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Aus Community gov20 Government

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.

Categories
gov20 Government

Public engagement: more customer service than comms

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

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

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

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 The skills to best navigate this space and have a meaningful outcome are not based in the outdated premise that a media office is the single source of communications due to the media being the primary mechanism to get information out to the general public.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

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

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

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

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

Herding Cats

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

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

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

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

Community and Topic Research

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

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

Collaboration & Co-design

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

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

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

Monitoring, Analysis & Feedback Mechanisms

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

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

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

Categories
gov20 Government

Vivek Kundra and some lessons learnt about tech in gov

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TRANSCRIPT

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

So, hi, welcome to Australia.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vivek: Thank you.

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

Categories
FOSS gov20 Government

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

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

The changing relationship between citizens and government

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is Gov 2.0

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

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

Open Data

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Data visualisation

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

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

Citizen Centric Services

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

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

Some examples of citizen centric services include:

Public engagement

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

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

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

FOSS and government

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

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

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

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

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

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

Open Government policies

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

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

Conclusion

Open Government and Gov 2.0 both represent an ideal.

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

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

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

Thank you.

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gov20 Government Tech

US Air Force Web Posting Response Assessment

This is pretty interesting. The US Air Force have a methodology to deal with online responses like comments. I like it how trolls and “ragers” require HQ be notified 🙂

I think it helps people not used to communicating online think about different sorts of negative feedback, and how it is important to engage with some, and possibly not with others. Also the “response considerations” were quite good too to encourage transparency and accountability in online communications.

Click on the image for the larger more readable version.

Diagram of US Air Force diagram for dealing with trolls