Categories
Aus Community gov20 Government Tech

Digital excellence in Ballarat

In December I had the opportunity to work with Matthew Swards and the Business Improvements team in the Ballarat Council to provide a little support for their ambitious digital and data program. The Ballarat Council developed the Ballarat Digital Services Strategy a couple of years ago, which is excellent and sets a strong direction for human centred, integrated, inclusive and data driven government services. Councils face all the same challenges that I’ve found in Federal and State Governments, so many of the same strategies apply, but it was a true delight to see some of the exceptional work happening in data and digital in Ballarat.

The Ballarat Digital Services Strategy has a clear intent which I found to be a great foundation for program planning and balancing short term delivery with long term sustainable architecture and system responsiveness to change:

  1. Develop online services that are citizen centric and integrated from the user’s perspective;
  2. Ensure where possible citizens and businesses are not left behind by a lack of digital capability;
  3. Harness technology to enhance and support innovation within council business units;
  4. Design systems, solutions and data repositories strategically but deploy them tactically;
  5. Create and articulate clear purpose by aligning projects and priorities with council’s priorities;
  6. Achieve best value for ratepayers by focusing on cost efficiency and cost transparency;
  7. Build, lead and leverage community partnerships in order to achieve better outcomes; and
  8. Re-use resources, data and systems in order to reduce overall costs and implementation times.

The Business Improvement team has been working across Council to try to meet these goals, and there has been great progress on several fronts from several different parts of the Council.  I only had a few days but got to see great work on opening more Council data, improving Council data quality, bringing more user centred approaches to service design and delivery, exploration of emerging technologies (including IoT) for Council services, and helping bring a user-centred, multi-discplinary and agile approach to service design and delivery, working closely with business and IT teams. It was particularly great to see cross Council groups around big ticket programs to draw on expertise and capabilities across the organisation, as this kind of horizontal governance is critical for holistic and coordinated efforts for big community outcomes.

Whilst in town, Matthew Swards and I wandered the 5 minutes walk to the tech precinct to catch up with George Fong, who gave us a quick tour, including to the local Tech School, as well as a great chat about digital strategies, connectivity, access, inclusiveness and foundations for regional and remote communities to engage in the digital economy. The local talent and innovation in Ballarat is great to see, and in such close vicinity to the Council itself! The opportunities for collaboration are many and it was great to see cross sector discussions about what is good for the future of Ballarat 🙂

The Tech School blew my mind! It is a great State Government initiative to have a shared technology centre for all the local schools to use, and included state of the art gaming, 3D digital and printing tech, a robotics lab, and even an industrial strength food lab! I told a few people that people would move to Ballarat for their kids to have access to such a facility, to which I was told “this is just one of 10 across the state”.

It was great to work with the Business Improvement team and consider ways to drive the digital and data agenda for the Council and for Ballarat more broadly. It was also great to be able to leverage so many openly available government standards and design systems, such as the GDS and DTA Digital Service Standards and the NSW Design System. Open governments approaches like this make it easier for all levels of government across the world to leverage good practice, reuse standards and code, and deliver better services for the community. It was excellent timing that the Australian National API Design Standard was released this week, as it will also be of great use to Ballarat Council and all other Councils across Australia. Victoria has a special advantage as well because of the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV), which works with and supports all Victorian Councils. The amount of great innovation and coordinated co-development around Council needs is extraordinary, and you could imagine the opportunities for better services if MAV and the Councils were to adopt a standard Digital Service Standard for Councils 🙂

Many thanks to Matt and the BI team at Ballarat Council, as well as those who made the time to meet and discuss all things digital and data. I hope my small contribution can help, and I’m confident that Ballarat will continue to be a shining example of digital and data excellence in government. It was truly a delight to see great work happening in yet another innovative Local Council in Australia, it certainly seems a compelling place to live 🙂

Categories
Aus Community Geek Girls gov20 Government society5 Tech Uncategorized

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.

Categories
Aus Community gov20 Government Tech

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>

Categories
Aus Community gov20 Government

UNDP 2018: Evidence based vs experimentation based policy

Recently I have a remote talk to a UNDP event about Evidence based versus experimentation based policy. Below are the notes.
  • We invented all of this, and we can reinvent it. We can co-create a better future for everyone, if we choose. But if we settle for making things just a bit better, a bit more sustainable, a bit anything, then we will fundamentally fail the world because change and complexity is growing exponentially, and we need an exponential response to keep up.
  • There is a dramatic shift in paradigm from control to enablement, from being a king in a castle to a node in a network, which assumes a more collaborative approach to governance.
  • Evidence based approaches are great to identify issues, but we need experimentation based approaches, equitably co-designed with communities, so create sustainable and effective solutions. Evidence based solutions often are normative rather than transformative.
  • We need both evidence and experimentation based policy making, combined with system thinking and public engagement to make a real difference.
  • Digital transformation is often mistaken for meaning the digitisation of or service design led improvement of services, but digital transformation means creating institutions that are fit for purpose for the 21st century, from policy, regulation, services, public engagement, a full rethink and redesign of our social, economic and political systems.
  • History in implementation, and we realised that it was the disconnect between policy and implementation, the idea of policy as separate to implementation is undermining the possibility of meeting the policy intent through implementation.
  • Measurement ends up being limited to the context of function rather than outcomes.
  • Urgently need to reform how we do policy, regulation and legislation, to embrace an outcomes based approach, to bring design thinking and system design into the process from the start, from policy development in the first instance.
  • Working in the open is essential to getting both the demand and supply of evidence based policy, and working openly also means engaging in the shared design of policy and services with the communities we serve, to draw on the experience, expertise and values of the communities.
  • Public Values Management
  • Evidence based AND experimentation based policy.
  • Examples:
    • Service Innovation Lab – NZ
      • Service design and delivery – rapid prototyping is trusted for service design
      • Applying design thinking to regulation and policy
      • Legislation as code – rapid testing of policy and legislation, Holidays Act, it is critical if we want to have a chance of ensuring traceable, accountable and trusted decision making by public sectors as we see more automated decision making with the adoption of AI and ML grow.
      • Simultaneous legislation and implementation, to ensure implementation has a chance of meeting the original policy intent.
    • Taiwan – Uber case study, civic deliberation
    • Their Future Matters – data driven insights and outcomes mapping and then co-design of solutions, co-design with Aboriginal NGOs
    • 50 year optimistic future – to collaboratively design what a contextual, cultural and values driven “good” looks like for a society, so we can reverse engineer what we need to put in place to get us there.
  • Final point – if we want people to trust our policies, services and legislation, we need to do open government data, models, traceable and accountable decision making, and representative and transparent public participation in policy.
  • Links:

 

Categories
Aus Community gov20 Government

Mā te wā, Aotearoa

Today I have some good news and sad news. The good news is that I’ve been offered a unique chance to drive “Digital Government” Policy and Innovation for all of government, an agenda including open government, digital transformation, technology, open and shared data, information policy, gov as a platform, public innovation, service innovation and policy innovation. For those who know me, these are a few of my favourite things 🙂

The sad news, for some folk anyway, is I need to leave New Zealand Aotearoa to do it.

Over the past 18 months (has it only been that long!) I have been helping create a revolutionary new way of doing government. We have established a uniquely cross-agency funded and governed all-of-government function, a “Service Innovation Lab”, for collaborating on the design and development of better public services for New Zealand. By taking a “life journey” approach, government agencies have a reason to work together to improve the full experience of people rather than the usual (and natural) focus on a single product, service or portfolio. The Service Innovation Lab has a unique value in providing an independent place and way to explore design-led and evidence-based approaches to service innovation, in collaboration with service providers across public, private and non-profit sectors. You can see everything we’ve done over the past year here  and from the first 10 week experiment here. I have particularly enjoyed working with and exploring the role of the Citizen Advice Bureau in New Zealand as a critical and trusted service delivery organisation in New Zealand. I’m also particularly proud of both our work in exploring optimistic futures as a way to explore what is possible, rather than just iterate away from pain, and our exploration of better rules for government including legislation as code. The next stage for the Lab is very exciting! As you can see in the 2017-18 Final Report, there is an ambitious work programme to accelerate the delivery of more integrated and more proactive services, and the team is growing with new positions opening up for recruitment in the coming weeks!

Please see the New Zealand blog (which includes my news) here

Professionally, I get most excited about system transformation. Everything we do in the Lab is focused on systemic change, and it is doing a great job at having an impact on the NZ (and global) system around it, especially for its size. But a lot more needs to be done to scale both innovation and transformation. Personally, I have a vision for a better world where all people have what they need to thrive, and I feel a constant sense of urgency in transitioning our public institutions into the 21st century, from an industrial age to the information age, so they can more effectively support society as the speed of change and complexity exponentially grows. This is going to take a rethink of how the entire system functions, especially at the policy and legislative levels.

With this in mind, I have been offered an extraordinary opportunity to explore and demonstrate systemic transformation of government. The New South Wales Department of Finance, Services and Innovation (NSW DFSI) has offered me the role of Executive Director for Digital Government, a role responsible for the all-of-government policy and innovation for ICT, digital, open, information, data, emerging tech and transformation, including a service innovation lab (DNA). This is a huge opportunity to drive systemic transformation as part of a visionary senior leadership team with Martin Hoffman (DFSI Secretary) and Greg Wells (GCIDO). I am excited to be joining NSW DFSI, and the many talented people working in the department, to make a real difference for the people of NSW. I hope our work and example will help raise the bar internationally for the digital transformation of governments for the benefit of the communities we serve.

Please see the NSW Government media release here.

One of the valuable lessons from New Zealand that I will be taking forward in this work has been in how public services can (and should) engage constructively and respectfully with Indigenous communities, not just because they are part of society or because it is the right thing to do, but to integrate important principles and context into the work of serving society. Our First Australians are the oldest cluster of cultures in the world, and we have a lot to learn from them in how we live and work today.

I want to briefly thank the Service Innovation team, each of whom is utterly brilliant and inspiring, as well as the wonderful Darryl Carpenter and Karl McDiarmid for taking that first leap into the unknown to hire me and see what we could do. I think we did well 🙂 I’m delighted that Nadia Webster will be taking over leading the Lab work and has an extraordinary team to take it forward. I look forward to collaborating between New Zealand and New South Wales, and a race to the top for more inclusive, human centred, digitally enabled and values drive public services.

My last day at the NZ Government Service Innovation Lab is the 14th September and I start at NSW DFSI on the 24th September. We’ll be doing some last celebratory drinks on the evening of the 13th September so hold the date for those in Wellington. For those in Sydney, I can’t wait to get started and will see you soon!

Categories
Aus Community gov20 Government

My personal OGPau submission

I have been fascinated and passionate about good government since I started exploring the role of government in society about 15 years ago. I decided to go work in both the political and public service arenas specifically to get a better understanding of how government and democracy works in Australia and it had been an incredible journey learning a lot, with a lot of good mentors and experiences along the way.

When I learned about the Open Government Partnership I was extremely excited about the opportunity it presented to have genuine public collaboration on the future of open government in Australia, and to collaborate with other governments on important initiatives like transparency, democracy and citizen rights. Once the government gave the go ahead, I felt privileged to be part of kicking the process off, and secure in my confidence in the team left to run the consultation as I left to be on maternity leave (returning to work in 2017). Amelia, Toby and the whole team are doing a great job, as are the various groups and individuals contributing to the consultation. I think it can be very tempting to be cynical about such things but it us so important we take the steering wheel offered, to drive this where we want to go. Otherwise it is a wasted opportunity.

So now, as a citizen who cares about this topic, and completely independently of my work, I’d like to contribute some additional ideas to the Australian OGP consultation and I encourage you all to contribute ideas too. There have already been a lot of great ideas I support, so these are just a few I think deserve a little extra attention. I’ve laid out some problems and then some actions for each problem. I’ve also got a 9 week old baby so this has been a bit tricky to write in between baby duties 🙂 I’m keen to explore these and other ideas in more detail throughout the process but these are just the high level ideas to start.

Problem 1: democratic engagement. I think it is hard for a lot of citizens to engage in the range of activities of our democracy. Voting is usually considered the extent to which the average person considers participating but there are so many ways to be involved in the decisions and actions of governments, which affect us in our every day lives! These actions are about making the business of government easier for the people served  to get involved in.

Action (theme: public participation): Establish a single place to discover all consultations, publications, policies – it is currently difficult for people to contribute meaningfully to government because it is hard to find what is going on, what has already been decided, what the priorities of the government of the day are, and what research has been conducted to date.

Action: (theme: public participation): Establish a participatory budget approach. Each year there should be a way for the public to give ideas and feedback to the budget process, to help identify community priorities and potential savings.

Action: (theme: public participation): Establish a regular Community Estimates session. Senate Estimates is a way for the Senate to hold the government and departments to account however, often the politics of the individuals involved dominates the approach. What if we implemented an opportunity for the public to do the same? There would need to be a rigorous way to collect and prioritise questions from the public that was fair and representative, but it could be an excellent way to provide greater accountability which is not (or should not be) politicised.

Problem 2: analogue government. Because so much of the reporting, information, decisions and outcomes of government are published (or not published) in an analogue format (not digital or machine readable), it is very hard to discover and analyse, and thus very hard to monitor. If government was more digitally accessible, more mashable, then it would be easier to monitor the work of government.

Action: (theme: open data) XML feeds for all parliamentary data including Hansard, comlaw, annual reports, pbs’, MP expenses and declaration of interests in data form with notifications of changes. This would make this important democratic content more accessible, easier to analyse and easier to monitor.

Action: (theme: open data) Publishing of all the federal budget information in data format on budget night, including the tables throughout the budget papers, the data from the Portfolio Budget Statements (PBSs) and anything else of relevance. This would make analysing the budget easier. There have been some efforts in this space but it has not been fully implemented.

Action: (Freedom of Information): Adoption of rightoknow platform for whole of gov with central FOI register and publications, and a central FOI team to work across all departments consistently for responding to requests. Currently doing an FOI request can be tricky to figure out (unless you can find community initiatives like righttoknow which has automated the process externally) and the approach to FOI requests varies quite dramatically across departments. A single official way to submit requests, track them, and see reports published, as well as a single mechanism to respond to requests would be better for the citizen experience and far more efficient for government.

Action: (theme: government integrity): Retrospective open calendars of all Parliamentarians business calendars. Constituents deserve to know how their representatives are using their time and, in particular, who they are meeting with. This helps improve transparency around potential influencers of public policy, and helps encourage Parliamentarians to consider how they spend their time in office.

Problem 3: limits for reporting transparency. A lot of the rules about reporting of expenditure in Australia are better than most other countries in the world however, we can do better. We could lower the thresholds for reporting expenditure for instance, and others have covered expanding the reporting around political donations so I’ll stick to what I know and consider useful from direct experience.

Action: (theme: fiscal transparency): Regular publishing of government expenditure records down to $1000. Currently federal government contracts over $10k are reported in Australia through the AusTender website and ondata.gov.au however, there are a lot of expenses below $10k that arguably would be useful to know. In the UK they introduced expenditure reporting per department monthly at https://data.gov.uk/data/openspending-report/index

Action: (theme: fiscal transparency): A public register of all gov funded major projects (all types) along with status, project manager and regular reporting. This would make it easier to track major projects and to intervene when they are not delivering.

Action: (theme: fiscal transparency): Update of PBS and Annual Report templates for comparative budget and program information with common key performance indicators and reporting for programs and departmental functions. Right now agencies do their reporting in PDF documents that provide no easy way to compare outcomes, programs, expenditure, etc. If common XML templates were used for common reports, comparative assessment would be easier and information about government as a whole much more available for assessment.

Problem 4: stovepipe and siloed government impedes citizen centric service delivery. Right now each agency is motivated to deliver their specific mandate with a limited (and ever restricted) budget and so we end up with systems (human, technology, etc) for service delivery that are siloed from other systems and departments. If departments took a more modular approach, it would be more possible to mash up government data, content and services for dramatically improved service delivery across government, and indeed across different jurisdictions.

Action: (theme: public service delivery): Mandated open Application Programmable Interfaces (APIs) for all citizen and business facing services delivered or commissioned by government, to comply to appropriately defined standards and security. This would enable different data, content and services to be mashed up by agencies for better service delivery, but also enables an ecosystem of service delivery beyond government.

Action: (theme: government integrity): a consistent reporting approach and public access to details of outsourced contract work with greater consistency of confidentiality rules in procurement. A lot of work is outsourced by government to third parties. This can be a good way to deliver some things (and there are many arguments as to how much outsourcing is too much) however, it introduces a serious transparency issue when the information about contracted work is unable to be monitored, with the excuse of “commercial in confidence”. All contracts should have minimum reporting requirements and should make publicly available the details of what exactly is contracted, with the exception of contracts with national security where such disclosure creates a significant risk. This would also help in creating a motivation for contractors to deliver on their contractual obligations. Finally, if procurement officers across government had enhanced training to correctly apply the existing confidentiality test from the Commonwealth Procurement Rules, it would be reasonably to expect that there would be less information hidden behind commercial in confidence.

I also wholeheartedly support the recommendations of the Independent Parliamentary Entitlements System Report (https://www.dpmc.gov.au/taskforces/review-parliamentary-entitlements), in particular:

  • Recommendation 24: publish all key documents online;
  • Recommendation 25: more frequent reporting (of work expenses of parliamentarians and their staff) on data.gov.au as a dataset;
  • Recommendation 26: improved travel reporting by Parliamentarians.

I hope this feedback is useful and I look forward to participating in the rest of the consultation. I’m adding the ideas to the ogpau wiki and look forward to feedback and discussion. Just to be crystal clear, these are my own thoughts, based on my own passion and experience, and is not in any way representative of my employer or the government. I have nothing to do with the running of the consultation now and expect my ideas to hold no more weight than the ideas of any other contributor.

Good luck everyone, let’s do this 🙂

Categories
Aus Community gov20 Government Tech

Returning to data and Gov 2.0 from the DTO

I have been working at the newly created Digital Transformation Office in the Federal Government since January this year helping to set it up, create a vision, get some good people in and build some stuff. I was working in and then running a small, highly skilled and awesome team focused on how to dramatically improve information (websites) and transaction services across government. This included a bunch of cool ideas around whole of government service analytics, building a discovery layer (read APIs) for all government data, content and services, working with agencies to improve content and SEO, working on reporting mechanisms for the DTO, and looking at ways to usefully reduce the huge number of websites currently run by the Federal public service amongst other things. You can see some of our team blog posts about this work.

It has been an awesome trip and we built some great stuff, but now I need to return to my work on data, gov 2.0 and supporting the Australian Government CTO John Sheridan in looking at whole of government technology, procurement and common platforms. I can also work more closely with Sharyn Clarkson and the Online Services Branch on the range of whole of government platforms and solutions they run today, particularly the highly popular GovCMS. It has been a difficult choice but basically it came down to where my skills and efforts are best placed at this point in time. Plus I miss working on open data!

I wanted to say a final public thank you to everyone I worked with at the DTO, past and present. It has been a genuine privilege to work in the diverse teams and leadership from across over 20 agencies in the one team! It gave me a lot of insight to the different cultures, capabilities and assumptions in different departments, and I think we all challenged each other and created a bigger and better vision for the effort. I have learned much and enjoyed the collaborative nature of the broader DTO team.

I believe the DTO has two major opportunities ahead: as a a force of awesome and a catalyst for change. As a force of awesome, the DTO can show how delivery and service design can be done with modern tools and methods, can provide a safe sandpit for experimentation, can set the baseline for the whole APS through the digital service standard, and can support genuine culture change across the APS through training, guidance and provision of expertise/advisers in agencies. As a catalyst for change, the DTO can support the many, many people across the APS who want transformation, who want to do things better, and who can be further empowered, armed and supported to do just that through the work of the DTO. Building stronger relationships across the public services of Australia will be critical to this broader cultural change and evolution to modern technologies and methodologies.

I continue to support the efforts of the DTO and the broader digital transformation agenda and I wish Paul Shetler and the whole team good luck with an ambitious and inspiring vision for the future. If we could all make an approach that was data/evidence driven, user centric, mashable/modular, collaborative and cross government(s) the norm, we would overcome the natural silos of government, we would establish the truly collaborative public service we all crave and we would be better able to support the community. I have long believed that the path of technical integrity is the most important guiding principle of everything I do, and I will continue to contribute to the broader discussions about “digital transformation” in government.

Stay tuned for updates on the data.gov.au blog, and I look forward to spending the next 4 months kicking a few goals before I go on maternity leave 🙂

Categories
Aus Community education FOSS gov20 Government society5

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 Linux Australia linux.conf.au Personal

I am so thankful – the gap is sorted

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

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

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

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

I am truly speechless. And humbled. And….

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

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

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

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

And I promise I won’t burn out in the meantime 😉

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

Categories
Aus Community gov20 Government

Power and legitimacy in government

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Put more simply:

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

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

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

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