioritise the needs of data users when publishing data, there is a far greater likelihood the data will be published in a way developers can use. For instance, no developer likes to use PDFs, so why would an agency publish data in a PDF (hint: there is no valid reason. PDF does not make your data more secure!).

  • standardise where beneficial but don’t allow the perfect to delay the good - often the focus on data jumps straight to standards and then multi year/decade standards initiatives are stood up which creates huge delays to accessing actual data. If data is machine readable, it can often be used and mapped to some degree which is useful, more useful than having access to nothing.

  • automate, automate, automate! – where human effort is required, tasks will always be inefficient and prone to error. Data collection, sharing and publishing should be automated where possible. For example, when data is regularly requested, agencies should automate the publishing of data and updates which both reduces the work for the agency and improves the quality for data users.

  • common platforms - where possible agencies should use existing common platforms to share and publish data. Where they need to develop new infrastructure, efforts should be made to identify where new platforms might be useful in a whole of government or multi agency context and built to be shared. This will support greater reuse of infrastructure as well as data.

  • a little less conversation a little more action – the public service needs to shift from talking about data to doing more in this space. Pilot projects, experimentation, collaboration between implementation teams and practitioners, and generally a greater focus on getting things done.

Recommendations for the Public Data agenda

Strategic

  1. Strong Recommendation: Develop a holistic vision and strategy for a data-driven APS. This could perhaps be part of a broader digital or ICT strategy, but there needs to be a clear goal that all government entities are aiming towards. Otherwise each agency will continue to do whatever they think makes sense just for them with no convergence in approach and no motivation to work together.

  2. Strong Recommendation: Develop and publish work program and roadmap with meaningful measures of progress and success regularly reported publicly on a public data agenda dashboard. NSW Government already have a public roadmap and dashboard to report progress on their open data agenda.

Whole of government data infrastructure

  1. Strong Recommendation: Grow the data.gov.au technical team to at least 5 people to grow the whole of government catalogue and cloud based data hosting infrastructure, to grow functionality in response to data publisher and data user requirements, to provide free technical support and training to agencies, and to regularly engage with data users to grow public confidence in government data. The data.gov.au experience demonstrated that even just a small motivated technical team could greatly assist agencies to start on their data publishing journey to move beyond policy hypothesising into practical implementation. This is not something that can be efficiently or effectively outsourced in my experience.

  • I note that in the latest report from PM&C, Data61 have been engaged to improve the infrastructure (which looks quite interesting) however, there still needs to be an internal technical capability to work collaboratively with Data61, to support agencies, to ensure what is delivered by contractors meets the technical needs of government, to understand and continually improve the technical needs and landscape of the APS, to contribute meaningfully to programs and initiatives by other agencies, and to ensure the policies and programs of the Public Data Branch are informed by technical realities.

  1. Recommendation: Establish/extend a data infrastructure governance/oversight group with representatives from all major data infrastructure provider agencies including the central public data team to improve alignment of agendas and approaches for a more holistic whole of government approach to all major data infrastructure projects. The group would assess new data functional requirements identified over time, would identify how to best collectively meet the changing data needs of the public sector and would ensure that major data projects apply appropriate principles and policies to enable a data driven public service. This work would also need to be aligned with the work of the Data Champions Network.

  2. Recommendation: Map out, publish and keep up to date the data infrastructure landscape to assist agencies in finding and using common platforms.

  3. Recommendation: Identify on an ongoing basis publisher needs and provide whole of government solutions where required to support data sharing and publishing (eg – data.gov.au, ABS infrastructure, NationalMap, analytics tools, github and code for automation, whole of gov arrangements for common tools where they provide cost benefits).

  4. Recommendation: Create a requirement for New Policy Proposals that any major data initiatives (particularly analytics projects) also make the data available via accessible APIs to support other uses or publishing of the data.

  5. Recommendation: Establish (or build upon existing efforts) an experimental data playground or series of playgrounds for agencies to freely experiment with data, develop skills, trial new tools and approaches to data management, sharing, publishing, analysis and reuse. There are already some sandbox environments available and these could be mapped and updated over time for agencies to easily find and engage with such initiatives.

Grow consumer confidence

  1. Strong Recommendation: Build automated data quality indicators into data.gov.au. Public quality indicators provide an easy way to identify quality data, thus reducing the time and effort required by data users to find something useful. This could also support a quality search interface, for instance data users could limit searches to “high quality government data” or choose granular options such as “select data updated this year”. See my earlier blog (from PM&C) draft of basic technical quality indicators which would be implemented quickly, giving data users a basic indication of how usable and useful data is in a consistent automated way. Additional quality indicators including domain specific quality indicators could be implemented in a second or subsequent iteration of the framework.

  2. Strong Recommendation: Establish regular public communications and engagement to improve relations with data users, improve perception of agenda and progress and identify areas of data provision to prioritise. Monthly blogging of progress, public access to the agenda roadmap and reporting on progress would all be useful. Silence is generally assumed to mean stagnation, so it is imperative for this agenda to have a strong public profile, which in part relies upon people increasingly using government data.

  3. Strong Recommendation: Establish a reasonable funding pool for agencies to apply for when establishing new data infrastructure, when trying to make existing legacy systems more data friendly, and for responding to public data requests in a timely fashion. Agencies should also be able to apply for specialist resource sharing from the central and other agencies for such projects. This will create the capacity to respond to public needs faster and develop skills across the APS.

  4. Strong Recommendation: The Australian Government undertake an intensive study to understand the concerns Australians hold relating to the use of their data and develop a new social pact with the public regarding the use and limitations of data.

  5. Recommendation: establish a 1-2 year project to support Finance in implementing the data driven recommendations from the Murray Inquiry with 2-3 dedicated technical resources working with relevant agency teams. This will result in regulatory streamlining, improved reporting and analysis across the APS, reduced cost and effort in the regular reporting requirements of government entities and greater reuse of the data generated by government reporting.

  6. Recommendation: Establish short program to focus on publishing and reporting progress on some useful high value datasets, applying the Public Data Policy Statement requirements for data publishing. The list of high value datasets could be drawn from the Data Barometer, the Murray Inquiry, existing requests from data.gov.au, and work from PM&C. The effort of determining the MOST high value data to publish has potentially got in the way of actual publishing, so it would be better to use existing analysis and prioritise some data sets but more importantly to establish data by default approach across govt for the kinds of serendipitous use of data for truly innovation outcomes.

  7. Recommendation: Citizen driven privacy – give citizens the option to share data for benefits and simplified services, and a way to access data about themselves.

Grow publisher capacity and motivation

  1. Strong Recommendation: Document the benefits for agencies to share data and create better guidance for agencies. There has been a lot of work since the reboot of data.gov.au to educate agencies on the value of publishing data. The value of specialised data sharing and analytics projects is often evident driving those kinds of projects, but traditionally there hasn’t been a lot of natural motivations for agencies to publish data, which had the unfortunate result of low levels of data publishing. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that agencies have saved time and money by publishing data publicly, which have in turn driven greater engagement and improvements in data publishing by agencies. If these examples were better documented (now that there are more resources) and if agencies were given more support in developing holistic public data strategies, we would likely see more data published by agencies.

  2. Strong Recommendation: Implement an Agency League Table to show agency performance on publishing or otherwise making government data publicly available. I believe such a league table needs to be carefully designed to include measures that will drive better behaviours in this space. I have previously mapped out a draft league table which ranks agency performance by quantity (number of data resources, weighted by type), quality (see previous note on quality metrics), efficiency (the time and/or money saved in publishing data) and value (a weighted measure of usage and reuse case studies) and would be happy to work with others in re-designing the best approach if useful.

  3. Recommendation: Establish regular internal hackfests with tools for agencies to experiment with new approaches to data collection, sharing, publishing and analysis – build on ATO lab, cloud tools, ATO research week, etc.

  4. Recommendation: Require data reporting component for New Policy Proposals and new tech projects wherein meaningful data and metrics are identified that will provide intelligence on the progress of the initiative throughout the entire process, not just at the end of the project.

  5. Recommendation: Add data principles and API driven and automated data provision to the digital service standard and APSC training.

  6. Recommendation: Require public APIs for all government data, appropriately aggregated where required, leveraging common infrastructure where possible.

  7. Recommendation: Establish a “policy difference engine” – a policy dashboard that tracks the top 10 or 20 policy objectives for the government of the day which includes meaningful metrics for each policy objective over time. This will enable the discovery of trends, the identification of whether policies are meeting their objectives, and supports an evidence based iterative approach to the policies because the difference made by any tweaks to the policy agenda will be evident.

  8. Recommendation: all publicly funded research data to be published publicly, and discoverable on central research data hub with free hosting available for research institutions. There has been a lot of work by ANDS and various research institutions to improve discovery of research data, but a large proportion is still only available behind a paywall or with an education logon. A central repository would reduce the barrier for research organisations to publicly publish their data.

  9. Recommendation: Require that major ICT and data initiatives consider cloud environments for the provision, hosting or analysis of data.

  10. Recommendation: Identify and then extend or provide commonly required spatial web services to support agencies in spatially enabling data. Currently individual agencies have to run their own spatial services but it would be much more efficient to have common spatial web services that all agencies could leverage.

Build data drive culture across APS

  1. Strong Recommendation: Embed data approaches are considered in all major government investments. For example, if data sensors were built into major infrastructure projects it would create more intelligence about how the infrastructure is used over time. If all major investments included data reporting then perhaps it would be easier to keep projects on time and budget.

  2. Recommendation: Establish a whole of government data skills program, not just for specialist skills, but to embed in the entire APS and understanding of data-driven approaches for the public service. This would ideally include mandatory data training for management (in the same way OH&S and procurement are mandatory training). At C is a draft approach that could be taken.

  3. Recommendation: Requirement that all government contracts have create new data make that data available to the contracting gov entity under Creative Commons By Attribution only licence so that government funded data is able to published publicly according to government policy. I have seen cases of contracts leaving ownership with companies and then the data not being reusable by government.

  4. Recommendation: Real data driven indicators required for all new policies, signed off by data champions group, with data for KPIs publicly available on data.gov.au for public access and to feed policy dashboards. Gov entities must identify existing data to feed KPIs where possible from gov, private sector, community and only propose new data collection where new data is clearly required.

  • Note: it was good to see a new requirement to include evidence based on data analytics for new policy proposals and to consult with the Data Champions about how data can support new proposals in the recently launched implementation report on the Public Data Management Report. However, I believe it needs to go further and require data driven indicators be identified up front and reported against throughout as per the recommendation above. Evidence to support a proposal does not necessarily provide the ongoing evidence to ensure implementation of the proposal is successful or has the intended effect, especially in a rapidly changing environment.

  1. Recommendation: Establish relationships with private sector to identify aggregate data points already used in private sector that could be leveraged by public sector rather. This would be more efficient and accurate then new data collection.

  2. Recommendation: Establish or extend a cross agency senior management data champions group with specific responsibilities to oversee the data agenda, sign off on data indicators for NPPs as realistic, provide advice to Government and Finance on data infrastructure proposals across the APS.

  3. Recommendation: Investigate the possibilities for improving or building data sharing environments for better sharing data between agencies.

  4. Recommendation: Take a distributed and federated approach to linking unit record data. Secure API access to sensitive data would avoid creating a honey pot.

  5. Recommendation: Establish data awards as part of annual ICT Awards to include: most innovative analytics, most useful data infrastructure, best data publisher, best data driven policy.

  6. Recommendation: Extend the whole of government service analytics capability started at the DTO and provide access to all agencies to tap into a whole of government view of how users interact with government services and websites. This function and intelligence, if developed as per the original vision, would provide critical evidence of user needs as well as the impact of changes and useful automated service performance metrics.

  7. Recommendation: Support data driven publishing including an XML platform for annual reports and budgets, a requirement for data underpinning all graphs and datavis in gov publications to be published on data.gov.au.

  8. Recommendation: develop a whole of government approach to unit record aggregation of sensitive data to get consistency of approach and aggregation.

Implementation recommendations

  1. Move the Public Data Branch to an implementation agency – Currently the Public Data Branch sits in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. Considering this Department is a policy entity, the questions arises as to whether it is the right place in the longer term for an agenda which requires a strong implementation capability and focus. Public data infrastructure needs to be run like other whole of government infrastructure and would be better served as part of a broader online services delivery team. Possible options would include one of the shared services hubs, a data specialist agency with a whole of government mandate, or the office of the CTO (Finance) which runs a number of other whole of government services.

Downloadable copy

Posted in gov20, Government, Tech | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Gather-ing some thoughts on societal challenges

On the weekend I went to the GatherNZ event in Auckland, an interesting unconference. I knew there were going to be some pretty awesome people hanging out which gave a chance for me to catch up with and introduce the family to some friends, hear some interesting ideas, and road test some ideas I’ve been having about where we are all heading in the future. I ran a session I called “Choose your own adventure, please” and it was packed! Below is a bit of a write up of what was discussed as there was a lot of interest in how to keep the conversation going. I confess, I didn’t expect so much interest as to be asked where the conversation could be continued, but this is a good start I think. I was particularly chuffed when a few attendee said the session blew their minds :)

I’m going to be blogging a fair bit over the coming months on this topic in any case as it relates to a book I’m in the process of researching and writing, but more on that next week!

Choose your own adventure, please

We are at a significant tipping point in history. The world and the very foundations our society were built on have changed, but we are still largely stuck in the past in how we think and plan for the future. If we don’t make some active decisions about how we live, think and prioritise, then we will find ourselves subconsciously reinforcing the status quo at every turn and not in a position to genuinely create a better future for all. I challenge everyone to consider how they think and to actively choose their own adventure, rather than just doing what was done before.

How has the world changed? Well many point to the changes in technology and science, and the impact these have had on our quality of life. I think the more interesting changes are in how power and perspectives has changed, which created the environment for scientific and technological progress in the first instance, but also created the ability for many many more individuals to shape the world around them. We have seen traditional paradigms of scarcity, centralisation and closed systems be outflanked and outdated by modern shifts to surplus, distribution and open systems. When you were born a peasant and died one, what power did you have to affect your destiny? Nowadays individuals are more powerful than ever in our collective history, with the traditionally centralised powers of publishing, property, communications, monitoring and even enforcement now distributed internationally to anyone with access to a computer and the internet, which is over a third of the world’s population and growing. I blogged about this idea more here. Of course, these shifts are proving challenging for traditional institutions and structures to keep up, but individuals are simply routing around these dinosaurs, putting such organisations in the uncomfortable position of either adapting or rendering themselves irrelevant.

Choices, choices, choices

We discussed a number of specific premises or frameworks that underpinned the development of much of the world we know today, but are now out of touch with the changing world we live in. It was a fascinating discussion, so thank you to everyone who came and contributed and although I think we only scratched the surface, I think it gave a lot of people food for thought :)

  • Open vs closed – open systems (open knowledge, data, government, source, science) are outperforming closed ones in almost everything from science, technology, business models, security models, government and political systems, human knowledge and social models. Open systems enable rapid feedback loops that support greater iteration and improvements in response to the world, and open systems create a natural motivation for the players involved to perform well and gain the benefits of a broader knowledge, experience and feedback base. Open systems also support a competitive collaborative environment, where organisations can collaborate on the common, but compete on their specialisation. We discussed how security by obscurity was getting better understood as a largely false premise and yet, there are still so many projects, decisions, policies or other initiatives where closed is the assumed position, in contrast to the general trend towards openness across the board.
  • Central to distributed – many people and organisations still act like kings in castles, protecting their stuff from the masses and only collaborating with walls and moats in place to keep out the riff raff. The problem is that everything is becoming more distributed, and the smartest people will never all be in the one castle, so if you want the best outcomes, be it for a policy, product, scientific discovery, service or anything else, you need to consider what is out there and how you can be a part of a broader ecosystem. Building on the shoulders of giants and being a shoulder for others to build upon. Otherwise you will always be slower than those who know how to be a node in the network. Although deeply hierarchical systems still exist, individuals are learning how to route around the hierarchy (which is only an imaginary construct in any case). There will always be specialists and the need for central controls over certain things however, if whatever you do is done in isolation, it will only be effective in isolation. Everything and everyone is more and more interconnected so we need to behave more in this way to gain the benefits, and to ensure what we do is relevant to those we do it for. By tapping into the masses, we can also tap into much greater capacity and feedback loops to ensure how we iterate is responsive to the environment we operate in. Examples of the shift included media, democracy, citizen movements, ideology, security, citizen science, gov as an API, transnational movements and the likely impact of blockchain technologies on the financial sector.
  • Scarcity to surplus – the shift from scarcity to surplus is particularly interesting because so much of our laws, governance structures, business models, trade agreements and rules for living are based around antiquated ideas of scarcity and property. We now apply the idea of ownership to everything and I shared a story of a museum claiming ownership on human remains taken from Australia. How can you own that and then refuse to repatriate the remains to that community? Copyright was developed when the ability to copy something was costly and hard. Given digital property (including a lot of “IP”) is so easily replicated with low/zero cost, it has wrought havoc with how we think about IP and yet we have continued to duplicate this antiquated thinking in a time of increasing surplus. This is a problem because new technologies could genuinely create surplus in physical properties, especially with the developments in nano-technologies and 3D printing, but if we bind up these technologies to only replicate the status quo, we will never realise the potential to solve major problems of scarcity, like hunger or poverty.
  • Nationalism and tribalism – because of global communications, more people feel connected with their communities of interest, which can span geopolitical, language, disability and other traditional barriers to forming groups. This will also have an impact on loyalties because people will have an increasingly complex relationship with the world around them. Citizens can and will increasingly jurisdiction shop for a nation that supports their lifestyle and ideological choices, the same way that multinational corporates have jurisdiction shopped for low tax, low regulation environments for some time. On a more micro level, individuals engage in us vs them behaviours all the time, and it gets in the way of working together.
  • Human augmentation and (dis)ability – what it means to look and be human will start to change as more human augmentation starts to become mainstream. Not just cosmetic augmentations, but functional. The body hacking movement has been playing with human abilities and has discovered that the human brain can literally adapt to and start to interpret foreign neurological inputs, which opens up the path to nor just augmenting existing human abilities, but expanding and inventing new human abilities. If we consider the olympics have pretty much found the limit of natural human sporting achievement and have become arguably a bit boring, perhaps we could lift the limitations on the para-olympics and start to see rocket powered 100m sprints, or cyborg Judo competitions. As we start to explore what we can do with ourselves physically, neurologically and chemically, it will challenge a lot of views on what it means to be human. By why should we limit ourselves?
  • Outsourcing personal responsibility – with advances in technology, many have become lazy about how far their personal responsibility extends. We outsource small tasks, then larger ones, then strategy, then decision making, and we end up having no personal responsibility for major things in our world. Projects can fail, decisions become automated, ethics get buried in code, but individuals can keep their noses clean. We need to stop trying to avoid risk to the point where we don’t do anything and we need to ensure responsibility for human decisions are not automated beyond human responsibility.
  • Unconscious bias of privileged views, including digital colonialism – the need to be really aware of our assumptions and try to not simply reinvent the status quo or reinforce “structural white supremacy” as it was put by the contributor. Powerful words worth pondering! Explicit inclusion was put forward as something to prioritise.
  • Work – how we think about work! If we are moving into a more automated landscape, perhaps how we think about work will fundamentally change which would have enormous ramifications for the social and financial environment. Check out Tim Dunlop’s writing on this :)
  • Facts to sensationalism – the flow of information and communications are now so rapid that people, media and organisations are motivated to ever more sensationalism rather than considered opinions or facts. Definitely a shift worth considering!

Other feedback from the room included:

  • The importance of considering ethics, values and privilege in making decisions.
  • The ability to route around hierarchy, but the inevitable push back of established powers on the new world.
  • The idea that we go in cycles of power from centralised to distributed and back again. I confess, this idea is new to me and I’ll be pondering on it more.

Any feedback, thinking or ideas welcome in the comments below :) It was a fun session.

Posted in society5, Tech | Tagged | 1 Comment

Pia, Thomas and little A’s Excellent Adventure – Week 3

The last fortnight has just flown past! We have been getting into the rhythm of being on holidays, a difficult task for yours truly as the workaholic I am! Meanwhile we have also caught a lot more fish (up to 57 now, 53 were released), have been keeping up with the studies and little A has been (mostly) enjoying a broad range of new foods and experiences. The book is on hold for another week or two while I finish another project off.

Photos are added every few days to the flickr album.
IMAG1855

Studies

My studies are going well. The two (final) subject are “Law, Governance and Policy” and “White Collar Crime”. They are both great subjects and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the readings, discussions and thinking critically about the issues therein. The White Collar Crime topic in particular has been fascinating! Each week we look at case studies of WCC in the news and there are some incredible issues every single week. A recent one directly relevant to us was the ACCC suing Heinz for a baby food advertised as “99% fruit” but made up of fruit concentrates and purees, resulting in a 67% sugar product. Wow! The advertising is all about how healthy it is and how it developed a taste for real foods in toddlers but it basically is just a sugar hit worse than a soft drink!

Fishing and weather

We have been doing fairly well and the largest trout so far was 69cm (7.5 pounds). We are exploring the area and finding some great new spots but there is certainly some crowding on weekends! Although Thomas was lamenting the lack of rain the first week, it then torrented leaving him to lament about too much rain! Hopefully now we’ll get a good mix of both rain (for fish) and sunshine. Meanwhile it has been generally much warmer than Canberra and the place we are staying in is always toasty warm so we are very comfortable.

Catchups in Wellington and Auckland

We are planning to go to Auckland for Gather later this month and to Wellington for GovHack at the end of July and then for the OS/OS conference in August. The plan is to catch up with ALL TEH PEEPS during those trips which we are really looking forward to! Little A and I did a little one day fly in fly out trip to Wellington last week to catch up with the data.govt.nz team to exchange information and experience with running government data portals. It was great to see Nadia, Rowan and the team and to see the recent work happening with the new beta.data.govt.nz and to share some of the experience we had with data.gov.au. Thanks very much to the team for great day and good luck in the next steps with your ambitious agenda! I know it will go well!

Visitors

Last week we had our first visitors. Thomas’ parents stayed with us for a week which has been lovely! Little A had a great time being pampered and we enjoyed showing them around. We had a number of adventures with them including some fishing, a trip to the local national park to see some beautiful volcanoes (still active!) and a place reminiscent of the Hydro Majestic in the Blue Mountains.

We also visited Te Porere Redoubt a Maori defensive structure including trenches, and a visit to the site of an old Maori settlement. The trench warfare skills developed by the Maori were used in the New Zealand wars and I got a few photos to show the deep trench running around the outside of the structure and then the labyrinth in the middle. There is a photo of a picture of a fortified Maori town showing that large spikes would have also been used for the defensive structure, and potentially some kind of roof? Incredible use of tactical structures for defence. One for you Sherro!

Wolverine baby

Finally, we had a small incident with little A which really showed how resilient little kids are. We were bushwalking with little A in a special backpack for carrying children. I had to step across a small gap and checked out the brush but only saw the soft leaves of a tree. I stepped across and suddenly little A screamed! Thomas was right on to it (I couldn’t see what was happening) and there had been a tiny low hanging piece of bramble (thorny vine) at little A’s face height! He quickly disentangled her and we sat her down to see the damage and console her. It had caught on her neck and luckily only gave her a few very shallow scratches but she was inconsolable. Anyway, a few cuddles later, some antiseptic cream and a warm shower and little A was perfectly happy, playing with her usual toys whilst Thomas and I were still keyed up. The next day the marks were dramatically faded and within a couple of days you could barely see them. She is healing super fast, like a baby Wolverine :) She is happily enjoying a range of foods now and gets a lot of walks and some time at the local playgroup for additional socialisation.

Posted in Personal | 1 Comment

Pia, Thomas and Little A’s Excellent Adventure – Week 1

We arrived in Auckland after a fairly difficult flight. Little A had a mild cold and did NOT cope with the cabin pressure well, so there was a lot of walking cuddles around the plane kitchen to not disturb other passengers. After a restful night we picked up our rental car, a roomy 4 wheel drive, and drove to Turangi, a beautiful scenic introduction to our 3 month adventure! Our plan is to spend 3 months in Turing as a bit of a babymoon: to get to know little A as she goes through that lovely 6-9 months development which includes crawling, learning to eat and other fun stuff. We are also planning to catch a LOT of trout (and even keep some!), catch up with some studies and reading, and take the time to plan out the next chapter of our life. I’m also hoping to write a book if I can, but more on that later :)

So each week we’ll blog some highlights! Photos will be added every few days to the flickr album.

Our NZ Adventure

Arrival

The weather in Turangi has been gorgeous all week. Sunny and much warmer than Canberra, but of course Thomas would rather rain as that would get the Trout moving in the river :) We are renting a 3 bedroom house with woodfire heating which is toasty warm and very comfortable. The only downside is that we have no internet at the house, and the data plan on my phone doesn’t work at all at the house. So we are fairly offline, which has its pros and cons :) Good for relaxing, reflection, studying, writing and planning. Bad for Pia who feels like she has lost a limb! Meanwhile, the local library has reasonable WiFi and we have become a regular visitors.

Little A

Little A has made some new steps this week. She learned how to do raspberries, which she now does frequently. She also rolled over completely unassisted for the first time and spends a lot of time trying to roll more. Finally, she decided she wanted to start on solids. We know this because when Thomas was holding her whilst eating a banana, he turned away for a second to speak to me and she launched herself onto the banana, gumming furiously! So we have now tried some mashed potato, pumpkin and some water from the sippy cup. In all cases she insists on grabbing the spoon or sippy cup to feed herself.

Studies

Both of us are doing some extra studies whilst on this trip. I’m finishing off my degree this semester with a subject on policy and law, and another on white collar crime. Both are fascinating! Thomas is reading up on some areas of law he wants to brush up on for work and fun.

Book

My book preparations are going well, and I will be blogging about that in a few weeks once I get a bit more done. Basically I’m writing a book about the history and future of our species, focusing on the major philosophical and technological changes that have come and are coming, and the key things we need to carefully think about and change if we are to take advantage of how the world itself has fundamentally changed. It is a culmination of things I’ve been thinking about and exploring for the last 15 years, so I hope it proves useful in making a better world for everyone :)

Fishing

Part of the reason we have based this little sabbatical at Turangi is because it is arguably the best Trout fishing in the world, and is one of Thomas’ favourite places. It is a quaint and sleepy little country town with everything we need. The season hasn’t really kicked off yet and the fish aren’t running upstream yet, but we still netted 12 fish this week, of which we kept one Rainbow Trout for a delicious meal of Manuka smoked fish :)

Posted in Personal | 2 Comments

My personal OGPau submission

I have been fascinated and passionate about good government since I started exploring the role of government in society about 15 years ago. I decided to go work in both the political and public service arenas specifically to get a better understanding of how government and democracy works in Australia and it had been an incredible journey learning a lot, with a lot of good mentors and experiences along the way.

When I learned about the Open Government Partnership I was extremely excited about the opportunity it presented to have genuine public collaboration on the future of open government in Australia, and to collaborate with other governments on important initiatives like transparency, democracy and citizen rights. Once the government gave the go ahead, I felt privileged to be part of kicking the process off, and secure in my confidence in the team left to run the consultation as I left to be on maternity leave (returning to work in 2017). Amelia, Toby and the whole team are doing a great job, as are the various groups and individuals contributing to the consultation. I think it can be very tempting to be cynical about such things but it us so important we take the steering wheel offered, to drive this where we want to go. Otherwise it is a wasted opportunity.

So now, as a citizen who cares about this topic, and completely independently of my work, I’d like to contribute some additional ideas to the Australian OGP consultation and I encourage you all to contribute ideas too. There have already been a lot of great ideas I support, so these are just a few I think deserve a little extra attention. I’ve laid out some problems and then some actions for each problem. I’ve also got a 9 week old baby so this has been a bit tricky to write in between baby duties :) I’m keen to explore these and other ideas in more detail throughout the process but these are just the high level ideas to start.

Problem 1: democratic engagement. I think it is hard for a lot of citizens to engage in the range of activities of our democracy. Voting is usually considered the extent to which the average person considers participating but there are so many ways to be involved in the decisions and actions of governments, which affect us in our every day lives! These actions are about making the business of government easier for the people served  to get involved in.

Action (theme: public participation): Establish a single place to discover all consultations, publications, policies – it is currently difficult for people to contribute meaningfully to government because it is hard to find what is going on, what has already been decided, what the priorities of the government of the day are, and what research has been conducted to date.

Action: (theme: public participation): Establish a participatory budget approach. Each year there should be a way for the public to give ideas and feedback to the budget process, to help identify community priorities and potential savings.

Action: (theme: public participation): Establish a regular Community Estimates session. Senate Estimates is a way for the Senate to hold the government and departments to account however, often the politics of the individuals involved dominates the approach. What if we implemented an opportunity for the public to do the same? There would need to be a rigorous way to collect and prioritise questions from the public that was fair and representative, but it could be an excellent way to provide greater accountability which is not (or should not be) politicised.

Problem 2: analogue government. Because so much of the reporting, information, decisions and outcomes of government are published (or not published) in an analogue format (not digital or machine readable), it is very hard to discover and analyse, and thus very hard to monitor. If government was more digitally accessible, more mashable, then it would be easier to monitor the work of government.

Action: (theme: open data) XML feeds for all parliamentary data including Hansard, comlaw, annual reports, pbs’, MP expenses and declaration of interests in data form with notifications of changes. This would make this important democratic content more accessible, easier to analyse and easier to monitor.

Action: (theme: open data) Publishing of all the federal budget information in data format on budget night, including the tables throughout the budget papers, the data from the Portfolio Budget Statements (PBSs) and anything else of relevance. This would make analysing the budget easier. There have been some efforts in this space but it has not been fully implemented.

Action: (Freedom of Information): Adoption of rightoknow platform for whole of gov with central FOI register and publications, and a central FOI team to work across all departments consistently for responding to requests. Currently doing an FOI request can be tricky to figure out (unless you can find community initiatives like righttoknow which has automated the process externally) and the approach to FOI requests varies quite dramatically across departments. A single official way to submit requests, track them, and see reports published, as well as a single mechanism to respond to requests would be better for the citizen experience and far more efficient for government.

Action: (theme: government integrity): Retrospective open calendars of all Parliamentarians business calendars. Constituents deserve to know how their representatives are using their time and, in particular, who they are meeting with. This helps improve transparency around potential influencers of public policy, and helps encourage Parliamentarians to consider how they spend their time in office.

Problem 3: limits for reporting transparency. A lot of the rules about reporting of expenditure in Australia are better than most other countries in the world however, we can do better. We could lower the thresholds for reporting expenditure for instance, and others have covered expanding the reporting around political donations so I’ll stick to what I know and consider useful from direct experience.

Action: (theme: fiscal transparency): Regular publishing of government expenditure records down to $1000. Currently federal government contracts over $10k are reported in Australia through the AusTender website and ondata.gov.au however, there are a lot of expenses below $10k that arguably would be useful to know. In the UK they introduced expenditure reporting per department monthly at https://data.gov.uk/data/openspending-report/index

Action: (theme: fiscal transparency): A public register of all gov funded major projects (all types) along with status, project manager and regular reporting. This would make it easier to track major projects and to intervene when they are not delivering.

Action: (theme: fiscal transparency): Update of PBS and Annual Report templates for comparative budget and program information with common key performance indicators and reporting for programs and departmental functions. Right now agencies do their reporting in PDF documents that provide no easy way to compare outcomes, programs, expenditure, etc. If common XML templates were used for common reports, comparative assessment would be easier and information about government as a whole much more available for assessment.

Problem 4: stovepipe and siloed government impedes citizen centric service delivery. Right now each agency is motivated to deliver their specific mandate with a limited (and ever restricted) budget and so we end up with systems (human, technology, etc) for service delivery that are siloed from other systems and departments. If departments took a more modular approach, it would be more possible to mash up government data, content and services for dramatically improved service delivery across government, and indeed across different jurisdictions.

Action: (theme: public service delivery): Mandated open Application Programmable Interfaces (APIs) for all citizen and business facing services delivered or commissioned by government, to comply to appropriately defined standards and security. This would enable different data, content and services to be mashed up by agencies for better service delivery, but also enables an ecosystem of service delivery beyond government.

Action: (theme: government integrity): a consistent reporting approach and public access to details of outsourced contract work with greater consistency of confidentiality rules in procurement. A lot of work is outsourced by government to third parties. This can be a good way to deliver some things (and there are many arguments as to how much outsourcing is too much) however, it introduces a serious transparency issue when the information about contracted work is unable to be monitored, with the excuse of “commercial in confidence”. All contracts should have minimum reporting requirements and should make publicly available the details of what exactly is contracted, with the exception of contracts with national security where such disclosure creates a significant risk. This would also help in creating a motivation for contractors to deliver on their contractual obligations. Finally, if procurement officers across government had enhanced training to correctly apply the existing confidentiality test from the Commonwealth Procurement Rules, it would be reasonably to expect that there would be less information hidden behind commercial in confidence.

I also wholeheartedly support the recommendations of the Independent Parliamentary Entitlements System Report (https://www.dpmc.gov.au/taskforces/review-parliamentary-entitlements), in particular:

  • Recommendation 24: publish all key documents online;
  • Recommendation 25: more frequent reporting (of work expenses of parliamentarians and their staff) on data.gov.au as a dataset;
  • Recommendation 26: improved travel reporting by Parliamentarians.

I hope this feedback is useful and I look forward to participating in the rest of the consultation. I’m adding the ideas to the ogpau wiki and look forward to feedback and discussion. Just to be crystal clear, these are my own thoughts, based on my own passion and experience, and is not in any way representative of my employer or the government. I have nothing to do with the running of the consultation now and expect my ideas to hold no more weight than the ideas of any other contributor.

Good luck everyone, let’s do this :)

Posted in Aus Community, gov20, Government | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Finding the natural motivation for change

Update: I added a section on how competition can be motivating :)

I’ve had a lot of people and ideas in my life that have been useful to me so I wanted to share a theory I have applied in my work that might be useful to others. The concept of finding the ‘natural motivation’ of players involved is a key component when I’m planning any type of systemic change. This isn’t a particularly unique or new idea, but I am constantly surprised how rarely I see it adopted in practice, and how often things fail by not taking it into consideration. It is critical if you want to take a new idea from the domain of evangelists and into ‘business as usual’ because if you can’t embed something into the normal way people act and think, then whatever you are trying to do will be done reluctantly and at best, tacked on to normal processes as an afterthought.

In recent years I’ve been doing a lot of work to try to change systems, thinking and culture around open government, technology in government and open data, with some success. This is in part because I purposefully take an approach that tries to identify and tap into the natural motivation of all players involved. This means understanding how what I’m trying to do could benefit the very people who need to change their behaviours, and helping them want to do something new of their own volition. Why does this matter? If I asked you to spend an extra couple of hours a week at work, for no extra pay, doing something you don’t understand that seems completely unrelated to your job or life, you’d tell me to sod off. And understandably so! And yet we expect people and behaviours to simply comply if we change the rules. If I talked to you about how a new way of doing something would save you time, get a better outcome, save money or made life better in any way, you would be more interested. Then it simply becomes a matter of whether the effort is worth the benefit.

Die hard policy wonks will argue that you can always punish non compliance or create incentives if you are serious enough about the change you want to make. I would argue that you can force certain behaviour changes through punishment or reward, but if people aren’t naturally motivated to make the behaviour change themselves then the change will be both unsustainable and minimally implemented.

I’m going to use open data in government as my example of this in practice. Now I can hear a lot of people saying “well public servants should do open data by default because it is good for the community!” but remember the question above. In the first instance, if I’m asking someone to publish data without understanding why, they will see it as just extra work for no benefit – merely a compliance activity that gets in the way of their real work. People ask the understandable question of why would anyone want to divert resources and money into open data when it could be used to do something ‘real’ like build a road, deliver a better service, pay a salary, etc? Every day public servants are being asked to do more with less, so open data appears at first glance like a low priority. If the community and economy were to benefit from open data, then we had to figure out how to create a systemic change in government to publish open data naturally, or it would never scale or be sustainable.

When I took over data.gov.au, there was a reasonable number of datasets published but they weren’t being updated and nothing new was being added. It was a good first attempt, but open data had not really been normalised in agencies, so data publishing was sparodic. I quickly realised if open data was just seen as a policy and compliance issue, then this would never really change and we would hit a scaling issue of how much we could do ourselves. Through research, experimenting and experience, we did find that open data can help agencies be more effective, more efficient and more able to support an ecosystem of information and service delivery rather than all the pressure being on agencies to do everything. This was a relief because if there was no benefit to the public service itself, then realistically open data would always be prioritised lower than other activities, regardless of the political or policy whims of the few.

So we started working with agencies on the basis that although open data was the policy position that agencies were expected to adopt, there were real benefits to agencies if they adopted an open data approach. We would start an agency on the open data journey by helping them identify datasets that save them time and money, looking at resource intensive requests for data they regularly get and how to automate the publishing of that data. This then frees up resources of which a proportion can often be justified to start a small open data team. Whatever the agency motivations, there is always an opportunity for open data to support that goal if integrated properly. We focused on automation, building open data into existing processes (rather than creating a new process), supporting and promoting public reuse of data (GovHack was particularly helpful for this), identifying community priority datasets, raising public confidence in using government open data and removing barriers for publishing data. We knew centralised publishing would never scale, so we focused our efforts on a distributed publishing model where the central data.gov.au team provided technical support and a free platform for publishing data, but agencies did their own publishing with our help. Again this meant we had to help agencies understand how useful open data was to them so they could justify putting resources towards their own data publishing capacity. We knew agencies would need to report on their own success and progress with open data, so we also ensured they could access their own data utilisation analytics, which is also publicly available for a little extra motivation.

We collected examples from agecnies on the benefits to help inform and encourage other agencies, and found the key agency benefits of open data were broadly:

  1. Efficiency – proactively publishing data that is commonly asked for in an automated way frees up resources.
  2. Innovation – once data is published, so long as it is published well and kept up to date, other people and organisations will use the data to create new information, analysis and services. This innovation can be adopted by the agency, but it also takes the pressure off the agency to deliver all things to all people, by enabling others to scratch their own itch.
  3. Improved services – by publishing data in a programmatically accessible way, agencies found cheaper and more modular service delivery was possible through reusable data sources. Open data is often the first step for agencies on the path to more modular and API driven way of doing things (which the private sector embraced a decade ago). I believe if we could get government data, content and services API enabled by default, we would see dramatically cheaper and better services across all governments, with the opportunity for a public ecosystem of cross jurisdictional service and information delivery to emerge.

To extend the natural motivation consideration further, we realised that unless data was published in a way that people in the community could actually find and use, then all the publishing in the world would not help. We had to ensure the way data was publishing supported the natural motivation of people who want to use data, and this would in turn create a feedback loop to encourage greater publishing of data. We adopted a “civic hacker empathy” approach (with credit to Chris Gough for the concept) so that we always put ourselves in the shoes of those wanting to use data to prioritise how to publish it, and to inform and support agencies to publish data in a way that could be easily consumed. This meant agencies starting on the open data journey were not only encouraged to adopt good technical practices from day 1, but were clearly educated on the fact they wouldn’t yield the benefits from open data without publishing data well.

I should also mention that motivation doesn’t need to always come from within the individual person or the organisation. Sometimes motivation can come from a little healthy competition! I have had people in agencies utterly uninterested in open data that I’ve decided to not push (why spend effort on a closed door when there are partially open or open doors available!) who have become interested when other agencies have had some success. Don’t underestimate the power of public successes! Be as loud as you can about successes you have as this will build interest and demand, and help bring more people on your journey.

So to wrap up, I’ve been amazed how many people I meet, particularly in the federal government, who think they can change behaviour by simply having a policy, or law, or a financial incentive. The fact is, people will generally only do something because they want to, and this applies as much in the work place as anywhere else. If you try to force people to do something that they don’t want to, they will find myriad ways to avoid it or do the bare minimum they have to, which will never yield the best results. Every single barrier to open data we came across woud magically disappear if the agency and people involved were naturally morivated to do open data.

If you want to make real change, I encourage you to take an empathetic approach, think about all the players in the system, and how to ensure they are naturally motivated to change. I always tell the data.gov.au team that we always need to ensure the path of technical integrity is the path of least resistance, because this ensures an approach which is good for both the data publishers and data consumers. It goes without saying that a change is easiest to encourage when it has integrity and provides genuine benefits. In the case of open data, we simply needed to help others come on the journey for the idea to flourish. I’m proud to say the data.gov.au team have managed to dramatically increase the amount of open data available in Australia as well as support a rapidly growing capacity and appetite for open data throughout the public service. Huge kudos to the team! With the data.gov.au team now moved to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, and merged with the spatial data branch from the Department of Communications, we have a stronger than ever central team to continue the journey.

Note: I should say I’m currently on maternity leave till the end of 2016, hence the time to publish some of these ideas. They are my own thoughts and not representative of any one else. I hope they are useful :)

Posted in gov20, Government | Tagged | 4 Comments

Government as an API: how to change the system

A couple of months ago I gave a short speech about Gov as an API at an AIIA event. Basically I believe that unless we make government data, content and transaction services API enabled and mashable, then we are simply improving upon the status quo. 1000 services designed to be much better are still 1000 services that could be integrated for users, automated at the backend, or otherwise transformed into part of a system rather than the unique siloed systems that we have today. I think the future is mashable government, and the private sector has already gone down this path so governments need to catch up!

When I rewatched it I felt it captured my thoughts around this topic really well, so below is the video and the transcript. Enjoy! Comments welcome.

The first thing is I want to talk about gov as an API. This is kind of like data.gov.au on steroids, but this goes way above and beyond data and gets into something far more profound. But just a step back, the to the concept of Government as a platform. Around the world a lot of Governments have adopted the idea of Government as a platform: let’s use common platforms, let’s use common standards, let’s try and be more efficient and effective. It’s generally been interpreted as creating platforms within Government that are common. But I think that we can do a lot better.

So Government as an API is about making Government one big conceptual API. Making the stuff that Government does discoverable programmatically, making the stuff that it does consumable programmatically, making Government the platform or a platform on which industry and citizens and indeed other Governments can actually innovate and value add. So there are many examples of this which I’ll get to but the concept here is getting towards the idea of mashable Government. Now I’m not here representing my employers or my current job or any of that kind of stuff. I’m just here speaking as a geek in Government doing some cool stuff. And obviously you’ve had the Digital Transformation Office mentioned today. There’s stuff coming about that but I’m working in there at the moment doing some cool stuff that I’m looking forward to telling you all about. So keep an eye out.

But I want you to consider the concept of mashable Government. So Australia is a country where we have a fairly egalitarian democratic view of the world. So in our minds and this is important to note, in our minds there is a role for Government. Now there’s obviously some differences around the edges about how big or small or how much I should do or shouldn’t do or whatever but the concept is that, that we’re not going to have Government going anywhere. Government will continue to deliver things, Government has a role of delivering things. The idea of mashable Government is making what the Government does more accessible, more mashable. As a citizen when you want to find something out you don’t care which jurisdiction it is, you don’t care which agency it is, you don’t care in some cases you know you don’t care who you’re talking to, you don’t care what number you have to call, you just want to get what you need. Part of the problem of course is what are all the services of Government? There is no single place right now. What are all of the, you know what’s all the content, you know with over a thousand websites or more but with lots and lots of websites just in the Federal Government and thousands more across the state and territories, where’s the right place to go? And you know sometimes people talk about you know what if we had improved SEO? Or what if we had improved themes or templates and such. If everyone has improved SEO you still have the same exact problem today, don’t you? You do a google search and then you still have lots of things to choose from and which one’s authoritative? Which one’s the most useful? Which one’s the most available?

The concept of Government as an API is making content, services, API’s, data, you know the stuff that Government produces either directly or indirectly more available to collate in a way that is user centric. That actually puts the user at the centre of the design but then also puts the understanding that other people, businesses or Governments will be able to provide value on top of what we do. So I want to imagine that all of that is available and that everything was API enabled. I want you to imagine third party re-use new applications, I mean we see small examples of that today. So to give you a couple of examples of where Governments already experimenting with this idea. Data.gov.au obviously my little baby is one little example of this, it’s a microcosm. But whilst ever data, open data was just a list of things, a catalogue of stuff it was never going to be that high value.

So what we did when we re-launched data.gov.au a couple of years ago was we said what makes data valuable to people? Well programmatic access. Discovery is useful but if you can’t get access to it, it’s almost just annoying to be able to find it but not be able to access it. So how do we make it most useful? How do we make it most reusable, most high value in capacity shall we say? In potentia? So it was about programmatic access. It was about good meta data, it was about making it so it’s a value to citizens and industry but also to Government itself. If a Government agency needs to build a service, a citizen service to do something, rather than building an API to an internal system that’s privately available only to their application which would cost them money you know they could put the data in data.gov.au. Whether it’s spatial or tabular and soon to be relational, you know different data types have different data provision needs so being able to centralise that function reduces the cost of providing it, making it easy for agencies to get the most out of their data, reduce the cost of delivering what they need to deliver on top of the data also creates an opportunity for external innovation. And I know that there’s already been loads of applications and analysis and uses of data that’s on data.gov.au and it’s only increasing everyday. Because we took open data from being a retrospective, freedom of information, compliance issue, which was never going to be sexy, right? We moved it towards how you can do things better. This is how we can enable innovation. This is how agencies can find each other’s data better and re-use it and not have to keep continually repeat the wheel. So we built a business proposition for data.gov.au that started to make it successful. So that’s been cool.

There’s been experimentation of gov as an API in the ATO. With the SBR API. With the ABN lookup or ABN lookup API. There’s so many businesses out there. I’m sure there’s a bunch in the room. When you build an application where someone puts in a business name into a app or into an application or a transaction or whatever. You can use the ABN lookup API to validate the business name. So you know it’s a really simple validation service, it means that you don’t have, as unfortunately we have right now in the whole of Government contracts data set 279 different spellings for the Department of Defence. You can start to actually get that, use what Government already has as validation services, as something to build upon. You know I really look forward to having whole of Government up to date spatial data that’s really available so people can build value on top of it. That’ll be very exciting. You know at some point I hope that happens but. Industry, experimented this with energy ratings data set. It’s a very quick example, they had to build an app as you know Ministers love to see. But they built a very, very useful app to actually compare when you’re in the store. You know your fridges and all the rest of it to see what’s best for you. But what they found, by putting the data on data.gov.au they saved money immediately and there’s a brilliant video if you go looking for this that the Department of Industry put together with Martin Hoffman that you should have a look at, which is very good. But what they found is by having the data out there, all the companies, all the retail companies that have to by law put the energy rating of every electrical device they sell on their brochures traditionally they did it by goggling, right? What’s the energy rating of this, whatever other retail companies using we’ll use that.

Completely out of date and unauthorised and not true, inaccurate. So by having the data set publically available kept up to date on a daily basis, suddenly they were able to massively reduce the cost of compliance for a piece of regulatory you know, so it actually reduced red tape. And then other application started being developed that were very useful and you know Government doesn’t have all the answers and no one pretends that. People love to pretend also that Government also has no answers. I think there’s a healthy balance in between. We’ve got a whole bunch of cool, innovators in Government doing cool stuff but we have to work in partnership and part of that includes using our stuff to enable cool innovation out there.

ABS obviously does a lot of work with API’s and that’s been wonderful to see. But also the National Health Services Directory. I don’t know who, how many people here know that? But you know it’s a directory of thousands, tens of thousands, of health services across Australia. All API enabled. Brilliant sort of work. So API enabled computing and systems and modular program design, agile program design is you know pretty typical for all of you. Because you’re in industry and you’re kind of used to that and you’re used to getting up to date with the latest thing that’ll make you competitive.

Moving Government towards that kind of approach will take a little longer but you know, but it has started. But if you take an API enabled approach to your systems design it is relatively easy to progress to taking an API approach to exposing that publically.

So, I think I only had ten minutes so imagine if all the public Government information services were carefully, were usefully right, usefully discoverable. Not just through using a google search, which appropriate metadata were and even consumable in some cases, you know what if you could actually consume some of those transaction systems or information or services and be able to then re-use it somewhere else. Because when someone is you know about to I don’t know, have a baby, they google for it first right and then they go to probably a baby, they don’t think to come to government in the first instance. So we need to make it easier for Government to go to them. When they go to baby.com, why wouldn’t baby.com be able to present to them the information that they need from Government as well. This is where we’re starting to sort of think when we start following the rabbit warren of gov as an API.

So, start thinking about what you would use. If all of these things were discoverable or if even some of them were discoverable and consumable, how would you use it? How would you innovate? How would you better serve your customers by leveraging Government as an API? So Government has and always will play a part. This is about making Government just another platform to help enable our wonderful egalitarian and democratic society. Thank you very much.

Postnote: adopting APIs as a strategy, not just a technical side effect is key here. Adopting modular architecture so that agencies can adopt the best of breed components for a system today, tomorrow and into the future, without lock in. I think just cobbling APIs on top of existing systems would miss the greater opportunity of taking a modular architecture design approach which creates more flexible, adaptable, affordable and resilient systems than the traditional single stack solution.

Posted in gov20, Government, Tech | Tagged , , | 2 Comments