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.

Gov 2.0: Where to begin – Part 3 of 3

This is the final part of my Government 2.0 blog post.

Beware the hype

“Government 2.0” is a current buzz phrase, and when you hear it used, it could mean just about anything from having a Facebook account to a fully geospatial integrated citizen-centric solution for delivery of services. There is a lot of hype about, and you need to ensure when you are engaging with experts in this space that they really know what they are talking about. You also need to carefully consider new products and services in this space to ensure they meet your strategic needs. Simple and easy solutions, particularly the solutions your users can engage with and aggregate will be more used and more useful.

Cross reference advice you receive, build relationships with several people/groups/companies in this area, get your people involved in the community, and pool your resources with others in government to help you.

Finding and pooling useful resources and advice

AGIMO have a useful Web Publishing guide which is currently being updated to include useful Gov 2.0 technologies and methodologies, and they are trying to aggregate case studies in this space, so talk to them about what you are trying to achieve and to connect with other agencies in the same boat. Also find and engage directly with the community (see below).

Start a Govdex (or other collaborative) group to share experiences with other agencies, and to pool the wisdom available within agencies and externally. Start to list helpful resources, reading materials, people to talk to. It may be useful to create an advisory panel with reputable people in this space for government engagement and collaboration. This will help you have a more rounded and informed approach in creating your own Gov 2.0 strategy.

Also, keep an eye on the great work and very interesting blog of the newly announced Australian Government 2.0 Taskforce. They will also be creating a report within 6 months or so which will be very useful for government policy in this space.

Senator Lundy ran a recent “Public Sphere: Government 2.0” event which had several hundred contributors to the event, blog, Twitter-feed and live-blogging. The briefing paper is in the process of being finalising with public consultation on a wiki, and it has useful and well-considered ideas and recommendations for government from experts all around Australia and the world. All video footage of the event is publicly available.

There is a movie project called UsNow which covers this area quite well. The website says “New technologies and a closely related culture of collaboration present radical new models of social organisation. This project brings together leading practitioners and thinkers in this field and asks them to determine the opportunity for government.” It is worth watching and includes several interesting case studies.

Finally, allow your staff to engage with the Web 2.0 and Gov 2.0 community.

Engage with the community

There are some passionate individuals and communities in this space, and empowering one or a few internal champions to engage will be enormously beneficial through what is learned and then able to be integrated into your strategy. Below are a few communities I know of:

  • Twitter – check out the #publicsphere, #gov2au and #gov20 hashtags (discussions), and connect with people who are participating in the discussion. This will rapidly get you in touch with many local experts, as well as in tune with what the Twitter community interested in this space are saying.
  • Conferences – look for and attend Gov 2.0, Web 2.0 and Open Government events. There are many happening in Australia at the moment, and some significant ones also happening overseas. I won’t bother listing some here as the information will date very quickly. You’ll find they are usually announced on some of the Gov 2.0 communities below.
  • Gov 2.0 groups/lists – there are several useful ones. A few I’ve joined include the Gov 2.0 Australia mailing list, GovLoop networking group, the Gov 2.0 Ning group, and of course it is worth subscribing to and participating in the Government 2.0 Taskforce blog.

Find small wins first

There will always be small wins, and the best thing to do would be to consult with your users on what they want and their prioritisation to help you identify small and quick wins in this space. A few potential examples are below, just to get you thinking about what sort of practical things you might want to do:

  • Ensure your news and information is available by RSS or ATOM, both are formats that allow people to subscribe to and even aggregate your updates. News might include Local Council or agency updates, weather reports, press releases or speeches. Anything you want to communicate publicly.
  • Ensure geospatial data (location) is stored with your data, for instance, infrastructure projects or events have clear location information. Then expose this location data along with the normal information so both you and the general public can create user-centric maps based on your your data.
  • Iterative improvements – don’t look for a single, all-inclusive solutions, because a) great ones don’t exist, b) they rarely do any one thing particularly well and c) they will be out of date within the month and are hard to replace or append to. Look for specific functions you want, and iteratively add them as part of your backend suite, integrating them seamlessly into your front end. This way you can add and remove functions as you want them. To achieve this you need all your technology to be standards compliant both in terms of web standards, data formats, and protocols. It will give you a lot of flexibility in the long run.
  • When considering public consultations, put the consultation online on a blog post for public comment and allow people to respond to  each other. Let people know the comments will be included in the public consultation. You could also run a Public Sphere event for further public consultation.

Constantly re-evaluate

Ensure you plan into your Gov 2.0 strategy regular reassessment (perhaps quarterly or half yearly), as this area will continue to change and shift. You need to be able to adapt and engage. Your participation in the Gov 2.0 community will assist you in assessing your own progress.

The 7 lessons from Obama

Below are the “7 lessons learned from the Obama campaign” presented recently at the Frocomm Gov 2.0 conference I attended by Brian Giesen, a Senior Digital Strategist from 360° Digital Influence. I think the 7 lessons/observations are quite useful.

I’ve added my thoughts to each of his points after a dash:

  1. Own your search engine results (paid & unpaid) – you can do this by optimising your website(s) for good searchability, and if you can by spending some money for paid search results (eg – Google ads).
  2. Find an internal social media champion (with genuine passion) – then empower them. Ensure they are collaborative and consultative in their approach, and ensure you pick the right person. The young graphic designer with a cool haircut may not be the right person, you need to ask around.
  3. Create a presence off the .gov domain (eg facebook Youtube Twitter). Ensure it is well staffed and well researched – and ensure all your online presences are aggregated back on your main website, and that everything is integrated such that items published in one medium, can appear on other mediums. Eg – your blog posts can automatically be published in Twitter and on Facebook with some pretty basic tools, like Twittertools for WordPress.
  4. Listen, plan and then engage with online communities – there are loads of Web 2.0, Gov 2.0, geospatial, political and many other communities with an active presence online with whom you can communicate. You can also look at who your end users are (constituents, general public, statisticians, etc) and try to engage them online.
  5. Be fast, nimble & willing to try new things – Given the rapid pace of online communications, there is certainly some risk involved, however citizens will appreciate more transparency into your office or agency, and by being constantly open to new things, you’ll maximise the opportunities to engage and improve services-delivery.
  6. Offer ladder of engagement, so people can engage as much or as little as they like, but have options – this basically means to ensure that individuals in the public can engage in a variety of ways to facilitate their specific interest level, from simply posting a comment, right through to running events and direct consultation in major projects. This empowers people to want to engage.
  7. Find influencers and make them fans. eg, invite to the conversation, give them tools – engage with connectors, leaders and influential people in your area. If they love what you are doing, that will encourage people in their sphere of influence to check your work out.

Last word

This is a very exciting time for government and citizens. We have new opportunities to improve our democracy through the use of online technical and social methodologies. You need to ensure you approach Government 2.0 with your eyes open, and in partnership with the broader community. This will help you achieve the best outcomes for you and your users/constituents.

Good luck, have fun and thank you for helping make Australia an even better place to live, an even better democracy and a world leader in the information society!

Gov 2.0: Where to begin – Part 2 of 3

Welcome to part two my this blog post. Part one covered some basic definitions for Web 2.0, Open Government and Government 2.0. Now to our next steps.

Learn from others’ success

“That some achieve great success, is proof to all that others can achieve it as well.” Abraham Lincoln

Look at the existing successes around the world, and the broader impact of these case studies. This will help you understand some basic strategies that may suit you and some ideas of the impact that may result. Below I’ve put four sets of examples I think we can learn a lot from.

Success in the UK

In the United Kingdom there has been a lot of work done to look at “Gov 2.0” by the “Power of Information Taskforce“, which was established in 2008 based on a report completed in 2007 by Ed Mayo and Tom Steinberg called the ‘Power of Information review‘. The core aspects of the Taskforce recommendations include: helping people online where they seek help; innovate and co-create with citizens online; open up the policy dialogue online; reform geospatial data; modernise data publishing and reuse; and a modern capability.

The UK has a Minister for Digital Engagement, which has provided political leadership in this area. There are a series of Government 2.0 initiatives being undertaken under this portfolio. At this point the main initiatives appear to be around copyright reform and data accessibility, and their challenges in these areas are similar to Australia. They have gone through consultation and are now in the actual project phase of implementing digital engagement. Will Perrin (Secretary of the Power of Information Taskforce) wrote a very useful blog post about more collaborative policy development including a link to a draft white paper he is writing on the subject.

Success in the US

It is worth looking at how President Obama has used online tools. His first Memorandum in office was on this topic stating “The Memorandum calls for instilling three principles in the workings of government: Transparency – to enable greater accountability, efficiency, and economic opportunity by making government data and operations more open; Participation – to create early and effective opportunities to drive greater and more diverse expertise into government decision making; Collaboration – to generate new ideas for solving problems by fostering cooperation across government departments, across levels of government, and with the public“.

President Obama has also started a new initiative called “Open Government” to assess how to generally improve the transparency and openness of the United States Government. Also for many years in the US all non-private government data there has been released into the public domain which encourages massive public and private innovation with the data to the benefit of the economy and society. There is still a lot of work to do in the US in the rest of government and in government agencies. There is a good Gov 2.0 showcase available of US government agency case studies.

Success in Australia

There are some amazing individuals who have been pushing this barrow for years – with varying degrees of success – and have created some cutting edge Gov 2.0 initiatives.

At an agency level, there are many successes driven by passionate Web 2.0 and Gov 2.0 individuals which has been extremely beneficial to many projects and citizens. I’ll post some of these case studies soon. Unfortunately, often enough, champions of citizen-centric services and online engagement in the public service are unable to talk publicly about their successes, but that is another story. There are some useful examples of Gov 2.0 in the public sector in the recent Government 2.0 Public Sphere briefing paper which is still in draft. Hopefully the resulting list of Gov 2.0 case studies in the public sector can be published as a showcase of Australian successes.

We’ve also had a number of interesting cases in the Australian political sphere. Senator Lundy has been leading the way in online engagement with her constituents and the broader community through her website (she’s run her own website for over 13 years) and more recently her engagement on Twitter. The take-up of online tools by politicians has been slow, however this is beginning to change. Senator Lundy references some new approaches by politicians in the speech she delivered at CeBIT this year. Minister Tanner wrote an interesting book that relates nicely to this space called “Open Australia” in 1999.

You should try to connect with other people in government to share successes and learn from each other.

The long term success in the Open Source community

Finally, there are many lessons that can be learned from the Open Source community. The strategies of online engagement, public collaboration on projects, encouraging positive and constructive input, consultative decision-making and open and transparent processes have been very effectively used by the Open Source community for over 20 years. Here are a few examples:

  • Encouraging constructive public contributions – ensure there is a well-communicated tangible goal of the project to ensure everyone is heading in the right direction. Thus you can draw your community back from unconstructive behaviours. You also need to set the tone of the project. Whether it be some instructions on how you’d like them to participate or something as simple as a code of conduct, setting the tone will help keep the community constructive. Users will often self-regulate if there is clear direction on the goals and tone of the project.
  • Ensure people can easily find and then access whatever they need to contribute – the more barriers to entry (which may be anything from a non-disclosure agreement to buried information) the fewer participants you’ll get. You need great documentation for how to participate and to explain the philosophy of the project. Where possible, include people in the planning phases and decision making of your project so the process benefits from broader community input and also from people wanting to see it succeed due to the sense of personal contribution in the process.
  • Release early, release often – this idea is based on software code being released early in the development cycle, and as often as possible, as this makes it easier for other software developers to test and contribute to the project. From a Gov 2.0 perspective, this could be applied to any sort of online engagement from policy development to general communications. People would prefer to have access to the information in a way they can both access and hopefully contribute to than to wait for a potentially more perfect but slower response. The perceived perfect is the enemy of the good, particularly when it comes to establishing an open process.
  • Many eyes make all bugs shallow – basically the power of “crowdsourcing” as it is becoming known. Creating a discussion or a thing in the public eye and garnering the wisdom of the crowd by encouraging and empowering many participants.

Define your Government 2.0 success criteria

It’s important to consider early on what Government 2.0 means to you, both strategically and practically? What do you see as success criteria for a successful Gov 2.0 implementation? My big picture success criteria are around the three pillars described in the previous post, but you need to be clear on what it means to you while also being open to new ideas and potential opportunities.

Carefully evaluate your options

Ensure you know at all times what you want to achieve, the basic requirements you would like to meet, and the mandatory requirements you have to meet. You don’t want to jump into new shiny tools just to catch up. Rather you should have a well-considered Gov 2.0 strategy that includes how any new approaches fit into your workflow, how they are resourced and maintained, how they fit into your broader communication strategy, and how they best serve your users.

For instance, you need to consider how you best use existing social networking tools as part of your Gov 2.0 strategy. Twitter is great for three specific tasks: updates; for specific conversations; and for rapidly generating interest and ideas for a project or conference. It shouldn’t be used trivially however people do like to see the real person behind the Twitter account, so some personal insight is also of value. You do need to ensure you have transparency in who is actually posting.

In Senator Lundy’s office we use WordPress for the main website, which integrates with Twitter and has great social media plugins. We also use Twitter, FacebookYoutube, Vimeo and FlickR (soon to be added to the website). We are looking at some additional tools, but importantly, we are making sure everything is integrated to create a cohesive online presence. There is a lot of work in signing up and maintaining a number of online services, and dealing with them all independently of each other defeats some of the benefits.

You want to ensure that staff are able to communicate externally and have access to useful social networking sites (it helps them, helps you, and helps your users) but are also aware of what they should not discuss publicly.

Some vendors will be trying to entice you to put all your data into the “cloud”, but all of government has an obligation to ensure their data is stored within the Australian legal jurisdiction, which means offshore storage of government data is neither appropriate nor responsible. All of government is supposed to adhere to open standards for their data, and this is extremely important to ensure you can access your own data down the track, and to share data between different systems. Consider when evaluating your normal ICT systems how easy it would be to open up various processes or information which will hopefully help you avoid locking to systems that don’t facilitate your Gov 2.0 strategy.

Some ideas that are not current obligations include the consideration of how new systems will integrate with other systems, and what the exit cost of any new strategy is as part of the TCO analysis. Ensure you find expertise in this area to assist you.

Tomorrow will be the final post in this short three-part Gov 2.0 blog post including how to avoid the hype, finding useful resources and engaging with the community.

Gov 2.0: Where to begin – Part 1 of 3

Over the last few months I have met many of Australia’s leading “social media experts”, have spoken at various Government 2.0 events and have been closely watching the initiatives happening in the UK and US, both of which have some important lessons for Australia. I have also worked closely with Senator Lundy (whose vision and capability in this space is way ahead of the pack) to design and coordinate some really cutting edge Government 2.0 initiatives (including the Public Spheres). We are focusing primarily on online engagement with constituents, and citizen engagement with government processes such as policy development. All in a very hectic 2 1/2 months 🙂

If there is one thing I have learned, it is that Government 2.0 is an overused and often misunderstood term, one that many people are rushing to understand and implement. There are some great ideas out there, however you should cross-reference to ensure you get an informed view.

I thought I would write this three part blog post about Government 2.0, Web 2.0 and “Open Government” along with some suggestions for people (particularly in government) to get up to speed in this area and hopefully assist them in their first steps.

2 point what?

When I first heard the term “Government 2.0” I thought it sounded pretty silly. It was obviously riffing on “Web 2.0” (another overused term that can mean a lot of things), and a lot of the successes talked about looked like fairly straightforward uses of the Internet by politicians and government agencies. A lot of people wade into the Government 2.0 debate with talk about access to data and transparent decision making, and this starts to delve into Open Government rather than Web 2.0. So let’s start with trying to first better define Web 2.0, Open Government and then finally Government 2.0.

Web 2.0

Wikipedia defines Web 2.0 as being second generation web development and design. I think there are four main identifying features of “Web 2.0”. I say this not as a “Web 2.0” expert, but as a long time geek observing this space and working with the technologies:

  • Online and always connected – being online at all times means people can use at their convenience, data can be constantly used, collected and aggregated
  • Massive integration and aggregation – facilitates data mashups, cross-platform communications and the ability to publish once and to many places
  • Broadcast conversation – enables global “social networking”, online public community development, a shift from one2many (eg – public statements) to many2many (eg – online forums and chat), and the range of public and private conversations therein
  • Beautiful and dynamic user experience – the shift to a user-centric, dynamic, interactive and beautiful user experience is an important factor, especially as there is much more understanding now about how people use the Internet, and how this differs from other media

Open Government

In Australia we are very lucky to already have an open government. There is a lot of public engagement, consultation and information made available. Online tools and methodologies offer some new ways to improve our system, and to help get the average busy Aussie engaged. I think “Open Government” is the natural result when you have both:

  • government policy and practice that informs, empowers, involves and collaborates with citizens, and
  • a well informed and engaged public (which is essential for democracy)

We have identified three main focus areas for Open Government:

  • Open and transparent decision making – engaging citizens directly in the processes of decision making, whether that be political (eg – policy or legislative development) or bureaucratic (eg – planning a new piece of public infrastructure). This improves public trust in government as it becomes open for scrutiny and oversight.
  • Citizen-centric services – government agencies (and services) engaging with citizens based on their individual needs, which can mean leveraging information such as their location, type of help they need, perhaps even personal information. This means citizens are given the right information, from the right person, in a single place.
  • Access to government information – ensuring all government information that can be made available (excluding data with privacy, security or commercialisation implications) is available to the general public. This will encourage public and private innovation on top of government data, to the benefit of the society and economy.

Senator Lundy communicates these ideas well on her blog post “The Three Pillars of Open Government“, so I won’t go on to describe them in further detail, however the idea of Open Government has been around for a long time.

Senator Lundy is demonstrating that Government 2.0 is also about elected representatives using these new tools to directly engage with their constituents for even more informed and agile decision making.

Government 2.0

Government 2.0 is about using the new opportunities presented by Web 2.0 technical and social methodologies to achieve even more openness in government. It encapsulates next generation models for government processes including online consultation processes, realtime citizen engagement, empowerment and followup, a shift in government services delivery to be more citizen-centric, facilitating public and private innovation through open and permissive access to useful government data (such as maps, rss feeds for council news, public facilities) and much more. There are no doubt many Government 2.0 initiatives that haven’t even been imagined yet.

Pretty scary stuff for many! After all, change can imply risk. It has however become very clear that people are expecting more engagement and empowerment from government agencies and their political representatives. The changing expectations combined with the increasing need for governments to be capable of reacting rapidly and collaboratively to new issues is driving forward the need for Government 2.0.

First steps for Government 2.0

I have tried to put together some very practical first steps for government representatives and agencies who are struggling to understand this space. The first step is to gather information. Above is hopefully some useful working definitions that will help, but you should also read the draft briefing paper from Senator Lundy’s Public Sphere event on Government 2.0, which is the collation of several hundred perspectives and ideas in this space. All the videos, Twitter chatter and blog comments are linked there too.

It would also be useful to follow the progress of the newly announced Australian Government 2.0 Taskforce, and to speak to AGIMO who have a Web Publishing Guide which is being updated to assist government agencies in this area.

Tomorrow I will publish the second post in this three-part Government 2.0 blog post, and includes learning from existing success, and evaluating your options.

An amazing day involving metadata, wikis and copyright freedom!

Today was brilliant! The most fun day in my new job working for Senator Lundy! I have been a little lax in my blogging due to being so busy so I thought I’d share a (probably not typical) day in the life of a geek policy advisor 🙂

  1. Went with Kate to the “Sharing Data, Sharing Ideas” metadata conference for a couple of hours, where the people opening it spoke about the importance of metadata, and openness. I’ve been told all talk slides will be on that website after the conference and Kate will post her speech on her website probably tomorrow.
  2. Posted the draft briefing paper from the first Public Sphere topic on high speed bandwidth on the new wiki, and within 30 mins had the first contribution! I believe this is the first use of a wiki for public engagement by an Australian Parliamentarian, very exciting stuff!
  3. Met with some interesting folk to talk about virtual environments, discussed importance of open APIs and standards, and am considering eventually doing a Public Sphere in a fully virtual environment (easily months down the track!).
  4. Coordinated some material to go into the vodcasts we are doing, and helped another staffer at Kate’s office to look at how to use the website to garner online feedback on an important topic. She’ll likely be also engaging the Facebook community on the topic and it was very satisfying to have the staffer exclaim surprise and happiness that they could directly engage on the website with these newfangled tools 🙂
  5. Dropped down to the “Copyright Commons; Copyright Freedom” conference which featured amazing international speakers such as Lawrence Lessig (US) and Prodromos Tsiavos (UK, wrote a great paper called Cultivating Creative Commons: From Creative Regulation to Regulatory Commons),  and awesome copyright guru Aussies such as David Vaile, Brian Fitzgerald, Prof Graham Greenleaf, Anne Fitzgerald and Jessica Coates. Recorded an amazing audio interview between Kate and Larry Lessig, which we’ll podcast tomorrow, but I was particularly pleased with their responses to “what is the link between copyright freedom and open government”. They mostly just chatted and shared ideas, which makes it pretty cool listening (I think anyway 🙂 ). Kate gave a fantastic speech which she’ll also post tomorrow. Larry recognised me from a conference I met him at many years ago in Brazil, which was impressive (as  he was totally jet lagged that day).
  6. As part of going to the copyright conference, had my first visit to Old Parliament House, a beautiful building and definitely worth visiting.
  7. Was invited to speak at an eclectic event for geeks to share fringe geek interests and talks, and I’ll likely talk on “being a geek in Parliament House”. Will post more information once I have it.
  8. Was chatting to Liam Wyatt from Wikimedia Australia about the upcoming GLAM-WIKI seminar (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums & Wikimedia). The idea is “a two-way dialogue to determine how to use the two communities’ strengths to a mutual advantage”, should be really interesting!

So although it has been a 15 hour day (who says public servants don’t do long hours!) it has been amazing. I feel like I’m starting to get the hang of this “policy advisor” thing, and one of my main initial goals of being a conduit to the community and industry is working out nicely with the public spheres and some other projects we are working on 🙂

As David Vaile so eloquently put today, I’m as happy as a pig in mud, and energised enough to be up and blogging at 4am, time to go sleep…

High speed broadband in Australia – what do you think?

I decided that every time I’m doing something in my work for Senator Kate Lundy that I think is of interest to the FOSS community, my family, and many other readers of this blog, I’ll repost it here 🙂 I’ll tag any such posts with “katelundy” to make it easier to pick them.

So the most recent project (which I’m really excited about!) is the launch of a new initiative called “Public Spheres”. The idea is based on the definition of a Public Sphere as a space that:

“…through the vehicle of public opinion it puts the state in touch with the needs of society” [1]

Our goal is to effectively create an accessible and effective way to collate perspectives, opportunities, concerns and other feedback on topical issues of the day, and we are copying the process that was used at the recent AdTech conference. Basically you stream talks and have all feedback, questions and such happening online. This way both local and remote participants in the event can engage fully in the process.

Anyway, our first topic is around the opportunities and impact of high speed bandwidth in Australia, and already we’ve had proposed talks around Green ICT, media, delivery of government services, telecommuting, agricultural and environmental information, emergency services and more! So if you have something you’d like to talk about, check out on the website whether someone else is already covering your topic, and volunteer yourself for a 10 minute speech for the day. You can either present it in person, or pre-record it for the event.

Full details are at http://www.katelundy.com.au/category/publicsphere/

[1] Habermas, Jürgen (German(1962 – English Translation 1989), p 31. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Categoryof Bourgeois Society. Cambridge Massachusetts: The MIT Press. p. 30. ISBN 0-262-58108-6.
UPDATE: The conference that used Twitter that was mentioned to me was AdTech, not ATUG as originally posted, apologies for the confusion!

New website launched for Senator Lundy

Over the past two weeks I’ve redone and consolidated the 3 existing websites into Senator Kate Lundy’s new website. I’ve been really impressed to be reading through her historical posts, podcasts, blogs, speeches, and the efforts she’s made (often enough on her own) with technologies such as Joomla, Frontpage, Audacity, Twitter and more. We’ve already imported over 400 articles!

Anyway, the new site is up, there are still some tweaks we are doing, and there are still a few media releases we are importing (manually) from her old Frontpage website (argh!!!!) but it’d be great to get people’s perspectives and feedback.

One thing it would be good to know is what do people what to know about? How could we – through her online presence – help make Australian Government processes more transparent? What are some good examples from overseas? Links, stories and ideas welcome!

Going to work on the Hill

I am very excited to say that I am now working as a Policy Adviser for Senator Kate Lundy! This is a very different direction for me. I have worked in the ICT industry for almost 10 years, been deeply involved in FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) for nearly as long, and although I have worked with several Government agencies, I’ve never been involved in the political arena. I’ve also been a long term observer of Senator Lundy, watching her really involve herself in our industry and try to ensure there is sufficient political debate and understanding around core ICT issues.

I felt and the Senator agreed that it was important I announced this new role in my blog considering the public profile I have, and that I have always tried to be as open and transparent in my actions as I could. Senator Lundy feels that online and transparent engagement with the democractic process is an important goal, and I am now a part of that process.

On a personal level, I am extremely excited about this role. I love Parliament House, and now I am working here. I have always wanted to understand how policy and legislation comes about, and how the political process works. But I have, as have many Australians, been fundamentally disinterested because of, well, the politics 🙂 This role gives me an opportunity to really understand – and hopefully participate effectively in – the system.

This role is my new full time employment, and as such I will not be engaging in any new Waugh Partners’ or other business. Jeff will be continuing as a Waugh Partners’ consultant, focusing primarily on his new website development work.

From a community participation level, I intend on maintaining my participation in various industry and community groups, however I will not be in any leadership or advocacy roles. I have spoken to Donna Benjamin and James Purser, who are both specifically interested in creating a FOSS Government liaison  group, and if anyone else is interested in useful engagement with the Government, please speak to Donna or James.

Traditionally a person employed as a political staffer would not have any kind of “public” role. This is largely because of the challenges in ensuring a clear distinction between when a person is speaking on behalf of their employer, or themselves. Taking this into account, plus my existing online presence, we will be experimenting with me continuing to blog and twitter, and I hope to establish a good balance.

I see my new role as a way of contributing to a more robust and informed discussion within Government about ICT, skills development, online engagement in the democratic process, and the importance of openness (standards, technologies, transparency) in sustainable ICT procurement, in industry development and in global competitiveness. I hope that my peers in the FOSS community, in the ICT industry, in the media and in education are supportive of me in this role, and I look forward to an open dialogue to help shape future directions of ICT for and within the Australian Government.

Antiquated ideas won’t save Australia

The recently released Venturous Australia report that this quote refers to is actually quite an interesting read. I found it refreshingly aware of the importance of opening up research and strengthening the ICT industry, and overall recommend it as a good read with some useful recommendations.

So today I was amused when I had an article pointed out to me today with the following gem:

The recommendation referring to “machine searchable repositories for scientific knowledge” together with the recommendation suggesting that “research funded by governments… should be made freely available over the internet as part of the global public commons” is of considerable concern.

These recommendations are commercially naïve and potentially damaging to Australia’s interests. Australia’s Asian neighbours, such as Malaysia and Taiwan, are currently implementing strategies to capture publicly funded intellectual property (IP) on a national scale so that governmen can assist with commercialisation policies and frameworks to exploit that IP to drive economic outcomes. The Malaysian government, for instance, is establishing a “Technomart” to trade and license IP; not to make it freely available unless it cannot be exploited commercially.

The old closed approach isn’t where the big innovations today are happening. Open access to research and Government data has been shown many times over to create much greater economic value than a single institution commercialising the research or data. A great example is GIS data. There was a great talk by Alan Smart about this space, and he mentioned that open access to GIS data in the US was shown to create something like 20 times the value than closed access to the data. Alan spoke at a very interesting event run by Senator Kate Lundy called the Foundations of Openness and all the recordings and slides are available.

Ideally public access to data like this allows innovative Australian companies to find and meet new market needs, to compete for work based on the quality of their service, and to innovate on quality data. It is more beneficial for our industry as a whole, and for the market because companies competing with services around open data/software are generally under constant pressure to be high quality, whereas when you purchase a proprietary application you are limited by what the provider of that application has time/resources/desire to deliver.

Collaboration and open access is key to being able to stand on the shoulders of giants and reach for the bleeding edge. Not this antiquated approach of isolated individuals hunkered down in caves reinventing the wheel and using it to beat up the competition. Competition is good! Collaboration is good! Bleeding edge development, research and new markets will not happen in isolation, and software patents are limiting rather than encouraging of innovation. Fact.

One thing that really annoys me is that this is the CEO of the Australian Insitute for Commercialisation, and where is the thought leadership? Commercialisation doesn’t have to be limited to IP protectionism, it can also include revenue/business models including support/integration services, development, hosting, analysis and many, many other options. When done well, opening access to your data and even potentially your software can often provide access to new markets, promotion avenues, and give you and your organisation a great reputation which is where you will find new business opportunities.

As an aside, Malaysia is one country that is embracing Open Source technologies and approaches quite strongly, including a massive push for Government uptake of Open Source, and Government development of Open Source. This is being driven from the Prime Ministers department, so I think the whole picture is not being presented 🙂

Australian”innovation”: desires and reality

Last night was the Pearcey Awards, which in itself is always a great way to find out about up and coming leaders in the field and achievements in ICT, however they also created a national roundtable event called INNOVATION & ICT IN AUSTRALIA: A NATIONAL DEBATE. It was closely linked with the Federal Government’s National Innovation Review, released just a couple of days ago which has some excellent recommendations in around open publishing, sustainability, Open Source, open standards and patent reform, just to name a few. In fact chapter 7 of that review has many of the recommendations put forward at Senator Kate Lundy’s ‘Foundations of Open’ Local Summit back in March. There were two panels last night, one with entreprenuers (which I participated in) and one with larger organisations. Then there were speeches from Minister Conroy, NSW MP John Della Bosca and Dr Terry Cutler just to name a few. It was really a great evening and it was fascinating to hear many of the concepts we have taken for granted in the FOSS world be brought up as important to Australia’s future economic properity, ideas such as “open innovation”, “services built around shared content”, “searchable publicly available data sets [particularly publicly funded data]” and more.

On the panel I spoke about how we need to educate entreprenuers and small business how to stand on the shoulders of giants and better leverage tools like FOSS to build both cheap and scalable infrastructure (I mentioned an organisation I’m involved in where the ex-Deloitte employee assumed we would need $100k for a website!) as well as the ability to create new value and services by combining existing FOSS components in new and innovative ways. I spoke about the need for more focus on technical skills (every child should learn basic programming) to help all our citizens to better leverage technology in all circumstances. I also spoke about how we need to be not only recognising and encouraging ICT as an “enabler for all industries”, a term thrown around a lot, but we also need to focus on core ICT and being a world leader in bleeding edge technologies. We need to recognise that if we only see ICT as an enabler, then we are actually parroting the much disliked “Australia is a consumer nation” phrase with new buzzwords. The increased awareness of innovation at an organisational and infrastructure level is wonderful, however it can not be at the cost of innovation at an ICT industry or technologies level lest we be left behind in such a competitive global market.

Other panelists spoke about the need for Government to partner more with smaller innovative Australian companies rather than always going to safest road. Apparently the Australian Government already has a requirement to spend something linke 0.5% on piloting innovative solutions, so it would be great to see more work going into this. Several people mentioned how Government will often get a great idea from a small company (or from the many smart and innovative people in Government), which will go to tender and then inevitably be won by a large multinational who isn’t providing the inspirational and innovative solution initially proposed. A massive loss for those smaller companies with big ideas.

I was in the audience when IP came up and luckily had the microphone ready to ask the next question (one panelist said that the dropping number of patents recently was an enormous issue for Australia, argh!), so I spoke briefly about how Government and industry need to look at new IP models, new business models and realise that IP protectionism (patents, proprietary code) is not the means to open innovation nor an openly competitive market (particularly when we follow in the footsteps of the flawed US patent system), and ultimately we need to keep focusing on how to create world leading exportable services, which is where the industry has been heading for some time. This earned an applause which was interesting.

I was quite surprised throughout the evening the number of people who came up to me and said they were really impressed with my comments and observations. I didn’t think that I had said anything particularly incredible, but it made me realise that is because I’m so involved with the Open Source community which is full of people who are innovative, focused on openness and collaboration, aware of the practical implications of different IP approaches, often on the bleeding edge of new ideas and technologies and often successfully making a living with new business and IP models not yet in the mainstream. Our community has world leading innovators and thinkers who are miles ahead of the curve, so my expected level of comparison is quite high 🙂

Education came up again and again. Education at schools/TAFE/University for students, technology education, entrepreneurial skills, information and training for small businesses, what skills are needed to meet the needs of evolving markets. It was great to have so much attention on this topic because ultimately there is no point having great policies and support around “innovation” if we don’t have any skills in Australia to innovate with.

Many people expressed a desire to enable innovation, but it was said several times that “innovation” is a term that is thrown around a lot without people necessarily being on the same page. I think that is has been overused and abused a lot, and it was Terry Cutlers speech at the end that really brought it together for me. Terry wrote the innovation report that was discussed, and in his speech he pulled no punches when it comes to the laughable reality in Australia at the moment (very, very low OECD rankings when it comes to investment in ICT and education, amongst other things). He spoke about the potential for Australia, about “open innovation” and I think the report has many excellent recommendations that will hopefully pull our public and private policy and practices into sharp evolution. I think in Australia we have the smarts and the desire to be innovative, successful and to be competing in the global ICT market, but achieving this success starts at home. Many Australian businesses and Government agencies want to see success overseas or great success locally before committing to even trialling new solutions and we need to figure out how to better enable local success which will feed into growing local innovation and global competitiveness. The Australian market is extremely risk averse and as such runs the risk of always being behind the ball.

Murali Sagi, who is an extremely clever and successful CIO and a great example of the innovators found in Government, put it most concisely.

Australians are innovative, but Australia isn’t.

Let’s try and fix that 🙂