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Aus Community Geek Girls gov20 Government society5 Tech Uncategorized

Sadly leaving the NSW Government

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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gov20 Government Personal society5

Internet, government and society: reframing #ozlog & #openinternet

Having followed the data logging issue peripherally, and the filtering issue quite closely for a number of years, I am seeing the same old tug of war between geeks and spooks, and am increasingly frustrated at how hard it is to make headway in these battles.

On one hand, the tech/geek community are the most motivated to fight these fights, because it is close to our hearts. We understand the tech, we can make strong technical arguments but the moment we mention “data” or “http”, people tune out and it becomes a niche argument, easily sidelined. It is almost ironic that is it on these issues the Federal government have been the most effective on (mainstream) messaging.

The fact is, these issues affect all Australians. When explained in non tech terms, I find all my non-geek friends get quite furious, and yet the debates simply haven’t made it into the mainstream, apart from a few glib catch phrases here or there which usually err on the side of “well if it helps keep children safe…”.

I think what is needed is a huge reframing of the issue. It isn’t just about the filter, or data logging, or any of the myriad technical policies and legislation proposals that are being fought out by the technical and security elite.

This is about the big picture. The role of the Internet in the lives of Australians, the role of government in a digital age, and what we – as people, as a society – want and what we will compromise on.

I would like to see this reframing through our media, our messaging, our advocacy, and our outreach to non-tech communities (ie – MOST of the community). I challenge you all to stop trying to tell your friends about “the perils of data logging on our freedoms”, and start engaging friends and colleagues on how they use the Internet, what they expect, whether they think privacy is important online in the same way as they expect privacy with their snail mail, and what they want to see in the Internet of the future.

I had a short chat to my flatmate about #ozlog, staying well away from the tech, and here is what she had to say:

What annoys me is how the powers that be are making decisions that can or will affect our lives considerably without any public consultation. The general public should be educated on the implications of these kinds of laws and have a say. To me, this is effectively tampering with the mail, which has all the same arguments. If we start just cutting corners to “catch the bad guys” then we start losing our rights and compromising without consideration, potentially to no effect on crime. It’s a slippery slope.

Pamela Martin – flatmate and non-geek, she still has a VCR

It’d be great to see a series on TV about the Internet and society, something that gets normal people to talk about how they use the Internet, what they expect from the Internet, from government, and to work through some of the considerations and implications of tampering with how the Internet works. Some experts on security, networking, online behaviours and sociology would also be interesting, and let’s take this debate to the mainstream. The tech, security and politically elite too often disregard the thought that “normal” people will get it or care, but this is in fact, possibly the most important public debate we need to have right now.

I’ve written a little more on these ideas at:

Would love to hear your thoughts.

It is worth noting that during the big filter discussions in 2009/10 I was working for Senator Kate Lundy. Most of our correspondence up till that date were, to be frank, pro filter letters that argued that people wanted less porn to protect the children. IE – the arguments were generally idealogically based and little to do with the actual proposed policy, but supporting letters just the same. The Senator blogged about her thoughts on the issue which caused (over a few posts) several thousand comments, largely considered and technical comments against the policy which were really helpful both in building a case and in demonstrating that this is a contentious issue. I was and remain very proud to have worked for a politician with such integrity.

At the same time I saw a lot of people fighting against the filter using nastiness, personal attacks, conspiracy theories and threats. I would like to implore to all those who want to fight the good fight: take a little time to consider what you do, the impact of your actions and words, and whether in fact, what you do contributes to the outcome you are seeking. It is too easy to say “well it’s gonna happen anyway” and get all fatalistic, but I assure you, constructive, diligent and overall well constructed advocacy and democratic engagement does win the day. At the end of the day, they work for us, we just sometimes need to remind them, and the broader “us” of the fact.

UPDATE: This post was initially inspired by a well written SMH article which reported that the data logging issue had been put deftly back on the table (after it being shelved for being too contentious) with questionable claims:

Her apparent change of mind may be a result of conversations with the Australian Federal Police, who have long pushed for mandatory online data retention. Neil Gaughan heads the AFP’s High Tech Crime Centre and is a vocal advocate for the policy.

”Without data retention laws I can guarantee you that the AFP won’t be able to investigate groups such as Anonymous over data breaches because we won’t be able to enforce the law,” he told a cyber security conference recently.

Now, I’m not involved in Anonymous but I’m going to make an educated guess that there is probably a reasonably high rate of tech literate people who understand and use encryption and other tools for privacy and anonymity. Data logging is ineffective with these in place so the argument is misleading at best.

I was pleased and heartened to see the SMH article get a lot of attention and good comments.

This is only the beginning.

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Aus Community OLPC OLPC Friends

Why Australian trials are important to the OLPC vision

I’ve been asked a few times why OLPC deployments in Australia are relevant to the OLPC vision. I thought I’d do a blog post about what OLPC Friends is trying to achieve in supporting local projects, and why I’ve been so keen to get local trials happening in Australia. Feedback welcome 🙂

  1. Need in Australia – there are many children in Australia who are in serious need. Whether it be in remote Indigenous Australia, or living in poverty in metropolitan areas. Supporting projects for these children is a key goal of OLPC Friends for Australia, New Zealand and throughout the Pacific. The first Australian trial includes some children from extremely disadvantaged communities (including a remote Indigenous family) as well as typical kids to ensure that the technology meets both the specific needs of disadvantaged children as well as the typical education requirements of an Australian school. Details of this trial (including some videos and learning activities) are here.
  2. Funding the Pacific – By rolling laptops out to Australian schools at a premium rate, the funding raised can go directly to Pacific countries who don’t have access to funding or resources to help them with OLPC rollouts and funding volunteers to work on deployments. Then organisations like AusAID can also work in collaboration with education departments to fully fund Pacific projects.
  3. Supporting the Pacific – Throughout Australia and New Zealand there are loads of technical people and educators who are willing to volunteer for helping with OLPC trials right throughout the region. Many of them have already signed up on the OLPC Friends volunteers page. The more people who have skills the better we can support implementers and educators throughout the Pacific to improve both the resources available and the education levels of all children in the region.
  4. Cultural connections – One fantastic opportunity is to use the collaboration tools (such as the Videochat activity) and the ability to connect to another school to connect children up directly. This means opportunities for cultural sharing, awareness and ultimately for opening doors to opportunity and knowledge for children all over the region. We already have schools interested in this kind of cultural exchange, and I’m really excited to be able to facilitate this.
  5. Remote training – One important element of Australia’s first trial is using the connectivity (Videochat, Jabber, Write, etc) to provide remote support to students, in particular literacy training. The learning specialist can provide literacy lessons for children in remote areas that don’t have the local skills for the special education requirements. The OLPC schoolserver (XS) also includes Moodle for eLearning. Building up local resources for remote learning such as literacy, teacher training, and online classes means that the whole region (and world) can benefit and utilise these resources and potentially these services to improve their education and training options.

Basically, I believe that OLPC deployments in Australia and New Zealand can – with appropriate strategic planning and collaboration – have profound and sustainable positive impacts for the Pacific, while also addressing serious and general local needs in each country. I believe this kind of regional approach ensures an organic, sustainable, and ultimately community-oriented strategy.

I also believe that rolling out individual laptops to people when there isn’t that education and school-based approach ultimately doesn’t contribute strongly to the vision of OLPC. As we see many more schools around the world taking on OLPC in the classroom, I think we’ll see that a very large percentage of the value of the technology is only found when all the children in the classroom are connected together and online, and when it is integrated into their normal school curriculum.

Now that anyone can buy laptops in bulk (minimum order 100) for a reasonable price ($219 per laptop to OLPC partner countries and the 50 Least Developed Countries and USD$259 for the rest of the world) in the “Change the World” program, I hope that people will start realising that these devices need to be in the classroom, not in their Christmas stocking. For anyone interested in doing deployments you can check out the OLPC Deployment Guide and if you want any help, check out OLPC Friends and can register, sign up for volunteering, get involved and find others who have skills and interest in the project 🙂 We’re going to start regular online meetings soon, and some face to face meetings in various cities across the region (Adelaide and Wellington already have regular meetings :), so there are plenty of ways to participate.

EDIT: Please note I originally posted incorrect information about the XO pricing but it is definitely cheaper if you are in a partner country or least developed country as defined on the OLPC website here.