My talk on Data Liberation at Ignite Sydney

Ignite Sydney is like an evening version of TEDx with 5 min talks, 20 slides automatically progressed every 15 seconds. A lot of pressure I can tell you, but I think I did ok 🙂 Talking at a millions miles an hour, as usual. Rough transcript (with a few edits) below.

Hello

I’m here to speak to you about the legend of data liberation. It’s an important story, it’s a story about society, about people, about geeks, and it’s a story about government. Of course I am not here representing any of the government people that I work for here tonight.

So I do think I believe I represent a new generation of public servant that will transform things, but by the by.

Most people when they think of government think of garbage. They think about what is it this entity does for us? They take out our garbage, they build our roads, they build our education. But what’s happening is that the Internet is leading us to a period of discontentment. People are more empowered than we’ve ever been before and we’re seeing government make mistakes, like the NSW Transport issue (2011 issue mentioned by earlier speaker) and we’re just going “come on! We can do this better”.

So what’s starting to happen is people want the data, we’re seeing a new thing called Gov 2.0 (I know, “2.0” is stupid) but it’s around transparency, participation and citizen-based approach to government. I’m going to run through these three things very quickly.

Transparency in the first instance is about raw data. You need access to the raw materials to make new and interesting things. It’s one thing to have someone say to you “the water is rising” but it’s another thing to actually have information over the last 200 years about how much it’s rising and be able to do your own analysis.

Having access to the raw data means we can better trust the outcomes. I mean how would it be if we got the outcome of elections, but didn’t have the capacity to have scrutineers and have people look at the raw information. We need raw data to be able to trust outcomes and to be able to provide our own analysis.

Analysis is a really important part when we get access to raw data. We need access to economic data, environmental data, biological data, demographic, government. The Human Genome project, who has heard of that? Come on, I met the guy who runs that project very recently, I also got to meet Hans Rosling, was very cool.

Another type of transparency is parliamentary transparency. So the Italian Government has this huge glass room to let the sun shine in. Cool idea. then they covered it up. Not so cool.

Really good metaphor for the fact though that people want access to the information so that they can participate in the democracy, they can participate in the policy, they can participate in the process. If people aren’t able to get information, then they aren’t able to get educated, then they aren’t able to get an informed view, then they aren’t able to participate effectively.

So basically where we’re going is a period of time where how government operates is it actually starts to co-develop the policy with the people. Because you know there are a lot of skills out there, there’s a lot of us that know stuff that can contribute to making government do things better. So why wouldn’t they talk to us?

Well, it’s not because they’re bad or evil or nefarious, generally speaking, it’s usually just because it’s not the way things are done. Things are starting to be done differently now.

Open data and raw data also gives us new opportunities to innovation. I actually ran a thing called GovHack which was really awesome. Raw data, competition, people making heaps of projects over 48 hours.

You also have the opportunity to crowdsource. So this was the spike when the floods hit Queensland of the number of people who liked the Queensland Police Facebook page. And what the police found, and this is fascinating, was that not only were they able to get information out, but people were able to get information to the police. Because of course they took over trying to coordinate emergency responses.

So when people were able to take “oh, 10 people have said this bridge has gone down”, well that gives you a fairly good indication how to deploy your resources so crowdsourcing gives a new type of raw data that can help government do things better and help people work with government better.

So: iterative, collaborate government. That’s what Gov 2.0 is about. Transparency, Participation and a Citizen Focus in how we do things.

The Government of the future is something we have to do collaboratively. If we can’t create the blueprint for the future as a whole society then we’re going to end up running into troubles and we do run into troubles. We can’t respond in a quick manner, we can’t respond in an effective manner. And then we end up just becoming – government itself – ends up becoming out of date, irrelevant, and not able to respond to the changing needs of society and of it’s citizens.

So basically, we need to change or we’re gonna die. Woo.

A couple of things in Australia. There’s a bunch of raw data things happening. There’s dataACT which I’m actually working on which is the first actual open data platform. It does transcoding, it does APIs, it does all the cool technical stuff. data.gov.au and dataVIC and some of the other ones are mostly just content management systems but they’re starting to change and this weekend I think is a hackfest on the NSW transport data as well.

A couple of considerations, people thing about privacy but people don’t think about fish privacy. If you release the data about all the flora and fauna above the ocean, and then someone  goes in and fishes a particular fish to extinction, then what does that mean about privacy.

Geek culture and tech skills give us the capacity for privacy, for analysis, for doing all the cool stuff that leads to education and empowerment which leads to digital democracy.

And frankly, everyone here sees themselves as a geek right? Those who don’t should because geeks are the future.

So, thank you for coming with me on my little journey on data liberation. I will continue to fight the war and please, come with me, embrace your geek if you haven’t yet already, free the data and let’s get a better society together.

Thank you very much.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Open Government

The Open Government Partnership

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

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

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

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

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

Declaration of Parliamentary Openness

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

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

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

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

Open Data around the world

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks Toni for your time!

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

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

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

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

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

Outstanding talks I heard

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

Dr. Nagy-Rothengass from the European Commission

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

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

Hans Rosling

Hans Rosling was a brilliant keynote.

My favourite quotes from the talk:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click through on the following thumbnails to see larger versions.

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

Rufus Pollock

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

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

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

My contributions to OKFestival

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

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

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

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

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

Other links of possible interest:

GovHack and App4Country discussion

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

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

The notes I made for my presentation about GovHack:

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

Motivations:

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

Lessons learnt:

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

Interesting thoughts from “apps” conversation:

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

Some additional links collected from the week of interest

Some random Open Science links sent:

Thanks

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

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

Creating Open Government (for a Digital Society)

Recently I spoke on a panel at the NSW Information Commissioner’s “Creating Open Government” forum about my thoughts on blue sky ideas in this space. I decided to work on the assumption of the importance and need for creating open government for a digital society. In the 10 mins I had, I spoke on the pillars of public engagement, citizen centric services and open data, where we need to go in the open government movement, and a few other areas that I believe are vital in creating open government.

Below are some of the thoughts presented (in extended form), some cursory notes, and some promises to write more in the coming months 🙂

I should say up front that I am a person who believes government has an important role to play in society, even in a highly connected, digitally engaged and empowered society. Government, done right, gives us the capacity to support a reasonable quality of life across the entire society, reduce suffering and provide infrastructure and tools to all people so we can, dare I say it, live long and prosper. All people are not equal, there is a lot of diversity in the perspectives, skills, education, motivation and general capability throughout society. But all people deserve the opportunities in their life to persue dignity, happiness and liberty. I believe government, done right, facilitates that.

In my mind government provides a way to scale infrastructure and services to support individuals to thrive, whatever the circumstancecs of their birth, and facilitate a reasonably egalitarian society – as much as can be realistically achieved anyway. I’m very glad to live in a country where we broadly accept the value of public infrastructure and services.

So below are some thoughts on next steps in creating open government, with additional references and reading available 🙂

1) Online Public Engagement

There is generally a lot of movement to engage online by the public sector across all spheres of government in Australia. However, this tends to be the domain of media and comms teams, which means the engagement is often more about messaging and trying to represent/push the official narrative. There are a lot of people working in this space who say they are not senior enough to have a public profile or to engage publicly without approval and yet, we have many people in government customer support roles who engage with the public every day as part of their job.

I contend that we need to start thinking about social media and “public engagement” also as a form of customer support, and not just media and communications. In this way, public servants can engage online within their professional capacities and not have to have every tweet or comment vetted, in the same way that every statement uttered by a customer service officer is not pre-approved. In this way interactions with citizens become of higher value to the citizen, and social media becomes another service delivery mechanism.

For example, consider how many ISPs are on social media, monitoring mentions of them, responding with actual customer support and service that often positively impacts that persons experience (and by extension community perception) of the organisation. Government needs to be out there, where people are, engaged in the public narrative and responsive to the needs of our community. We need our finger on the pulse so we can better respond to new challenges and opportunities facing government and the broader community.

One of the main challenges we face is the perception from many people that there is little be gained through public engagement. If a department or agency embarks upon a public consultation without genuinely being interested in the outcomes, this is blindingly obvious to participants, and is met with disdain. It is vital that government invest in online community development skills and empower individuals throughout the public service to engage online in the context of their professional roles.

This online engagement development skillset can be deployed for specific consultations or initiatives, but it also vital on an ongoing basis to maintain a constructive narrative, tone and community that contributes on an ongoing basis.

Further reading:

2) Citizen Centric Services

Citizens don’t care about the complexities of government, and yet we continue to do service delivery along departmental lines and spheres of government. The public service structure is continually changing to match the priorities of the government of the day, so not only is it confusing, but it is everchanging and we end up spending a lot of effort changing websites, stationery and frontline branding each portfolio shuffle. The service delivery itself (usually) continues seamlessly regardless of shifts in structure, but it is hard for citizens to keep up, and nor should they be expected to.

Citizen centric services is about having a thematic and personalised approach to service and information delivery. Done well, this enables a large number of our population to self service, in the manner and at the time that is convenient to them. It is no small task to achieve as it requires a way to integrate (or perhaps sit in between) systems and data sources throughout all of government, but we have some established case studies in Australia that we can learn from. Rather than trying to get consistent systems across government – which leads to always being only as strong as your weakest link – it is feasible to have integration tools to “front end” government.

By enabling many citizens to effectively self service, this approach also frees up government resources for supporting our most vulnerable and complex cases.

It is worth also noting that a truly citizen centric approach would be both cross departmental *and* cross jurisdictional. We need to start asking and addressing the challenges around how can we collaborate across the three spheres of government to give citizens a seamless experience?

A more eloquent description of this concept is from a speech from my former boss, Minister Kate Lundy, from a speech entitled Citizen-centric services: A necessary principle for achieving genuine open government/

3) Proactive data disclosure – open data and APIs

The public service holds and creates a lot of data in the process of doing our job. By making data appropriately publicly available there are better opportunies for public scrutiny and engagement in democracy and with government in a way that is focused on actual policy outcomes, rather than through the narrow aperture of politics or the media. This also builds trust, leads to a better informed public, and gives the public service an opportunity to leverage the skills, knowledge and efforts of the broader community like never before.

Whether it be a consultation on service planning or a GovHack, an open and contextualised approach to data and indeed the co-production of policy and planning ends up being a mechanism to achieve the most evidence based, “peer reviewed” and concensus driven outcomes for government and the community. It gets citizens directly engaged in actual policy and planning, and although the last word is always ultimately with the relevant Minister, it means that where political goals don’t align with the evidence based policy recommendations, an important discussion can be had and questions asked from an engaged and informed public.

This, to me, is a real and practical form democracy. I feel that party politics actually gets in the way to some degree, as it turns people off engaging in the most important institute in their lives. Like a high stakes team sport, the players are focused on scoring goals against their opponents and forget about what is happening off field.

As a person who is working in the public service, I truly believe that transparency is our best defence in fulfilling our duty to serve the public.

With major changes to legislation in recent years making FOI more seamless and accessible to citizens, departments are struggling to allocate necessary resources to comply in an extremely fiscally conservative environment.

In the meantime, although there is a general concensus on the value (with admittedly sometimes quite different interpretations of value) of opening up more public sector information publicly, the fact is that it is largely seen as a “good” thing to do, a nice to have, and as such has been challenging for departments to justify the not-insignificant resources required to move to a proactive data disclosure status quo.

There is a decent argument to say that proactively publishing data (and indeed, reports) would help mitigate the rising costs of FOI as departments could point requests to where the information is already online. But realistically, unless the department had in place the systems to automate proactive publishing, then it will remain something done after the fact, not integrated into business as usual, ad hoc and an ongoing expense that is too easily dropped when the budget belt tightens.

I have people say to me all the time “just publish the data, it’s easy”. The funny thing is the vast majority of people have little to no experience actually doing open data in government. It is quite a new area and though the expertise is growing, we are in infancy stages in jurisdictions around the world. Even some jurisdictions with very large numbers of data sets are doing much of that work manually, the data becoming out of date quickly, and quite often the pressure to be seen to do open data overrides the quality and usefulness of the implementation, as we see datasets being broken down into multiple uploads to meet quantitative KPIs.

The truth is, although putting up some datasets here or there is relatively easy – there is a lot of low hanging fruit – to move to a sustainable, effective, automated and systematic approach to open data is much harder, but is the necessary step if we are to see real value from open data, and if we are to see the goals of open data and mitigating FOI cost compliance merge.

Interestingly, another major benefit of the proactive public publishing of government data, is that the process of ensuring a dataset complies with privacy and other obligations is quite similar between making something public and sharing across departments at all. By making more government data openly available, particularly when combined with some analysis and visualisation tools, we will be able to share data across departments in an appropriate way that helps us all have better information to inform policy and planning.

The good news is, in Australia we have the policies (OAIC, AG Principles of IP, Ahead of the Game, Gov 2.0 Taskforce Report, etc), legislative (FOI changes),and political cover (Declaration of Open Government, though more would be useful) to move on this.

I will be doing a follow up blog post about this topic specifically in the coming week after I attend a global open data conference where I intend on researching exactly how other jurisdictions are doing it, their processes, resourcing, automation and procurement requirements. I will also give some insights to what the dataACT team have learnt in implementing Australia’s first actual open data platform, which is an important next step for Australia building on the good work of AGIMO with the data.gov.au pilot.

Additional notes:

  • more effective and efficient government – shared across departments, capacity to have whole of gov business intelligence and strategic planning, capacity to identify trends, opportunities and challenges within public service
  • internal measuring, monitoring, reporting and analysis – government dashboards – both internal and public reporting on projects
  • innovation – public and private innovation through access to data, service APIs – gov can build on public innovation for better service delivery – eg GovHack
  • transparency – need to build trust, what is the value to gov? – eg of minister vs doctor example

4) Agile iterative policy

There is a whole discussion to have about next generation approaches to policy which would be iterative, agile, include actual governance to keep the policy live and responsive to changing circumstances, and the value of live measuring, monitoring and analysis tools around projects and policies to help with more effective implementation on an ongoing basis and to applying the learning from implementation back into the policy.

The basic problem we have in achieving this approach is that, structurally, there is generally no one looking at policy from an end to end perspective. The policy makers are motivated to complete and hand over a policy. The policy implementers are motivated to do what they are handed. We need to bridge this gap between policy makers and doers in government to have a more holistic approach that can apply the lessons learnt from doers into strategic planning and development on an ongoing basis.

I’ll further address this in a followup blog post next month as I’m pulling together some schools of thought on this at the moment.

Check out the APS Policy Visualisation Network which is meeting for the first time next week if this space interests you. It will be fascinating to have people across the APS discussing new and interesting approaches to policy, and hopefully we will see the build up of new skills and approaches in this area.

Notes:

  • iterative and adaptive policy – gone are the days of a static 10 year policy, we need to be feeding recommendations from testing, monitoring, measuring back into improving the policy on an ongoing basis.
  • datavis for policy “load testing”, gleaning new knowledge, better communication of ideas, visualisation networks for contextualisation, etc
  • co-production, co-design
  • evidence based, peer reviewed policy that draws on the diverse strengths throoughout our community and public service

5) Supporting Digital industries

There are many reasons why, as a society we need to have strong digital industries including IT, creative, cultural, games development, media, music, film and much more. Fundamentally these industries and skills underpin our success in all other industries to some extent, but also, we have seen many Australian digital companies have to go overseas to survive, and we need to look at the local market and environment and ask how we can support these companies to thrive in Australia.

I ran two major consultations about this over the past couple of years, and the outcomes and contributions are still very relevant:

  • The ICT and Creative Industries Public Sphere – included an excellent contribution paper from Silicon Beach, a group of Australian tech entrepreneurs who have exceptional insights to the sectors here and overseas.
  • The Digital Culture Public Sphere – included excellent contributions from the games development industry, digital arts, the digital culture (GLAM) sector and much more.

Notes:

  • Open government can contribute to our digital sector through:
    • open data – esp cultural content for which we are custodians and esp the large quantity of data which is out of copyright
    • being great users of and contributers to digital technologies and the Australian sector
    • focused industry development strategies and funding for digital sectors

6) Emerging Technologies

I finished my panel comments by reflecting on some emerging technologies that governments need to be aware of in our planning for the future.

These are just some new technologies that will present new opportunities for government and society:

  • 3D printing and nanotechnology – already we have seen the first 3D printed heart which was successfully transplanted.
  • Augmented Reality
  • Wearable computing and “body hacking”

On the topic of 3D printing, I would like to make a bold statement. You see, at the moment people are already trying to lobby against 3D printing on the basis that it would disrupt current business models. Many on the technology side of the argument try to soften the debate by saying it is early days, you don’t get perfect copies, and myriad other placations. So here it is.

3D printing will disrupt the copyright industry, but it will also disrupt poverty and hunger. As a society, we need to decide which we care about more.

There is no softly softly beating around the bush. There are some hard decisions and premises that need to be challenged, otherwise we will maintain the status quo without having even been aware of an alternative.

With advancements in nanotechnology also looming, we could see perfect copies of pretty much anything, constructed atom by atom out of waste for instance.

But there are also many existing technologies that can be better utilised:

  • games development – we have some of the most highly skilled games developers in the world and we can apply these skills to serious issues for highly citizen centric and engaging outcomes.
  • cloud – current buzzword – presents some good opportunities but also a jurisdictional nightmare so tread very carefully. You need to assume anything in the “cloud” can disappear or be read by anyone in the world
  • social media – see point 1

7) Final comment on government, power and society

Finally, just a couple of words about the most important element in creating open governments that can service the needs of an increasingly digital society.

We need to dramatically shift out thinking about technology and what it means to government. An no I don’t mean just getting a social media strategy.

For anything we think, plan, strategise, hypothesise or talk about to become real, we inevitably use a number of technologies.

Most people treat technology like a magic wand that can materialise whatever we dream up, and the nicely workshopped visions of our grand leaders are generally just handballed to the bowels of the organisation, otherwise known as the IT department, to unquestionably implement as best they can.

Technology, and technologists, are seen to be extremely important in the rhetoric, but treated like a cost centre in practise with ever increasing pressure to do more with less, “but could you just support my new iPad please?” IT Managers are forced to make technology procurement decisions based on which side of the ledger the organisation can support today, and the fiscal pressures translate to time pressures which leaves no space for meaningful innovation or collaboration.

We need the leaders of government, especially throughout the public service to be comfortable with and indeed well informed about technology.

We need collaborative technologists in the strategic development process, as we are the best people positioned to identify new opportunities and to help make a strategic vision that has a chance of seeing daylight.

We need to stop using the excuse that innovation or open government “isn’t about technology”, and recognise that as a government, and as a society, need to engage a healthy balance of skills across our entire community to co-design the future of government together. And we need to recognise that if we don’t have technologists in that mix, then all our best intentions and visions will simply not translate into reality.

Monitor, measure, analyse, collaborate, co-design, and be transparent.

The future is here, it simply isn’t widely distributed yet – William Gibson

Notes from after my speech from the event

The NSW AG speech was excellent – he spoke about the primary difference between the NSW Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 and the old approach is that the current approach pushes for proactive disclosure.

He mentioned three significant aspects of GIPA:

  • Accessibility
  • Manner in which is enables participation
  • Public right to know is paramount

There was an important comment from the day that we need to address sustainable power if we are to build a vision for the future.

There was comment on public interest – public consultation, get best inputs, peer review, chose most evidence based approach.

Questions about cloud:

  • Cloud attributes – jurisdiction, privacy, ownership, enforcability of contract, data transportability
  • Functional categorisation – private data? criticality of data/service delivery?
  • PATRIOT Act implications

AGIMO have some good policy advice in this area worth looking at on their Cloud computing page.

I wrote a hopefully useful post on this a while back called Cloud computing: finding the silver lining. I will be following that up with some work I’m doing in gov atm around this topic a little later, looking at the specific attributes of cloud services, how they map to different things gov want to do, and the fact that government jurisdictions around the world are pretty much universally using what I call “jurisdictional cloud” services, which means they are hosted by gov, or by gov owned entities within their legal jurisdiction. The broad calls for government to “just go cloud” suggest a binary approach of ‘to cloud or not to cloud’ which is simply not reality, not a reasonable thing to expect when government has obligations around privacy, security, sovereignty, ensuring SLAs for service delivery to citizens, and much more.

I also did an interview with Vivek Kundra (prior CTO for US Federal Gov) a while back which will be useful to a lot of people.

I loved the five verbs of Open Gov by Allison Hornery: Start, Share, Solve, Sync, Shout. Her speech was great!

Also, Martin Stewart-Weeks talked about three principles of open government:

  1. partly in cathedrals and partly in bazaars
  2. new relationships between institutions and communities, and
  3. knowledge has become the network. Great presentation and interesting how open source ideas are so prolific in this space.

Speech from Nethui on Open Government and Gov 2.0

Kia ora everyone, and thank you for having me over here from Australia.

I’d like to talk a little about Gov 2.0. For all the techs that groan, I agree it is a stupid term, but nonetheless is has come to represent something quite profound.

eGovernment of days past was a first step towards governments going online. They looked at how government could put the same forms and pamphlets online that were handed out in government shopfronts and how citizens could submit those forms back again. Agencies and departments – by and large – did their own projects and it certainly did take us a huge step towards enabling citizens to access and interact with government.

However the different between eGovernment and the Gov 2.0 movement is significant.

Basically, Gov 2.0 is about three things:

  1. Genuine Public Engagement – Recognising that governments can’t work in isolation anymore if we are to be relevant to the communities we serve, and in order to be capable of responding to new opportunities and challenges in a timely and effective fashion. This also means more access to and transparency around the machinery of government and democracy. Of course, being apolitical, I would love to see this engagement primarily at the public service level where we have the most incentive to get evidence based policy outcomes. Public engagement isn’t about just getting your media team on social media. It is about recognising that the old premise that the media is the only platform to communicate with the public is now false. Traditional media comms are about controlling the message, engaging with journos in the most effective way for them, broadcasting the message as much as possible in as positive way as possible. Online community development skills are about recognising we have no real control over the message. Collaboration, understanding the topic area, understanding where and how the community discussions are taking place, empathy, respect and a genuine passion for community feedback and input are all part of online communty development.
  2. Citizen-Centric Service and Information Design – a cross agency and even cross jurisdictional approach that doesn’t expect an individual to understand the complexities of government, but rather can get a personalised service based on how much or little personal information they want to give. In this way, however the bureacracy of government is carved up today should not affect a consistent and reliable experience of citizens.
  3. Government as a Platform for Public and Private Innovation – by recognising that governments can’t and indeed shouldn’t try to do everything all the time and that our primary role is to serve the needs of our citizens, governments should recognise where we can facilitate others to innovate. Where we can facilitate others to create new social and economic value. A great example of this is the enormous amout of publicly funded data and software that is made by government through our business as usual functions, and how free and public access to government owned data and software can stimulate entire industries and research sectors. The economic value of a series of geospatial datasets released by the US Government some years ago was estimated to be 20 times the value of what the government themselves could commercialise.

The policy basis for Gov 2.0 and open government in Australia is found in the following documents:

Other relevant documents and initiatives include:

NB – I’ll add more here next week 🙂 Just wanted to get this post up sooner rather than later.

Let me give you a brief examples of each pillar from Australia:

  1. Genuine Public Engagement: The Public Sphere consultation methodology – enhancing traditional government consultations through online community development and consultation methods. Community development for better consultation design and to get thought leaders onside, peer review, content and commmunity analysis (link gives example).
  2. Citizen-Centric Service and Information Designaustralia.gov.au – currently very beta but is in the process of being developed into a single interface for citizens to self select the services and information they need from across all federal government, with a consistent login and single place to manage their information and interactions with government.
  3. Government as a Platform for Public and Private Innovation:
    • dataACT – An interface approach for all ACT government data, making it accessible, machine and human readable, mashable, downloadable, contextual, reused and able to be visualised on the site by non-experts. Interfacing directly with government data sets wherever they are so people are still seeing the most up to date information live. Privacy, commercial and security implications to consider and take into account but it means access is not held ransom to legacy systems or slow procurement refresh cycles.
    • GovCamp and GovHack Australia is an example of how open data facilitates private innovation. Held a month ago in Australia we had seven government departments across Federal and State all contribute funding and data sets for developers to create new mashups, applications and data visualisations. Several of these are getting funded to further develop and be integrated into government service delivery and the competition focused on science, digital humanities and open government. The categorisation gave developers a focus and we ended up with over 40 full functional software prototypes.
Also a more in depth list of examples of Gov 2.0 from Australia was presented by Minister Lundy at the Gov 2.0 Expo in Washington DC a couple of years ago. Obviously there are more recent examples too, but this is a good list 🙂

Basically Gov 2.0 is to eGovernment what social media is to email. A whole new world of collaboration, consolidation and crowdsourcing.

What does it take to achieve open government?

  • Great people! – identify, upskill or hire
  • Political leadership – Declarations of open government in Aus, NZ, US, UK, Permission to make mistakes also vital.
  • Policy – directives and support for all of government to comply, to engage online, risk mitigation strategies
  • Technical – procurement policy, standards, copyright, interoperability, APIs, low barrier to entry, geospatial is KEY!
  • Cultural – shifting to collaborative, open, engaging, genuine interest in what the public can bring (THIS IS NEW)
  • Structural – a way to get compliance and open gov across all gov
  • Precedent – examples, to celebrate, to learn from, to encourage and to mitigate risk

Let’s look at what is happening around the world in this space:

Note: I have covered this in greater detail in part two of my blog post on Gov 2.0: Where to begin, so please check that out 🙂

  • UK – Power of Information Taskforce, open data, engaged with developer community, trying to shift frontline service delivery, COINs, the Guardian
  • US – traditionally have had open data, some great initiatives a few years ago, IT Dashboard example (open source!), the Open Government Partnership, Vivek Kundra and being prepared to hold industry to account. See the interview I did with Vivek.
  • Canada – Chris Moore, the CIO of Edmonton – a great example of an innovative approach to public service – flattening the hierarchy for a skills and time based approach to projects
  • NZ – Vikram will be discussing

See some interviews I did with Chris Moore and Andrew Stott on Minister Lundy’s blog below her also rather excellent talk.

Culture shift

Of course, Gov 2.0 is riding on the back of a signficant and incredible movement sweeping across the planet, and this is no more evident that the conversations at Nethui amongst visionaries and thought leaders like yourselves. Here in this room we have people from such diverse backgrounds, industries, the public sector, researchers and many more. And it is in coming together that we are able to leverage the power of a cross-discipline co-design approach to new opportunities and challenges.

It is the power of collaboration that we find true innovation.

Technology has shifted the way we think.

Big statement I know but technology has empowered individuals in a way never seen before. Within a decade or two, we have seen widespread and rapidly growing access to all the traditional dimensions of power that the very foundations of society have been based upon. Think about it, we now have massive distribution of publishing, communications, monitoring (Foucault would love the Internet), force (the one keeping spooks up at night) and finally, the emerging possibility of massive distribution of property with 3D printing and nanotechnology.

Power used to be who had the biggest swords or guns. But technology gives us all the power to be disruptive. It is liberating!

So with these major shifts in society, it brings up the interesting question of what is the point of a government? For some it is about creating and enforcing laws, for some it is about market regulation. Perhaps government is about the common good?

For me, governments are a way to get an economy of scale for common good and common problems in a society. It goes a long way towards a good baseline quality of life for all people in a society, no matter what situation they are born into. I know this comes from an Australian perspective, but I think we largely share that cultural assumption of the role of government.

Regulation, trade, health, roads, education, all of this comes (or should come) from the basis of a good quality of life for citizens so the community can thrive socially, economically & democratically.

The point is that life is changing dramatically and being clear on what asusmptions from the past still hold for the future is an important part of creating resilience in the future.

Basically, the future of government and indeed society, is to be found in collaboration. In leveraging all the skills, passion and experience in our societies and transparently building the future together.

Thank you.

I’ll update this post with more stuff when I’ve slept 🙂 Otherwise, if you want any further links leave me a comment.

TEDx in Sydney: My quick review

Yesterday I attended TEDx Sydney. I wasn’t really sure what to expect as I’ve not been to TED events before, but the speaker line up looked fantastic and the attendee list looked pretty interesting.

The x in TEDx means the event was independently organised by local volunteers, and I originally heard about the event through two of the organisers who are friends of mine, Alex Young and Rob Manson. A huge congratulations to Alex, Rob and all the other organisers for coordinating such an amazing event. I didn’t have a point of comparison, but one person said on Twitter that it was the most professional TEDx they’d been to yet!

The day itself was fantastic. There were a few talks and performances that had me absolutely riveted, and I got to meet up with a lot of interesting people. There was a lot going on at any one point which was a bit hard to track, and we were discouraged from “blogging” in the actual room at the beginning of the day which annoyed me, but apparently that is a normal TED thing.

I tweeted about the content all day as did a few others, so check out #tedxsydney over the coming days & I’ll post my tweet list a bit later for posterity 🙂

I also wanted to expand upon a couple of thoughts from the day.

Firstly, most of the talks discussed very black and white approaches and concluded with black and white outcomes, and it occurred to me that the world is very grey, it is rarely linear in nature and yet we insist upon boxing and defining things into easy to understand linear rationalism that simply doesn’t map onto reality, at least not for long. It is certainly useful to conceptualise and try to define things for our own understanding, but it reinforced for me that we need to work hard to maintain an open mind, flexibility in our mental models and compassion for other people and other ways of doing things. We also need to remember just because it sounds good to us in our context, doesn’t make it “good” for everyone.

Secondly, In Nigel March’s talk about work/life balance, he posed the question “what does your perfect work day look like?” and it was a fascinating thought experiment that I will continue to play with. As he said, most people don’t really think about this, and therefore you don’t know how to find the balance that is right for you. Later, when I heard a talk about “micro-insurance”, I got thinking about the application of Nigel’s approach to the
world as a whole.

What do we imagine to be the perfect balance for the entire world? Does it mean everyone working jobs they like? Everyone getting access to good health and education? Everyone driving cars, eating what they want, speaking their views openly and without fear? What are the basic things we want to see in the world and – and this is the hard bit – how realistic or sustainable is that vision? I guess what I started pondering was what is the actual goal people have in mind when they talk about working towards a “better world”?

It’s great that from the relative luxury of a developed, affluent and educated society, we are looking at ways to share, connect, collaborate and generally reduce our carbon footprint, but what of others who have never tasted the fruits of materialism, others without anything who have been (unfortunately) conditioned through Western culture to think that having the nice car, or house, or billion other things is a sign of success. Nigel spoke about the need to redefine what we consider “success” to be, and suggested owning loads of things wasn’t really it. I suggest we are going to face some difficulty in convincing the vast majority of the world’s population who are starting to want more things that stuff doesn’t make you happy 🙂

Every presentation from the day had interesting ideas to share, but here were the ones that really grabbed me, that kept me absolutely focused for their entire presentation. Check out the schedule for all presentations, which will be available online to watch in a week or two:

  • Bobby Singh – gave a stunning Indian drumming performance, describing and thhe demonstrating the language of drumming. Like any good story, he used his drumming to convey great meaning and I felt as if I could listen for hours.
  • Michael Kirby – gave a concise, thought-provoking and at times justifiably harsh talk about secularism and gay marriage. It was fantastic to listen to him, as he is both a brilliant and funny speaker, with something important to say.
  • Nigel Marsh – gave a thought provoking talk about trying to achieve work-life balance, and it was well worth listening to.
  • All the musical performances were brilliant, especially William Barton, one of Australia’s leading didjeridu players who combined it with the electric guitar and some beatboxing! It was also awesome to see FourPlay do their thing (twice).
  • Rachel Botsman – gave a well articulated talk about how massive connectivism is changing things. She managed to capture some really great ideas, but I have to say I was initially a little put off by the term “collaborative consumerism”, though it was awesome to see a subtle shoutout to Open Source and Free Software when she included Tux in her slides as an example of a successful connected community 🙂
  • Seb Chan – gave a great talk about the Powerhouse Museum and what they are up to, and it’s always great to listen to his raw passion and enthusiasm for his work.
  • Finally, Amanda Barnard who spoke about nanotechnology and what they are doing with nano-diamonds.

PS – I was going to take photos all day from my HTC Desire as a roadtest, but forgot my phone charger :/

Belated Ada Lovelace tribute to Stephanie Bendixsen (@HexSteph)

Ada Lovelace Day is a yearly event to celebrate awesome women in IT and tech who inspire. It’s about both celebrating girl geeks and also breaking down stereotypes to encourage more young girls and young people generally into IT.

This year I wanted to do my Ada Lovelace tribute to Stephanie Bendixsen (Hex), the new Good Game presenter and all round awesome gaming geek. You can also follow her on twitter as HexSteph, on Tumblr, on her facebook fan page, she has a couple of amusing vids on Youtube as justsurreal and of course I recommend watching Good Game :).

I first came across her on Good Game – one of my favourite shows to chill and reconnect with my inner gamer 😉 – where she joined as co-host in October 2009. I’ve watched the show for ages, and I think she’s doing an amazing job.

Some people whinge about it not being the same as it was with Junglist (the co-host before her) but I think they both have a different style, and they both are awesome. Personally I find her approach really funny, quirky and excellent for the show. Bajo, the other co-host is – as always – fantastic!

It should be said I usually look at the Good Game Review of a new game I’m considering, those rubber chickens have currency! 🙂

The reason I wanted to write a bit about Hex is because she is an unapologetic and extremely enthusiastic gamer who has inspired me this last year and who I think is a great role model. She loves gaming: she loves playing, talking about and researching games and her commitment and presentation style has been awesome.

I look forward to meeting and gaming with her some time 🙂

She had strict parents who were very anti-gaming, so no consoles or anything that looked like a game in the house. When she discovered the wonderful world of text-based RPGs she found she could play and her parents assumed it was homework or research.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jWgcyaX07_I&feature=rec-LGOUT-exp_fresh+div-1r-2-HM[/youtube]

Hex did her time doing tech support while she was at uni, and has possibly one of the world’s coolest jobs – playing and reviewing games. There is a short biography on the Good Game website worth looking through.

I guess another thing about Hex is that she has copped the widest possible range of human emotion online, from vitriol to over the top fanboiz, and has seemingly dealt with it all with good grace – another good lesson to learn from 🙂

I think Hex is doing great work for the industry and for gamers, has inspired me and will be someone to watch as her career progresses.

Great work Hex, and keep on kicking butt, literally 🙂

Software Freedom Day 2009 – worldwide coverage!

I’m helping do a local Software Freedom Day event in Canberra this Saturday (19th September) and I had a quick look at the worldwide map and was extremely impressed to see such diverse worldwide coverage. It is worth comparing this years map to say 2005 there is a lot less coverage, and a lot less countries. It is wonderful to see such an important event really taking off. Hats off to the Software Freedom International board who are doing an amazing job! I know how tough that job can be 🙂

sfd09 map
sfd09 map

The SFD09 Canberra event includes participation in a local computer fair on the day, followed by an installfest and workshop a week later. All information on the Canberra SFD 09 webpage!

A Sheik, a Rabbi & a Priest in Yass

My parents are putting on an event in Yass on the 16th September which proves to be very interesting. Basically it is the Together for Humanity Foundation, which bring a Sheik, a Rabbi and a Priest together to discuss the differences and similarities of Islam, Judaism and Christianity (respectively) and ultimately help promote understanding and tolerance in our society.

It is a great cause, and they primarily speak to schools all over the country. There is a dinner on the night of the 16th including a panel of the speakers and I thought it might be of some interest to some of the more local readers of my blog 🙂

As a person who studies Chan Buddhism, obviously I’d love to see even more diversity represented. But I still think it will be a very interesting event and I hope to see a few of you there 🙂

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.