My talk on Data Liberation at Ignite Sydney

Ignite Sydney is like an evening version of TEDx with 5 min talks, 20 slides automatically progressed every 15 seconds. A lot of pressure I can tell you, but I think I did ok :) Talking at a millions miles an hour, as usual. Rough transcript (with a few edits) below.


I’m here to speak to you about the legend of data liberation. It’s an important story, it’s a story about society, about people, about geeks, and it’s a story about government. Of course I am not here representing any of the government people that I work for here tonight.

So I do think I believe I represent a new generation of public servant that will transform things, but by the by.

Most people when they think of government think of garbage. They think about what is it this entity does for us? They take out our garbage, they build our roads, they build our education. But what’s happening is that the Internet is leading us to a period of discontentment. People are more empowered than we’ve ever been before and we’re seeing government make mistakes, like the NSW Transport issue (2011 issue mentioned by earlier speaker) and we’re just going “come on! We can do this better”.

So what’s starting to happen is people want the data, we’re seeing a new thing called Gov 2.0 (I know, “2.0″ is stupid) but it’s around transparency, participation and citizen-based approach to government. I’m going to run through these three things very quickly.

Transparency in the first instance is about raw data. You need access to the raw materials to make new and interesting things. It’s one thing to have someone say to you “the water is rising” but it’s another thing to actually have information over the last 200 years about how much it’s rising and be able to do your own analysis.

Having access to the raw data means we can better trust the outcomes. I mean how would it be if we got the outcome of elections, but didn’t have the capacity to have scrutineers and have people look at the raw information. We need raw data to be able to trust outcomes and to be able to provide our own analysis.

Analysis is a really important part when we get access to raw data. We need access to economic data, environmental data, biological data, demographic, government. The Human Genome project, who has heard of that? Come on, I met the guy who runs that project very recently, I also got to meet Hans Rosling, was very cool.

Another type of transparency is parliamentary transparency. So the Italian Government has this huge glass room to let the sun shine in. Cool idea. then they covered it up. Not so cool.

Really good metaphor for the fact though that people want access to the information so that they can participate in the democracy, they can participate in the policy, they can participate in the process. If people aren’t able to get information, then they aren’t able to get educated, then they aren’t able to get an informed view, then they aren’t able to participate effectively.

So basically where we’re going is a period of time where how government operates is it actually starts to co-develop the policy with the people. Because you know there are a lot of skills out there, there’s a lot of us that know stuff that can contribute to making government do things better. So why wouldn’t they talk to us?

Well, it’s not because they’re bad or evil or nefarious, generally speaking, it’s usually just because it’s not the way things are done. Things are starting to be done differently now.

Open data and raw data also gives us new opportunities to innovation. I actually ran a thing called GovHack which was really awesome. Raw data, competition, people making heaps of projects over 48 hours.

You also have the opportunity to crowdsource. So this was the spike when the floods hit Queensland of the number of people who liked the Queensland Police Facebook page. And what the police found, and this is fascinating, was that not only were they able to get information out, but people were able to get information to the police. Because of course they took over trying to coordinate emergency responses.

So when people were able to take “oh, 10 people have said this bridge has gone down”, well that gives you a fairly good indication how to deploy your resources so crowdsourcing gives a new type of raw data that can help government do things better and help people work with government better.

So: iterative, collaborate government. That’s what Gov 2.0 is about. Transparency, Participation and a Citizen Focus in how we do things.

The Government of the future is something we have to do collaboratively. If we can’t create the blueprint for the future as a whole society then we’re going to end up running into troubles and we do run into troubles. We can’t respond in a quick manner, we can’t respond in an effective manner. And then we end up just becoming – government itself – ends up becoming out of date, irrelevant, and not able to respond to the changing needs of society and of it’s citizens.

So basically, we need to change or we’re gonna die. Woo.

A couple of things in Australia. There’s a bunch of raw data things happening. There’s dataACT which I’m actually working on which is the first actual open data platform. It does transcoding, it does APIs, it does all the cool technical stuff. and dataVIC and some of the other ones are mostly just content management systems but they’re starting to change and this weekend I think is a hackfest on the NSW transport data as well.

A couple of considerations, people thing about privacy but people don’t think about fish privacy. If you release the data about all the flora and fauna above the ocean, and then someone ¬†goes in and fishes a particular fish to extinction, then what does that mean about privacy.

Geek culture and tech skills give us the capacity for privacy, for analysis, for doing all the cool stuff that leads to education and empowerment which leads to digital democracy.

And frankly, everyone here sees themselves as a geek right? Those who don’t should because geeks are the future.

So, thank you for coming with me on my little journey on data liberation. I will continue to fight the war and please, come with me, embrace your geek if you haven’t yet already, free the data and let’s get a better society together.

Thank you very much.

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One Response to My talk on Data Liberation at Ignite Sydney

  1. Great talk. Sharp, focussed and to the point. Thanks Pia :-)

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