A couple of weeks ago I had a whirlwind trip to Canada, France and back again, in 6 days! I spoke at the FWD50 conference in Ottawa, Canada, which is an optimistic and inspiring event focused on the next 50 days, weeks and years of society, with a special focus on transforming our public sectors for the 21st century. Then I went to Nevers, France for SIIViM, a regional Governments event exploring digital government, open data, open source and smart cities. At both events I shared my lessons and work, as well as met with folk from the Canadian, regional French, US and Taiwanese Governments (amongst others). I also met with OECD, industry and open source folk and came back with new ideas, connections and opportunities to collaborate for our ambitious human-centred digital government transformation work in NSW. Many thanks to the FWD50 organisers and ADULLACT (a French Free Software non-profit organisation) for bringing me over and providing the opportunity to learn and share my experiences.
I gave several speeches in my personal professional capacity (meaning I was not formally representing any of my employers past or present) which may be of interest:
- At FWD50 I gave a workshop talk called Moving from industrial past to a digital future: preparing our public sectors for exponentialism followed by a conference talk on Moving from Iteration to Transformation which included digital transformation of legislation as a case study. Finally I gave a short lightning talk on the progress we made in NZ and NSW in the last year, just to report back to FWD50, as I had keynoted the previous year and people were interested in the progress made.
- At SIIViM I gave one speech which had a bit of everything called Transforming public sectors for digital society & economy. In it I reused the dragon slides I had created for the iappANZ conference on privacy and trust a few weeks ago, enjoy!
- For those interested in joining a global community exploring the modernisation of legislation/regulation, including machine readable rules and ethical, traceable AI, check out the “Better Rules for Better Outcomes” discussion group.
Insights from Canada
In between the three presentations I gave, I got to catch up with a range of wonderful people to talk about transforming and improving public sectors.
I spoke to the Canadian School of Public Service:
- The Canadian Government is creating a Digital Academy to develop better digital acumen across the public sector, better digital leaders, and a community that is ongoing, engaged and mutually supportive. Check out this video on the value of the Canadian Digital Academy.
- There was strong interest in innovation of public management, including AI in regulation making.
- They are building a modern policy capability, a tiger team approach, to support policy modernisation and transformation across government.
I visited the Canadian Digital Service and had a great chat with some of the people there, as well as a tour of their new office. It was great to see how much has been achieved in the last year and to exchange stories and lessons on trying to drive change in government. A big thank you to Sean Boot who coordinated the visit and showed me around, great to catch up Sean!
- We spoke about the challenges faced when under pressure to deliver services whilst trying to transform government, and the need to balance foundational work (like reusable components, standards, capability uplift, modular architecture) with service redesign or improvements.
- We spoke about legislation as code and the New Zealand entitlements engine we developed as an example of reusable rules for more integrated service delivery. I recommended the Canadian dev team chat to the NZ dev team about OpenFisca Aotearoa.
- We spoke about emerging tech and how we can prepare public sectors for change, as well as the challenges and benefits of product vs service vs system design.
- I heard about several great Canadian projects including one helping veterans get access to services and entitlements.
- We also talked about GCcollab, the open source all of government collaboration suite which is being heavily used across agencies, particularly by policy folk.
I also got to catch up with some folk from the Canadian Treasury Board Secretariat to talk about open government, digital transformation, funding approaches, policy innovation and more. Thanks very much Thom Kearney who is always doing interesting things and connecting people to do interesting things
I managed to also get a little time to chat to Michael Karlin, who is driving the ethical AI and algorithmic transparency work in the Canadian Government. It was great to hear where the work is up to and find opportunities to collaborate.
I also met a lot of non-Canadians at the conference, a few takeaways were:
- Audrey Tang, Digital Minister for Taiwan – Audrey was, as usual, wonderfully inspiring. Her talk pushed the audience to think much bigger and bolder about radical transparency, citizen empowerment and an engaged State. Audrey shared some great pamphlets with me in 8 languages that showed how open government in Taiwan works, which includes issues raised by citizens, prioritised by government, consulted on openly, and fixed collaboratively with citizens. Audrey also shared how they do public consultations in the local language of an area and then transcribe to Mandarin for accessibility. I love this idea and want to consider how we could do multi-lingual consultations better in Australia.
- I caught up with the always extraordinary Audrey Lobo-Pulo who is a brilliant data scientist and advocate for Opening Government Models. Audrey introduced me to Natalie Evans Harris who had worked in the office of the US Chief Technology Officer and had a lot of expertise around digitising public services.
Insights from France
The SIIViM conference itself was fascinating. A lot of focus on open data, “Smart Cities”, IoT, Virtual Reality, and autonomous cars.
Whilst there we got into a discussion about digital asset valuation and how software/data may be measured as an asset,but is usually not valued as a public asset. Often when data is valued as an asset it quickly leads to cost recovery activities or asset depreciation which can get tricky when we are talking about foundational datasets that could be available as digital public infrastructure for digital society.
When in Paris, I was delighted to meet up with Alex Roberts from the OECD (formerly of DesignGov and Public Sector Innovation Network fame) and Jamie, to talk about innovation in government. We talked about the new OECD Declaration of Public Innovation Alex has developed which beautifully frames the four different innovation types as being across two spectrums of certainty/uncertainty, and directed/undirected, which nicely frames the different forms of innovation efforts I’ve seen over the years. Great work Alex! There is also a report on innovation in the innovation in the Canadian Government worth reading. Perhaps OECD could come to NSW Government next?
I also met with Roberto Di Cosmo who founded the Software Heritage initiative, which is like a super archive for software repositories that stores the code in a uniform data model for the purpose of analysis, science and posterity. Roberto has been involved in the French Free and Open Source Software community for a long time and he told me about the French Government investment in Open Source with 200m euros invested in 10 years (40% public money and 60% private investment). Fascinating and it explains why so many great French Government technologies are Open Source!
I got to catch up with the excellent Matti Schneider, who worked with my team in New Zealand for a few weeks on OpenFisca. I highly recommend Matti’s talk about the French State Incubator (a public sector innovation lab) or another talk on turning legislation into code from New Zealand. Matti kindly gave me a short tour of central Paris from a historical context, and I got to hear about the three Parisian revolutions and see significant landmarks along the way. Fascinating, and as always, there are lessons relevant to the present moment.
To wrap it all up, Patrick introduced me to Mark from the US National Archives who shared some thoughts about https://www.lockss.org/ and the importance of ensuring validity of historic digital archives. I also met Margaret from ICANN who talked about the personal empowerment of staff to make good decisions and to engage in stopping things that are wrong, unfair or inconsistent with the mission. She encouraged me to be humble about evidence and realistic about change being inevitable.
- The Data Strategy Roadmap for the Federal Public Service(Canada).
- Taiwanese work on civic deliberation for legislative drafting and collaborative policy making, Holopolis.
- The Citizens’ Foundation on how citizens can be empowered with AI.
- The New Zealand Digital Economy and Digital Inclusion Ministerial Advisory Group.