On the 6th October, a public consultation about a Digital Strategy for Aotearoa New Zealand opened for feedback and participation. Contributions close 10th November, and I thought I’d share a few thoughts, and encourage you all to contribute 🙂 I also wrote a paper on two major issues I see facing us here, Service Delivery and Public Trust in New Zealand Aotearoa: a Discussion Paper which might be of interest, I hope these thoughts are helpful and I want to thank DIA and MBIE for engaging so openly on this topic. It provides a good opportunity to create a genuinely bold and visionary approach that serves us well into the future 🙂
The discussion paper paints a vision of Aotearoa New Zealand being a world leading digital nation built on trust, known for the ethical deployment of new technologies, and it defines success as predominantly:
- Higher productivity
- Lower emissions
- Everyone flourishes
The rest of the paper however, seems to focus almost mostly on the productivity goal, for example, talking about trust as “We have the right foundations to sell our products and services to the world with confidence, while all New Zealanders embrace the digital future because they feel safe and secure”. “Embracing the digital future” ignores that we are in a digital present, and ignores also the current stress, fears and uncertainty that many feel, as they are actively gamed online today. Ethical deployment of tech also needs defining, because what you can’t describe, measure or monitor for will not lead to an ethical outcome. For instance, to my mind, ethical means all decisions or actions taken are traceable back to a legal authority, are explainable, and are easily appealable by the people affected, and independently auditable. Ethical means a program, policy, service, etc demonstrably and measurable contributes to wellbeing, and does no harm. Define it how you wish, but defining it is critical to assuring it 🙂
This paper seems very focused on “digital” as just the adopting of technologies, but doesn’t really address what is needed to live well in a digital age. I would hope the draft digital strategy that is developed as a result of this engagement addresses the fact that to be meaningful, a digital strategy for Aotearoa New Zealand needs to address the paradigm shifts, future state, and the necessary systemic and structural changes needed to live well and thrive in a digital age.
- The Strategy provides no real vision for a better or different future state, no real mission beyond more use of tech, just a series of tactics clustered into the three themes. I would suggest it is important to use the opportunity to co-create a shared vision of “good” in collaboration with the public to have a future state to work towards. Otherwise, any and all efforts will simply extend the current status quo system, which will at best provide symptomatic relief, without addressing any causal issues or the potential of new opportunities. Driving faster in the same direction will not get you anywhere better than the current trajectory, and COVID has shown us irrefutably that our current direction is not sustainable, equitable or inclusive.
- The themes are ok, but the goals seem very specific to, or intended to only enable, economic outcomes. It implies that to “flourish and prosper” are assumed to be purely financial, whereas I would hope that trust, inclusion and prospering are considered within the broader Wellness framework: economic, social, human and environmental. Why doesn’t trust talk about how to ensure critical sectors for social cohesion and democratic stability are made more trustworthy (like the public sector, research sector, and the 4th estate)? Why doesn’t inclusion talk about how to ensure people can participate in policy development, participatory democracy and shared governance arrangements? Where are the supports for self-sovereign systems, like an Iwi as an IdP? Why does growth not talk about cultural growth, digital taonga, etc? My suggestions for the theme goals:
- Mahi Tika (Trust): All New Zealanders are supported by a trustworthy and accountable public service, which provides transparent oversight and appealability for all decisions and actions. People can see and trust their information is being protected and used appropriately, across all sectors in New Zealand, and have help available to navigate truth and authenticity online.
- Mahi Tahi (Inclusion): all New Zealanders have the tools, skills and nous to work, play and participate in society with confidence, with equitable access to inclusively developed public infrastructure, policies and services.
- Mahi Ake (Growth): All New Zealanders have the right digital infrastructure, foundations and skills to build globally competitive new services, products and value in every sector.
- The Digital Strategy for Aotearoa is written like just a response to changing technologies, rather than a response to changing paradigms. Technological changes are only a part of being in the 21st century, and it is in the reimagining of our society, economy and sectors that we have a chance to truly become a digital nation. Otherwise we’ll continue to be an industrial nation with some shiny new toys.
- A transformed public sector that provides trustworthy, reliable and extendable digital public infrastructure, inclusive and highly integrated public services, and a modern approach to regulation and compliance including regulation/legislation as code, and participatory governance where the public can play a part in defining the policies and services they need.
- A national measurement framework that values and prioritises quality of life outcomes. Such a measurement framework would influence funding, grants, taxation and investment across all sectors, which would in turn influence the use of and outcomes from all technologies deployed, especially artificial intelligence.
- Where is the wellness framework in this Strategy? Why not set some targets from here https://www.stats.govt.nz/information-releases/wellbeing-statistics-2018 like “80% people trust the Parliament and Media”
- Government systems that need to be governed under Te Tiriti need to stay within jurisdiction of Te Tiriti, therefore onshore.
- The Digital Strategy of UAE was based on the OECD Digital Government Policy Framework, I suggest this be considered as part of this strategy https://u.ae/en/about-the-uae/digital-uae/uae-national-digital-government-strategy
What would reaching this vision mean for us as New Zealanders? – Feedback
- New Zealanders have better access to, and use, public services when and where we need them, with well supported online and offline choices so we are never left behind;
- Small and medium sized enterprises (or SMEs) are increasingly able to grasp digital innovation opportunities and create growth and jobs;
- A public sector that is digitally innovative, and provides reliable digital public infrastructure to democratise the creation of new value in the digital economy;
- New Zealanders are safe, secure and confident in a digitally enabled world, can trust that their private information is safe and are able to view and appeal decisions when mistakes are made;
- We would see ourselves as leading the world in the creation and adoption of responsible digital practices, across all sectors.
- Policies are developed in the open, with public participation, which are monitored publicly and when policy objectives are compromised due to unexpected change or contradictory policies, it can be dealt with holistically. Policy reform will be holistic, easy and fast to implement, and result in less unintended consequences.
- Compliance with government regulations will be much cheaper, faster, and more automatable for all sectors, through the provision of digital rules for public consumption and reuse.
- All government reporting and other obligations will be designed as digital first to reduce impost, improve compliance, and improve monitoring of policy objectives and real world impact.
- All industries will be able to leverage technology and in particular, Artificial Intelligence, to augment the workforce, getting the best that people and machines can bring to the table, without losing the benefits of both. An augmented work force is far more innovative, sustainable, resilient and productive than an automated work force, because the former can adapt over time, whereas the latter is stuck in time.
Big issues – feedback
- Public trust and confidence in the public sector and in the government – need to establish more trustworthy practices, processes, oversight and systems in the public sector, which must be perceived as independent of politics.
- Deep fakes will dramatically heighten the misinformation wars, and will contribute heavily to ransomware and other attacks. Imagine being bribed about a damaging video that was generated by deep fake technology.
- A lack of systemic measures will drive non-systemic outcomes
- It is the processes followed in government that slows things down and makes it less responsive in a time of crisis. The fact that emergency powers had to be so leaned on shows that there is an opportunity to streamline and improve government processes. A review should be done into the entire policy lifecycle, and how it could be streamlined to improve policy agility.
- Why does the paper say “susceptible to future of work”, paint an alternative.
- The future of work is something people are scared of, so this area needs leadership on alternatives. An augmented workforce vision would provide a better balance than an automated one, but people are presuming the value of machines is only in automation, which is setting them up to be less adaptive, resilient or innovative into the future.
- Promoting investment in IT R&D, including how to engage with the computer science and academic community around leading edge research. Perhaps make IT R&D tax deductible?
Measuring success – feedback
Whatever measures are created (there should be clear measures for all three themes) must be applied to all initiatives. If a department is funded to do something in the trust theme, then they must be accountable for demonstrating how that initiative contributes to the trust measures, as well as being accountable for how that initiative contributes to Wellbeing measures. Otherwise we’ll continue to see a lack of systemic pressure to drive the intended outcomes.
- The ICT sector doubles its economic contribution to GDP by 2030 – (please include the number)
- All significant government services are designed inclusively, and have omni-channel options (online, phone and in person options) to ensure New Zealanders are fully supported
- New Zealanders increasingly feel safe online (target)
- More secondary school students are taking technology standards (or, just make it part of the core curriculum so you get 100% coverage?)
- The numbers of tech-related graduates increases (and number of multidisciplinary, why not have tech literacy in most degrees?)
- Our small businesses are more digitally capable (as measured by the SME Digital Index).
- Government entities are more digitally capable (as measured by the same SME Digital Index)
- New Zealand will boast 100,000 highly skilled IT and digital professionals across the economy by 2030 including to double the capacity within government to ensure enough internal expertise to deliver, to innovation, and to engage expertly with the broader tech sector.
- Wellbeing target measures to improve quality of life for all people.
Opportunities for Māori – feedback
- Shared governance – rather than just building Te Ao Māori into frameworks, why won’t government agencies actually share governance with Māori?
- Government could provide support for self-sovereign systems for Māori to manage digital taonga, in line with Te Tiriti
- Government could provide interoperability with Māori self-sovereign systems where appropriate, including for identity solutions
- Government could ensure all services and policies are co-governed with Māori
- Government should use Te Tiriti as a framework for the digital strategy, and ensure all “digital whenua” is co-governed
Components that underpin our digital environment – feedback
I suggest adding the following, which are critical components for a digitally inclusive, equitable and consistent ecosystem.
- Digital and Service Standards – to ensure consistency of high quality, inclusively designed and well supported public services.
- Trust infrastructure – the records keeping, public access, traceability back to law, independent oversight and participatory governance to ensure auditability, appealable and trustworthy systems.
- Digital government should include a digital public infrastructure, a digital twin of government, including legislation/regulation as code, all of government modelling, measurement and monitoring, the structures, functions, authorities and policies of government available as code, and reusable government as a platform components that the broader economy and society can rely upon and build upon.
- Public reporting – all government reporting will be done publicly, including compliance to the algorithmic charter, digital service standard reports, policy and service measurements, and other areas of compliance and oversight, unless there is a national security consideration
Opportunities to improve trust – feedback
- The opening paragraph paints a rosy picture that does not align to the Wellbeing Measures, which say the Media is trued by less than 50% of the population, and the Parliament only slightly more. There is more trust for the people, health system and courts than for the media and parliament. In fact, declining trust has had real world implications, from vulnerability and social exclusion to vaccinations and public compliance. So surely improving that trust is key to a functional and cohesive democracy? Growing trust in both the public sector and 4th estate should be a key focus of this strategy.
- The issues with social media are named, and yet the Strategy doesn’t address the problem with any tactics. What are the “trust settings” mentioned?
- The embedding of ethics into technology sounds good, but if the government funding, budgets, business cases, grants, taxation and full financial management system doesn’t have “ethical” measures or requirements, let alone Wellbeing or human measures of success, then “cheapest” will continue to be considered proxy for “value for money”. Where are the digital rules to be able to get consistency of implementation and monitoring for how rules are being applied for adverse patterns, etc? Rather than seeking social licence, why not build a social contract, and build more trustworthy systems that protect privacy and dignity while also providing better services, through techniques such as verifiable claims, confidentialised computing, and user consent driven federated approaches to data, including integration with self-sovereign data sources from community-led data initiatives.
- Where is the strategy, guidance and approach for full stack security for NZ? How is national connectivity assured and monitored? Where is the all of system monitoring and patterns analysis? How are service analytics being used as a first line of defence?
- What “work is underway” across government to help people understand what can and can’t be trusted? This seems key but no details are present.
- Customer centric services would great but digital government is more than digital services. What is the strategy and investment approach for digital public infrastructure, how is policy being made more agile and real time, how is government monitoring itself for human measures of success for all policies and services, where are the digital regulations and digital legislation, and where are the reusable government systems or service components to make it easy for everyone else to build upon government as a platform?
Inclusion section – feedback
- It isn’t just about tools, services and skills. It needs to include participatory approaches to designing, delivering and managing public policies and services. This means the public sector should implement the new Public Service Act requirements to engage New Zealanders in the processes around design and delivery of the services and policies that impact upon and support them.
- Anyone and everyone, given the wrong set of circumstances, will need or will want to choose supported services (phone, in person, through a trusted NGO, etc) if they are struggling with great complexity or some form of vulnerability. For instance, a person who recently had an accident might prefer to deal with a person because they are worried they might get their online applications wrong. Or a person who is escaping a domestic violence situation might be more comfortable getting services through CAB or a refuge than coming directly to government in the first instance. The notion that only people with a disability need support is both patronising to people with a disability, and missing the critical aspect of choice, preference or different types of service for different points in time. Inclusive services means designing government services that give people a choice, and provide the wrap around support for anyone if they need or choose it, as well as providing support through third parties.
To address social exclusion, I suggest you adopt all the recommendations from the Citizen Advice Bureau recent submission here https://www.cab.org.nz/assets/Documents/Face-to-Face-with-Digital-Exclusion-/FINAL-CABNZ-collated-submission-to-Petitions-Committee.pdf.
Growth section – feedback
There needs to be strategic investment in computer science as an area of hypothesis led research, looking at national issues. The regular use of computer science as just a means to commercialise something misses the critical need for research into bleeding edge and emergent opportunities/challenges as a critical pipeline for innovation across all sectors. Such research and input is also critical to inform government policies, services, infrastructure and regulation in an evidence based and non commercially motivated way.