Senator Lundy gave a significant speech for the NICTA Big Picture seminar series on Government 2.0: co-designing a better democracy. It is a 45 minute speech, and covers open government, open data, Gov 2.0, her Public Spheres initiative and much more. We hope you enjoy.
Big Picture Seminar
If the first incarnation of the internet saw the democratisation of information and made us all publishers, the second incarnation of the internet, Web2.0, is the democratisation of innovation and decision-making, and will make us all co-designers of civil society in the 21st century.
This brings with it a great deal of responsibility, perhaps more than most people realise. The role of our Government during this phase of evolution for our system of democracy becomes incredibly important as it will set the tone for how and why citizens could and would engage.
Any period of significant change presents opportunities as well as risks. For Government, a high bar is set by citizens as to their expectations. In this way, these opportunities and risks are amplified through the prism of politics.
Today, I will discuss some of the opportunities and risks that present themselves to the Australian Federal Government as the uses of the internet continue to consolidate around Web2.0 tools and functions.
We describe the opportunity Web2.0 presents to Government as Gov2.0 and I believe that Gov2.0 offers the best opportunity for a forward-thinking, future-oriented government to co-design with the citizens of this country, the government of the future: Government that in enabling, empowering and encouraging of citizens to fully participation in the society in which they live.
I am not surprised ICT is once again a leading public policy item of great interest and discussion. At the highest levels of Australian politics we are seeing an enormous shift in the mainstream use of technology, in particular through social media and online networks.
The delivery of new ICT skills and social and economic infrastructure through the Labor policies of the Digital Education Revolution (DER) and the National Broadband Network (NBN) creates a transformational environment for Australia.
I’m both professionally and personally very proud of these policies because they address two necessary foundations of capability and capacity: investing in the skills of next generation AND a universal high bandwidth network. With these transformative policy foundations in place we can begin a conversation about what we can do with the internet, with data, with our collective intellect to improve our lives in a sustainable way, take care of those in need and save our planet from the ravages of climate change.
Governments have a responsibility to provide the leadership to achieve these aspirations. Government is both the initiator of new ideas as well as responders to ideas emerging from the community. How these ideas get traction and enter public discourse is changing as internet usage grows and people take control over their sources of information and how they engage.
More Australians are engaging with the government online and everyday more people are getting their news online than any other way.
Social media tools have changed the game, as a broad demographic range of people start connecting to each other, and sharing knowledge directly, rather than relying on the government and traditional media for information.
Online communications – particularly over the past two or three years – have created a thirst for more genuine dialogue with government, for the sorts of transparent, real time and many-to-many communications that people enjoy every day with each other on social media platforms such as Facebook, Youtube or even Twitter.
Many of these social media tools are hyped up in the traditional media at the moment, and I hear people questioning their usefulness, reflecting on the banality of much of the discourse. I can tell you as someone who is actively experimenting and trying to engage through these tools, that there is a lot of value to be found, particularly when you put social media to work for a specific purpose.
Most people in my experience are more than happy to contribute meaningfully to a conversation, so long as the outcome is meaningful, which means being prepared to act upon the good advice received. It can be a risky business but, as Machiavelli says:
All courses of action are risky, so prudence is not in avoiding danger (it's possible), but calculating risk and acting decisively. Make mistakes of ambition and not mistakes of sloth. Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer.
This is a major challenge for government. So it is inspiring to see government departments and agencies have already been experimenting with social media tools, with no major disasters and genuine success in some cases. What would be immensely helpful is a clearer whole-of-government digital or engagement policy. Such a policy would empower public servants to work with confidence towards effective engagement with citizens online in a flexible and timely manner, and provide guidance on the tools and methodologies to make it meaningful.
Globally, we are experiencing a period of economic downturn. This creates an economic imperative for government departments and agencies to deliver their services and information in the most scalable, cost efficient and effective way. These practical realities provide impetus for change, hopefully for the better. So, I was pleased to see that the ICT Reform Programme, emanating from the Gershon Review recognised that while cost savings were to be found, they were to be identified in the business-as-usual ICT spend, not the pointy end of ICT innovation. That’s why he recommended, (and the Government accepted) that 50% of the savings derived would be reinvested back into ICT innovation.
Climate change is another global agenda where ICT plays a substantial role, and our procurement and use of ICT to create a lighter carbon footprint across all industries is a vital part of the Gov 2.0 agenda. All of these policies, opportunities and challenges combined with our excellent local talent means Australia in well positioned to play a global leadership role in the emerging Government 2.0 arena, and I am extremely proud of the projects emerging that are leading the way.
Government 2.0 – definition
Australia already has a good global reputation as a leader in online government services. We have been recognised internationally for best practices, and have impressive leadership from within agencies culminating in excellent case studies. As changing expectations from the community combine with new ICT-related policies, such as; NBN, DER, ICT Reform, Digital Economy, Record Investment in ICT and research including NICTA; this strong experience and reputation is stimulating the enthusiasm for Government 2.0.
As a society we now have an opportunity to collaboratively co-design the government of tomorrow, together. To harness and promote great ideas as well as the meaning and purpose of web 2.0 social networking and other applications in the public sector, the Federal Government has created the Gov2.0 Taskforce, which will be delivering its report this December. I believe this report will be extremely important for setting the policy and thought leadership for Gov 2.0 in Australia.
Dr Nicholas Gruen and the rest of the Taskforce are doing an excellent job. Government in Australia has had a good history of working in partnership with private and public institutions, however with online tools and open access to government data, we see a new wave of opportunities for government to collaborate with research and non-government organisations.
Current examples of Government 2.0
I would like to briefly mention a few examples of tangible Gov 2.0 initiatives.
• Mapping our ANZACs, an initiative of the national Archive of Australia which allows members of the public to populate the site with their memories. This was a wonderful example of content collaboration involving citizens, and of a government department creating a space, a platform for innovation where others could contribute.
• Stumble safely – a US- based mashup of crime statistics and travel options for people to figure out the safest path home after an evening out.
• UK Metrobus – Where you can click on the bus-top you are waiting at to find out the next bus to come your way: this initiative contains realtime data collected from the buses.
• The Australian Government Economic Stimulus Plan website. Citizens can find and get updates on projects in their local area.
• YourHealth.gov.au is a new consultation by the Australian government about the health system reform process, and people can submit their ideas in words or video.
• The new National Cultural Policy online consultation from Minister Garrett’s office, which is built on the Australian “Bang the Table” platform. (nationalculturalpolicy.com.au/)
• Public Spheres – in my office, Pia Waugh and I have experimented with collaborative policy development using a combination of online tools, traditional tools and open community methods for community consultation and drafting. It has been very successful, and we have taken the time to write up the methodology and participation stats to share our experience and encourage others.
• So, I am also very proud to see the Public Spheres model starting to take off with several Universities, and government departments planning their own.
• I am also working with NICTA’s Opinionwatch to research the dataset created through the course of a ‘publicshpere’ event. This sort of analysis will help interpret and build confidence in the methodology.
So to briefly overview some new directors emerging through the Gov 2.0 agenda:
1. Genuine conversations with government and politicians
2. Policy & practice co-design – citizens working with government for better decision-making
3. Public efficiencies with government data
4. Cost savings through high quality online delivery of services
5. Greater accountability through transparency
6. Greater collaboration on projects
7. Government as a secure and trusted platform for innovation
I want to expand on this last point: Government as a trusted ‘platform’ for collaboration, co-design and citizen innovation. In other words: An innovation enabler for the broader community.
I want NICTA’s smarts to inform Government in innovation. I congratulate initiative to create the E’Government CLUSTER. This will help tech transfer from the research community to the public admin community.
government and researchers can create a safe, open & incorruptible environment for citizens to collaborate and mashup data.
Provided open tools, which can be publicly scrutinised, are used to create the environments, they provide protection against fraud and manipulation.
Difference with US/UK
We have seen some interesting and at times inspiring Gov 2.0 work done overseas, particularly in the US and UK. In the US we have seen the skilful and respectful use of social media for direct citizen engagement and empowerment by the Obama Administration. In the UK there has been a big drive towards how the Public Sector may be able to leverage Web 2.0 tools and online methodologies, with some great successes in citizen engagement.
Both the US and the UK have some great lessons for Australia, however it is extremely important that we recognise that we are different, and that we need to forge our own path incorporating these lessons but taking into account our unique parliamentary system and culture.
Some potential risks are being discussed in our Public Sector about Government 2.0. I would like to take a moment to reflect on and address some of these concerns.
1. How to get on the front foot rather than being reactive – it is often difficult for government to be proactive, because people are usually so busy keeping up with the normal workload of service delivery.
2. Human resources – Engaging with people online and creating truly citizen-centric services all takes time and resources. Re-organisation and re-prioritising to ensure the online engagement is not the poor cousin initially, and when the load shifts, there is a useful plethora of tools to help. Sharing knowledge or experience will be critical to sustain up to date capacity.
3. Privacy – as identity theft becomes an increasing problem, concerns about privacy will rise, so as we start to engage with citizens online, citizens need to be confident their privacy is protected. Equally, when it matters identity will need to be authenticated. Of course not all interactions with citizens requires authentication as often citizens are simply after information such as the nearest childcare availability, hospital, or how their tax treatment may change if they get married or divorced.
4. Security – there are concerns that Government 2.0, and indeed eGovernment open up a can of worms for security, however I maintain that the use of open principles, and including standard opend source transparent methodology creates a more secure environment, if the technology can be completely scrutinised, it means it can be trusted technology. Proprietary software unfortunately does not allow the same amount of scrutiny and trust must be placed in a company.
5. Active threats – there will also be active threats to government. Be they against critical infrastructure or mission critical information systems. Our security authenticy requires the level of investment to protect against such threats and attacks. There is a case to be made that by empowering citizens to collaborate with government, perhaps, as software developers like to say “many eyes makes all bugs shallow”, and we can create a more secure environment through greater transparency.
6. Loss of control – when talking about opening up data sets in particular, one concern is about the misuse, or even just mistaken use of data that may present incorrectly and inadvertently create some issue. The answer to this is reasonably simple: when opening up datasets, government hosts the original dataset which becomes an authorative reference which reduces that risk.
7. Digital Divide – finally we have the concern about the potential increase in the digital divide once we move more online. However, with ubiquitous and high speed internet access across Australia, combined with the plummeting costs of hardware, the proliferation of online mobile devices and of course the enormous investment into computers for schools, I’m excited to say we are getting closer to a genuine digital democracy.
As we take these leaps and bounds forward, there are important principles that ought to be adopted, both at a policy and at a technical level to build a firm foundation if we don’t, it will tell away like sand as trends change.
In terms of policy principles, I’ve defined three “pillars” for open government.
The first pillar of open government is citizen-centric services. The principle is one of recognition that governments have a responsibility to serve the needs of the citizens they represent as best they can, and in a way that is individually meaningful to each person.
A fundamental tenet of democracy, to be sure, but a more literal interpretation suggests a much higher priority on the quality of the interaction between citizen and government as services are delivered.
The three spheres of government in Australia: local, state/territory and federal, has over the years created inordinate complexity for citizens organising their lives and an avalanche of information and forms to shift through to get anywhere.
We now have the technology and the wherewithal to resolve this citizen interface with government, regardless of the complexity behind the scenes. Service innovation is already happening and citizens ought be engaged directly by the Government to try new things.
Citizen-centric government: examples
I think that Lynelle Briggs, the former APS Commissioner most eloquently described a use case for citizen-centric services:
Let me tell you about Phyllis, an 86 years old woman who has lived alone for 10 years since her husband died. Phyllis is losing her sight, and her children live interstate. She needs options and advice for her future care.
Phyllis doesn’t need an avalanche of information from different organisations about what they can provide, even assuming she knew who to contact. She doesn’t care, and shouldn’t have to, about who provides what services, or where she goes to get them. She wants answers and she wants help, and she wants to get it without grief.
Imagine being able to go to a single place, put in as much or little personal information as you want (postcode, age, topic area of interest) and have presented to you the relevant information sets you desire. It is a long way from how most government information is delivered online, but it is a small step towards making government services citizen-centric in their delivery.
The second pillar is open and transparent government. This pillar builds on the principles that citizens have a right to the information they need to inform themselves about public and political affairs, and also the right to participate fully in the democratic process.
It is vital that government engage with the broader community not just for a conversation, but in genuine partnership between political leaders, government bureaucrats and the Australian people so we can – as a society – respond most effectively to the specific social and economic challenges communities confront.
Localisation of policy solutions by tapping into the wisdom of the crowd, ensure relevance of government solutions to real situations. EG: Local knowledge and the ability to tap into it, is essential to reasonable response times to emergencies.
Open source software as an example of another, often less thought of opportunity for open and transparent government is through the tools we choose to use. Software underpins almost everything we do, whether it be for work, play or creative endeavour. To be able to scrutinise software – to see the human readable instructions and trust it has, if you will – becomes almost a democratic issue, for many in the technology community. A good example of this, for non-tech people, is election systems. If citizens can’t scrutinise the source code (or in most people’s case, get trusted technical advice), then how can they be sure the votes are counted correctly? But perhaps it is in relation to national security that this point has the most relevance.
To quote the US Government Department of Defense memorandum regarding Open Source software (ctovision.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/2009OSS.pdf):
The continuous and broad peer-review enabled by publicly available source code supports software reliability and security efforts through the identification and elimination of defects that might otherwise go unrecognized by a more limited core development team.
Open Source software is currently used throughout the Australian government on a best value for money, fit for purpose basis. AGIMO, which is the advisory agency for ICT procurement to all government agencies and departments has a stance of ‘informed neutrality’ when it comes to Open Source. I believe it is time to update our stance towards Open Source given the increased need for scrutiny and transparency of government systems to improve security and citizen trust.
The UK Government released a government action plan earlier this year on open standards, open source and re-use (cabinetoffice.gov.uk/government_it/open_source.aspx) which also has an updated view of openness within government procurement:
So we consider that the time is now right to build on our record of fairness and achievement and to take further positive action to ensure that Open Source products are fully and fairly considered throughout government IT; to ensure that we specify our requirements and publish our data in terms of Open Standards; and that we seek the same degree of flexibility in our commercial relationships with proprietary software suppliers as are inherent in the open source world.
I’ve always believed in letters a thousand flowers bloom. The third pillar is creating a platform for innovation, which refers to the government responsibility to ensure the opportunities are made available for public and private innovation that adds value to government data and systems.
This of course takes into account the fact that there are specific data and systems that cannot be openly accessible where there are privacy, security or commercial responsibilities. However, as has been evident in the US for many years, open access to government data can dramatically increase the value created from the data both socially and economically. This means the society as a whole benefits from access to the data.
Public sector information ought to be available in the public not just to facilitate innovation in the public and private spheres, but to enable individual citizens to make informed choices.
Just to be clear, I am not talking about personal information that we expect to be private and secure. I am talking about general information about the places we live, the environment we live in, the things we do as a society.
A general policy of openness in this area would create a culture of scrutiny and collaboration rather than a culture of secrecy.
Open data: cultural collection examples
A great example of where this principle should apply is the cultural collections for which the Commonwealth is custodian on behalf of the people of Australia.
For works out of copyright, which is the case for a substantive body of our national cultural collections, it is disappointing and counterproductive to find that through the liberating process of digitising the collection, an additional layer of traditional copyright constraints have been applied.
In some respects I can understand why this has occurred. In a pre-digital era, restrictive copyright was the inevitable response to satisfying concepts of responsible collection management and protection.
However, this familiarity with restrictive copyright has now been applied to the digital incarnations of the collections. This has occurred in an almost Pavlovian fashion, without thinking about why we are digitising the collections in the first place.
Statistically we know that every barrier to access dramatically reduces the number of users, and so ensuring open, permissible and easy access to digital artefacts is vitally important.
Another prime example for making information public, is the research sector. The government invests billions of dollars into the research sector, and yet the countless data sets created is usually not made publicly available, which means a lost opportunity for building on existing work as well as a lost opportunity for public innovation. The Australian National Data Service (ands.edu.au/index.html) and the Australian Agriculture Natural Resource Online website (aanro.net/) are both great initiatives that collate and open up research data sets for broader use and collaboration.
Geospatial is worth special attention because of the visualisation of data geospatial tools enable.
Geospatial is like the lifeblood of data, it brings information to life! If we are to leverage geospatial data fully, then we have several key actions:
• To ensure open access to government owned spatial data for public and private innovation;
• To ensure appropriate spatial data is captured for government projects and data;
• To support this rapidly growing industry - given the economic returns it will create are massive
• To foster public and private interests so that spatial data improves the lives of citizens;
• To invest in spatially enabled Gov 2.0 initiatives to both improve government services, and to encourage industry development in this area.
Technical Check list – The nuts and bolts if you will
Now I’d like to outline a few basic technical principles that I believe would assist in ensuring the platforms for innovation created by government achieve the policy goals just mentioned.
• Sustainable data – All government data should be stored by default in openly documented and freely available standards to ensure future access to government data as well as accessibility for people who may not run the same software or systems. In this way, Open Standards and formats become the public insurance policy to ensure perpetual access to government data.
• Discoverability – Government information and services should be easy to find, be it through websites or search engines. This means metadata, geospatial information, Search Engine Organisation and ensuring information is translated from government language into English all become valuable skills in the public service.
• Interoperability – Government applications and websites should be based on open APIs and use open protocol standards to ensure interoperability with other systems.
• Trust – Government systems need to instil trust in the general public particularly as data sets are opened up and more government services move online. Using software that can be verified and scrutinised such as Free & Open Source Software tools, can greatly improve public trust in government systems.
• No more reinvention of the wheel – government should be better about leveraging existing efforts and technologies, whether it be within another department or publicly available.
• Sharing – where possible technical resources should be shared between government departments and jurisdictions. This should include the sharing of knowledge, of software, of bespoke developments, or documentation and certainly of best practices. Currently technical people within departments and agencies either can’t collaborate outside their area, or do so subversively. In either case, we are not making best use of our people or resources and our productivity, innovation and cost-effectiveness unfortunately all suffers as a result.
Collaboration requires some incentive: some recognition for collaboration between smart local government solutions and federal agencies that can take the solutions nation-wide.
This need not be limited to technology, but also to methodologies, such as how we can apply the many lessons on community development and collaborative online software development such as can be seen in the Open Source community to government.
What am I doing?
Finally, I want to share with you my first hand experience in my small office regarding the change to online tools for managing and maintaining a social-network-enabled web site. In summary, every one of us is involved! That means a new way of thinking about how we work, new skills and new ways of doing traditional tasks. We are also experimenting with transparency through my website – i.e. – everyone in my office posts as themselves – and this has had a great response, because people like accountability.
And my office has also been experimenting with policy development, and how online tools and community collaboration – in particular crowd-sourcing – can improve the outcomes of a government consultation.
We designed an open, collaborative, transparent and highly participatory method for public consultation – and indeed for co-design – of policy and projects which we have called ‘Public Sphere’.
We borrowed the term from Habermas who defined the Public Sphere as a place which “… through the vehicle of public opinion puts the state in touch with the needs of society”. We believe that the combined online tools, social media and open community practices present government with a new range of opportunities to get in touch with the needs of society.
The strength of the Public Sphere is in a number of attributes: the combination of the traditional and familiar conferencing environment with new online tools to share the experience; the applied use of social networking tools to the task at hand; identifying, discussing, co-creating and finally endorsing policy recommendations; the accommodation of both a focussed real-time response and peer review during the conference, as well as more considered views over longer time frames; and finally, the openness and transparency of it all means that participants take responsibility for their contributions and everyone can see what is happening, from start to finish.
There have been three Public Spheres to date: The first on Higher Bandwidth Networks, the second on Gov2.0 and the third on the ICT and Creative Industry Sectors Each Public Sphere has been written up with respect to the policy recommendations and the methodology and can be found on my web site: katelundy.com.au.
It is my hope that the success of the methodology will inspire government agencies and department to explore the possibilities. We are delighted to see other representatives and govt agencies around Australia already starting to run their own Public Spheres for community consultation and co-design of government directions and services. (add link to public sphere!)
In conclusion I believe that Gov 2.0 presents the opportunity to reconsider how we can do things better. We have so much more we can do to engage with our citizens, to have the most informed decisions, to co-create policy and good practice, and above all to create even more transparency, accountability and participation in our democracy.
There are many areas where the best thing government can do is make available the opportunity for others to innovate, such as through the opening up of government data, or through the use of open APIs. There is a wealth of talent and interest throughout the broader community to innovate, so we should facilitate that, not only because of the immense value-adding that will result (such as we have seen with geospatial data in the US), but also in the spirit of transparency, accountability and open government.
Earlier today, I was privileged to receive a briefing from the research leaders at NICTA. They are building what I, and many other are imagining. In this way, NICTA is part of how we as a nation will apply technology to our human condition.
For this, I thank them and pay my respects to the intellectual endeavour taking place there. “From imagination to impact” is truly an apt motto.
I believe together we can leverage the wisdom of the crowd to collaboratively design the government of tomorrow today, and I invite you to work with us in this liberating and progressive step forward.
As Kofi Annan once said “No one is born a good citizen; no nation is born a democracy. Both are processes that continue to evolve over a lifetime.”
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