Iteration or Transformation in government: paint jobs and engines

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

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


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

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

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

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

Gov as an API

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The three key advantages to taking this approach are:

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

Meaningful and mutually beneficial collaboration

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other early DTO lessons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Service Innovation in New Zealand – the new digital transformation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rock on.

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Choose your own adventure – keynote

This is a blog version of the keynote I gave at 2017. Many thanks to everyone who gave such warm feedback, and I hope it helps spur people to think about systemic change and building the future. The speech can be watched at

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(For more information about human evolution, see

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

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

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

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

So what could we do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions to ask yourself:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Retiring from GovHack

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

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

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

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

It worked.

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

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

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

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

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

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How we got here, Chapter 1: Clever Monkeys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Choose Your Own Adventure | 2 Comments

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.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Table of Contents

Foreword & Introduction

Book 1: Where did we come from

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

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

Book 2: Where we are going

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

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

Book 3: How do we get there

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

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

Conclusion and call to action

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

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

Posted in Choose Your Own Adventure | 1 Comment

Moving to …

Last October 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 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


I was invited to spend 4 weeks during this trip working with the Department of Internal Affairs in the New Zealand Government on and a roadmap for 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 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 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 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 ;)


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!


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!


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 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, 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.


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 team have pulled together a large repository of information, guidance and reports over the past 3 years on our open data toolkit at 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, 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.


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.


  • 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


  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 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 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 –, 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 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, 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 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 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

  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.

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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.

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