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Sadly leaving the NSW Government

This week was sadly my last week with the NSW Government, Department of Customer Service, formerly the Department of Finance, Services and Innovation. I am sad to be leaving such an exciting place at such an exciting time, but after 12 months of commuting from Canberra to Sydney. The hardest part of working in the NSW Government has been, by far, the commute. I have been leaving my little family every week for 3, 4 or 5 days, and although we have explored possibilities to move, my family and I have to continue living in Canberra for the time being. It has got to the point where my almost 4 year old has asked me to choose her over work, a heart breaking scenario as many will understand. 

I wanted to publicly thank everyone I worked with, particularly my amazing teams who have put their heart, soul and minds to the task of making exceptional public services in an exceptional public sector. I am really proud of the two Branches I had the privilege and delight to lead, and I know whatever comes next, that those 160 or so individuals will continue to do great things wherever they go. 

I remain delighted and amazed at the unique opportunity in NSW Government to lead the way for truly innovative, holistic and user centred approaches to government. The commitment and leadership from William Murphy, Glenn King, Greg Wells, Damon Rees, Emma Hogan, Tim Reardon, Annette O’Callaghan, Michael Coutts-Trotter (and many others across the NSW Government senior executive) genuinely to my mind, has created the best conditions anywhere in Australia (and likely the world!) to make great and positive change in the public service.

I want to take a moment to also directly thank Martin Hoffman, Glenn, Greg, William, Amanda Ianna and all those who have supported me in the roles, as well as everyone from my two Branches over that 12 months for their support, belief and commitment. It has been a genuine privilege and delight to be a part of this exceptional department, and to see the incredible work across our Branches.

I have only been in the NSW Government for 12 months, and in that time was the ED for Digital Government Policy and Innovation for 9 months, and then ED Data, Insights and Transformation for a further 3 months.

In just 9 months, the Digital Government Policy and Innovation team achieved a lot in the NSW Government digital space, including:

  • Australia’s first Policy Lab (bringing agile test driven and user centred design methods into a traditional policy team),
  • the Digital Government Policy Landscape (mapping all digital gov policies for agencies) including IoT & a roadmap for an AI Ethics Framework and AI Strategy,
  • the NSW Government Digital Design Standard and a strong community of practice to contribute and collaborate
  • evolution of the Digital NSW Accelerator (DNA) to include delivery capabilities,
  • the School Online Enrolment system,
  • an operational and cross government Life Journeys Program (and subsequent life journey based navigators),
  • a world leading Rules as Code exemplars and early exploration of developing human and machine readable legislation from scratch(Better Rules),
  • establishment of a digital talent pool for NSW Gov,
  • great improvements to data.nsw and whole of government data policy and the Information Management Framework,
  • capability uplift across the NSW public sector including the Data Champions network and digital champions,
  • a prototype whole of government CX Pipeline,
  • the Innovation NSW team were recognised as one of Apolitical’s 100+ teams teaching government the skills of the future with a range of Innovation NSW projects including several Pitch to Pilot events, Future Economy breakfast series,
  • and the improvements to engagement/support we provided across whole of government.

For the last 3 months I was lucky to lead the newly formed and very exciting Data, Insights and Transformation Branch, which included the Data Analytics Centre, the Behavioural Insights Unit, and a new Transformation function to explore how we could design a modern public service fit for the 21st century. In only 3 months we

  • established a strong team culture, developed a clear cohesive work program, strategic objectives and service offerings,
  • chaired the ethics board for behavioural insights projects, which was a great experience, and
  • were seeing new interest, leads and engagement from agencies who wanted to engage with the Data Analytics Centre, Behavioural Insights Unit or our new Transformation function.

It was wonderful to work with such a fantastic group of people and I learned a lot, including from the incredible leadership team and my boss, William Murphy, who shared the following kind words about my leaving:

As a passionate advocate for digital and transformative approaches to deliver great public services, Pia has also been working steadily to deliver on whole-of-government approaches such as Government as a Platform, service analytics and our newly formed Transformation agenda to reimagine government.

Her unique and effective blend of systems thinking, technical creativity and vision will ensure the next stage in her career will be just as rewarding as her time with Customer Service has been.

Pia has made the difficult decision to leave Customer Service to spend more time with her Canberra-based family.

The great work Pia and her teams have done over the last twelve months has without a doubt set up the NSW digital and customer transformation agenda for success.

I want to thank her for the commitment and drive she has shown in her work with the NSW Government, and wish her well with her future endeavours. I’m confident her focus on building exceptional teams, her vision for NSW digital transformation and the relationships she has built across the sector will continue.

For my part, I’m not sure what will come next, but I’m going to have a holiday first to rest, and probably spend October simply writing down all my big ideas and doing some work on rules as code before I look for the next adventure.

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Digital government: it all starts with open

This is a short video I did on the importance of openness for digital government, for the EngageTech Forum 2018. I’ve had a few people reuse it for other events so I thought I should blog it properly 🙂 Please see the transcript below. 

<Conference introductory remarks>

I wanted to talk about why openness and engagement is so critical for our work in a modern public service.

For me, looking at digital government, it’s not just about digital services, it’s about how we transform governments for the 21st century: how we do service delivery, engagement, collaboration, and how we do policy, legislation and regulation. How we make public services fit for purpose so they can serve you, the people, communities and economy of the 21st century.

For me, a lot of people think about digital and think about technology, but open government is a founding premise, a founding principle for digital government. Open that’s not digital doesn’t scale, and digital that’s not open doesn’t last. That doesn’t just mean looking at things like open source, open content and open APIs, but it means being open. Open to change. Being open to people and doing things with people, not just to people.

There’s a fundamental cultural, technical and process shift that we need to make, and it all starts with open.

<closing conference remarks>

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gov20 Government

Essays: Improving the Public Policy Cycle Model

I don’t have nearly enough time to blog these days, but I am doing a bunch of writing for university. I decided I would publish a selection of the (hopefully) more interesting essays that people might find interesting 🙂 Please note, my academic writing is pretty awful, but hopefully some of the ideas, research and references are useful. 

For this essay, I had the most fun in developing my own alternative public policy model at the end of the essay. Would love to hear your thoughts. Enjoy and comments welcome!

Question: Critically assess the accuracy of and relevance to Australian public policy of the Bridgman and Davis policy cycle model.

The public policy cycle developed by Peter Bridgman and Glyn Davis is both relevant to Australian public policy and simultaneously not an accurate representation of developing policy in practice. This essay outlines some of the ways the policy cycle model both assists and distracts from quality policy development in Australia and provides an alternative model as a thought experiment based on the authors policy experience and reflecting on the research conducted around the applicability of Bridgman and Davis’ policy cycle model.

Background

In 1998 Peter Bridgman and Glyn Davis released the first edition of The Australian Policy Handbook, a guide developed to assist public servants to understand and develop sound public policy. The book includes a policy cycle model, developed by Bridgman and Davis, which portrays a number of cyclic logical steps for developing and iteratively improving public policy. This policy model has attracted much analysis, scrutiny, criticism and debate since it was first developed, and it continues to be taught as a useful tool in the kit of any public servant. The fifth edition of the Handbook was the most recent, being released in 2012 which includes Catherine Althaus who joined Bridgman and Davis on the fourth edition in 2007.

The policy cycle model

The policy cycle model presented in the Handbook is below:

bridgman-and-davis

The model consists of eight steps in a circle that is meant to encourage an ongoing, cyclic and iterative approach to developing and improving policy over time with the benefit of cumulative inputs and experience. The eight steps of the policy cycle are:

  1. Issue identification – a new issue emerges through some mechanism.

  2. Policy analysis – research and analysis of the policy problem to establish sufficient information to make decisions about the policy.

  3. Policy instrument development – the identification of which instruments of government are appropriate to implement the policy. Could include legislation, programs, regulation, etc.

  4. Consultation (which permeates the entire process) – garnering of external and independent expertise and information to inform the policy development.

  5. Coordination – once a policy position is prepared it needs to be coordinated through the mechanisms and machinations of government. This could include engagement with the financial, Cabinet and parliamentary processes.

  6. Decision – a decision is made by the appropriate person or body, often a Minister or the Cabinet.

  7. Implementation – once approved the policy then needs to be implemented.

  8. Evaluation – an important process to measure, monitor and evaluate the policy implementation.

In the first instance is it worth reflecting on the stages of the model, which implies the entire policy process is centrally managed and coordinated by the policy makers which is rarely true, and thus gives very little indication of who is involved, where policies originate, external factors and pressures, how policies go from a concept to being acted upon. Even to just develop a position resources must be allocated and the development of a policy is thus prioritised above the development of some other policy competing for resourcing. Bridgman and Davis establish very little in helping the policy practitioner or entrepreneur to understand the broader picture which is vital in the development and successful implementation of a policy.

The policy cycle model is relevant to Australian public policy in two key ways: 1) that it both presents a useful reference model for identifying various potential parts of policy development; and 2) it is instructive for policy entrepreneurs to understand the expectations and approach taken by their peers in the public service, given that the Bridgman and Davis model has been taught to public servants for a number of years. In the first instance the model presents a basic framework that policy makers can use to go about the thinking of and planning for their policy development. In practise, some stages may be skipped, reversed or compressed depending upon the context, or a completely different approach altogether may be taken, but the model gives a starting point in the absence of anything formally imposed.

Bridgman and Davis themselves paint a picture of vast complexity in policy making whilst holding up their model as both an explanatory and prescriptive approach, albeit with some caveats. This is problematic because public policy development almost never follows a cleanly structured process. Many criticisms of the policy cycle model question its accuracy as a descriptive model given it doesn’t map to the experiences of policy makers. This draws into question the relevance of the model as a prescriptive approach as it is too linear and simplistic to represent even a basic policy development process. Dr Cosmo Howard conducted many interviews with senior public servants in Australia and found that the policy cycle model developed by Bridgman and Davis didn’t broadly match the experiences of policy makers. Although they did identify various aspects of the model that did play a part in their policy development work to varying degrees, the model was seen as too linear, too structured, and generally not reflective of the at times quite different approaches from policy to policy (Howard, 2005). The model was however seen as a good starting point to plan and think about individual policy development processes.

Howard also discovered that political engagement changed throughout the process and from policy to policy depending on government priorities, making a consistent approach to policy development quite difficult to articulate. The common need for policy makers to respond to political demands and tight timelines often leads to an inability to follow a structured policy development process resulting in rushed or pre-canned policies that lack due process or public consultation (Howard, 2005). In this way the policy cycle model as presented does not prepare policy-makers in any pragmatic way for the pressures to respond to the realities of policy making in the public service. Colebatch (2005) also criticised the model as having “not much concern to demonstrate that these prescriptions are derived from practice, or that following them will lead to better outcomes”. Fundamentally, Bridgman and Davis don’t present much evidence to support their policy cycle model or to support the notion that implementation of the model will bring about better policy outcomes.

Policy development is often heavily influenced by political players and agendas, which is not captured in the Bridgman and Davis’ policy cycle model. Some policies are effectively handed over to the public service to develop and implement, but often policies have strong political involvement with the outcomes of policy development ultimately given to the respective Minister for consideration, who may also take the policy to Cabinet for final ratification. This means even the most evidence based, logical, widely consulted and highly researched policy position can be overturned entirely at the behest of the government of the day (Howard, 2005) . The policy cycle model does not capture nor prepare public servants for how to manage this process. Arguably, the most important aspects to successful policy entrepreneurship lie outside the policy development cycle entirely, in the mapping and navigation of the treacherous waters of stakeholder and public management, myriad political and other agendas, and other policy areas competing for prioritisation and limited resources.

The changing role of the public in the 21st century is not captured by the policy cycle model. The proliferation of digital information and communications creates new challenges and opportunities for modern policy makers. They must now compete for influence and attention in an ever expanding and contestable market of experts, perspectives and potential policies (Howard, 2005), which is a real challenge for policy makers used to being the single trusted source of knowledge for decision makers. This has moved policy development and influence away from the traditional Machiavellian bureaucratic approach of an internal, specialised, tightly controlled monopoly on advice, towards a more transparent and inclusive though more complex approach to policy making. Although Bridgman and Davis go part of the way to reflecting this post-Machiavellian approach to policy by explicitly including consultation and the role of various external actors in policy making, they still maintain the Machiavellian role of the public servant at the centre of the policy making process.

The model does not clearly articulate the need for public buy-in and communication of the policy throughout the cycle, from development to implementation. There are a number of recent examples of policies that have been developed and implemented well by any traditional public service standards, but the general public have seen as complete failures due to a lack of or negative public narrative around the policies. Key examples include the Building the Education Revolution policy and the insulation scheme. In the case of both, the policy implementation largely met the policy goals and independent analysis showed the policies to be quite successful through quantitative and qualitative assessment. However, both policies were announced very publicly and politically prior to implementation and then had little to no public narrative throughout implementation leaving the the public narrative around both to be determined by media reporting on issues and the Government Opposition who were motivated to undermine the policies. The policy cycle model in focusing on consultation ignores the necessity of a public engagement and communication strategy throughout the entire process.

The Internet also presents significant opportunities for policy makers to get better policy outcomes through public and transparent policy development. The model down not reflect how to strengthen a policy position in an open environment of competing ideas and expertise (aka, the Internet), though it is arguably one of the greatest opportunities to establish evidence-based, peer reviewed policy positions with a broad range of expertise, experience and public buy-in from experts, stakeholders and those who might be affected by a policy. This establishes a public record for consideration by government. A Minister or the Cabinet has the right to deviate from these publicly developed policy recommendations as our democratically elected representatives, but it increases the accountability and transparency of the political decision making regarding policy development, thus improving the likelihood of an evidence-based rather than purely political outcome. History has shown that transparency in decision making tends to improve outcomes as it aligns the motivations of those involved to pursue what they can defend publicly. Currently the lack of transparency at the political end of policy decision making has led to a number of examples where policy makers are asked to rationalise policy decisions rather than investigate the best possible policy approach (Howard, 2005). Within the public service there is a joke about developing policy-based evidence rather than the generally desired public service approach of developing evidence-based policy.

Although there are clearly issues with any policy cycle model in practise due to the myriad factors involved and the at times quite complex landscape of influences, by constantly referencing throughout their book the importance of “good process” to “help create better policy” (Bridgman & Davis, 2012), they both imply their model is a “good process” and subtly encourage a check-box style, formally structured and iterative approach to policy development. The policy cycle in practice becomes impractical and inappropriate for much policy development (Everett, 2003). Essentially, it gives new and inexperienced policy makers a false sense of confidence in a model put forward as descriptive which is at best just a useful point of reference. In a book review of the 5th edition of the Handbook, Kevin Rozzoli supports this by criticising the policy cycle model as being too generic and academic rather than practical, and compares it to the relatively pragmatic policy guide by Eugene Bardach (2012).

Bridgman and Davis do concede that their policy cycle model is not an accurate portrayal of policy practice, calling it “an ideal type from which every reality must curve away” (Bridgman & Davis, 2012). However, they still teach it as a prescriptive and normative model from which policy developers can begin. This unfortunately provides policy developers with an imperfect model that can’t be implemented in practise and little guidance to tell when it is implemented well or how to successfully “curve away”. At best, the model establishes some useful ideas that policy makers should consider, but as a normative model, it rapidly loses traction as every implementation of the model inevitably will “curve away”.

The model also embeds in the minds of public servants some subtle assumptions about policy development that are questionable such as: the role of the public service as a source of policy; the idea that good policy will be naturally adopted; a simplistic view of implementation when that is arguably the most tricky aspect of policy-making; a top down approach to policy that doesn’t explicitly engage or value input from administrators, implementers or stakeholders throughout the entire process; and very little assistance including no framework in the model for the process of healthy termination or finalisation of policies. Bridgman and Davis effectively promote the virtues of a centralised policy approach whereby the public service controls the process, inputs and outputs of public policy development. However, this perspective is somewhat self serving according to Colebatch, as it supports a central agency agenda approach. The model reinforces a perspective that policy makers control the process and consult where necessary as opposed to being just part of a necessarily diverse ecosystem where they must engage with experts, implementers, the political agenda, the general public and more to create robust policy positions that might be adopted and successfully implemented. The model and handbook as a whole reinforce the somewhat dated and Machiavellian idea of policy making as a standalone profession, with policy makers the trusted source of policies. Although Bridgman and Davis emphasise that consultation should happen throughout the process, modern policy development requires ongoing input and indeed co-design from independent experts, policy implementers and those affected by the policy. This is implied but the model offers no pragmatic way to do policy engagement in this way. Without these three perspectives built into any policy proposal, the outcomes are unlikely to be informed, pragmatic, measurable, implementable or easily accepted by the target communities.

The final problem with the Bridgman and Davis public policy development model is that by focusing so completely on the policy development process and not looking at implementation nor in considering the engagement of policy implementers in the policy development process, the policy is unlikely to be pragmatic or take implementation opportunities and issues into account. Basically, the policy cycle model encourages policy makers to focus on a policy itself, iterative and cyclic though it may be, as an outcome rather than practical outcomes that support the policy goals. The means is mistaken for the ends. This approach artificially delineates policy development from implementation and the motivations of those involved in each are not necessarily aligned.

The context of the model in the handbook is also somewhat misleading which affects the accuracy and relevance of the model. The book over simplifies the roles of various actors in policy development, placing policy responsibility clearly in the domain of Cabinet, Ministers, the Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet and senior departmental officers (Bridgman and Davis, 2012 Figure 2.1). Arguably, this conflicts with the supposed point of the book to support even quite junior or inexperienced public servants throughout a government administration to develop policy. It does not match reality in practise thus confusing students at best or establishing misplaced confidence in outcomes derived from policies developed according to the Handbook at worst.

spheres-of-government

An alternative model

Part of the reason the Bridgman and Davis policy cycle model has had such traction is because it was created in the absence of much in the way of pragmatic advice to policy makers and thus has been useful at filling a need, regardless as to how effective is has been in doing so. The authors have however, not significantly revisited the model since it was developed in 1998. This would be quite useful given new technologies have established both new mechanisms for public engagement and new public expectations to co-develop or at least have a say about the policies that shape their lives.

From my own experience, policy entrepreneurship in modern Australia requires a highly pragmatic approach that takes into account the various new technologies, influences, motivations, agendas, competing interests, external factors and policy actors involved. This means researching in the first instance the landscape and then shaping the policy development process accordingly to maximise the quality and potential adoptability of the policy position developed. As a bit of a thought experiment, below is my attempt at a more usefully descriptive and thus potentially more useful prescriptive policy model. I have included the main aspects involved in policy development, but have included a number of additional factors that might be useful to policy makers and policy entrepreneurs looking to successfully develop and implement new and iterative policies.

Policy-model

It is also important to identify the inherent motivations of the various actors involved in the pursuit, development of and implementation of a policy. In this way it is possible to align motivations with policy goals or vice versa to get the best and most sustainable policy outcomes. Where these motivations conflict or leave gaps in achieving the policy goals, it is unlikely a policy will be successfully implemented or sustainable in the medium to long term. This process of proactively identifying motivations and effectively dealing with them is missing from the policy cycle model.

Conclusion

The Bridgman and Davis policy cycle model is demonstrably inaccurate and yet is held up by its authors as a reasonable descriptive and prescriptive normative approach to policy development. Evidence is lacking for both the model accuracy and any tangible benefits in applying the model to a policy development process and research into policy development across the public service continually deviates from and often directly contradicts the model. Although Bridgman and Davis concede policy development in practise will deviate from their model, there is very little useful guidance as to how to implement or deviate from the model effectively. The model is also inaccurate in that is overly simplifies policy development, leaving policy practitioners to learn for themselves about external factors, the various policy actors involved throughout the process, the changing nature of public and political expectations and myriad other realities that affect modern policy development and implementation in the Australian public service.

Regardless of the policy cycle model inaccuracy, it has existed and been taught for nearly sixteen years. It has shaped the perspectives and processes of countless public servants and thus is relevant in the Australian public service in so far as it has been used as a normative model or starting point for countless policy developments and provides a common understanding and lexicon for engaging with these policy makers.

The model is therefore both inaccurate and relevant to policy entrepreneurs in the Australian public service today. I believe a review and rewrite of the model would greatly improve the advice and guidance available for policy makers and policy entrepreneurs within the Australian public service and beyond.

References
(Please note, as is the usual case with academic references, most of these are not publicly freely available at all. Sorry. It is an ongoing bug bear of mine and many others).

Althaus, C, Bridgman, P and Davis, G. 2012, The Australian Policy Handbook. Sydney, Allen and Unwin, 5th ed.

Bridgman, P and Davis, G. 2004, The Australian Policy Handbook. Sydney, Allen and Unwin, 3rd ed.

Bardach, E. 2012, A practical guide for policy analysis: the eightfold path to more effective problem solving, 4th Edition. New York. Chatham House Publishers.

Everett, S. 2003, The Policy Cycle: Democratic Process or Rational Paradigm Revisited?, The Australian Journal of Public Administration, 62(2) 65-70

Howard, C. 2005, The Policy Cycle: a Model of Post-Machiavellian Policy Making?, The Australian Journal of Public Administration, Vol. 64, No. 3, pp3-13.

Rozzoli, K. 2013, Book Review of The Australian Policy Handbook: Fifth Edition., Australasian Parliamentary Review, Autumn 2013, Vol 28, No. 1.

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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.

Categories
Aus Community gov20 Government Tech

OKFestival 2012: Open Data, Open Gov & Open Science in Helsinki

A couple of weeks ago I went to Helsinki, Finland to attend OKFestival 2012. It was a suggestion from someone two months ago that planted the seed to go, and I felt it would be really useful. So I saved my pennies and booked the tickets. It was an incredible trip with some incredible learnings.

Check out my “storify” stories which collate my experiences from the two days from my live Tweeting.

Rosling Hubbard Pollock & WaughHanging out with Hans Rosling, Rufus Pollock and Dr Tim Hubbard 🙂

Basically I’ve been working on open government and open data policy and projects for a while now and I realised I had a good opportunity to connect with practitioners and policy makers around the world. I really wanted to pick the brains of these people and also share what is happening locally to share, and to get some context on how we are going in a global context.

OKFestival name badgeI found many surprising things, not least of all that we are actually comparatively quite well in Australia when you look around the world. Obviously we have a lot to learn and do but we are lucky in many respects, such as we have a relatively open democracy already. For instance, Hansard for Federal and State parliamentary reporting is far from perfect but many countries have abysmal parliamentary openness and transparency. It was quite a shock to realise how little the accountability some jurisdictions operate under. More on that later.

It was also very interesting to hear from over 20 countries on their open data initiatives, to attend technical sessions on publishing data, to hear about the European Commission investment in open data (substantial!), and to talk to people from over 15 countries involved in “apps contests” and other hackfests. There was a lot of interest in our GovHack model so there might be some grounds for collaboration there too.

Statue in Helsinki with birdsI should also note that upon careful consideration, I thought it might be useful to bootstrap an OKFN Au local chapter in order to pull together all the open knowledge communities across Australia. Some network mechanism is needed as we have growing communities that are completely disconnected from one another. We could all benefit from some cross-disciplinary community development that includes cross promotion, discussions, aggregated events and news, tools for collaboration, support mechanisms (financial, insurance, legal, etc) and perhaps some events that bring us all together for mutual benefit.

So, this is my mother-of-all-posts report from the week. I will be blogging on some of the thoughts that have coalesced as a result later, but check out some of my highlights from the week below along with some really useful links. I’m also going to be working with the open government community people at OKFN to do an expanded open data census that looks at specific details of open data initiatives around the world to identify some good practice, policy commonalities and general information for people trying to do open data in government.

Open Government

The Open Government Partnership

Hanging out with Richard Akerman from Canada (@scilib)
Hanging out with Richard Akerman from Canada (@scilib)

The Open Government Partnership was a key theme for the conference, with over 55 countries now signed up in its first year. Signing up is not only a statement of commitment to this area, but countries have a series of targets on openness and transparency to meet. Apparently OGP has been slower to take off in Asia and Oceania, with only a few countries in this region getting involved to date.

Australia is unfortunately not yet signed up, and I hope that is rectified soon so Australia can more legitimately take our place in this space as something of an emerging leader. I had a lot of people interested in what Australia is doing at the conference from jurisdictions all around the world, and yet whenever we got to OGP discussions, there was not official Australian voice or commitment, which was disappointing. I hope this can be rectified soon, especially as the OGP commitments are already in line with so many existing policies in Australia.

Check out the infographic on the first year of progress of the OGP, and the draft strategic plan which is currently open for public comment.

There were several sessions on the OGP talking about standards, implementation challenges, and many representatives from supporting organisations like the World Bank who are investing in open government initiatives around the world.

Declaration of Parliamentary Openness

Afternoon tea with @anked & @kate_Braybrooke
Afternoon tea with @anked & @kat_Braybrooke

The Declaration of Parliamentary Openness was launched quite recently as an outcome of a global meeting of parliamentary monitoring organisations (PMOs). It is quite an interesting document and again, possibly something Australia should consider signing up to.

NSW Member of Parliament the Hon. Penny Sharpe did a great speech on the Declaration of Parliamentary Openness for International Day of Democracy (September 15th) which happened to be whilst I was in Helsinki. Several people there were very excited about the speech and I was quite honoured to be cited in it 🙂 Nice work Penny!

Check out some of the work from open parliaments around the world.

Open Data around the world

Gorgeous model in the basement of the uni
Gorgeous model in the basement of the uni

I managed to have a long sit down with the technical lead on data.gov.uk which was fantastic! It was great to get an idea of the model they use for publishing, the development work they have done, what resources they have an more.

My notes on the data.gov.uk discussion, with permission from their technical lead:

  • Human resources for data.gov.uk – 3  full time resources only
  • Uses CKAN – very happy with it, especially as they can easily develop additional functionality they need
  • Every department and local authority has at least one data champion that does data publishing as part of their normal job, ~765 publishers
  • Total cost of data.gov.uk only about 460k pound per year. 40k pound hosting and staff = most of the rest
  • Primarily focused on publishing data in the best way possible. Not focused on datavis, but considering looking at drupal front end with ckan backend
  • Departments are entirely responsibility for publishing their data. The full time staff look after the platform, do development where necessary (have created several plugins specific to their needs and open sourced them), provide technical support to publishers, but onus is on publishers
  • data.gov.uk folk have built functionality to handle the structure of government, creating lists of “Publishers” which are individual agencies (etc), users have a list of what Publishers they have access to publish to. You can have hierarchies of Publishers to reflect interrelationships between Publishers
  • An account API which could be the corporate API. Only publishers get API keys
  • No token required for apps
  • Antonio gave us a demonstration of uploading datasets, uploading had an option to choose whether a dataset is part of a time set
  • All datasets are appended, content is not changed at all, “if you get into data changing you are dead”
  • 5 star rating is helping improve quality of data publishing
  • With a multiple data file time series, the API interrogates the entire set
  • Contact details are available by dataset
  • data.gov.uk do thematic theming, they have over 8000 tags in the system atm, and they created 6 themes: health, environment, education, finance (other things apart from spending), society, defence, transportation, spending data (where they spend money), government
  • Automatic updates for some files via JSON but largely manual. Publishers felt more comfortable with manual publishing than aautomation for perceived control
  • Tend to point to WMS servers for spatial data rather than host directly
  • UK folk suggest a geoserver to host geospatial data and use open data platform to point to data rather than host it directly. A metadata harvester gets data from spatial sets and points to data. Needed to comply with the INSPIRE directive
  • They don’t apply 5 star to mapped data (or other purely linked information) as it doesn’t exactly map to downloadable data star rating
  • You can search on geospatial datasets by postcode or by drawing an area
  • Found that within a minute and 15 seconds (the record) a user could go from not having used the site before to publishing data, very low transition from newbie to publisher which was important
  • All statistics are automated which is due to being within the one dept and they are motivated to automated
  • INSPIRE (Infrastructure for Spatial Information in the European Community) Directive was a major driver, as was “digital by default”
  • They generate monthly reports that counts the openness (stars) of data, the amount per Publisher, publishers with broken links, datasets with broken links. Helps publishers keep their data up to date
  • data.gov.uk is building a dashboard to report by the hierarchy of government
  • Public Roles and Salaries linked data tool – http://data.gov.uk/organogram/cabinet-office
  • Blog post about plugins data.gov.uk have built, all freely available on github – http://data.gov.uk/blog/the-code-behind-datagovuk
  • Indemnification from the Crown so public servants not at personal legal risk
  • Started with the knowledge management people, then expanded. Basically all parts of the public service were told that this is what they must do, so they did it
  • data.gov.uk is hosted by the government, Ubuntu servers
  • data.gov.uk – metadata, almost a petabyte of data now
  • US is running three open data platforms, including Socrata, CKAN and another bespoke one
  • No inferred metadata – up to data publishers to provide metadata
  • Real time data – can deal with real time, new functionality being also built
  • The value of cloud service to scale with API requirements

For some technical details and the code behind data.gov.uk, check out http://data.gov.uk/blog/the-code-behind-datagovuk

Thanks Toni for your time!

Below are my live tweets on the open data country updates – each person had about 5 minutes to wrap up their country. I’ve put them in alphabetical order and the results were a fascinating snapshot. I wish I’d had more time to talk to each and every contributor:

  • Argentina – created Ministry of Modernisation inc Buenos Aires Data, 3 hackathons, datavis, app comp, digital city event coming
  • Australia – @piawaugh giving Australia report http://twitpic.com/avwd85
  • Australia – What’s going on in#opendata in #australia ? Psi needs to be cc by default. http://instagr.am/p/Ptj4FUodS9/ by Lucy Chambers
  • Australia – Not OGP members, national picture mixed, neat local efforts #okfest http://pic.twitter.com/l9u1JK1l by Tariq Khokar
  • Belgium – some progress, inconsistent across region. Estonia: need to transform data that is published to use as hard atm.
  • Brasil – have also done information asset catalogue to help facilitate future opendata.
  • Brasil – new law created to get important datasets published, also have proactive publishing of source code. Cost seen as blocker
  • Canada – over 12k datasets this year. Next gen platform deployed next year. Toronto building a city that thinks like the web 🙂
  • Canada – lots of municipal level work, national level is participant in OGP with three pillars of opendata openinfo & opendialogue
  • Chile – regulation around #opendata created but not implemented yet.
  • Czech – working on apps&services based on opendata, OKFN local chapter, data catalogue & opendata.cz, 1st gov data blog. No money
  • France – France presentation a reminder that open standards can actually be a blocker to first steps in opening data. #okfest
  • France – talk from NosDeputes.fr, lots of cities putting data up, national now commit to open licence, formats an issue/blocker
  • Germany case study of getting gov to open up some data, but really just getting stated.
  • Ireland – new real time passenger info API coming this year, need national portal, still low priority for many but relatively cheap
  • Ireland – 8-9 public bodies in Dublin regional opendata portal. Interested in biz models, datavis, 40% participants entrepreneurs
  • Israel – black whole of legislation, printing protocols were hid in boxes. Volunteers went in to scan and digitise. Now gov opened
  • Italy – National data portal, people need gov to open data, 3000 datasets liberati 🙂 increase in data quality. Mostly in north
  • Kenya – had one year birthday for Kenya opendata portal, focus on open standards, lots happening. No FOI leg yet, community devel
  • Netherlands – parliamentary data opened, 1st budget open data tmrw, issues: budget cuts hard, slow grow, gov benefit realisation
  • Netherlands – launched open data portal, gov stopped charging for geospatial data, $4m spent to free up satellite images…
  • Nigeria – update data hard to get, oil companies & gov corruption high, have digitised & visualised budget -> public engagement
  • Open Corporates – has info on 44,470,772 companies in the world. Open database of the corporate world. Interesting. Launched API
  • Slovakia – bad news is a lot of new laws but the working group works are slow and projects at risk.
  • Slovakia – launched open data portal, has preliminary support, worried about new gov not supporting but did, slow but building up
  • South Africa – not so much, Kenya is ahead of us Gov have removed new order mining rights info from website & water quality data
  • South Africa – info commissioner an important part to getting more transparency
  • South Africa – 1st hackathon in Aug 2012, secrecy bill attempting to shut down access to data, civil society active, OGP work too
  • Spain – lot of open data portals (~20), diverse, some good, some not. National portal is good but not much data. Big community tho
  • UK – 8661 datasets on new site, good stats, worked with openspending ppl to do reporting & better tools. Increase in public trust
  • Uruguay – Fascinating, gov working on data but dropping ball on other opengov #okfest
  • US – several initiatives out of date and not detailed enough
  • US – lots of stuff proposed, data laws, most of the work is overshadowed by Presidential election, OGP commitments being worked on.

Open Data Census – expand to capture information about individual initiatives?

OKFN have done a great job trying to get a useful comparative analysis of open data in countries around the world. I suggested it might be worthwhile to consider individual initiatives to get some understanding of exactly what is being done around the world, find commonalities and get some ideas around good practice in this space, especially as it is such a new area for so many people.

I put up some draft questions for the next Open Data Census and it’d be great to get feedback.

Outstanding talks I heard

There were many, many, outstanding talks at OKFestival. I’ll just briefly wrap up a few outstanding ones that I really enjoyed 🙂

Dr. Nagy-Rothengass from the European Commission

European Commission presentationDr Nagy-Rothengass gave a fascinating talk about the European Commission commitment to Open Data. They have committed substantial funding for this, around 100 million Euro and their core rationale for supporting open data are as follows:EU slide on case for open data

  1. Untapped business and economic opportunities: data is the new gold; possible direct and indirect gains of 140b Euro across the EU27
  2. Better Governance and citizen empowerment: open data increases transparency, citizen participation and administrative efficiency and accountability.
  3. Addressing societal challenges: data can enhance sustainability of health care systems, essential for tackling environmental challenges.
  4. Accelerating scientific progress: e-science essential for meeting the challenges of the 21st century in scientific discovery and learning.

Hans Rosling

Hans Rosling was a brilliant keynote.

My favourite quotes from the talk:

  • If you want to communicate with people you need to learn from tabloids. They are good at connecting with people.
  • The problem is not that people don’t know anything about the world, the problem is they have a completely incorrect view. evidence & statistics show world population growing to about 10b after which it normalises.
  • The western world has a toxic combination of arrogance and ignorance. Also gender equality doesn’t just happen. It requires work.
  • D3 d3js.org as a great tool for #datavis
  • We can’t rely on the leaders to deal with the money. We need to get involved and see for ourselves.
  • Life has never been so good as today. That the world is bad today doesn’t mean it hasn’t become enormously better.
  • We need to seriously invest in renewable energies & isn’t about polar bears. We are up against something much bigger.
  • You have to demand access to the data. Countries should report & need to release big data so we can do better.
  • OECD *sell* their data! We need to have it liberated so we can understand and learn.
  • Don’t talk about what you should do, just mock up and prototype.

He went a little through his normal developing countries vs developed countries spiel which clearly demonstrates the world is a lot closer statistically than many people believe. He spoke about world population growth and showed that it is one of very few things that statisticians have been consistently correct about (with only a 6ish% deviation from projections over 50 years), and yet there is still a lot of fear and misinformation about population growth. He said based on projections and the massive slowdown of population growth, that the world population would peak at around 10 billion and then that number would largely be sustained, unless there was an enormous disaster.

He showed the importance of not dividing the world up into “developing” and “developed” and that people’s understanding of the world is typically quite out of date, based on figures and perspectives taught in school but not updated throughout adult life. This leads to a community making decisions based on outdated information which leads to bad decisions. It was humbling to see actual statistics and realise that we don’t really have embedded societal mechanisms to update what is taught at school, and how this creates a perception of other countries and cultures that may fall completely out of date within just a few years.

Personally I believe strongly that it is through global collaboration that we can leapfrog issues and many of the attendees from what are traditionally call “developing” nations had great stories to tell of citizen empowerment and leapfrogging “developed” countries.

Hans core messages so far as I understood them included the importance of open data to make good decisions, the importance of recognisiing that our understanding of the world is usually out of date, and the importance of the active engagement of civil society in international and national matters to balance out the imbalance of power.

This last point he demonstrated very effectively by showing a picture of world leaders at the Summit on Financial Markets and the World Economy, with some information about which countries were loaning/giving money to others. It was fascinating. Aid money being given from one country to a “developing” country, which was in turn was loaning $30b to the US (when George Bush was in), who was in turn supporting them to get a seat on a UN council. It goes round and round.

Hans made a strong point that people should demand the data and transparency so they can make more informed decisions as a community and not just leave things up to world leaders.

Click through on the following thumbnails to see larger versions.

Hans Rosling slideHans Rosling slideHans Rosling slideHans Rosling slideHans Rosling slideHans Rosling slideHans Rosling slideHans Rosling slide

Rufus Pollock

Rufus is the Director and co-founder of OKFN, and quite an impressive figure. He is passionate about open data and is credited by Sir Tim Berners-Lee as being behind the “Raw Data Now” agenda. Rufus gave a great opening keynote where he spoke about the importance of open data combined with analysis and action. He said we have now started to see more and more data being opened up but if we don’t combine this with good analysis and then action in response to the analysis, then we will not see the benefits of open data.

His speech was largely a spoken version of his blog post called Managing Expectations II: Open Data, Technology and Government 2.0 – What Should We, And Should We Not Expect so I recommend you check it out 🙂

Diagram from Rufus Pollock on a theory of change
Diagram from Rufus Pollock on a theory of change

My contributions to OKFestival

Just a couple of notes for people I met there on my contributions.

I hosted a panel on open government, I contributed to several forums and I spoke on the closing panel with Philip Thigo (Program Associate at SODNET & Co-Founder of INFONET, Nairobi, Kenya) & Antti Poikola (OKF Finland Incubating Chapter, Helsinki) which gave me a good opportunity to further discuss the role of the public service in open government. This was received really well and I have a load of public service colleagues now from all around the world in this space.

On a panel about open data and culture at OKFest 2012 with Philip Thigo, Program Associate at SODNET & Co-Founder of INFONET, Nairobi, Kenya & Antti Poikola, OKF Finland Incubating Chapter, Helsinki. Photo from http://www.flickr.com/photos/tuija/8008433837/
On a panel about open data and culture at OKFest 2012 with Philip Thigo, Program Associate at SODNET & Co-Founder of INFONET, Nairobi, Kenya & Antti Poikola, OKF Finland Incubating Chapter, Helsinki. Photo from http://www.flickr.com/photos/tuija/8008433837/

I spoke a little bit about public engagement on public policy and mentioned the Public Sphere methodology that I developed with Senator Kate Lundy. The most recent consultation was one on Digital Culture which was a major contribution to the impending National Cultural Policy. A lot of people asked about analysis, so I spoke a little about the importance for both data analysis and “network” analysis of a consultation to ensure the outcomes have the appropriate context. See the Analysing the community of a public sphere blog post on Senator Lundy’s site.

I also mentioned my Distributed Democracy idea which a few people liked 🙂

Other links of possible interest:

GovHack and App4Country discussion

I was involved in a wonderful discussion with people from over 17 countries who do “apps” competitions and hackfests. It was great to hear about their initiatives and to share the lessons learnt from GovHack. Many of them expressed a lot of interest in our model which is a little broader than the “Apps4Country” model which has been quite popular in Europe. Most of them had the same problems with sustainability, longevity of outcomes from the hackfests, getting the government actively engaged. It was fascinating.

There are some good notes from the global hackfest/apps events collated here and there is a global mailing list (not very active atm) at http://lists.okfn.org/mailman/listinfo/appsforx.

The notes I made for my presentation about GovHack:

  • Narrative, design *and* hacks
  • Not focused on apps, but rather hacks (apps, mashups & datavis) – often applications emerge but “apps development” creates confusion with mobile vs web vs devel vs datavis
  • GovHack was part of a trilogy of events – GovCamp to set the narrative and vision, GovUX/Jam to apply design thinking to service delivery challenges in the public service, GovHack for open hacking and to make some service delivey design outcomes real
  • Open Government, Science & Digital Humanities – to add Data Journalism
    – Amazing how much of an impact it made, has really fired the imagination of the public and sector.
  • Enormous enthusiasm from the gov involved, 7 departments and agencies from federal and state governments were deeply engaged.
  • People flew from all over Australia to the two locations that we were simultaneously running the hackfest to participate.
  • Mentors from data owners and technologists to support teams along with sessions.
  • Made the documentation and presentation of the hack part of the judging criteria, which compelled teams to nicely capture content about their hacks which meant a good archive of the event.

Motivations:

  • Bring community together
  • Demonstrate value of open data
  • Raise the bar for the narrative in Aus, focus efforts on constructive efforts
  • Open the data, give depts buy in, connect their tech with community and leaders with success
  • Create new ways to do service delivery that can be integrated into gov, fundamentally disrupt gov expectations around “innovation”
  • Volunteer run which gave it extra credibility, buy in, and public engagement
  • A lot of bad expectations of “apps competitions” because of events that have done it badly, in Aus and internationally
  • Open Sourced hacks for people/companies/students/gov to build upon

Lessons learnt:

  • Hackers are motivated so long as you create some importance, and engage in conversation to manage tone and deal constructively with trolls
  • Prize money is helpful, but need to be careful to ensure good community, tone, “spirit of govhack” award
  • Scaling to go national – hackfest for two days, 3 days to vote, awards ceremony, followup 6 months later.
  • More funding would be useful
  • Ensure non tech elements encouraged, some great non “app” outcomes, eg the jewellery hack
  • Engage with the startup and VC sector, open sourcing outcomes means govhack can be yearly incubator for spin offs as well as input to gov. Startups love it as it is the best form of publicity
  • Non geeky hacks are the most reportable – History in ACTION
  • Technologists have a lot to contribute to policy, and there is a lot of work now to bring these groups together. Data visualisation and other uses of data can massively contribute to policy development and better policy outcomes.
  • Ongoing community engagement could be achieved through launching OKFN Au chapter to bring together communities across the gov, data journalists, hacker/geek communities and academia/research.

Interesting thoughts from “apps” conversation:

  • Need to strongly socialise – Finland
  • Apps for Europe, Spain, lessons from @aabella: 1) Civil society not politicians. Pollies have a role but it needs to be civil society driven. 2) Need to target general population not just tech community, get broader community involved.

Some additional links collected from the week of interest

Some random Open Science links sent:

Thanks

For the first time I tried couch surfing on this trip and stayed with a lovely Helsinki resident called Tarmo. A huge thanks to Tarmo for having me for the week, it was great to meet and I have to say, the couchsurfing culture is really friendly and lovely 🙂

Also, a huge thanks to Rufus for encouraging me to come, to Daniel Dietrich for his dedication to the open government space, and all the lovely people I met. I look forward to next year 🙂

Categories
gov20 Government

Public engagement: more customer service than comms

I’ve been involved in online communities for many years. I’ve seen and been in projects that span every possible traditional barrier to collaboration (location, culture, language, politics, religion, gender, etc, etc). This experience combined with my time in government has given me some useful insights about the key elements that make for a constructive online community.

What I came to learn was the art and craft of community development and management. This skill is common in the technology world, particularly in large successful open source projects where projects either evolve to have good social infrastructure or they fail. There are of course a few exceptions to the rule where bad behaviour is part of the culture of a project, but by and large, a project that is socially inclusive and that empowers individuals to contribute meaningfully will do better than one that is not.

It turns out these skills are not as widespread as I expected. This is problematic as we are now seeing a horde of “social media experts” who often give shallow and unsustainable advice to government and companies alike, advice that is not rooted in the principles of community engagement.

The fact is that social media tools are part of a broader story. A story that sees “traditional” communications turned upside down. The skills to best navigate this space and have a meaningful outcome are not based in the outdated premise that a media office is the single source of communications due to the media being the primary mechanism to get information out to the general public. There will continue to be, I believe, a part for the media to play (we could all use professional analysis and unbiased news coverage, please). However, as governments in particular, we will have a far more meaningful and mutually beneficial relationship with citizens where we genuinely and directly engage with them on matters of policy, service delivery, democratic participation and ways that government can facilitate public and private innovation.

You might be lucky and have some media people who have adapted well to the new world order, but any social media strategy limited to the media office will have limitations in delivery that starts to chafe after a while.

It is when you get your customer service and policy people engaged online that you will start to see genuine engagement, genuine community building and the possibility to leverage crowdsourcing. It is when you start to get people skilled in community engagement involved to work alongside your media people and in collaboration with the broader organisation that you will be able to best identify sustainable and constructive ways your organisation can apply social media, or indeed, whatever comes next.

Below are some vital skills I would recommend you identify, hire or upskill in your organisation. Outsourcing can be useful but ideally, to do this stuff well, you need the skills within your organisation. Your own people who know the domain space and can engage with imprimatur on behalf of your organisation.

I’ll continue to build this post up as I have time, and would love your feedback 🙂

Herding Cats

In my time in online communities I came to understand the subtleties in what we in the geek world refer to as “herding cats”. That is, working with a large number of individuals who have each their own itch to scratch, skills, interests and indeed, vices. Individuals who have a lot to contribute and are motivated for myriad reasons to get involved.

I learnt how to get the best out of people by creating a compelling narrative, having a meaningful goal, uniting people over what we have in common rather than squabbling over what is different.

Herding cats is about genuinely wanting people to get involved, recognising you can’t “control” the conversation or outcomes, but you can encourage a constructive dialogue. Herding cats ends up being about leadership, building respect, being an active part of a live conversation, setting and encouraging a constructive tone, managing community expectations and being a constant presence that people can turn to and rely upon. Cat herding is about building community.

Finally, herding cats is about managing trolls in a constructive way. Sometimes trolls are just passionate people who have been burnt and feel frustrated. They can sometimes become your greatest contributors because they often care about the topic. If you always engage with trolls in a helpful and constructive way, you won’t miss the opportunities to connect with those who genuinely have something meaningful to contribute.

Community and Topic Research

You need to know the communities of interest. The thought leaders, where they are having their discussions, what one-to-many points (technical, social, events) can you tap into to encourage participation and to get your finger on the pulse of what the community really thinks. Community research is about knowing a little about the history and context of the communities involved, about the right (and wrong) language, about if and how they have engaged before and getting the information you need to build a community of interest.

Topic research means your community engagement person needs to know enough about the domain area to be able to engage intelligently with communities of interest. Your organisation is effectively represented by these people so you need them to be smart, informed, genuine, socially and emotionally intelligent, “customer service” oriented and able to say when they don’t know, but be able to follow it up.

Collaboration & Co-design

This skillset is about intuitively trying to include others in a process. Trying to connect the dots on communities, perspectives, skills and interests to draw people from industry, academia and any other relevant groups into the co-design of your project. By getting knowledgable, clever and connected people in the tent, you achieve both a better plan and a community of (possible influential) people who will hopefully want to see your initiative succeed. Co-design isn’t just about creating something and asking people’s opinion, but engaging them in the process of developing the idea in the first place.

A little thanks goes a long way. By publicly recognising the efforts of contributors you also encourage them to continue to contribute but whatever you are engaging on needs to be meaningful, and have tangible outcomes people can see and get behind.

Real outcomes of your online engagement are key in managing public expectations.

Monitoring, Analysis & Feedback Mechanisms

It is vital that you have internally the skills to monitor what is happening online, analyse both the content generated and the context around the content created (the community, individuals, location, related news, basically all the metadata that helps you understand what the data means).

By constantly monitoring and analysing, you should be able to identify iterative improvements to your online engagement strategy, your project, policy or “product”. Most people focus on one of these three (usually the latest toy with pretty but meaningless graphs spruiked by some slick salesperson), but it is by turning the data into knowledge and finally into actions or iterative improvements that you will be able to respond in a timely and appropriate manner to new opportunities and challenges.

UPDATE – quick shout out to the rather useful Online Engagement Guidance and Web 2.0 Toolkit for Australian Government Agencies. This was a funded outcome from the Gov 2.0 Taskforce.

Categories
gov20 Government

Vivek Kundra and some lessons learnt about tech in gov

Last night I heard Vivek Kundra speak about innovation, technology and Gov 2.0 at a dinner hosted by AIIA and Salesforce. It was a fascinating talk in that it exceeded my expectations significantly.

I had reasonable expectations that his experience as CIO of the US Federal Government and his insights to the US open government agenda would be interesting, but he also talked about the “epic war between the status quo and progress”, the inertia in government, the major shift in power from gov to the people, how tech in enabling a new form of democracy, the need to hire great people (and get rid of those not on board) and how issues like SOPA demonstrate that the people can overturn traditional power broker agendas through grassroots efforts.

He also spoke about the need to reform gov IT procurement practices to demand good services from the sector, to put them on notice and to engage smaller innovative players in the market. It was fascinating to see someone who was so senior in government take that strong a stance, but it makes sense. Government is the number one purchaser of tech, so how it engages the market has a profound impact. And as a huge customer, government should be able to demand the best possible service. At the same time, without great people internally who are empowered and incentivised, it’s hard to drive progress.

When asked how to actually drive tech innovation in government, policy, procurement and workforce reforms were very important, but fundamentally workforce. Vivek said that there needs to be rigour in hiring practices, a culture of getting the best people into the public service, a culture that rejects blockers and gets rid of those who don’t get on board with progress.

Some comments from Vivek that I thought useful and thought provoking (as captured by live tweeting on #gov2au from the evening):

  • The danger is to not move, to play safe. It’s vital to move and be thoughtful but bold to use the opportunity.
  • Often Gov collaboration is stalled by an us vs them attitude. This needs to be overcome.
  • It is now easier to innovate and compete due to new tech, and those that innovate dominate, as they fill the space.
  • Indian gov drove aggressive FOI changes, results of the transformation was short term pushback and issues, but longer term transparency and improvement of gov.
  • NBN is an enormous and exciting opportunity for Australia and for open government and Australia can play a leadership role.

I have to say, it was very interesting and stimulating. It kicked off some great discussions in the group too.

I have seen a few people respond to the Vivek coverage quite negatively. There is, of course, a lot of hype and fluff out there around Gov 2.0 and “cloud”, but it doesn’t mean you don’t listen critically, research what people say and come to your own conclusions. I am constantly surprised by people who insist on loudly voicing blatant cynicism, pessimism and general negativity, seemingly oblivious to the fact that this establishes a narrative that undermines the (often) valid and good points they are trying to make, whilst making it harder for other people to get actually get things done.

I would like to put out there that the more leadership shown by everyone in the tech community, especially the Gov 2.0 community and the media, the better a chance we all have of achieving great things.

Be the change you want to see, and all that 🙂

I highly recommend people check out Vivek’s talk from the AIIA Summit on Cloud. It was a good example of thought leadership by a person who has actually got things done, a change agent who has made a difference. I’ve been told you should be able to watch it and all the summit talks online here tonight.

Thank you to Loretta form AIIA and Phil from Salesforce for agreeing to have Vivek speak to the Gov 2.0 community. A big thanks to Vivek too, it was great to meet you 🙂 People can follow Vivek on @vivekkundra on Twitter.

It is worth mentioning that neither the AIIA nor Salesforce asked for anything in return for doing a Gov 2.0 discussion with Vivek, Salesforce paid for the dinner after the talk, and in the interview below I spoke with Vivek off the cuff without any direction from AIIA or Salesforce.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QNMj4jd3q88[/youtube]

TRANSCRIPT

Pia: So I’m here with Vivek Kundra, he’s here in Australia touring around and talking to a lot of people and I just thought I’d take the opportunity to ask him a couple of questions for the Gov 2.0 community peeps out there, around Australia.

So, hi, welcome to Australia.

Vivek: Thanks for chatting with me, I appreciate it.

Pia: Yeah, that’s cool. Can you just give us a bit of an overview about your ideas on driving tech innovation in government. What you see to be the core things you need to do?

Vivek: Well obviously it always starts with the people and one of the most important things that needs to happen in government, around the world, is they need to be able to hire the right kind of people to drive innovation and be change agents. You can’t legislate and you can’t essentially mandate innovation itself so it starts with that.

Secondly I think you need need bold leadership. If you look at what President Obama did, he made technology a central part of how his administration was going to achieve some of the policy objectives that he had set out.

And the third, you need to be able to distrupt the status quo by making sure that you have a culture that celebrates failure. That doesn’t actually go out there and punish those that are at the bleeding edge.

Pia: And, I mean, if you’ve got that leadership  at the top level and you’ve got your, you’ll always have your enthusiastic geeks at the grassroots level, how do you drive that change in that rather large middle level?

Vivek: I should think it’s easier if you have a number of people on the front lines. The geeks kinda banding together trying to find a new way. But you’ve got to be able to make sure is that the middle management, unfortunately a lot of times you have people who are incentivised by the number of dollars that they manage and the number of years they’ve been in the job and that’s where from a political leadership perspective it’s very very important to make sure that you’re reaching out and embracing those that are on the front lines that understand the issues and understand the innovation that must be driven, and frankly reward those managers that are going to support, encourage and embrace that notion and that culture and those people.

At the same time the reality is, and we don’t talk about this often, we also have to be able to make the hard choices. If there are managers or people that are getting in the way, the Dr No’s, they are basically in deleriction of their duty. And what I mean by that is that’s not what the people of a country expect of their government. They’re basically putting their personal interests over the interests of the people.

Pia: OK, and finally ‘cos we don’t have a lot of time, what are your observations and thoughts about what is happening in Australia and some of the opportunities and challenges for Australia? Seeing you’re here and seeing what’s going on.

Vivek: Well I’m actually very excited. I think it’s amazing country with an entrepreneurial culture, to the number of meetings I’ve had and meeting people like you who are doing some amazing work in the public sector, whether it’s been public participation, fundamentally rethinking what a modern democracy looks like.

I’ve also seen some of the really really bold steps that are being taken to invest in strategic infrastructure. So the National Broadband Network is one example. You look at what’s happening as far as the government’s concerned. You’re seeing some of these technologies come into the goveernment.

But the fear I have is that you want to make sure you continue on that trajectory. It’s very easy for those people in the government who want to preserve the status quo to win out. And I think there is an epic battle going on between the past and the future. And it’s really really important that, from a policy perspective, that there are appropriate incentives for those who are architecting the future, to be the ones that are driving the country.

Pia: And do you think that epic battle presents a bit of a power shift from small groups of people to the broader community to engage…

Vivek: Well absolutely, it’s clear. We see it every day, whether it’s in Australia or anywhere else in the world. Therre is this shift in power from a few government officials behind closed doors to the masses, it’s real. And technologies that didn’t exist before exist today that have made this possible in terms of the very structures that are needed.

So the ability for anyone with a front row seat to their government with a mobile device. That’s amazing! We don’t think about it, we take it for granted, but now every citizen can be a co-creator. Every citizen can be a watchdog and hold their government accountable. Every citizen can actually go out there and be part of the digital public square and that is what I think is super exciting about the time we are living in.

Pia: Yep, sure. Well thank you very much.

Vivek: Thank you.

Pia: And I look forward to next time you come to Australia.

Categories
Government

Moving on – the journey continues

Today is a complicated day. I’m both sad and excited in equal measure about what this year may hold in store.

I’m sad because this is my last day working for Senator Kate Lundy as her IT Policy Advisor and inhouse geek. Kate headhunted me almost 3 years ago at BarCamp Canberra, though we had known each other for a few years beforehand from when she was the Shadow Minister for IT. I was quite wary of going to work in a political office, but my curiosity about how the machine works combined with a desire to help make good tech policy and an immense amount of respect for Kate brought me into one of the most interesting, fun and challenging jobs I’ve ever had.

I particularly wanted to better understand the legislative and executive arms of government. How ideas turn into policy and policy into implementation. As a result, along with doing my job I’ve spent time researching the history of democracy, of Australian politics, of the ideological and historical premise of all the major Australian parties and the interaction between party politics and democracy over the years.  I’ve also spent time coming to understand some of the layout, responsibilities and challenges of a multi-tiered system of government.

I have learnt a great deal in this job about government, but also about human nature. Working in an electoral office gives one some insight to the difficulties faced by many, but also some insight to the challenge in maintaining a constructive and respectful dialogue. I think it is human nature to try to boil issues down to black and white. But we are essentially grey creatures with enormous complexity, and I think democracy is about finding ways to have a transparent, informed, respectful and constructive dialogue with all the people on complex policies and implementation, so governments can best implement the best policies for the communities they serve.

I have been lucky to work for a politician who is passionate and knowledgeable about technology and good policy. She has been a valuable teacher and mentor. I shall always be thankful for the wisdom, patience, compassion, critical thinking, strategy and policy development I have learnt in this role and from Kate. I’m sure these skills will continue to serve me well.

My work on Kate’s website, the Public Spheres, Open Government, assisting Kate in linking together different tech policies across a variety of portfolios are all things I am proud of. I also feel very lucky to have met and worked with such inspirational people from many different walks of life through this role and in Kate’s office.

Meanwhile, having developed some understanding of the legislative and executive arms of government, I realised that I wanted to have more experience in the administrative arm of government. I had done some tech work in a previous life within departments but always as the outsourced person. I knew I wanted to really get in and contribute to the public service, as well as learn more about the implementation of policy and the delivery of government services to citizens.

As such, I’m excited to say I am hopefully moving into a role in the APS in the coming weeks and I hope my efforts there will be broadly useful to others in the APS. I can’t say more at this stage as it is being finalised at the moment, but I’ll update this post in the weeks ahead with more information.

By working within the APS, I hope to get a better personal understanding of the specific challenges facing the APS with regards to technology, and hopefully assist in developing strategies to be a more agile, responsive and citizen-centric public service. I will also continue helping to move the Open Government agenda ahead both in my own time and, where appropriate, within my new role. My commitment to Open Government (and Gov 2.0) lies in my understanding that it provides a path to a public service and democracy that is most relevant to, engaged with, responsive to, representative of and accountable to its citizens.

I’ll finish by saying that after three years in her office, my respect for Kate has only grown. She is a person who has engaged fully in her role with integrity, responsibility, grace and a firm grip on her own principles. She is a politician that makes me believe politics isn’t just a dirty word and I wish we had more like her. Even in spite of the fact the last time I socialised with her, I ended up with a fractured scaphoid! I have learnt a keen respect for the torque of a 2 stroke, especially on a motocross track.

My shiny black carbon fibre cast. Shiny!My shiny black carbon fibre cast. Shiny!

So, I’m diving into the deep end and I look forward to seeing how well I swim. Wish me luck 🙂

Categories
FOSS gov20 Government

OSDC 2011 Talk – Open Government, what is it really?

Below are my notes from the talk I gave at OSDC (Open Source Developers Conference) 2011 on open government, where I tried to go into some of the practicalities of open government implementation and projects. I had a great response from the packed room, so thanks everyone for attending (and for encouraging me to blog <hide>) 🙂

The changing relationship between citizens and government

Most citizens have a very limited relationship to government. We tend to see government as an amorphous body that removes our garbage, provides our hospital and local school, and makes us pay taxes. Politicians tend to get a pretty bad rap, and are assumed to be simultaneously stupid and extremely strategic.

But “government” in Australia is a large and complex entity run by a democratic Parliament, this makes it a tool of the people, an entity accountable to its citizens.

The proliferation of and now mainstream usage of the Internet, brings citizens closer to governments than ever. It also makes governments more accountable and transparent (whether intentionally or not). So the government is now more a tool of the citizen, and as such we need, as citizens, to engage with governments.

As citizens we are more empowered than ever. We can research, make public comment, self-organise into clusters of interest and advocacy, cross check facts, hold people to their word, develop new ways to do things and much more. The line has blurred between governments and citizens. Indeed, we are starting to even properly accept the idea that people who work in government are, themselves, citizens.

Citizens have much to contribute to government policy, implementation and vision, and governments are just starting to understand and engage with that opportunity.

Gov 2.0 is about using the new technologies at our disposal, primarily the Internet, to co-design the next era of democracy in collaboration with citizens. It is about a more transparent, accountable, engaged, participatory and responsive government approach to serving the needs of citizens.

Open Government and Gov 2.0 are often used interchangeably, but “open government” has been used for many years, usually to relate to things like Freedom of Information laws and transparency in legislative processes, whereas Gov 2.0 is more specifically looking at how we can use modern technologies and communications to make government more open, engaged with, relevant to and ultimately co-created with citizens.

“There’s a clear vision from the top, not only in the US and the UK, but in many other countries, that now is the time for government to reinvent itself, to take the old idea of government “for the people, by the people, and of the people” to a new level.” — Tim O’Reilly

In Australia we have a strong, highly skilled and completely awesome Gov 2.0 community. These are people who work in, for or with government to implement Gov 2.0. This community has people who are into software/web development, user experience, accessibility, open data, mobile development, public engagement and much more.

It is a community driven by the ideals of open government, and a really inspiring and exciting community to be involved in. I highly recommend to any of you interested in following or getting involved in Gov 2.0 to check out the following:

  • The Gov 2.0 Google Group mailing list – https://groups.google.com/group/gov20canberra?hl=en
  • GovCamp’s – a great opportunity for Gov 2.0 practitioners to get together, share knowledge and find ways to collaborate. They are starting to run all around Australia after I ran the first one in October. The next one is this weekend in Sydney (BarCampNSW)
  • Follow the #gov2au hashtag on Twitter, and some notable Twitter users in this space are @CraigThomler, @trib, @chieftech, @davidjeade, @gov2qld, @sherro58 & @lisa_cornish from AGIMO, @FCTweedie & @OAICgov from OAIC, and many more including me @piawaugh :). I’ve got a far more complete Gov 2.0 list on Twitter that I’m continually adding to that may be useful at http://twitter.com/#!/list/piawaugh/gov-2-0
  • There is a Gov 2.0 Ning group and OzLoop Ning. Craig Thomler also runs a good blog worth subscribing to. Craig and Kate Carruthers put together a website on Gov 2.0 and the Centre for Policy Development did a great collection of essays by people in the community on Gov 2.0 in 2009 which is available online.

What is Gov 2.0

Most elements of what we call Gov 2.0 can be boiled down to three concepts:

  1. Open Data
  2. Citizen Centric Services
  3. Public Engagement

Open Data

Open data is about taking the vast majority of government datasets and information which doesn’t have privacy or security issues, and putting it all online in the most useful way possible. In a practical sense, for data to be most useful (both to the public but equally important for other parts of governments to be able to leverage the data), it needs to have permissive copyright (such as Creative Commons BY), be machine readable, time stamped, subscribable, available in an openly documented format (open standard), have useful metadata and wherever possible have good geospatial information available.

This last point about geospatial information is vital for making data interactive and personalised to a citizen’s needs, as it helps aggregate and map information relevant to where a citizen is.

Achieving open data is a difficult process. There are three key steps to take, each with its own challenges:

  1. Just get it online! This stage is where an organisation just tries to get online whatever they can. It often means the licensing is not entirely clear or permissive, the data format is whatever the organisation uses (which may or may not be useful to others), the data may be slightly out of date and it often isn’t clear who the contact for the data set is making followup hard. This stage is however, extremely important to encourage as it is where every organisation must begin and build upon. It is also important because to achieve quality open data, major changes often need to be made to systems, workflows, technologies and organisational culture. Access to imperfect data in the short term is far better than waiting for perfection.
  2. High quality data! This is the stage where issues around quality publishing of data have been teased out, and an organisation can start to publish quality data. It is hopefully the point at which the systems, culture, workflows and technologies used within the organisation all facilitates open data publishing, whilst also facilitating appropriate settings for secure data (such as sensitive privacy or security information). This stage takes a lot of work to achieve, but also means a far lower cost of publishing data, which helps amongst other things, keep the cost of FoI compliance down.
  3. Collaborative data! This final stage of open data is where an organisation can figure out ways to integrate and verify input from the public to data sets to improve them, to capture historical and cultural context and to keep information up to date. This is also a challenging step but where government departments and agencies can engage the public collaboratively, we will see better data sets and greater innovation.

There are examples of each of these stages, but it is important to remember that they are stages, not static. Some good examples of open data initiatives in Australia include:

It is also important to consider the broad ramifications of open data. One can think of many positive case studies for open data. Examples of transparency or innovation or a strong public record. But there can be unforeseen negative consequences. For example, I heard of a case where the mapping of the ocean above Australia was made public, and within a very short period of time a particular species of fish was driven almost to extinction by fishers who used the data to plan their fishing season.

This is not a reason to not pursue open data, but rather a reminder to always consider things critically and thoughtfully.

Data visualisation

Nowadays I can’t overemphasise the importance of data visualisation. As a technical person I was quite cynical in the value of data visualisation. It seemed a waste of time when you can just read the data. But using data visualisation tools effectively can create two core benefits:

  • Informed public narrative – most people are really busy. Busy with their jobs, their personal lives, their hobbies. So expecting them to take time to really understand complex issues is not only unrealistic, it is unreasonable. Presenting information visually is a great way to lower the barrier to understanding and then engaging in an informed public debate. People will understand in seconds the information from a well constructed visualisation, but to glean the same information from papers and spreadsheets takes a lot longer.
  • Policy development & load testing – interactive data visualisation tools such as SpatialKey, Tableau or one of the many great FOSS tools available create a new way to engage with and glean new knowledge from data. By being able to pull together many different data sets into a single space, one can then explore, test and experiment with policy ideas to determine the effectiveness of a policy to meet its goals.

Citizen Centric Services

Citizen centric services is about putting the user experience first to create a personalised and unique experience for citizens. It is better for citizens as it makes their experience better and more seamless, and it is better for government who can more effectively serve the needs of citizens. Citizen centric services requires good data and metadata, especially good geospatial data as location information is an extremely effective way to personalise government services, information and projects for citizens.

Constant feedback loops that engage the input and ideas from citizens are extremely important to establish effective citizen centric services, and to ensure the iterative improvements over time to keep services relevant and responsive to the changing needs of the population.

Some examples of citizen centric services include:

Public engagement

Effective, constructive and collaborative public engagement greatly improves the capacity of government to build the knowledge and experience of citizens into policy and projects. Public engagement strategies work best when they are underpinned by strong community development, a clear and collaboratively developed goal, a genuine interest in the inputs of others, and a process that is as low a barrier to entry to engage in as possible.

Basically we are moving towards an era of democratic and governmental co-design.

There are some great examples of public engagement out there, including our Public Sphere consultations, the Queensland Police use of Facebook throughout the natural disasters a year ago (which showed how social media is great for timely updates, but also for managing misinformation quickly and crowdsourcing to help most effectively deploy resources in disaster management), the Census 2011 social media strategy, the growing number of public consultations on government policy and strategy such as from the Gov 2.0 Taskforce and much more. The need for public engagement has also been pushed in several recent policy agendas. The GovHack events last year were also great as they showed how effective engagement with the general public can result in highly innovative and rapidly developed new applications and knowledge when open data is made available and when usage of that data is encouraged.

FOSS and government

FOSS has provided a natural fit for a lot of Open Government initiatives, due to the widespread use of open standards, the ability to rapidly deploy, the large developer and support communities around mature FOSS projects such as Drupal and WordPress, the competitive and thus reliably sustainable nature of commercial support around mature FOSS projects, and, most relevantly, the cross over of values and practices between Open Government and FOSS.

In January 2011 AGIMO released the Australian Government Open Source Software Policy which has three principles:

  1. Principle 1: Australian Government ICT procurement processes must actively and fairly consider all types of available software.
  2. Principle 2: Suppliers must consider all types of available software when dealing with Australian Government agencies.
  3. Principle 3: Australian Government agencies will actively participate in open source software communities and contribute back where appropriate.

The third principle in particular represents a fundamental shift in how government sees and engages with FOSS, technology and the community. It is very exciting! It clearly demonstrates the value of collaboration so prevalent in the Open Government agenda.

In July 2011, after six months consultation, AGIMO also released the Australian Government Open Source Software Guide V2, a really useful document for departments and agencies to help them comply to the policy directive where they must consider Open Source in their procurement processes.

Both the Open Source Policy and the Guide are available along with other information at http://www.finance.gov.au/e-government/infrastructure/open-source-software.html

Open Government policies

The Open Government or Gov 2.0 agenda is nicely encapsulated in the two major policy documents, Ahead of the Game and the Gov 2.0 Taskforce Report. These two reports form the blueprint of Gov 2.0 for the Australian public service.

It is also worth looking at the Office of the Information Commissioner paper Principles of Open Public Sector Information and other resources at http://www.oaic.gov.au/, the Attorney General’s Principles of IP (which explicitly encourages Creative Commons), and the various useful web policies provided by AGIMO including the Gov 2.0 Primer.

Conclusion

Open Government and Gov 2.0 both represent an ideal.

They represent a goal for us to be continually aiming for but they are not achieved with a single switch of policy. Achieving true open government is necessarily a constant and evolving challenge, and given I am here speaking at an Open Source Developer’s conference, we all understand the difference between an ideal, and striving for the ideal whilst operating within reality.

Government won’t get it exactly right all the time every time, but we are in an extremely exciting time for open culture, and with a government position in Australia that firmly supports openness through policy, in legislation and in implementation of projects, we need to continue to encourage and support progress.

When you are sitting on top of a hill, watching people walk up towards you it’s more constructive to lend them a hand than to kick them down when they are only half way up 🙂 No matter how tempting it may seem 😉

Thank you.