The imperatives for changing how we do government

Below are some of the interesting imperatives I have observed as key drivers for changing how governments do things, especially in Australia. I thought it might be of interest for some of you :) Particularly those trying to understand “digital government”, and why technology is now so vital for government services delivery:

  • Changing public expectations – public expectations have fundamentally changed, not just with technology and everyone being connected to each other via ubiquitous mobile computing, but our basic assumptions and instincts are changing, such as the innate assumption of routing around damage, where damage might be technical or social. I’ve gone into my observations in some depth in a blog post called Online Culture – Part 1: Unicorns and Doom (2011).
  • Tipping point of digital engagement with government – in 2009 Australia had more citizens engaging with government  online than through any other means. This digital tipping point creates a strong business case to move to digitally delivered services, as a digital approach enables more citizens to self serve online and frees up expensive human resources for our more vulnerable, complex or disengaged members of the community.
  • Fiscal constraints over a number of years have largely led to IT Departments having done more for less for years, with limited investment in doing things differently, and effectively a legacy technology millstone. New investment is needed but no one has money for it, and IT Departments have in many cases, resorted to being focused on maintenance rather than project work (an upgrade of a system that maintains the status quo is still maintenance in my books). Systems have reached a difficult point where the fat has been trimmed and trimmed, but the demands have grown. In order to scale government services to growing needs in a way that enables more citizens to self service, new approaches are necessary, and the capability to aggregate services and information (through open APIs and open data) as well as user-centric design underpins this capability.
  • Disconnect between business and IT – there has been for some time a growing problem of business units disengaging with IT. As cheap cloud services have started to appear, many parts of government (esp Comms and HR) have more recently started to just avoid IT altogether and do their own thing. On one hand this enables some more innovative approaches, but it also leads directly to a problem in whole of government consistency, reliability, standards and generally a distribution of services which is the exact opposite of a citizen centric approach. It’s important that we figure out how to get IT re-engaged in the business, policy and strategic development of government such that these approaches are more informed and implementable, and such that governments use, develop, fund and prioritise technology in alignment with a broader vision.
  • Highly connected and mobile community and workforce – the opportunities (and risks) are immense, and it is important that governments take an informed and sustainable approach to this space. For instance, in developing public facing mobile services, a mobile optimised web services approach is more inclusive, cost efficient and sustainable than native applications development, but by making secure system APIs and open data available, the government can also facilitate public and private competition and innovation in services delivery.
  • New opportunities for high speed Internet are obviously a big deal in Australia (and also New Zealand) at the moment with the new infrastructure being rolled out (FTTP in both countries), and setting up to better support and engaging with citizens digitally now, before mainstream adoption, is rather important and urgent.
  • Impact of politics and media on policy – the public service is generally motivated to have an evidence-based approach to policy, and where this approach is developed in a transparent and iterative way, in collaboration with the broader society, it means government can engage directly with citizens rather than through the prism of politics or the media, each which have their own motivations and imperatives.
  • Prioritisation of ICT spending – it is difficult to ensure the government investment and prioritisation of ICT projects aligns with the strategic goals of the organisation and government, especially where the goals are not clearly articulated.
  • Communications and trust – with anyone able to publish pretty much anything, it is incumbent on governments to be a part of the public narrative as custodians of a lot of information and research. By doing this in a transparent and apolitical way, the public service can be a value and trusted source.
  • The expensive overhead of replication of effort across governments – consolidating where possible is vital to improve efficiencies, but also to put in place the mechanisms to support whole of government approaches.
  • Skills – a high technical literacy directly supports the capacity to innovate across government and across the society in every sector. As such this should be prioritised in our education systems, way above and well beyond “office productivity” tools.

Note: I originally had some of this in another blog post about open data and digital government in NZ, buried some way down. Have republished with some updated ideas.

Posted in gov20, Government | 2 Comments

Embrace your inner geek: speech to launch QUT OSS community

This was a speech I gave in Brisbane to launch the QUT OSS group. It talks about FOSS, hacker culture, open government/data, and why we all need to embrace our inner geek :)

Welcome to the beginning of something magnificent. I have had the luck, privilege and honour to be involved in some pretty awesome things over the 15 or so years I’ve been in the tech sector, and I can honestly say it has been my involvement in the free and Open Source software community that has been one of the biggest contributors.

It has connected me to amazing and inspiring geeks and communities nationally and internationally, it has given me an appreciation of the fact that we are exactly as free as the tools we use and the skills we possess, it has given me a sense of great responsibility as part of the pioneer warrior class of our age, and it has given me the instincts and tools to do great things and route around issues that get in the way of awesomeness.

As such it is really excited to be part of launching this new student focused Open Source group at QUT, especially one with academic and industry backing so congratulations to QUT, Red Hat, Microsoft and Tech One.

It’s also worth mentioning that Open Source skills are in high demand, both nationally and internationally, and something like 2/3 of Open Source developers are doing so in some professional capacity.

So thanks in advance for having me, and I should say up front that I am here in a voluntary capacity and not to represent my employer or any other organisation.

Who am I? Many things: martial artist, musician, public servant, recently recovered ministerial adviser, but most of all, I am a proud and reasonably successful geek.

Geek Culture

So firstly, why does being a geek make me so proud? Because technology underpins everything we do in modern society. It underpins industry, progress, government, democracy, a more empowered, equitable and meritocratic society. Basically technology supports and enhances everything I care about, so being part of that sector means I can play some small part in making the world a better place.

It is the geeks of this world that create and forge the world we live in today. I like to go to non-geek events and tell people who usually take us completely for granted, “we made the Internet, you’re welcome”, just to try to embed a broader appreciation for tech literacy and creativity.

Geeks are the pioneers of the modern age. We are carving out the future one bit at a time, and leading the charge for mainstream culture. As such we have, I believe, a great responsibility to ensure our powers are used to improve life for all people, but that is another lecture entirely.

Geek culture is one of the driving forces of innovation and progress today, and it is organisations that embrace technology as an enabler and strategic benefit that are able to rapidly adapt to emerging opportunities and challenges.

FOSS culture is drawn very strongly from the hacker culture of the 60’s and 70’s. Unfortunately the term hacker has been stolen by the media and spooks to imply bad or illegal behaviours, which we would refer to as black hat hacking or cracking. But true hacker culture is all about being creative and clever with technology, building cool stuff, showing off one’s skills, scratching an itch.

Hacker culture led to free software culture in the 80’s and 90’s, also known as Open Source in business speak, which also led to a broader free culture movement in the 90’s and 00’s with Creative Commons, Wikipedia and other online cultural commons. And now we are seeing a strong emergence of open government and open science movements which is very exciting.

Open Source

A lot of people are aware of the enormity of Wikipedia. Even though Open Source well predates Wikipedia, it ends up being a good tool to articulate to the general population the importance of Open Source.

Wikipedia is a globally crowdsourced phenomenon than, love it or hate it, has made knowledge more accessible than every before. I personally believe that the greatest success of Wikipedia is in demonstrating that truth is perception, and the “truth” held in the pages of Wikipedia ends up, ideally anyway, being the most credible middle ground of perspectives available. The discussion pages of any page give a wonderful insight to any contradicting perspectives or controversies and it teaches us the importance of taking everything with a grain of salt.

Open Source is the software equivalent of Wikipedia. There are literally hundreds of thousands if not millions of Open Source software projects in the world, and you would used thousands of the most mature and useful ones every day, without even knowing it. Open Source operating systems like Linux or MINIX powers your cars, devices, phones, telephone exchanges and the majority of servers and super computers in the world. Open Source web tools like WordPress, Drupal or indeed WikiMedia (the software behind Wikipedia) power an enormous amount of websites you go to everyday. Even Google heavily uses Open Source software to build the worlds most reliable infrastructure. If Google.com doesn’t work, you generally check your own network reliability first.

Open Source is all about people working together to scratch a mutual itch, sharing in the development and maintenance of software that is developed in an open and collaborative way. You can build on the top of existing Open Source software platforms as a technical foundation for innovation, or employ Open Source development methodologies to better innovate internally. I’m still terrified by the number of organisations I see that don’t use base code revision systems and email around zip files!

Open Source means you can leverage expertise far beyond what you could ever hope to hire, and you build your business around services. The IT sector used to be all about services before the proprietary lowest common denominator approach to software emerged in the 80s.

But we have seen the IT sector largely swing heavily back to services, except in the case on niche software markets, and companies compete on quality of services and whole solution delivery rather than specific products. Services companies that leverage Open Source often find their cost of delivery lower, particularly in the age of “cloud” software as a service, where customers want to access software functionality as a utility based on usage.

Open Source can help improve quality and cost effectiveness of technology solutions as it creates greater competition at the services level.

The Open Source movement has given us an enormous collective repository of stable, useful, innovative, responsive and secure software solutions. I must emphasise secure because many eyes reviewing code means a better chance of identifying and fixing issues. Security through obscurity is a myth and it always frustrates me when people buy into the line that Open Source is somehow less secure than proprietary solutions because you can see the code.

If you want to know about government use of Open Source, check out the Open Source policy on the Department of Finance and Deregulation website. It’s a pretty good policy not only because it encourages procurement processes to consider Open Source equally, but because it encourages government agencies to contribute to and get involved in the Open Source community.

Open Government

It has been fascinating to see a lot of Open Source geeks taking their instincts and skills with them into other avenues. And to see non-technical and non-Open Source people converging on the same basic principles of openness and collaboration for mutual gain from completely different avenues.

For me, the most exciting recent evolution of hacker ethos is the Open Government movement.

Open Government has always been associated with parliamentary and bureacratic transparency bureaucratic, such as Freedom of Information and Hansard.

I currently work primarily on the nexus where open government meets technology. Where we start to look at what government means in a digital age where citizens are more empowered than ever before, where globalisation challenges sovereignty, where the need to adapt and evolve in the public service is vital to provide iterative, personalised and timely responses to new challenges and opportunities both locally and globally.

There are three key pillars of what we like to call “Government 2.0”. A stupid term I know, but bear with me:

  1. Participatory governance – this is about engaging the broader public in the decision making processes of government to both leverage the skills, expertise and knowledge of the population for better policy outcomes, and to give citizens a way to engage directly with decisions and programs that affect their every day lives. Many people think about democratic engagement as political engagement, but I content that the public service has a big role to play in engaging citizens directly in co-developing the future together.
  2. Citizen centricity – this is about designing government services with the citizen at the centre of the design. Imagine if you will, and I know many in the room are somewhat technical, imagine government as an API, where you can easily aggregate information and services thematically or in a deeply personalised way for citizens, regardless of the structure or machinery of government changes. Imagine being able to change your address in one location, and have one place to ask questions or get the services you need. This is the vision of my.gov.au and indeed there are several initiatives that delivery on this vision including the Canberra Connect service in the ACT, which is worth looking at. In the ACT you can go into any Canberra Connect location for all your Territory/Local government needs, and they then interface with all the systems of that government behind the scenes in a way that is seamless to a citizen. It is vital that governments and agencies start to realise that citizens don’t care about the structures of government, and neither should they have to. It is up to us all to start thinking about how we do government in a whole of government way to best serve the public.
  3. Open and transparent government – this translates as both parliamentary transparency, but also opening up government data and APIs. Open data also opens up opportunities for greater analysis, policy development, mobile service delivery, public transaprency and trust, economic development through new services and products being developed in the private sector, and much more.

Open Data

Open data is very much my personal focus at the moment. I’m now in charge of data.gov.au, which we are in the process of migrating to an excellent Open Source data repository called CKAN which will be up soon. There is currently a beta up for people to play with.

I also am the head cat herder for a volunteer run project called GovHack which ran only just a week ago, where we had 1000 participants from 8 cities, including here in Brisbane, all working with government data to build 130 new hacks including mashups, data visualisations, mobile and other applications, interactive websites and more. GovHack shows clearly the benefits to society when you open up government data for public use, particularly if it is available in a machine readable way and is available under a very permissive copyright such as Creative Commons.

I would highly recommend you check out my blog posts about open data around the world from when I went to a conference in Helsinki last year and got to meet luminaries in this space including Hans Rosling, Dr Tim Hubbard and Rufus Pollock. I also did some work with the New Zealand Government looking at NZ open data practice and policy which might be useful, where we were also able to identify some major imperatives for changing how governments work.

The exciting thing is how keen government agencies in Federal, State, Territory and Local governments are to open up their data! To engage meaningfully with citizens. And to evolve their service delivery to be more personalised and effective for everyone. We are truly living in a very exciting time for technologists, democracy and the broader society.

Though to be fair, governments don’t really have much choice. Citizens are more empowered than ever before and governments have to adapt, delivery responsive, iterative and personalised services and policy, or risk losing relevance. We have seen the massive distribution now of every traditional bastion of power, from publishing, communications, monitoring, enforcement, and even property is about to dramatically shift, with the leaps in 3D printing and nano technologies. Ultimately governments are under a lot of pressure to adapt the way we do things, and it is a wonderful thing.

The Federal Australian Government already has in place several policies that directly support opening up government data:

Australia has also recently signed up to the Open Government Partnership, an international consortia of over 65 governments which will be a very exciting step for open data and other aspects of open government.

At the State and Territory level, there is also a lot of movement around open data. Queensland and the ACT launched your new open data platform late last year with some good success. NSW and South Australia have launched new platforms in the last few weeks with hundreds of new data sets. Western Australia and Victoria have been publishing some great data for some time and everyone is looking at how they can do so better!

Many local governments have been very active in trying to open up data, and a huge shout out to the Gold Coast City Council here in Queensland who have been working very hard and doing great things in this space!

It is worth noting that the NSW government currently have a big open data policy consultation happening which closes on the 17th June and is well worth looking into and contributing to.

Embracing geekiness

One of my biggest bug bears is when people say “I’m sorry the software can’t do that”. It is the learned helplessness of the tech illiterate that is our biggest challenge for innovating and being globally competitive, and as countries like Australia are overwhelming well off, with the vast majority of our citizens living high quality lives, it is this learned helplessness that is becoming the difference between the haves and have nots. The empowered and the disempowered.

Teaching everyone to embrace their inner geek isn’t just about improving productivity, efficiency, innovation and competitiveness, it is about empowering our people to be safer, smarter, more collaborative and more empowered citizens in a digital world.

If everyone learnt and experienced even the tiniest amount of programming, we would all have embedded that wonderful instinct that says “the software can do whatever we can imagine”.

Open Source communities and ethos gives us a clear vision as to how we can overcome every traditional barrier to collaboration to make awesome stuff in a sustainable way. It teaches us that enlightened self interest in the age of the Internet translates directly to open and mutually beneficial collaboration.

We can all stand on the shoulders of giants that have come before, and become the giants that support the next generation of pioneers. We can all contribute to making this world just a bit more awesome.

So get out there, embrace your inner geek and join the open movement. Be it Open Source, open government or open knowledge, and whatever your particular skills, you can help shape the future for us all.

Thank you for coming today, thank you to Jim for inviting me to be a part of this launch, and good luck to you all in your endeavours with this new project. I look forward to working with you to create the future of our society, together.

Posted in Aus Community, education, FOSS, gov20, Government, society5 | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

So you want to change the world?

Recently I spoke at BarCamp Canberra about my tips and tricks to changing the world. I thought it might be useful to get people thinking about how they can best contribute to the world, according to their skills and passions.

Completely coincidentally, my most excellent boss did a talk a few sessions ahead of me which was the American Civil War version of the same thing :) I highly recommend it. John Sheridan – Lincoln, Lee and ICT: Lessons from the Civil War.

So you want to change the world?

Here are the tactics I use to some success. I heartily recommend you find what works for you. Then you will have no excuse but to join me in implementing Operation World Awesomeness.

The Short Version:

No wasted movement.

The Long Version:

1) Pick your battles: there are a million things you could do. What do you most care about? What can you maintain constructive and positive energy about even in the face of towering adverseries and significant challenges? What do you think you can make a difference in? There is a subtle difference between choosing to knock down a mountain with your forehead, and renting a bulldozer. If you find yourself expending enormous energy on something, but not making a difference, you need to be comfortable to change tactics.

2) Work to your strengths: everyone is good at something. If you choose to contribute to your battle in a way that doesn’t work to your strengths, whatever they are, then you are wasting energy. You are not contributing in the best way you can. You need to really know yourself, understand what you can and can’t do, then do what you can do well, and supplement your army with the skills of others. Everyone has a part to play and a meaningful way to contribute. FWIW, I work to know myself through my martial arts training, which provides a useful cognitive and physical toolkit to engage in the world with clarity. Find what works for you. As Sun Tzu said: know yourself.

3) Identify success: Figure out what success actually looks like, otherwise you don’t have either a measurement of progress, nor a measurement of completion. I’ve seen too many activists get caught up on a battle and continued fighting well beyond the battle being won, or indeed keep hitting their heads against a battle that can’t be won. It’s important to continually be monitoring and measuring, holding yourself to account, and ensuring you are making progress. If not, change tactics.

4) Reconnaissance: do your research. Whatever your area of interest there is likely a body of work that has come before you that you can build upon. Learn about the environment you are working in, the politics, the various motivations and interests at play, the history and structure of your particular battlefield. Find levers in the system that you can press for maximum effect, rather than just straining against the weight of a mountain. Identify the various moving parts of the system and you have the best chance to have a constructive and positive influence.

5) Networks & Mentors: identify all the players in your field. Who is involved, influential, constructive, destructive, effective, etc. It is important to understand the motivations at play so you can engage meaningfully, collaboratively and build a mutually beneficial network in the persuit of awesomeness. Strong mentors are a vital asset and they will teach you how to navigate the rapids and make things happen. A strong network of allies is also vital to keep you on track, and accountable, and true to your own purpose. People usually strive to meet the expectations of those around them, so surround yourself with high expectations. Knowing your network also helps you identify issues and opportunities early.

6) Sustainability: have you put in place a succession plan? How will your legacy continue on without you? It’s important if your work is to continue on that it not be utterly reliant upon one individual. You need to share your vision, passion and success. Glory shared is glory sustained, so bring others on board, encourage and support them to succeed. Always give recognition and thanks to people who do great stuff.

7) Patience: remember the long game. Nothing changes overnight. It always take a lot of work and persistence, and remembering the long game will help during those times when it doesn’t feel like you are making progress. Again, your network is vital as it will help you maintain your strength, confidence and patience :) Speaking of which, a huge thanks to Geoff Mason for reminding me of this one on the day.

8) Shifting power: it is worth noting that we are living in the most exciting of times. Truly. Individuals are more empowered than ever before to do great things. The Internet has created a mechanism for the mass distribution of power, but putting into the hands of all people (all those online anyway), the tools to:

  1. publish and access knowledge;
  2. communicate and collaborate with people all around the world;
  3. monitor and hold others to account including companies, governments and individuals;
  4. act as enforcers for whatever code or law they uphold. This is of course quite controversial but fascinating nonetheless; and
  5. finally, with the advances in 3D printing and nanotechnology, we are on the cusp of all people having unprecedented access to property.

Side note: Poverty and hunger, we shall overcome you yet! Then we just urgently need to prioritise education of all the people. But that is a post for another day :) Check out my blog post on Unicorns and Doom, which goes into my thoughts on how online culture is fundamentally changing society.

This last aspect is particularly fascinating as it changes the game from one between the haves and the have nots, to one between those with and those without skills and knowledge. We are moving from a material wealth differentiation in society towards an intellectual wealth differentiation. Arguable we always had the latter, but the former has long been a bastion for law, structures, power and hierarchies. And it is all changing.

“What better place than here, what better time than now?” — RATM

Posted in gov20, Government, society5, Tech | 6 Comments

I am so thankful – the gap is sorted

I will be doing a longer blog post about the incredible adventure it was to bring Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Rosemary Leith to Australia 10 days ago, but tonight I have had something just amazing happen that I wanted to briefly reflect upon.

I feel humbled, amazed and extremely extremely thankful to be part of such an incredible community in Australia and New Zealand, and a lot of people have stood up and supported me with something I felt very uncomfortable having to deal with.

Basically, a large sponsor pulled out from the TBL Down Under Tour (which I was the coordinator for, supported by the incredible and hard working Jan Bryson) just a few weeks before the start, leaving us with a substantial hole in the budget. I managed to find sponsorship to cover most of the gap, but was left $20k short (for expenses only) and just decided to figure it out myself. Friends rallied around and suggested the crowdsourcing approach which I was hesitant to do, but eventually was convinced it wouldn’t be a bad thing.

We crowdsourced less than two days ago and raised around $6k ($4,800 on GoGetFunding and $1,200 from Jeff’s earlier effort). This was incredible, especially the wonderfully supportive and positive comments that people left. Honestly, it was amazing. And then, much to my surprise and shock, Linux Australia offered to contribute the rest of the $20k. Silvia is closing the crowdsourcing site as I write this and I’m thankful to her for setting it up in the first place.

I am truly speechless. And humbled. And….

It is worth noting that stress and exhaustion aside, and though I put over 350 hours of my own time into this project, for me it has been completely worth it. It has brought many subjects dear to my heart into the mainstream public narrative and media including open government, open data, open source, net neutrality, data retention and indeed, the importance of geeks. I think such a step forward in public narrative will help us take a few more steps towards the the future where Geeks Rule Over Kings ;) (my lca2013 talk)

It was also truly a pleasure to hang out with Tim and Rosemary who are extremely lovely people, clever and very interesting to chat to.

For the haters :) No I am not suffering from cultural cringe. No I am not needing an external voice to validate perspectives locally. There is only one TBL and if he was Australian I’d still have done what I did :P

More to come in the wrap up post on the weekend, but thank you again to all the individuals who contributed, and especially to Linux Australia for offering to fill the gap. There are definitely lessons learnt from this experience which I’ll outline later, but if I was an optimist before, this gives me such a sense of confidence, strength and support to continue to do my best to serve my community and the broader society as best I can.

And I promise I won’t burn out in the meantime ;)

Po is looking forward to spending more time with his human. We all made sacrifices :) (old photo courtesy of Mary Gardiner)

Posted in Aus Community, Linux Australia, linux.conf.au, Personal | 14 Comments

My NZ Open Data and Digital Government Adventure

On a recent trip to New Zealand I spent three action packed days working with Keitha Booth and Alison Stringer looking at open data. These two have an incredible amount of knowledge and experience to share, and it was an absolute pleasure to work with them, albeit briefly. They arranged meetings with about 3000* individuals from across different parts of the NZ government to talk about everything from open data, ICT policy, the role of government in a digital era, iterative policy, public engagement and the components that make up a feasible strategy for all of the above.

It’s important to note, I did this trip in a personal capacity only, and was sure to be clear I was not representing the Australian government in any official sense. I saw it as a bit of a public servant cultural exchange, which I think is probably a good idea even between agencies let alone governments ;)

I got to hear about some of the key NZ Government data projects, including data.govt.nz, data.linz.govt.nz, the statistical data service, some additional geospatial and linked data work, some NZ government planning and efforts around innovation and finding more efficient ways to do tech, and much more. I also found myself in various conversations with extremely clever people about science and government communications, public engagement, rockets, circus and more.

It was awesome, inspiring, informative and exhausting. But this blog post aims to capture the key ideas from the visit. I’d love your feedback on the ideas/frameworks below, and I’ll extrapolate on some of these ideas in followup posts.

I’m also looking forward to working more collaboratively with my colleagues in New Zealand, as well as from across all three spheres of government in Australia. I’d like to set up a way for government people in the open data and open government space across Australia/New Zealand to freely share information and technologies (in code), identify opportunities to collaborate, share their policies and planning for feedback and ideas, and generally work together for more awesome outcomes all round. Any suggestions for how best to do this? :) GovDex? A new thing? Will continue public discussions on the Gov 2.0 mailing list, but I think it’ll be also useful to connect govvies privately whilst encouraging individuals and agencies to promote their work publicly.

This blog post is a collaboration with the wonderful Alison Stringer, in a personal capacity only. Enjoy!

* 3000 may be a wee stretch :)

Table of Contents

Open Data

  • Strategic/Policy Building Blocks
  • Technical Building Blocks
  • References

Digital and Open Government

  • Some imperatives for changing how we do government
  • Policy/strategic components

Open data

Strategic/policy building blocks

Below are some basic building blocks we have found to be needed for an open data strategy to be sustainable and effective in gaining value for both the government and the broader community including industry, academia and civil society. It is based on the experiences in NZ, Aus and discussions with open data colleagues around the world. Would love your feedback, and I’ll expand this out to a broader post in the coming weeks.

  • Policy- open as the default, specifically encouraging and supporting a proactive and automated disclosure of government information in an appropriate, secure and sustainable way. Ideally, each policy should be managed as an iterative and live document that responds to changing trends, opportunities and challenges:
    • Copyright and licensing – providing clear guidance that government information can be legally used. Using simple, permissive and known/trusted licences is important to avoid confusion.
    • Procurement – procurement policy creates a useful and efficient lever to establish proactive “business as usual” disclosure of information assets, by requiring new systems to support such functionality and publishing in open data formats from the start. This also means the security and privacy of data can be built into the system.
    • Proactive publishing – a policy of proactive disclosure helps avoid the inefficiencies of retrospective data publishing. It is important to also review existing assets and require an implementation plan from all parts of government on how they will open up their information assets, and then measure, monitor and report on the progress.
  • Legislation – ensuring any legislative blockers to publishing data are sorted, for instance, in some jurisdictions civil servants are personally liable if someone takes umbrage to the publication of something. Indeed there may be some issues here that are perceptions as opposed to reality. A review of any relevant legislation and plan to fix any blockers to publishing information assets is recommended.
  • Leadership/permission – this is vital, especially in early days whilst open data is still being integrated as business as usual. It should be as senior as possible.
  • Resourcing – it is very hard to find new money in governments in the current fiscal environment. However, we do have people. Resourcing the technical aspects of an open data project would only need a couple of people and a little infrastructure that can both host and point to data and data services. The UK open data platform runs on less than £460K per year, including the costs of three staff). But there needs to be a policy of distributed publishing. In the UK there are ~760 registered publishers of data throughout government. It would be useful to have at least one data publisher (probably to work part of their job only and alongside the current senior agency data champion role) who spends a day or two a week just seeking out and publishing data for their department, and identifying opportunities to automate data publishing with the data.govt.nz team.
  • Value realisation – including:
    • Improved policy development across government through better and early access to data and tools to use data
    • Knowledge transfer across government, especially given so many senior public servants are retiring in the coming years
    • Improved communication of complex issues to the public, better public engagement and exploration of data – especially with data visualisation tools
    • Monitoring, reporting, measuring clear outcomes (productivity savings, commercialisation, new business or products/projects, innovation in government, improved efficiency in Freedom of Information responses, efficiencies in not replicating data or reports, effectiveness and metrics around projects, programs and portfolios)
    • Application of data in developing citizen centric services and information
    • Supporting and facilitating commercialisation opportunities
  • Agency collaboration – the importance of agency collaboration can not be overstated. Especially on sharing/using/reusing data, on sharing knowledge and skills, on public engagement and communications. Also on working together where projects or policy areas might be mutually beneficial and on public engagement such that there is a consistent and effective dialogue with citizens. This shouldn’t be a bottlenecked approach, but rather a distributed network of individuals at different levels and in different functions.
  • Technology – need to have the right bits in place, or the best policy/vision won’t go anywhere :) See below for an extrapolation on the technical building blocks.
  • Public engagement – a public communications and engagement strategy is vital to build and support a community of interest and innovation around government data.

Technical building blocks

Below are some potential technical building blocks for supporting a whole of government(s) approach to information management, proactive publishing and collaboration. Let me know what you think I’m missing :)

Please note, I am not in any way suggesting this should be a functional scope for a single tool. On the contrary, I would suggest for each functional requirement the best of breed tool be found and that there be a modular approach such that you can replace components as they are upgraded or as better alternatives arise. There is no reason why a clever frontend tool couldn’t talk to a number of backend services.

  • Copyright and licensing management – if an appropriately permissive copyright licence is applied to data/content at the point of creation, and stored in the metadata, it saves on the cost of administration down the track. The Australian Government default license has been determined as Creative Commons BY, so agencies and departments should use that, regardless of whether the data/content is ever publishing publicly. The New Zealand government recommends CC-BY as the default for data and information published for re-use.
  • An effective data publishing platform(s) (see Craig Thomler’s useful postabout different generations of open data platforms) that supports the publishing, indexing and federation of data sources/services including:
    • Geospatial data – one of the pivotal data sets required for achieving citizen centric services, and in bringing the various other datasets together for analysis and policy development.
    • Real time data – eg, buses, weather, sensor networks
    • Statistical data – eg census and surveys, where raw access to data is only possible through an API that gives a minimum number of results so as to make individual identification difficult
    • Tabular data – such as spreadsheets or databases of records in structured format
  • Identity management – for publishers at the very least.
  • Linked data and metadata system(s) – particularly where such data can be automatically inferred or drawn from other systems.
  • Change control – the ability to push or take updates to datasets, or multiple files in a dataset, including iterative updates from public or private sources in a verifiable way.
  • Automation tools for publishing and updating datasets including where possible, from their source, proactive system-to-system publishing.
  • Data analysis and visualisation tools – both to make it easier to communicate data, but also to help people (in government and the public) analyse and interact with any number of published datasets more effectively. This is far more efficient for government than each department trying to source their own data visualisation and analysis tools.
  • Reporting tools – that clearly demonstrate status, progress, trends and value of open data and open government on an ongoing basis. Ideally this would also feed into a governance process to iteratively improve the relevant policies on an ongoing basis.

Some open data references

Digital and Open Government

Although I was primarily in New Zealand to discuss open data, I ended up entering into a number of discussions about the broader aspects of digital and open government, which is entirely appropriate and a natural evolution. I was reminded of the three pillars of open government that we often discuss in Australia which roughly translate to:

  • Transparency
  • Participation
  • Citizen centricity

There is a good speech by my old boss, Minister Kate Lundy, which explains these in some detail.

I got into a couple of discussions which went into the concept of public engagement at length. I highly recommend those people check out the Public Sphere consultation methodology that I developed with Minister Kate Lundy which is purposefully modular so that you can adapt it to any community and how they best communicate, digitally or otherwise. It also is focused on getting evidence based, peer reviewed, contextually analysed and useful actual outcomes. It got an international award from the World eDemocracy Forum, which was great to see. Particularly check out how we applied computer forensics tools to help figure out if a consultation is being gamed by any individual or group.

When I consider digital government, I find myself standing back in the first instance to consider the general role of government in a digital society. I think this is an important starting point as our understanding is broadly out of date. New Zealand has definitions in the State Sector Act 1988, but they aren’t necessarily very relevant to 2013, let alone an open and transparent digital government.

Some imperatives for changing how we do government

Below are some of the interesting imperatives I have identified as key drivers for changing how we do government:

  • Changing public expectations – public expectations have fundamentally changed, not just with technology and everyone being connected to each other via ubiquitous mobile computing, but our basic assumptions and instincts are changing, such as the innate assumption of routing around damage, where damage might be technical or social. I’ve gone into my observations in some depth in a blog post called Online Culture – Part 1: Unicorns and Doom (2011).
  • Tipping point of digital engagement with government – in 2009 Australia had more citizens engaging with government  online than through any other means. This digital tipping point creates a strong business case to move to digitally delivered services, as a digital approach enables more citizens to self serve online and frees up expensive human resources for our more vulnerable, complex or disengaged members of the community.
  • Fiscal constraints over a number of years have largely led to IT Departments having done more for less for years, with limited investment in doing things differently, and effectively a legacy technology millstone. New investment is needed but no one has money for it, and IT Departments have in many cases, resorted to being focused on maintenance rather than project work (an upgrade of a system that maintains the status quo is still maintenance in my books). Systems have reached a difficult point where the fat has been trimmed and trimmed, but the demands have grown. In order to scale government services to growing needs in a way that enables more citizens to self service, new approaches are necessary, and the capability to aggregate services and information (through open APIs and open data) as well as user-centric design underpins this capability.
  • Disconnect between business and IT – there has been for some time a growing problem of business units disengaging with IT. As cheap cloud services have started to appear, many parts of government (esp Comms and HR) have more recently started to just avoid IT altogether and do their own thing. On one hand this enables some more innovative approaches, but it also leads directly to a problem in whole of government consistency, reliability, standards and generally a distribution of services which is the exact opposite of a citizen centric approach. It’s important that we figure out how to get IT re-engaged in the business, policy and strategic development of government such that these approaches are more informed and implementable, and such that governments use, develop, fund and prioritise technology in alignment with a broader vision.
  • Highly connected and mobile community and workforce – the opportunities (and risks) are immense, and it is important that governments take an informed and sustainable approach to this space. For instance, in developing public facing mobile services, a mobile optimised web services approach is more inclusive, cost efficient and sustainable than native applications development, but by making secure system APIs and open data available, the government can also facilitate public and private competition and innovation in services delivery.
  • New opportunities for high speed Internet are obviously a big deal in Australia and New Zealand at the moment with the new infrastructure being rolled out (FTTP in both countries), and setting up to better support and engaging with citizens digitally now, before mainstream adoption, is rather important and urgent.
  • Impact of politics and media on policy – the public service is generally to have an evidence-based approach to policy, and where this approach is developed in a transparent and iterative way, in collaboration with the broader society, it means government can engage directly with citizens rather than through the prism of politics or the media, each which have their own motivations and imperatives.
  • Prioritisation of ICT spending – it is difficult to ensure the government investment and prioritisation of ICT projects aligns with the strategic goals of the organisation and government, especially where the goals are not clearly articulated.
  • Communications and value realisation – with anyone able to publish pretty much anything, it is incumbent on governments to be a part of the public narrative as custodians of a lot of information and research. By doing this in a transparent and apolitical way, the public service can be a value and trusted source.
  • The expensive overhead of replication of effort across governments – consolidating where possible is vital to improve efficiencies, but also to put in place the mechanisms to support whole of government approaches.
  • Skills – a high technical literacy directly supports the capacity to innovate across government and across the society in every sector. As such this should be prioritised in our education systems, way above and well beyond “office productivity” tools.

Policy/strategic components

  • Strategic approach to information policy – many people looking at information policy tend to look deeply at one or a small number of areas, but it is only in looking at all of the information created by government, and how we can share, link, re-use, and analyse that we will gain the significant policy, service delivery and social/economic benefits and opportunities. When one considers geospatial, tabular, real time and statistical (census and survey) data, and then the application of metadata and linked data, it gets rather complicated. But we need to be able to interface effectively with these different data types.
  • Facilitating public and private innovation – taking a “government as a platform” approach, including open data and open APIs, such that industry and civil society can innovate on top of government systems and information assets, creating new value and services to the community.
  • Sector and R&D investment – it is vital that government ensured that the investment in digital industries, internal innovation and indeed R&D more broadly, aligns with the strategic vision. This means understanding how to measure and monitor digital innovation more effectively and not through the lens of traditional approaches that may not be relevant, such as the number of patents and other IP metrics. The New Zealand and Australian business and research community need to make the most of their governments’ leadership in Open Government. The Open Government Partnership network might provide a way to build upon and export this expertise.
  • Exports – by creating local capacity in the arena of improved and citizen-centric services delivery, Australia and New Zealand set themselves up nicely for exporting services and products to Asia Pacific, particularly given the rapid uptake of countries in the region to join the Open Government Partnership which requires signatories to develop plans around topics such as open data, citizen centricity and parliamentary transparency, all of which we are quite skilled in.
  • Distributed skunkworks for government – developing the communities/spaces/tools across government to encourage and leverage the skills and enthusiasm of clever geeks both internally (internal hackdays, communities of practice) and externally (eg – GovHack). No one can afford new resources, but allocating a small amount of time from the existing workforce who are motivated to do great things is a cost efficient and empowering way to create a distributed skunkworks. And as people speak to each other about common problems and common solutions we should see less duplication of these solutions and improved efficiency across agencies.
  • Iterative policy – rethinking how policy is developed, implemented, measured and governed to take a more iterative and agile approach that a) leverages the skills and expertise of the broader community for more evidence based and peer reviewed policy outcomes and b) is capable of responding effectively and in a timely manner to new challenges and opportunities as they arise. It would also be useful to build better internal intelligence systems for an improved understanding of the status of projects, and improved strategic planning for success.
  • An Information Commissioner for New Zealand – an option for a policy lead on information management to work closely with departments to have a consolidated, consistent, effective and overall strategic approach to the management, sharing and benefits realisation of government information. This would also build the profile of Open Government in New Zealand and hopefully be the permanent solution to current resourcing challenges. The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, and similar roles at State level, include the function of Information Commissioner, Privacy Commissioner and Free of Information Commissioner, and these combined give a holistic approach to government information policy that ideally balances open information and privacy. In New Zealand it could be a role that builds on recent information policies, such as NZGOAL which is designed, amongst other things, to replace bespoke content licences. Bespoke licences create an unnecessary liability issue for departments.
  • Citizen centricity – the increasing importance of consolidating government service and information delivery, putting citizens (and business) at the centre of the design. This is achieved through open mechanisms (eg, APIs) to interface with government systems and information such that they can be managed in a distributed and secure way, but aggregated in a thematic way.
  • Shared infrastructure and services – the shared services being taken up by some parts of the New Zealand Government is very encouraging to see, particularly when such an approach has been very successful in the ACT and SA state governments in Australia, and with several shared infrastructure and services projects at a national level in Australia including the AGIMO network and online services, and the NECTAR examples (free cloud stack tools for researchers). Shared services create the capacity for a consistent and consolidated approach, as well as enable the foundations of citizen centric design in a practical sense.

Some additional reading and thoughts

Digital literacy and ICT skills – should be embedded into curriculum and encouraged across the board. I did a paper on this as a contribution to the National Australian Curriculum consultation in 2010 with Senator Kate Lundy which identified three areas of ICT competency: 1) Productivity skills, 2) Online engagement skills, & 3) Automation skills as key skills for all citizens. It’s also worth looking at the NSW Digital Citizenship courseware. It’s worth noting that public libraries are a low cost and effective way to deliver digital services, information and skills to the broader community and minimise the issue of the digital divide.

Media data – often when talking about open data, media is completely forgotten. Video, audio, arts, etc. The GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives and museums) are all over this and should be part of the conversation about how to manage this kind of content across whole of government.

Just a few additional links for those interested, somewhat related to some of the things I discussed this last week.

Posted in gov20, Government | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Getting started in the Australian Public Service

I worked for Senator Kate Lundy from April 2009 till January 2012. It was a fascinating experience learning how the executive and legislative arms of government work and working closely with Kate, who is extremely knowlegable and passionate about good policy and tech. As someone who is very interested in the interrelation between governments, society, the private sector and technology, I could not have asked for a better place to learn.

But last October (2011) I decided I really wanted to take the next step and expand my experience to better understand the public service, how policy goes from (and to) the political sphere from the administrative arm of government, how policy is implemented in practise and the impact/engagement with the general public.

I sat back and considered where I would ideally like to work if I could choose. I wanted to get an insight to different departments and public sector cultures across the whole govenrment. I wanted to work in tech policy, and open government stuff if at all possible. I wanted to be in a position where I might be able to make a difference, and where I could look at government in a holistic way. I think a whole of government approach is vital to serving the public in a coherent and consistent way, as is serious public engagement and transparency.

So I came up with my top three places to work that would satisfy this criteria. My top option happened to have a job going which I applied for and by November I was informed I was their first choice. This was remarkable and I was very excited to get started, but also wanted to tie up a few things in Kate’s office. So we arranged a starting date of January 31st 2012.

What is the job you ask? You’ll have to wait till the end of the post ;)

Unfortunately for me, because I was already 6 months into a Top Secret Positive Vetting (TSPV) process (what you need for a Ministerial office in order to work with any classified information), and that process had to be completed, even though I needed a lower level for the new job. I was informed back in October that it should be done by Christmas.

So I blogged on my last day with Kate about what I had learned and indicated that I was entering the public service to get a better understanding of the administrative arm of government. There was some amusing speculation, and it has probably been the worst kept secret around Canberra for the last year :)

Of course, I thought I would be able to update my “Moving On” blog post within a few weeks or so. It ended up taking another 10 months for my clearance to finalise. TSPV does take a while, and I’m a little more complicated a case than the average bear given my travel and online profile :)

As it turns out, the 10 months presented some useful opportunities. During the last year I did a bunch of contracting work looking largely at tech policy, some website development, and I ended up working for the ACT Government for the last 5 months.

In the ACT Government I worked in a policy role under Mick Chisnall, the Executive Director of the ACT Government Information Office. That was a fantastic learning experience and I’d like to thank Mick for being such a great person to work with and learn from. I worked on open government policy, open data policy and projects (including the dataACT launch, and some initial work for the Canberra Digital Community Connect project), looked at tech policies around mobile, cloud, real time data, accessibility and much more. I also helped write some fascinating papers around the role of government in a digital city. Again, I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with excellent people with vision. A huge thanks to Mick Chisnall, Andrew Cappie-Wood, Pam Davoren, Christopher Norman, Kerry Webb, James Watson, Greg Tankard, Gavin Tapp and all the people I had the opportunity to work with. I learnt a lot, much of which will be useful in my new role.

It also showed me that the hype around “shared services” being supposedly terrible doesn’t quite map reality. For sure, some states have had significant challenges, but in some states it works reasonably well (nothing is perfect) and presents some pretty useful opportunities for whole of government service delivery.

Anyway, so my new job is at AGIMO as Divisional Coordinator for the Agency Services Division, working directly to John Sheridan who has long been quite an active and engaged voice in the Australian Gov 2.0 scene. I started a week and a half ago and am really enjoying it already. I think there are some great opportunities for me through this job to usefully serve the public and the broader public service. I look forward to making my mark and contributing to the pursuit of good tech in government. I’m also taking the role of Media Coordinator for AGIMO, and supporting John in his role.

I’ve met loads of brilliant people working in the public service across Australia, and I’m looking forward to learning a lot. I’m also keen to take a very collaborative approach (no surprises there), so I’m looking at ways to better enable people to work together across the APS and indeed, across all government jurisdictions in Australia. There is a lot to be gained by collaboration between the Federal, States/Territories and Local spheres of government, particularly when you can get the implementers and policy developers working together rather than just those up the stack.

So, if you are in government (any sphere) and want to talk open government, open data, tech policy, iterative policy development, public engagement, or all the things, please get in touch. I’m hoping to set up an open data working group to bring together the people in various governments doing great work across the country and I’ll be continuing to participate in the Gov 2.0 community, now from within the tent :)

Posted in gov20, Government, Personal | 6 Comments

Best. RickRoll. Ever.

I have a tale to tell – a tale of adventure, suspense and many many lulz.

A month ago was my birthday. As many of you know, I love surprises. So when my brother Touie told me to keep the 21st November free for my birthday present without any clues I was ecstatic.

What could it be?! A event, dinner, gig, circus, deep sea diving, lunar trip!! The options endless, as my imagination played with all the possibilities and impossibilities. It provided a few days great entertainment.

Earlier this week he rang to check I was still keeping the evening free, so I started musing again. But I’ve had a lot on, so didn’t really stop to think carefully about what it could be. It only occurred to me to check what was on in Canberra late this evening, but I didn’t want to ruin the surprise.

Touie picked me and we drove to the city. As we got close I was instructed to put my jacket over my head. We pulled up in a car park somewhere and he decided he needed to fashion a real blindfold to improve the surprise. As he started to take off his sock I yelled “hell no!”, and I fashioned a crude blindfold from some duct tape (both my father and brother are refrigeration mechanics, duct tape is always close to hand :)).

The blindfold went on and I was led about 300m to a venue. Up steps, down steps, across roads, my hearing enhanced by the sudden lack of sight, cars on either side of us and then into a venue. At one point I could swear I could smell circus smells, but I think I was just being ambitious.

People around found it quite entertaining as my brother told them to not give it away. We went to buy some mechandise and the salespeople were telling me I was “going to love it”. I was ordered a small of something whilst I tried to figure out what was going on, and the merchandise turned out to be a tshirt thrust into my hands. So I’m at a gig of some sort? Wasn’t quite ready to let go of the circus idea :)

I was led *into* the gig, up and down stairs and when we got to our row the blindfold came off and I was faced by a musician I didn’t recognise on stage, playing random songs. Confused I moved into my seat and tried to figure it out.

The shirt!

I switched on my phone and looked at the front of the shirt.

Capital R

Capital R eh? What the?

Turning the shirt over I struggled to read the text, but when I did…

“Rick Astley Australian Tour”

Touie and the tour tshirt

No. Way. No WAY. NOWAY! I laughed in my seat for 10 mins whilst the intro act was on, trying to not be overtly rude. I had been rickrolled in an EPIC fashion. By my brother. I would not live this down.

Then Rick came on, and I have to say, in spite of myself, it was actually a hilarious concert. He’s a funny guy.

The crowd was full on. It’s a Wednesday night for goodness sake, and we had women (and indeed a few men) throwing themselves on the stage, giving Rick roses, getting up to sing, holding Rick Astley printouts on sticks and some people even brought out their cassettes and vinyl, holding them up whilst singing every word. It was…. intense.

They didn’t play *the* song till last thing in the night, but some of the new songs were actually quite good, he did some excellent covers of motown and old songs, and the biggest moment of cognitive dissonance was Rick Astley, on the drums, playing and singing “Highway to Hell”. Seriously. The sound quality on my phone left a lot to be desired so check this out instead. Prepare for your own cognitive dissonance :)

And I still am stunned by the fact I have now been to *AND ENJOYED* a Rick Astley concert. What on earth is going on.

One of his new songs, Superman, wasn’t half bad either.

Posted in Personal | 4 Comments

Power and legitimacy in government

Below are some thoughts I had scribbled out as part of a discussion at university a few years ago. I was reminded of it through a discussion with a friend yesterday. I think it is a topic worth considering on an ongoing basis.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking recently around what constitutes legitimacy in government or the powers that be throughout time. It has been quite fascinating to consider what people expect, what they get, and what holds it all together.

Basically, I content that legitimacy isn’t binary but rather a spectrum. Legitimacy isn’t static, but rather something that has to be continually established, something that needs to be earnt. Gone are the days where the sword or gun ruled, because people’s fear of force has (at least in some countries) been outweighed by a sense of self-empowerment and people expecting to have a say. In democracies around the world, this say, this legitimacy, has for many years been established at the ballot box. But the Internet has changed things and legitimacy now requires so much more.

Governments today face enormous challenges to how they’ve always done things due to the democratisation (mass distribution) of communications, publishing, monitoring and indeed enforcement. We are seeing a) individuals can hold governments to account much easier and louder than in times past, b) governments finding it hard to transition to the conversational and collaborative approach expected online, and c) the role of the media, particularly in mainstream publishing has become more and more politicised making it harder for people to hear an apolitical mainstream voice from which to make up their own mind.

Legitimacy is a tricky thing in a time when anyone can say anything, when the media often reports all perspectives as if they were of equal relevance/truth, and the voice of government is just another voice in the cacophony of the Internet. In announcing a policy, a vacuum of information is created. If that vacuum isn’t filled with updates, the policy status, what it means and active engagement with “the people”, then the policy might succeed on paper, but completely fail from a public perspective if the vacuum is filled with an alternative narrative.

Legitimacy used to be enforced, now it has to be earned, every day. Nowadays, particularly in democratic countries,  without legitimacy it is very hard to maintain power.

It’s also worth considering that we (in Australia) expect a *lot* more from our government now than anyone would have dreamed 300 years ago. Health, public transport, free education for our kids, etc. We also have much higher obligations but can (often) rationalise that with the benefits.

So where does legitimacy break down, and is it possible to predict when a social system will break down and transform?

I’ve come up with two simple tensions that perhaps play a part in the ongoing legitimacy of an entity in power that hopefully reflect how societies relate to and judge legitimacy. I think this formula works both for the times of Hobbes and for now. Regardless of the fact that expectations of many modern societies has changed fundamentally from those times as we are more globally aware, connected and empowered than ever before.

Both of these tensions can be analysed at an individual, community and nation/society level, and fundamentally, whilst ever the vast majority of people in the society are not getting a negative result from these criteria, the power and structures will not be seriously challenged or threatened.

The first tension is the benefits versus the obligations *and* inconveniences. Benefits include things such as health care, security, or education. Obligations are things such as taxes or abiding by the law. Inconveniences are things like being threatened if you don’t vote a particular way, or being sent to gaol. If the benefits you receive outweigh the obligations+inconveniences, there is a positive result, if they are roughly comparative, a neutral result, or if obligations+inconveniences outweigh benefits, a negative result.

Secondly is relationship between the the perceived reality of the ruling power and the expectations of the ruling power. For instance, some people may not see it as the role of the government to enforce a moral standard, so if the government does something they perceive as conflicting with this expectation, then that can be a problem. If perceived reality is not in line with the expectations its a negative result, is roughly equal then neutral. This depends heavily on the success criteria communicated by the ruling power and the related perceived success of that ruling power. For instance, if the ruling power sets a low bar (or a reasonable bar) and is seen to overachieve, that is a positive result, seeing to have achieved what was laid down is a neutral result, and underachieving, even if the bar was set too ambitiously high, is a negative result.

Put more simply:

Test 1: benefits minus obligations+inconveniences
Test 2: public expectations (success criteria) minus perceived reality (success)

Both tests demonstrate the importance of good clear communications and engagement with the public.

Interestingly, in my opinion there has been a growing discontent on both tests in Australia. Although we have high benefits and high obligations, the inconveniences haven’t really been seen as that onerous for most people. But we are seeing an interesting scope creep with policies relating to the Internet and intelligence agencies starting to create more inconvenience to the population. It’ll be interesting to see what happens in the coming years, as it appears more and more of the population are starting to feel a rise in our obligations and inconveniences.

Interesting times. In the Chinese sense :) Would love to hear your thoughts.

Posted in Aus Community, gov20, Government | 9 Comments

Lessons from the edge – finding gifts in important places

Spent all day yesterday hanging out with a good friend, Peter Miller.

To see someone I care about dealing with Leukaemia (CLL) and putting all the theory and philosophy of martial arts into practise to not only cope, but to grow and evolve through such an experience is humbling, inspiring and deeply profound. I highly recommend people read his blog. For those of you who struggle with the topic of death, it will challenge you. But for everyone, it will likely inspire you to live better. It will inspire you to find gifts in important places, and teach you how to change your perspective if your current perspective doesn’t give you the tools you need to live well.

I still remember a series of discussions with Peter from many years ago now about martial theory, and about seeing everything as a gift. We had been talking about seeing an attack as a gift. Rather than seeing combat as something negative, or violent, or aggressive, seeing it as just another thing that you can engage in with joy. How treating all challenges of any sort as a gift changes your frame of thinking, giving you more options to affect a more awesome and holistic outcome for all involved. Little did I realise how useful this discussion would become.

Yesterday Peter showed me how to take a branch of wood and turn it into my new martial arts weapon. Hurrah! It involved breathing, learning to feel what the wood wanted to do, putting down anything negative to ensure each action of planning was smooth and uninterrupted. Basically everytime I got frustrated or agitated, including when just talking about life, I would make a mistake. It turns out planing a piece of wood is the best type of litmus test for calmness and mindfulness :) A few hours in  and I was extremely relaxed, extremely productive and even managed to complete it (apart from sanding and finishing bits).

Thank you for the meditation lesson Peter, I accept this gift, and am a better person for it. You continue to create an amazing legacy of things, people, perspectives and inspiration.
Pia and PeterPlaning wood


Note for others: I did a talk about the idea of applying martial arts to everyday life that covers this idea last year for those interested.

Posted in Personal | Leave a comment

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.

Hello

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. data.gov.au 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.

Posted in Aus Community, gov20, society5, Tech | 1 Comment