Personal thoughts for the Digital Strategy for Aotearoa New Zealand

On the 6th October, a public consultation about a Digital Strategy for Aotearoa New Zealand opened for feedback and participation. Contributions close 10th November, and I thought I’d share a few thoughts, and encourage you all to contribute 🙂 I also wrote a paper on two major issues I see facing us here, Service Delivery and Public Trust in New Zealand Aotearoa: a Discussion Paper which might be of interest, I hope these thoughts are helpful and I want to thank DIA and MBIE for engaging so openly on this topic. It provides a good opportunity to create a genuinely bold and visionary approach that serves us well into the future 🙂

The discussion paper paints a vision of Aotearoa New Zealand being a world leading digital nation built on trust, known for the ethical deployment of new technologies, and it defines success as predominantly: 

  • Higher productivity
  • Lower emissions
  • Everyone flourishes

The rest of the paper however, seems to focus almost mostly on the productivity goal, for example, talking about trust as “We have the right foundations to sell our products and services to the world with confidence, while all New Zealanders embrace the digital future because they feel safe and secure”. “Embracing the digital future” ignores that we are in a digital present, and ignores also the current stress, fears and uncertainty that many feel, as they are actively gamed online today. Ethical deployment of tech also needs defining, because what you can’t describe, measure or monitor for will not lead to an ethical outcome. For instance, to my mind, ethical means all decisions or actions taken are traceable back to a legal authority, are explainable, and are easily appealable by the people affected, and independently auditable. Ethical means a program, policy, service, etc demonstrably and measurable contributes to wellbeing, and does no harm. Define it how you wish, but defining it is critical to assuring it 🙂

This paper seems very focused on “digital” as just the adopting of technologies, but doesn’t really address what is needed to live well in a digital age. I would hope the draft digital strategy that is developed as a result of this engagement addresses the fact that to be meaningful, a digital strategy for Aotearoa New Zealand needs to address the paradigm shifts, future state, and the necessary systemic and structural changes needed to live well and thrive in a digital age. 

General comments

  • The Strategy provides no real vision for a better or different future state, no real mission beyond more use of tech, just a series of tactics clustered into the three themes. I would suggest it is important to use the opportunity to co-create a shared vision of “good” in collaboration with the public to have a future state to work towards. Otherwise, any and all efforts will simply extend the current status quo system, which will at best provide symptomatic relief, without addressing any causal issues or the potential of new opportunities. Driving faster in the same direction will not get you anywhere better than the current trajectory, and COVID has shown us irrefutably that our current direction is not sustainable, equitable or inclusive.
  • The themes are ok, but the goals seem very specific to, or intended to only enable, economic outcomes. It implies that to “flourish and prosper” are assumed to be purely financial, whereas I would hope that trust, inclusion and prospering are considered within the broader Wellness framework: economic, social, human and environmental. Why doesn’t trust talk about how to ensure critical sectors for social cohesion and democratic stability are made more trustworthy (like the public sector, research sector, and the 4th estate)? Why doesn’t inclusion talk about how to ensure people can participate in policy development, participatory democracy and shared governance arrangements? Where are the supports for self-sovereign systems, like an Iwi as an IdP? Why does growth not talk about cultural growth, digital taonga, etc? My suggestions for the theme goals:
    • Mahi Tika (Trust): All New Zealanders are supported by a trustworthy and accountable public service, which provides transparent oversight and appealability for all decisions and actions. People can see and trust their information is being protected and used appropriately, across all sectors in New Zealand, and have help available to navigate truth and authenticity online.
    • Mahi Tahi (Inclusion):  all New Zealanders have the tools, skills and nous to work, play and participate in society with confidence, with equitable access to inclusively developed public infrastructure, policies and services.
    • Mahi Ake (Growth): All New Zealanders have the right digital infrastructure, foundations and skills to build globally competitive new services, products and value in every sector.   
  • The Digital Strategy for Aotearoa is written like just a response to changing technologies, rather than a response to changing paradigms. Technological changes are only a part of being in the 21st century, and it is in the reimagining of our society, economy and sectors that we have a chance to truly become a digital nation. Otherwise we’ll continue to be an industrial nation with some shiny new toys.
  • A transformed public sector that provides trustworthy, reliable and extendable digital public infrastructure, inclusive and highly integrated public services, and a modern approach to regulation and compliance including regulation/legislation as code, and participatory governance where the public can play a part in defining the policies and services they need.
  • A national measurement framework that values and prioritises quality of life outcomes. Such a measurement framework would influence funding, grants, taxation and investment across all sectors, which would in turn influence the use of and outcomes from all technologies deployed, especially artificial intelligence.  
  • Where is the wellness framework in this Strategy? Why not set some targets from here https://www.stats.govt.nz/information-releases/wellbeing-statistics-2018 like “80% people trust the Parliament and Media”
  • Government systems that need to be governed under Te Tiriti need to stay within jurisdiction of Te Tiriti, therefore onshore.
  • The Digital Strategy of UAE was based on the OECD Digital Government Policy Framework, I suggest this be considered as part of this strategy https://u.ae/en/about-the-uae/digital-uae/uae-national-digital-government-strategy 

What would reaching this vision mean for us as New Zealanders? – Feedback

  • New Zealanders have better access to, and use, public services when and where we need them, with well supported online and offline choices so we are never left behind;
  • Small and medium sized enterprises (or SMEs) are increasingly able to grasp digital innovation opportunities and create growth and jobs;
  • A public sector that is digitally innovative, and provides reliable digital public infrastructure to democratise the creation of new value in the digital economy;
  • New Zealanders are safe, secure and confident in a digitally enabled world, can trust that their private information is safe and are able to view and appeal decisions when mistakes are made;
  • We would see ourselves as leading the world in the creation and adoption of responsible digital practices, across all sectors.
  • Policies are developed in the open, with public participation, which are monitored publicly and when policy objectives are compromised due to unexpected change or contradictory policies, it can be dealt with holistically. Policy reform will be holistic, easy and fast to implement, and result in less unintended consequences.
  • Compliance with government regulations will be much cheaper, faster, and more automatable for all sectors, through the provision of digital rules for public consumption and reuse. 
  • All government reporting and other obligations will be designed as digital first to reduce impost, improve compliance, and improve monitoring of policy objectives and real world impact.
  • All industries will be able to leverage technology and in particular, Artificial Intelligence, to augment the workforce, getting the best that people and machines can bring to the table, without losing the benefits of both. An augmented work force is far more innovative, sustainable, resilient and productive than an automated work force, because the former can adapt over time, whereas the latter is stuck in time.

Big issues – feedback

  • Public trust and confidence in the public sector and in the government – need to establish more trustworthy practices, processes, oversight and systems in the public sector, which must be perceived as independent of politics.
  • Deep fakes will dramatically heighten the misinformation wars, and will contribute heavily to ransomware and other attacks. Imagine being bribed about a damaging video that was generated by deep fake technology.
  • A lack of systemic measures will drive non-systemic outcomes
  • It is the processes followed in government that slows things down and makes it less responsive in a time of crisis. The fact that emergency powers had to be so leaned on shows that there is an opportunity to streamline and improve government processes. A review should be done into the entire policy lifecycle, and how it could be streamlined to improve policy agility.
  • Why does the paper say “susceptible to future of work”, paint an alternative.
  • The future of work is something people are scared of, so this area needs leadership on alternatives. An augmented workforce vision would provide a better balance than an automated one, but people are presuming the value of machines is only in automation, which is setting them up to be less adaptive, resilient or innovative into the future.
  • Promoting investment in IT R&D, including how to engage with the computer science and academic community around leading edge research. Perhaps make IT R&D tax deductible?

Measuring success – feedback

Whatever measures are created (there should be clear measures for all three themes) must be applied to all initiatives. If a department is funded to do something in the trust theme, then they must be accountable for demonstrating how that initiative contributes to the trust measures, as well as being accountable for how that initiative contributes to Wellbeing measures. Otherwise we’ll continue to see a lack of systemic pressure to drive the intended outcomes.

  • The ICT sector doubles its economic contribution to GDP by 2030 – (please include the number) 
  • All significant government services are designed inclusively, and have omni-channel options (online, phone and in person options) to ensure New Zealanders are fully supported
  • New Zealanders increasingly feel safe online (target)
  • More secondary school students are taking technology standards (or, just make it part of the core curriculum so you get 100% coverage?)
  • The numbers of tech-related graduates increases (and number of multidisciplinary, why not have tech literacy in most degrees?)
  • Our small businesses are more digitally capable (as measured by the SME Digital Index).
  • Government entities are more digitally capable (as measured by the same SME Digital Index)
  • New Zealand will boast 100,000 highly skilled IT and digital professionals across the economy by 2030 including to double the capacity within government to ensure enough internal expertise to deliver, to innovation, and to engage expertly with the broader tech sector.
  • Wellbeing target measures to improve quality of life for all people.

Opportunities for Māori – feedback

  1. Shared governance – rather than just building Te Ao Māori into frameworks, why won’t government agencies actually share governance with Māori?
  2. Government could provide support for self-sovereign systems for Māori to manage digital taonga, in line with Te Tiriti
  3. Government could provide interoperability with Māori self-sovereign systems where appropriate, including for identity solutions
  4. Government could ensure all services and policies are co-governed with Māori
  5. Government should use Te Tiriti as a framework for the digital strategy, and ensure all “digital whenua” is co-governed

Components that underpin our digital environment – feedback

I suggest adding the following, which are critical components for a digitally inclusive, equitable and consistent ecosystem.

  • Digital and Service Standards – to ensure consistency of high quality, inclusively designed and well supported public services.
  • Trust infrastructure – the records keeping, public access, traceability back to law, independent oversight and participatory governance to ensure auditability, appealable and trustworthy systems.
  • Digital government should include a digital public infrastructure, a digital twin of government, including legislation/regulation as code, all of government modelling, measurement and monitoring, the structures, functions, authorities and policies of government available as code, and reusable government as a platform components that the broader economy and society can rely upon and build upon.
  • Public reporting – all government reporting will be done publicly, including compliance to the algorithmic charter, digital service standard reports, policy and service measurements, and other areas of compliance and oversight, unless there is a national security consideration

Opportunities to improve trust – feedback

  • The opening paragraph paints a rosy picture that does not align to the Wellbeing Measures, which say the Media is trued by less than 50% of the population, and the Parliament only slightly more. There is more trust for the people, health system and courts than for the media and parliament. In fact, declining trust has had real world implications, from vulnerability and social exclusion to vaccinations and public compliance. So surely improving that trust is key to a functional and cohesive democracy? Growing trust in both the public sector and 4th estate should be a key focus of this strategy.
  • The issues with social media are named, and yet the Strategy doesn’t address the problem with any tactics. What are the “trust settings” mentioned?
    1. The embedding of ethics into technology sounds good, but if the government funding, budgets, business cases, grants, taxation and full financial management system doesn’t have “ethical” measures or requirements, let alone Wellbeing or human measures of success, then “cheapest” will continue to be considered proxy for “value for money”. Where are the digital rules to be able to get consistency of implementation and monitoring for how rules are being applied for adverse patterns, etc? Rather than seeking social licence, why not build a social contract, and build more trustworthy systems that protect privacy and dignity while also providing better services, through techniques such as verifiable claims, confidentialised computing, and user consent driven federated approaches to data, including integration with self-sovereign data sources from community-led data initiatives.
    2. Where is the strategy, guidance and approach for full stack security for NZ? How is national connectivity assured and monitored? Where is the all of system monitoring and patterns analysis? How are service analytics being used as a first line of defence?
    3. What “work is underway” across government to help people understand what can and can’t be trusted? This seems key but no details are present.
    4. Customer centric services would great but digital government is more than digital services. What is the strategy and investment approach for digital public infrastructure, how is policy being made more agile and real time, how is government monitoring itself for human measures of success for all policies and services, where are the digital regulations and digital legislation, and where are the reusable government systems or service components to make it easy for everyone else to build upon government as a platform? 

Inclusion section – feedback

  • It isn’t just about tools, services and skills. It needs to include participatory approaches to designing, delivering and managing public policies and services. This means the public sector should implement the new Public Service Act requirements to engage New Zealanders in the processes around design and delivery of the services and policies that impact upon and support them.
  • Anyone and everyone, given the wrong set of circumstances, will need or will want to choose supported services (phone, in person, through a trusted NGO, etc) if they are struggling with great complexity or some form of vulnerability. For instance, a person who recently had an accident might prefer to deal with a person because they are worried they might get their online applications wrong. Or a person who is escaping a domestic violence situation might be more comfortable getting services through CAB or a refuge than coming directly to government in the first instance. The notion that only people with a disability need support is both patronising to people with a disability, and missing the critical aspect of choice, preference or different types of service for different points in time. Inclusive services means designing government services that give people a choice, and provide the wrap around support for anyone if they need or choose it, as well as providing support through third parties.

To address social exclusion, I suggest you adopt all the recommendations from the Citizen Advice Bureau recent submission here https://www.cab.org.nz/assets/Documents/Face-to-Face-with-Digital-Exclusion-/FINAL-CABNZ-collated-submission-to-Petitions-Committee.pdf.

Growth section – feedback

There needs to be strategic investment in computer science as an area of hypothesis led research, looking at national issues. The regular use of computer science as just a means to commercialise something misses the critical need for research into bleeding edge and emergent opportunities/challenges as a critical pipeline for innovation across all sectors. Such research and input is also critical to inform government policies, services, infrastructure and regulation in an evidence based and non commercially motivated way.

Goodbye Service Canada, and thank you for everything

I recently finished my last day working for Service Canada, and I wanted to capture and share the journey and accomplishments, as well as a few thanks to the excellent people I have had the pleasure and privilege to work with over the last couple of years. But let’s start at the beginning!

Every year since it started, I have attended FWD50 (coming up next month!), which is my favourite government conference in the world because it actually explores true transformation of the sector, with a laser like focus on creating public good. FWD50 isn’t just a conference, but a community of people committed to the journey of changing and transforming public sectors to be fit for purpose in the digital age, including policy, services, culture, legislation and all of it! I came over to Canada for FWD50 in November 2019, and I spoke with several people about potentially working for the Canadian Government. I was invited by Benoit Long to present to his team about Government as a Platform and some of the other themes from my 2019 FWD50 talk, where I had presented the Public Service Pia Review and he talked to me about his vision for true transformation at ESDC (Employment and Social Development Canada).

I was subsequently hired under the “Interchange Canada” program (which itself is a wonderful Canadian Government innovation) as part of an ambitious and visionary agenda at ESDC, called the “Benefits Delivery Modernisation” (BDM) programme. BDM aims to achieve service excellence, policy agility, and a genuinely transformed organisation. It is rare you see an agenda that even vaguely scratches the surface of systemic transformation, but BDM is just such a programme. The breadth and ambitious scope of vision, and the commitment to change, reaches into every part of ESDC and is supported up to the very top of the leadership chain. It has been a highlight of my career so far not just to contribute to such a magnificent change agenda, but also to work with and learn from exceptional people all around me, at ESDC and beyond. I will always be thankful for the growth opportunity, support, encouragement and trust I have had at ESDC, thank you all so much. It is extremely hard to leave, but almost two years of sleep deprivation finally caught up with me, and my family and I look forward to being able to live a little more normal a life, without the 2am and 3am starts that extend into the weekend 🙂

I wanted to share a little about what we achieved in a couple of years:

  • We researched, defined and designed the framework and vision for a digital channel for Service Canada, both the service itself as well as the capabilities and operating model to ensure continuous and responsive improvements, innovation and user centricity. We also achieved organisational wide support for this framework, no small feat! We wanted to have a minimum viable capability to both deliver and then operate the digital channel for Service Canada, with continuous design, experimentation, effective feedback loops for client and staff input, and a CX pipeline and robust channel(s) management, all built into the business as usual operating model to tie it all together.
  • We worked with our colleagues to establish an omni-channel principle and service approach from day one, with the intent to manage Service Canada channels in a holistic way to ensure equitable and equally high quality of service, regardless of the channel of need or choice. 
  • Part of our framework was a clear purpose for the digital channel, namely:

To deliver a dignified, user-centric, responsive and integrated digital journey that delights, empowers and motivates people to get what they are entitled to.

Digital Channel Roadmap for BDM, 2020
  • Each part of that purpose was backed by definitions, metrics, strategies and clear deliverables. This purpose statement acts as both a sword to carve out our path into new territory, as well as a shield to ensure new ideas always are tested against and not diminishing any aspect of our purpose.
  • At the end of 2020 I spoke at FWD50 (again), and presented the vision, approach and progress we had made on defining, designing and planning a digital channel for Service Canada. At this stage we had grown a little, but were still in “Programme Definition” stage, so the fun delivery work was largely yet to begin.  
  • Early 2020 we all transitioned from the planning phase to ”Tranche 1” (delivery!) and continued to build out the team, starting with the original and excellent 8 staff (with a little external support) that I joined at the beginning of 2020, and we grew to over 140 people, a health combination of staff with service integrators, working together as one team. Over the last 2 years we have grown DECD into a formidable team, described by our ADM as “a rockstar team with arguably the best digital talent ever assembled in Canada” 🙂
  • We took the Government of Canada Digital Standards and built them out to a full process and assurance model, pegged to Service Design of course.
  • We launched an early deliverable, “Service Canada Labs”, to create an open way of inviting and recruiting the Canadian general public to contribute formally (or informally) to the design of their experience with Service Canada, and to test early concepts or services openly in the public. It also gave us a good dress rehearsal for delivering a product live in ESDC. 
  • We established the first ever Life Journey Program in the Government of Canada (that we know of!) to help understand and build our services to be sensitive to and helpful for the context of what a person is going through in their life. A huge thank you, as always, to the New Zealand Government, especially the SmartStart and End of Life services team for showing the way on the value of life journey based services.
  • Our team worked closely with the procurement teams to establish an innovative first for ESDC, and first potentially for the Government of Canada. We created a sprints-based procurement model, where we brought in delivery teams who had a combination of fixed and variable members, who work with internal product managers and product owners to an internally controlled backlog. This allows for multi-scrum product delivery, as well as flexibility for the vendor to swap out the variable team members to draw in expertise relevant to the particular sprint or product as it evolves over time. This also helps to ensure longer term decision making and client-centric design with accountability staying with the department, which is critical for a digital channel so that the department truly manages the direct relationship and interface with clients. The Australian Government Department of Finance did this a few years back, and it was also successful, enabling genuine partnership, with internal and external delivery teams working as one product team.
  • We had two Code for Canada teams join us to explore new areas of public sector reform. The two teams were Team Babel who created the world’s first “Policy Difference Engine” to explore, test and understand the real impact of policy changes. This has been a 10 year dream for me (with a hat tip to Lovelace and Babbage of course) so it was very exciting to see Team Babel bring it to life! The second project was Team TOAD who explored ways to meaningfully support a client online, not just in the short term, but into the future, with a wonderful combination of service design and speculative design, they created a first iteration product that is being testing with real users right now 🙂 We incorporated C4C into our program not just to explore some new areas, but to help shape how we bring design and dev together, and by having C4C teams join us every 2 years we will be able to plan a way to help ensure new eyes and fresh thinking on the many challenges to delivering highly ethical and excellent social services to Canadians.
  • Finally, we were pathfinders for several new capabilities for ESDC that will serve the department, and the people of Canada, well into the future. We established growing practices in product management, service design, multidisciplinary product teams (where IT was embedded rather than separate to the “business”) and omni-channel management, working closely with the newly formed CX capability in ESDC, and along with all the other capabilities required to run and continuously improve services.
  • Finally, we established a strong culture of being always the kindest, calmest person in the room, and working openly and collaboratively with all our partners and colleagues across the department. It is the team itself that I am most proud of, and I will continue to be a big fan from outside the department! 

I want to briefly say a few thank yous to my Service Canada friends:

  • To the initial 8, thank you for making me feel so welcome and for coming on this epic journey with me, with open hearts and open minds. We have achieved much together! Thank you!
  • To everyone who joined the team, thank you for contributing to the culture, ethics and delivery needed to create a digital channel for Service Canada. Every one of you has extraordinary talent, experience and heart to bring to the table, and I can’t wait to see you deliver the digital channel late next year!
  • A big thank you especially to Meg, Nicolas-Benoit, Grace, Wafa and all who contributed to DG Office, for all your support, care and help!
  • To Benoit Long and Tammy Belanger, my ADMs, thank you for trusting and supporting me and the DECD team, and for supporting the vision we developed together.
  • To all my colleagues across BDM, thank you for being amazing to work with and for engaging in the quest for what is best for all the people and communities of Canada.
  • To my fellow “vertical leads”, with whom I shared delivery accountabilities and who are, each one of them, inspiring and wonderful. Thank you for sharing, teaching and collaborating so closely and with such integrity every day.
  • To Martin Duggan, whose integrity, commitment and passion for better social services and systems around the world was inspiring. We collaborated, learned from each other, and enjoyed an occasional spar, but I truly enjoyed working with you Martin 🙂
  • To Nada and Brad, who showed selfless kindness at a period of enormous personal stress. Nada for when we moved into our house and needed help with some furniture, and Brad for driving us to Montreal to get on the plane at short notice, when we realised Ottawa airport was closed from COVID!  
  • And finally, I need to say thank you to my family, because without their support, this would not have been possible.
  • I have just one more thank you, but it requires some context…

On a personal note, the journey has been epic journey from the start. When I joined ESDC, I worked remotely from Australia for a couple of months before we travelled to Canada. This involved horrendous hours but I reassured my family it was just a temporary temporal displacement, words I later had to eat 🙂 We moved to Canada in February and had one week to familiarise ourselves with Ottawa, then one week in the office meeting my fabulous initial team of 8, before the COVID-19 lockdown started, and my family found ourselves physically and socially isolated in a hotel, in a new country. We had just a couple of friends and one family outside of work, with just the one set of kids in that family that had befriended our little one. Otherwise she knew no one and felt very alone in this new country stuck with only her parents. We struggled along until we moved into a lovely home about 5 weeks in. Globally, people were starting to be encouraged to return to their country of origin, with just a hint of the global shutdown that was yet to occur, but we were just relieved to have somewhere to live, and had committed to staying in Canada for 3 years. That intent was unexpectedly interrupted when our little one decided to ride her scooter off a step, crashing face first into the pavement, resulting in an immediate series of disruptive moves. The family above continued to show us great kindness over the subsequent couple of years, so I wanted to finish this post with the biggest thank you of all to Julie and Z (and your wonderful girls!), thank you both so much for everything. We couldn’t have done it (and stayed sane) without you, and we can’t wait, some day, to share a meal again someday, this time at our place 🙂 

So to complete this story, which I know is just one of 7 billion 2020/2021 COVID stories, we are actually thankful for the opportunities, the experience, and the kindness and support we have had along the way. From work, friends, family and even from strangers. There are many that have had a much, MUCH worse experience over the last two years, and for all the disruption we have experienced, at least we have had a lot of support and have come through it with our health, our sanity, and with each other.

I’m looking forward to some rest and reflection, and a new professional chapter, with so much learned and achieved from serving with this incredible team in Canada. I’ll miss you all, but will be delighted to continue to contribute to public service transformation, perhaps here in Aotearoa New Zealand 🙂

Renewal of the public service is everyone’s job

This article originally appeared in the Public Sector journal July 2021. It is reproduced here with the permission of IPANZ (Institute of Public Administration New Zealand).

Pia Andrews sees wonderful opportunities in the new Public Service Act 2020 (New Zealand).

As someone who is passionate about public sector renewal and transformation, I was fascinated to read the new Public Service Act. I believe it provides a powerful lever for systemic change, but a lever is only effective when you use it.

I’ve heard different opinions about the Act across Aotearoa. Some see it as the start of getting the sector back to being a vehicle for public good. Some view it with scepticism. To my mind, both of these perspectives are valid, because the Act provides both a light on the hill, and a stark counter-factual to the daily experience of many. 

At the end of the day, the Act is what you make of it, what we all make of it. If you are one of the many people “waiting for it to be implemented”, then I suggest you are, at best, missing an opportunity. I urge you to do everything in your power to take this moment and make it count. The lever is there, let’s use it. 

This article examines key aspects of the Act, then provides some practical examples of how it could be applied. 

Unpacking the new Public Service Act (2020)

The Purpose of the Act is bold because it recognises the need for change and modernisation, for establishing a shared purpose, and for better ways of working that are more collaborative, transparent, and outcomes focused. Most importantly, the Act affirms that the fundamental characteristic of the public service is to “act with a spirit of service to the community”.

But we need to look back in time to understand why such a legislative intervention was needed.

From the mid-1980s, there was a global shift in public sectors away from service to the public and towards managerialism and artificial “business” imperatives. This pseudo-business approach, combined with subsequent generations of leadership who increasingly see themselves more as executives than stewards of public good, has resulted in some institutions losing their core purpose, losing their stewardship culture, and losing touch with the public they serve. 

Short-termism has become rewarded at the cost of long-term planning and delivery of public value. The Act’s purpose supports a balanced public service approach that actively holds the role of caretaker of the long term public interest, while supporting democratic, constitutional and successive governments, and actively engaging citizens. It is with this balance that resources, no matter how stretched, could be purposefully and proportionally distributed to both urgent short term priorities as well as strategic long term ones. 

Principles and values

The principles and values reinforce a way of working that is politically neutral, free and frank, merit based, and focused on long-term planning, with a commitment to open government and stewardship. The values reinforce a way of behaving that is impartial, accountable, trustworthy, respectful, and responsive to the people of New Zealand. These provide a powerful call to action for all public servants and a systemic framework for a culture that rewards high integrity and brave pursuit of values-based public good for Aotearoa.

Crown’s relationship with Māori

Public service leaders are “responsible for developing and maintaining the capability of the public service to engage with Māori and to understand Māori perspectives.” This requires us all to seek to understand different ways of thinking, living and seeing the world, including our own worldview. It presents an opportunity to shift towards an open-minded and respectful partnership framework with ngā Iwi and Māori. You can start small by simply taking the time to understand the whakapapa, stories, values and whanaungatanga of the people you work with and serve. A greater engagement of and understanding of Mātauranga Māori could help us all live up to the intent, sovereignty, and community empowerment outlined in Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

Integrity and conduct

The Act states “… public service employees have all the rights and freedoms affirmed in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990”. To have public servants acknowledged as actual people with rights and responsibilities like any other citizen might seem an unnecessary truism, but this simple acknowledgment promotes a public service that trusts in and empowers all public servants to be an active part of civil society. It also improves the confidence of public servants to engage effectively and openly with others (citizens, ngā Iwi, other sectors, experts, community forums). By contrast, there are many jurisdictions around the world that inhibit, intimidate, or simply prohibit public servants from having any role in civil society.

Joint operational agreements

The Act supports the establishment of “joint operational agreements”, which always need to be hosted by an existing department. The challenge is new initiatives may be constrained by the host departments, so when establishing these new agreements, carefully consider how to structure and empower them to do something differently or better, otherwise they will simply become carbon copies of their hosts.

Applying the Act to two problem areas

Problem #1: Maintaining trust in the public service 

Trust is hard won and easily lost. Public institutions globally are struggling to shift from simply seeking trust, to being more trustworthy. Trust in the public service is certainly impacted by real or perceived issues with services, policies or decision making, and reduced confidence can lead to people not trusting, engaging with, or respecting the policies or democratic outcomes administered by the public sector. 

Ways to apply the Act: 

  • Engage the public to inclusively co-design “trustworthy” policies, programmes, services and infrastructure that reflect societal values and needs. 
  • Explore what would be needed to support transparent, appealable, and auditable decisions and services that are traceable back to law, such as publicly available and testable legislation as code. 
  • Be operationally transparent – publish your operating procedures, governance, oversight mechanisms reports, etc. Make it easy for the public to find, learn about, keep up to date with, and contribute to your programme, and publicly track your progress and impact. 
  • Ensure that reports to the Public Service Commissioner on progress towards goals are publicly available.
  • Embed, measure, and monitor the various accountabilities and performance requirements outlined in the Act.
  • Take a human and whānau-centred approach, not just a user-centric approach. 
  • Apply the Wellbeing Framework into policy proposals, funding proposals, measurement and performance frameworks, and independent baselining. 

Problem #2: Focusing on long-term planning and policy futures  

The public service has become largely reactive. While there are exceptions – like the Department of Conservation 50-year goals and planning – most agencies are largely driven by the latest urgency, budget or electoral cycle. But how can you take the right next step if you don’t know where you are going? 

Ways to apply the Act:

  • Dedicate a percentage (I suggest 15%) of your programme resource to community engagement efforts, long-term planning, and staff innovation.
  • Establish a joint “policy futures” operational agreement between all policy units to co-resource policy proposals and optimistic futures for Aotearoa that draw on research, emerging trends, public values and changing needs.
  • Assume and monitor for continuous change in everything you do. Be operationally proactive.
  • Consider how your department could better support community initiatives. Provide public infrastructure (including digital) for others to build on.

Conclusion and what next?

The Act reminds public servants of our responsibilities to communities, but it also recognises us as independent  individuals with a democratic right to be engaged in civil society. It promotes a more adaptive, confident and collaborative public service and includes stronger recognition of the role of the public service to support partnership between Māori and the Crown. 

At all levels, individuals, teams, divisions and departments should take time to review and apply the Act to all programs, structures, services, policies and ways of working, to nudge the entire machinery of government towards a greater “spirit of service to the community”. Here are some more things you could try today:

  • Be proud and have a voice! Join user groups, meet-ups, blogs, and communities of practice, and explore what “good” could look like for Aotearoa. Actively resist cynicism or complacency. 
  • Close the policy-implementation divide through multi-disciplinary design and delivery of policies and services.
  • Raise thoughtful opportunities to apply the Act with your team leads, managers, executives, and leaders and at conferences and hui.
  • Question the status quo and take time to learn about the history of the public sector. 
  • Explore what it means to be participatory, trustworthy, and equitable in the 21st century.
  • Actively watch for and resist the use of technology, structure, hierarchy, or policy to dehumanise or disempower the people and communities you serve.

This path will not be easy, and some people will be systemically or personally motivated to maintain the status quo. But there are many more public servants who want to create change for the better, so use forums like GOVIS and IPANZ to support each other. Being the kindest and calmest person in the room will often help, but sometimes this will also mean not staying in an environment that doesn’t support the sort of public service you believe in. 

For all those who work so hard every day just to keep the lights on, may I suggest it is perhaps time to stop allowing yourself to be someone else’s crutch? Only then can we start to collectively repair and renew where things are broken.`

I’ll finish by saying the people of this wonderful country are relying on you. So please be brave, be bold, and together we have a chance of creating a more participatory, trustworthy, and humane public service, powered by the spirit of service that lies inside every public servant. 

With thanks to Simon Minto, Colin Benjamin, Ben Briggs, Kim Murphy-Stewart, Michelle Edgerley, Victoria Wray, Chris Cormack (Kaihuawaere Matihiko, Catalyst IT), Karen McNamara, and Thomas Andrews, for peer reviewing.

Reflections on public sector transformation and COVID

Public sectors around the world are facing unprecedented challenges as the speed, scale and complexity of modern life grows exponentially. The 21st century is a large, complex, globalised and digital age unlike anything in the history of humans, but our systems of governance were largely forged in the industrial age. The 20th century alone saw enough change to merit a rethink: global population rose from 1.6 billion to 6 billion, two world wars spurred the creation of global economic and power structures, the number of nations rose from 77 to almost 200, and of course we entered the age of electronics and the internet, changing forever the experience, connectivity, access to knowledge, and increased individual empowerment of people everywhere. Between Climate Change, COVID-19, and globalism, nations worldwide are also now preparing for the likelihood of rolling emergencies, whether health, environmental, economic or social.

“Traditional” approaches to policy, service delivery and regulation are too slow, increasingly ineffective and result in increasingly hard to predict outcomes, making most public sectors and governments increasingly unable to meet the changing needs of the communities we serve.

Decades of austerity, hollowing out expertise, fragmentation of interdependent functions that are forced to compete, outsourcing and the inevitable ensuing existential crises have all left public sectors less prepared than ever, at a the time when people most need us. Trust is declining and yet public sectors often feel unable to be authoritative sources of facts or information, independent of political or ideological influence, which exacerbates the trust and confidence deficit. Public sectors have become too reactive, too “business” focused, constantly pivoting all efforts on the latest emergency, cost efficiency, media release or whim of the Minister, whilst not investing in baseline systems, transformation, programs or services that are needed to be proactive and resilient. A values-based public sector that is engaged with, responsive to and serving the needs of (1) the Government, (2) the Parliament AND (3) the people – a difficult balancing act to be sure! – is critical, both to maintaining the trust of all three masters, and to being genuinely effective over time 🙂

Whether it is regulation, services or financial management, public sectors everywhere also need to embrace change as the new norm, which means our systems, processes and structures need to be engaged in continuously measuring, monitoring and responding to change, throughout the entire policy-delivery lifecycle. This means policy and delivery folk should be hand in hand throughout the entire process, so the baton passing between functionally segmented teams can end.

Faux transformation

Sadly today, most “transformation programs” appear to fall into one of three types:

  • Iteration or automation – iterative improvements, automation or new tech just thrown at existing processes and services, which doesn’t address the actual needs, systemic problems, or the gaping policy-delivery continuum chasm that has widened significantly in recent decades; or
  • Efficiency restructures – well marketed austerity measures to reduce the cost of government without actually improving the performance, policy outcomes or impact of government; or
  • Experimentation at the periphery – real transformation skills or units that are kept at the fringe and unable to drive or affect systemic change across any given public sector.

Most “transformation programs” I see are simply not particularly transformative, particularly when you scratch the surface to find how they would change things in future. If you answer is “we’ll have a new system” or “an x% improvement”, then it probably isn’t transformation, it is probably an iteration. Transformation should result in exponential solutions to exponential problems and a test driven and high confidence policy-delivery continuum that takes days not months for implementation, with the effects of new policies clearly seen through consistently measured, monitored and continuously improved delivery. You should have a clear and clearly understood future state in mind to transformation towards, otherwise it is certainly iteration on the status quo.

There are good exceptions to this normative pattern. Estonia, Taiwan, South Korea, Canada and several nations across South East Asia have and are investing in genuine and systemic transformation programs, often focused on improving the citizen experience as well as the quality of life of their citizens and communities. My favourite quote from 2020 was from Dr Sania Nishtar (Special Assistant to the Prime Minister of Pakistan on Poverty Alleviation and Social Protection) when she said ‘it is neither feasible nor desirable to return to the pre-COVID status’. It was part of a major UNDP summit on NextGenGov, where all attendees reflected the same sentiment that COVID exposed significant gaps in our public sectors, and we all need significant reform to be effective and responsive to rolling emergencies moving forward.

So what does good transformation look like?

I would categorise true transformation efforts in three types, with all three needed:

  1. Policy and service transformation means addressing and reimagining the policy-delivery continuum in the 21st century, and bringing policy and implementation people together in the same process and indeed, the same (virtual) room. This would mean new policies are better informed, able to be tested from inception through to implementation, are able to be immediately or at least swiftly implemented upon enactment in Parliament and are then continuously measured, monitored and iterated in accordance with the intended policy outcome. The exact same infrastructure used for delivery should be used for policy, and vice versa, to ensure there is no gap between, and to ensure policy outcomes are best realised whilst also responding to ongoing change. After all, when policy outcomes are not realized, regardless of whose fault it     was, it is everyone’s failure. This kind of transformation is possible within any one department or agency, but ideally needs leadership across all of government to ensure consistency of policy impact and benefits realisation.
  2. Organizational transformation would mean getting back to basics and having a clear vision of the purpose and intended impact of the department as a whole, with clear overarching measurement of those goals, and clear line of sight for how all programs contribute to those goals, and with all staff clear in how their work supports the goals. This type of transformation requires structural cultural transformation that builds on the shared values and goals of the department, but gains a consistency of behaviours that are constructive and empathetic. This kind of transformation is entirely possible within the domain of any one department or agency, if the leadership support and participate in it.
  3. Systemic transformation means the addressing and reimagining of the public sector as a whole, including its role in society, the structures, incentive systems, assurance processes, budget management, 21st century levers (like open government), staff support and relationship to other sectors. It also means having a clear vision for what it means to be a proud, empowered and skilled public servant today, which necessarily includes system and design thinking, participatory governance skills and digital literacy (not just skills). This can’t be done in any one department and requires all of public sector investment, coordination and cross government mandate. This level of transformation has started to happen in some countries but it is early days and needs prioritization if public sectors are to truly and systemically transform. Such transformation efforts often focus on structure, but need to include scope for transformation of policy, services, workforce, funding and more across government.

As we enter the age of Artificial Intelligence, public sectors should also be planning what an augmented public sector looks like, one that keeps values, trust and accountability at the heart of what we do, whilst using machines to support better responsiveness, modelling, service delivery and to maintain diligent and proactive protection of the people and communities we serve. Most AI projects seem to be about iterative efforts, automation or cost savings, which misses the opportunity to design a modern public service that gets the best of humans and machines working together for the best public outcomes.

COVID-19

COVID has been a dramatic reminder of the ineffectiveness of government systems to respond to changing needs in at least three distinct ways:

  • heavy use of emergency powers have been relied upon to get anything of substance done, demonstrating key systemic barriers, but rather than changing the problematic business as usual processes, many are reverting to usual practice as soon as practical;
  • superhuman efforts have barely scratched the surface of the problems. The usual resourcing response to pressure it to just increase resources rather than to change how we respond to the problem, but there are not exponential resources available, so ironically the
  • inequities have been compounded by governments pressing on the same old levers with the same old processes without being able to measure, monitor and iterative or pivot in real time in response to the impacts of change.

Sadly, the pressure for ‘good news stories’ often drives a self-congratulatory tone and an increase to an already siloed mindset, as public servants struggle to respond to increased and often diametrically opposed expectations and needs from the public and political domains. Many have also mistaken teleworking for transformation, potentially missing a critical opportunity to transform towards a 21st century public sector.

Last word

I’m planning to do a bit more writing about this, so please leave your comments and thoughts below. I’d be keen to hear how you differentiate transformation from iterative efforts, and how to ensure we are doing both. There is, of course, value to be found in some iterative efforts. It is when 100% of our time and effort is focused on iteration that we see public sectors simply revert to playing whack-a-mole against an exponentially growing problem space, hence the need to have SOME proportion of our resource on genuine transformation efforts. Proportional planning is critical so we address both the important and the urgent, not one without the other.

A quick reflection on digital for posterity

On the eve of moving to Ottawa to join the Service Canada team (squee!) I thought it would be helpful to share a few things for posterity. There are three things below:

  • Some observations that might be useful
  • A short overview of the Pia Review: 20 articles about digital public sector reform
  • Additional references I think are outstanding and worth considering in public sector digital/reform programs, especially policy transformation

Some observations

Moving from deficit to aspirational planning

Risk! Risk!! Risk!!! That one word is responsible for an incredible amount of fear, inaction, redirection of investment and counter-productive behaviours, especially by public sectors for whom the stakes for the economy and society are so high. But when you focus all your efforts on mitigating risks, you are trying to drive by only using the rear vision mirror, planning your next step based on the issues you’ve already experienced without looking to where you need to be. It ultimately leads to people driving slower and slower, often grinding to a halt, because any action is considered more risky than inaction. This doesn’t really help our metaphorical driver to pick up the kids from school or get supplies from the store. In any case, inaction bears as many risks as no action in a world that is continually changing. For example, if our metaphorical driver was to stop the car in an intersection they will likely be hit by another vehicle, or eventually starve to death.

Action is necessary. Change is inevitable. So public sectors must balance our time between being responsive (not reactive) to change and risks, and being proactive towards a clear goals or future state.

Of course, risk mitigation is what many in government think they need to most urgently address however, to only engage this is to buy into and perpetuate the myth that the increasing pace of change is itself a bad thing. This is the difference between user polling and user research: users think they need faster horses but actually they need a better way to transport more people over longer distances, which could lead to alternatives from horses. Shifting from a change pessimistic framing to change optimism is critical for public sectors to start to build responsiveness into their policy, program and project management. Until public servants embrace change as normal, natural and part of their work, then fear and fear based behaviours will drive reactivism and sub-optimal outcomes.

The OPSI model for innovation would be a helpful tool to ask senior public servants what proportion of their digital investment is in which box, as this will help identify how aspirational vs reactive, and how top down or bottom up they are, noting that there really should be some investment and tactics in all four quadrants.

Innovation-Facets-Diamond-1024x630My observation of many government digital programs is that teams spend a lot of their time doing top down (directed) work that focuses on areas of certainty, but misses out in building the capacity or vision required for bottom up innovation, or anything that genuinely explores and engages in areas of uncertainty. Central agencies and digital transformation teams are in the important and unique position to independently stand back to see the forest for the trees, and help shape systemic responses to all of system problems. My biggest recommendation would be for the these teams to support public sector partners to embrace change optimism, proactive planning, and responsiveness/resilience into their approaches, so as to be more genuinely strategic and effective in dealing with change, but more importantly, to better plan strategically towards something meaningful for their context.

Repeatability and scale

All digital efforts might be considered through the lens of repeatability and scale.

  • If you are doing something, anything, could you publish it or a version of it for others to learn from or reuse? Can you work in the open for any of your work (not just publish after the fact)? If policy development, new services or even experimental projects could be done openly from the start, they will help drive a race to the top between departments.
  • How would the thing you are considering scale? How would you scale impact without scaling resources? Basically, for anything you, if you’d need to dramatically scale resources to implement, then you are not getting an exponential response to the problem.

Sometimes doing non scalable work is fine to test an idea, but actively trying to differentiate between work that addresses symptomatic relief versus work that addresses causal factors is critical, otherwise you will inevitably find 100% of your work program focused on symptomatic relief.

It is critical to balance programs according to both fast value (short term delivery projects) and long value (multi month/year program delivery), reactive and proactive measures, symptomatic relief and addressing causal factors, & differentiating between program foundations (gov as a platform) and programs themselves. When governments don’t invest in digital foundations, they end up duplicating infrastructure for each and every program, which leads to the reduction of capacity, agility and responsiveness to change.

Digital foundations

Most government digital programs seem to focus on small experiments, which is great for individual initiatives, but may not lay the reusable digital foundations for many programs. I would suggest that in whatever projects the team embark upon, some effort be made to explore and demonstrate what the digital foundations for government should look like. For example:

  • Digital public infrastructure – what are the things government is uniquely responsible for that it should make available as digital public infrastructure for others to build upon, and indeed for itself to consume. Eg, legislation as code, services registers, transactional service APIs, core information and data assets (spatial, research, statistics, budgets, etc), central budget management systems. “Government as a Platform” is a digital and transformation strategy, not just a technology approach.
  • Policy transformation and closing the implementation gap –  many policy teams think the issues of policy intent not being realised is not their problem, so showing the value of multidisciplinary, test-driven and end to end policy design and implementation will dramatically shift digital efforts towards more holistic, sustainable and predictable policy and societal outcomes.
  • Participatory governance – departments need to engage the public in policy, services or program design, so demonstrating the value or participatory governance is key. this is not a nice to have, but rather a necessary part of delivering good services. Here is a recent article with some concepts and methods to consider and the team needs to have capabilities to enable this, that aren’t just communications skills, but rather genuine and subject matter expertise engagement.
  • Life Journey programs – putting digital transformation efforts,, policies, service delivery improvements and indeed any other government work in the context of life journeys helps to make it real, get multiple entities that play a part on that journey naturally involved and invested, and drives horizontal collaboration across and between jurisdictions. New Zealand led the way in this, NSW Government extended the methodology, Estonia has started the journey and they are systemically benefiting.
  • I’ve spoken about designing better futures, and I do believe this is also a digital foundation, as it provides a lens through which to prioritise, implement and realise value from all of the above. Getting public servants to “design the good” from a citizen perspective, a business perspective, an agency perspective, Government perspective and from a society perspective helps flush out assumptions, direction and hypotheses that need testing.

The Pia Review

I recently wrote a series of 20 articles about digital transformation and reform in public sectors. It was something I did for fun, in my own time, as a way of both recording and sharing my lessons learned from 20 years working at the intersection of tech, government and society (half in the private sector, half in the public sector). I called it the Public Sector Pia Review and I’ve been delighted by how it has been received, with a global audience republishing, sharing, commenting, and most important, starting new discussions about the sort of public sector they want and the sort of public servants they want to be. Below is a deck that has an insight from each of the 20 articles, and links throughout.

This is not just meant to be a series about digital, but rather about the matter of public sector reform in the broadest sense, and I hope it is a useful contribution to better public sectors, not just better public services.

The Pia Review – 20 years in 20 slides

There is also a collated version of the articles in two parts. These compilations are linked below for convenience, and all articles are linked in the references below for context.

  • Public-Sector-Pia-Review-Part-1 (6MB PDF) — essays written to provide practical tips, methods, tricks and ideas to help public servants to their best possible work today for the best possible public outcomes; and
  • Reimagining government (will link once published) — essays about possible futures, the big existential, systemic or structural challenges and opportunities as I’ve experienced them, paradigm shifts and the urgent need for everyone to reimagine how they best serve the government, the parliament and the people, today and into the future.

A huge thank you to the Mandarin, specifically Harley Dennett, for the support and encouragement to do this, as well as thanks to all the peer reviewers and contributors, and of course my wonderful husband Thomas who peer reviewed several articles, including the trickier ones!

My digital references and links from 2019

Below are a number of useful references for consideration in any digital government strategy, program or project, including some of mine 🙂

General reading

Life Journeys as a Strategy

Life Journey programs, whilst largely misunderstood and quite new to government, provide a surprisingly effective way to drive cross agency collaboration, holistic service and system design, prioritisation of investment for best outcomes, and a way to really connect policy, services and human outcomes with all involved on the usual service delivery supply chains in public sectors. Please refer to the following references, noting that New Zealand were the first to really explore this space, and are being rapidly followed by other governments around the world. Also please note the important difference between customer journey mapping (common), customer mapping that spans services but is still limited to a single agency/department (also common), and true life journey mapping which necessarily spans agencies, jurisdictions and even sectors (rare) like having a child, end of life, starting school or becoming an adult.

Policy transformation

Data in Government

Designing better futures to transform towards

If you don’t design a future state to work towards, then you end up just designing reactively to current, past or potential issues. This leads to a lack of strategic or cohesive direction in any particular direction, which leads to systemic fragmentation and ultimately system ineffectiveness and cannibalism. A clear direction isn’t just about principles or goals, it needs to be something people can see, connect with, align their work towards to (even if they aren’t in your team), and get enthusiastic about. This is how you create change at scale, when people buy into the agenda, at all levels, and start naturally walking in the same direction regardless of their role. Here are some examples for consideration.

Rules as Code

Please find the relevant Rules as Code links below for easy reference.

Better Rules and RaC examples

Digital excellence in Ballarat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Digital government: it all starts with open

This is a short video I did on the importance of openness for digital government, for the EngageTech Forum 2018. I’ve had a few people reuse it for other events so I thought I should blog it properly 🙂 Please see the transcript below. 

<Conference introductory remarks>

I wanted to talk about why openness and engagement is so critical for our work in a modern public service.

For me, looking at digital government, it’s not just about digital services, it’s about how we transform governments for the 21st century: how we do service delivery, engagement, collaboration, and how we do policy, legislation and regulation. How we make public services fit for purpose so they can serve you, the people, communities and economy of the 21st century.

For me, a lot of people think about digital and think about technology, but open government is a founding premise, a founding principle for digital government. Open that’s not digital doesn’t scale, and digital that’s not open doesn’t last. That doesn’t just mean looking at things like open source, open content and open APIs, but it means being open. Open to change. Being open to people and doing things with people, not just to people.

There’s a fundamental cultural, technical and process shift that we need to make, and it all starts with open.

<closing conference remarks>

Lessons from Canada and France: FWD50 2018 and SIIViM

A couple of weeks ago I had a whirlwind trip to Canada, France and back again, in 6 days! I spoke at the FWD50 conference in Ottawa, Canada, which is an optimistic and inspiring event focused on the next 50 days, weeks and years of society, with a special focus on transforming our public sectors for the 21st century. Then I went to Nevers, France for SIIViM, a regional Governments event exploring digital government, open data, open source and smart cities. At both events I shared my lessons and work, as well as met with folk from the Canadian, regional French, US and Taiwanese Governments (amongst others). I also met with OECD, industry and open source folk and came back with new ideas, connections and opportunities to collaborate for our ambitious human-centred digital government transformation work in NSW. Many thanks to the FWD50 organisers and ADULLACT (a French Free Software non-profit organisation) for bringing me over and providing the opportunity to learn and share my experiences.

My contributions

I gave several speeches in my personal professional capacity (meaning I was not formally representing any of my employers past or present) which may be of interest:

Insights from Canada

In between the three presentations I gave, I got to catch up with a range of wonderful people to talk about transforming and improving public sectors.

I spoke to the Canadian School of Public Service:

  • The Canadian Government is creating a Digital Academy to develop better digital acumen across the public sector, better digital leaders, and a community that is ongoing, engaged and mutually supportive. Check out this video on the value of the Canadian Digital Academy.
  • There was strong interest in innovation of public management, including AI in regulation making.
  • They are building a modern policy capability, a tiger team approach, to support policy modernisation and transformation across government.

I visited the Canadian Digital Service and had a great chat with some of the people there, as well as a tour of their new office. It was great to see how much has been achieved in the last year and to exchange stories and lessons on trying to drive change in government. A big thank you to Sean Boot who coordinated the visit and showed me around, great to catch up Sean!

  • We spoke about the challenges faced when under pressure to deliver services whilst trying to transform government, and the need to balance foundational work (like reusable components, standards, capability uplift, modular architecture) with service redesign or improvements.
  • We spoke about legislation as code and the New Zealand entitlements engine we developed as an example of reusable rules for more integrated service delivery. I recommended the Canadian dev team chat to the NZ dev team about OpenFisca Aotearoa.
  • We spoke about emerging tech and how we can prepare public sectors for change, as well as the challenges and benefits of product vs service vs system design.
  • I heard about several great Canadian projects including one helping veterans get access to services and entitlements.
  • We also talked about GCcollab, the open source all of government collaboration suite which is being heavily used across agencies, particularly by policy folk.

I also got to catch up with some folk from the Canadian Treasury Board Secretariat to talk about open government, digital transformation, funding approaches, policy innovation and more. Thanks very much Thom Kearney who is always doing interesting things and connecting people to do interesting things 🙂

I managed to also get a little time to chat to Michael Karlin, who is driving the ethical AI and algorithmic transparency work in the Canadian Government. It was great to hear where the work is up to and find opportunities to collaborate.

I also met a lot of non-Canadians at the conference, a few takeaways were:

  • Audrey Tang, Digital Minister for Taiwan – Audrey was, as usual, wonderfully inspiring. Her talk pushed the audience to think much bigger and bolder about radical transparency, citizen empowerment and an engaged State. Audrey shared some great pamphlets with me in 8 languages that showed how open government in Taiwan works, which includes issues raised by citizens, prioritised by government, consulted on openly, and fixed collaboratively with citizens. Audrey also shared how they do public consultations in the local language of an area and then transcribe to Mandarin for accessibility. I love this idea and want to consider how we could do multi-lingual consultations better in Australia.
  • I caught up with the always extraordinary Audrey Lobo-Pulo who is a brilliant data scientist and advocate for Opening Government Models. Audrey introduced me to Natalie Evans Harris who had worked in the office of the US Chief Technology Officer and had a lot of expertise around digitising public services.

Insights from France

The SIIViM conference itself was fascinating. A lot of focus on open data, “Smart Cities”, IoT, Virtual Reality, and autonomous cars.

Whilst there we got into a discussion about digital asset valuation and how software/data may be measured as an asset,but is usually not valued as a public asset. Often when data is valued as an asset it quickly leads to cost recovery activities or asset depreciation which can get tricky when we are talking about foundational datasets that could be available as digital public infrastructure for digital society.

When in Paris, I was delighted to meet up with Alex Roberts from the OECD (formerly of DesignGov and Public Sector Innovation Network fame) and Jamie, to talk about innovation in government. We talked about the new OECD Declaration of Public Innovation Alex has developed which beautifully frames the four different innovation types as being across two spectrums of certainty/uncertainty, and directed/undirected, which nicely frames the different forms of innovation efforts I’ve seen over the years. Great work Alex! There is also a report on innovation in the innovation in the Canadian Government worth reading. Perhaps OECD could come to NSW Government next? 😉

I also met with Roberto Di Cosmo who founded the Software Heritage initiative, which is like a super archive for software repositories that stores the code in a uniform data model for the purpose of analysis, science and posterity. Roberto has been involved in the French Free and Open Source Software community for a long time and he told me about the French Government investment in Open Source with 200m euros invested in 10 years (40% public money and 60% private investment). Fascinating and it explains why so many great French Government technologies are Open Source!

I got to catch up with the excellent Matti Schneider, who worked with my team in New Zealand for a few weeks on OpenFisca. I highly recommend Matti’s talk about the French State Incubator (a public sector innovation lab) or another talk on turning legislation into code from New Zealand. Matti kindly gave me a short tour of central Paris from a historical context, and I got to hear about the three Parisian revolutions and see significant landmarks along the way. Fascinating, and as always, there are lessons relevant to the present moment.

To wrap it all up, Patrick introduced me to Mark from the US National Archives who shared some thoughts about https://www.lockss.org/ and the importance of ensuring validity of historic digital archives. I also met Margaret from ICANN who talked about the personal empowerment of staff to make good decisions and to engage in stopping things that are wrong, unfair or inconsistent with the mission. She encouraged me to be humble about evidence and realistic about change being inevitable.

Useful links:

Mā te wā, Aotearoa

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please see the NSW Government media release here.

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

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

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