Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Which license should government open data be released under? (CC0 vs CCBY)

An interesting article was brought to my attention by John Sheridan as below, on the use of CC0 licensing of government data.
The article, Advocates Release Best Practices for Making Open Government Data “License-Free”, recommends CC0 as the default license for a range of reasons. I've responded with my views on why CC BY is a better choice and there's been a subsequent thread of comments.

I'm not going to spread the discussion to my blog, as it is easier to follow while contained in one place, so please follow the discussion at E Pluribus Unum and contribute as you see fit.

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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

How do we avoid the chicken & egg of open data (and the failure of the opendata movement)?

Open data drives economic value - there's been no dispute on this score after a range of reports have indicated the massive value that open data can unlock for an economy.

Cap Gemini estimates that open data was worth 32 billion euros in 2010 to Europe, growing at 7% per year, while McKinsey estimates the global value at US$3 trillion per year and the UK estimated earlier this year (PDF) that the value of releasing their geospatial data alone as open data would be 13 million pounds per year by 2016.

There's been a range of similar reports across the world (as aggregated by the Open Data Institute) - all of which point to a similar conclusion.

However realising this economic value, in productivity, efficiencies and direct revenue, is dependent on governments doing one thing that they've so far failed to do - releasing open data in a planned, consistent and managed way.

Thus far most governments have followed a haphazard route to open data, releasing the 'low hanging fruit' first (data already in releasable form, with few privacy concerns and considered 'low risk' as it doesn't call into question government decisions), and then progressively releasing esoteric and almost random data sets at inconsistent intervals.

Many governments have clear processes for individuals and organisations to request the release of specific data sets - however a clear process which doesn't support the goal is of little value.

These requests have little influence on agency decisions on releasing data and I have yet to see any government mandate that these requests need to be officially considered and actioned or responded to within a set timeframe.

Without any real weight or structure, processes for requesting data sets can't be relied on by people seeking to build a business on open data.

Data consistency is an even bigger issue. In nations like Australia the federal and state governments each have their own open data sites. However there's no agreed national strategy on data release. Every jurisdiction releases different sets of data, with few attempts to aggregate state-level data into national datasets covering all jurisdictions.

Even when similar data sets are released by different states this is complicated at the back-end by different laws, different collection techniques and frequencies and differences in analysis and measurement approaches - not to mention differences in formats and naming conventions. This can make it costly, if not impossible, for businesses or individuals to aggregate data from different states and use it for a national goal.

On top of this, many agencies still resist calls to release data. Some due to a closed culture or a hope that 'open data' is a passing fad, others due to the costs of reviewing and releasing data (without any ability to offset them in fees or additional funding) and some due to concerns around data quality, political impact or reputational damage to the agencies themselves.

My fear is that we're reaching a chicken and egg impasse - agencies and governments are reluctant to do the work and spend the money required to develop consistent data release approaches and mandates without seeing some the economic value from open data realised. Meanwhile individuals and organisations are reluctant to build business models on a resource that is not reliably available or of a consistent quality.

There's no commercial model for open data if governments can turn off specific data, or entire open data initiatives on at a whim (as we saw data.gov shut down recently in the US Government shutdown). Businesses need to be able to count on regular publication of the data they use to build and inform their enterprise.

There's also a lot less value for governments in releasing their data if companies are reluctant to use it (due to a concern over the above situation).

So how should countries avoid the chicken and egg issue in open data?

There's two approaches that I have considered that are likely to work, if used in tandem.

Firstly, governments must mandate open data release and take appropriate steps to develop ongoing data release approaches, which clearly and publicly state what data will be released, at what frequency and quality level. This should include a data audit establishing what an agency owns (and may release) and what it doesn't own, as well as the collection costs and frequency of specific datasets.

To maximise the value of this approach for states within a nation there needs to be a national accord on data, with states (or as many as possible) developing and agreeing on a consistent framework for data release which works towards normalising the collection, analysis and release of data so that it can be aggregated into national datasets.

Secondly there needs to be thought put into the difference between open and free data. Individuals and organisations who use government open data for personal, educational or not-for-profit use should be able to access and reuse the data for free. However where they are using open data for profit (at an appropriate threshold level), there should be the scope for financial contracts to be put in place, just as there is for most other resources used to generate profits.

This approach would provide a revenue stream to the government agencies releasing the data, helping offset the collection and publication costs. Contracts should also be structured to provide insurance for the data users that the data will be released on a set timetable and to a defined quality level throughout the life of the contract.

There would need to be significant thought into how these financial contracts would be structured with significant flexibility built in - for example allowing cost-recovery for developers, who may spend many hours developing and maintaining the services they build with government open data and avoiding the upfront fee model which becomes a barrier to new entrants to make profitable use of open data. There would also need to be consistency in these contracts nationally for state data - potentially a major challenge in Australia.

However if implemented thoughtfully and with significant consultation and ongoing review, a combination of rigour in data release and cost-recovery for profitable use of government open data would avoid the emerging chicken and egg issue and provide a solid and sustainable foundation for realising economic value from open data - value that would help support Australia's economy, social equity, education and scientific research into the future.

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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The great Gov 2.0 'sporting' contest between Australia and Britain

Not this urn...
It's December, and Brits and Aussies alike have turned their thoughts to Christmas, family, parties, holidays and travel.

There's also a very special content underway down-under between Britain and Australia, consuming the thoughts of millions.

It all revolves around a very particular type of urn...

An urn containing the ashes of Australian cricket?

No, the urn that we all visit every day, our toilet.

That's right - it's time for the Great Gov 2.0 Toilet Map face-off!

Let me introduce the two contenders:

Australia: 
The National Public Toilet Map (https://toiletmap.gov.au)

Operated by the Department of Social Services as part of the National Continence Program, the National Public Toilet Map features information 16,000 public and private toilets across Australia and is available as a website and as both iOS and Android apps.

Originally developed in 2001, the Map is a Gov 2.0 style service which pre-dates Gov 2.0.  It has been progressively redeveloped and improved over the last twelve years to keep it current, usable and accessible.

The National Public Toilet Map includes information on toilet location, accessibility, baby change facilities, sharps disposal, sanitary disposal and much more, allowing users to identify the toilets that are appropriate to their needs.

Besides being able to search for toilets by location and needed features, the trip planner allows people to map their route and find appropriately located toilets along the route. You can even favourite or print details for specific toilets and download GPS data to your car's GPS system.

This might sound a little naff to some, however if you're a parent with young kids, a tourist, or one of the estimated 3.8 million Australians suffering from incontinence, a toilet map that's available on the road is vital for travel plans.

The service is hosted on Telstra's cloud and built on Google Maps - meaning it's unlikely to go offline in the case of high demand (such as after Christmas lunch).

As a bonus, data for the map is available in data.gov.au for people to mashup and reuse, and apps have been independently developed for Android and Windows mobile devices.


Britain: 
The Great British Public Toilet Map (http://greatbritishpublictoiletmap.rca.ac.uk/)

The Great British Public Toilet Map isn't a government-run service, however was developed in 2012 using open data released by councils as part of the Tackling Ageing Continence through Theory Tools and Technology TACT3 research project.

The Map is actually not even of all of Britain - being limited to London and a few other cities, where councils and other government authorities release data on toilets.

The Great British Public Toilet Map only features a basic search feature and zoom, with none of the trip, sharing or favouriting features in Australia's service. Information on individual toilets is limited - with some toilets having opening times, details on accessibility and baby change facilities, but most being limited to only the location.

There is some open data on toilets available from the UK's data.gov.uk - but only for one London council. This means that developers in the UK don't really have much ability to create sites or apps that help people locate toilets when they need them.

Given it is estimated that there's up to 6 million people in the UK suffering some form of urinary incontinence, plus millions of tourists and business travellers visiting the UK each year, it's disappointing to see the lack of a true national British Public Toilet Map, whether provided publicly or privately using open data.

The winner:
It's pretty clear the British are not performing to expectations, and Australia's commitment and experience is paying off, allowing them to dominate the field with their coverage, flexibility and scope, and knock the ball for six with features.


It's also for providing relevant and timely information on public toilets, helping citizens and tourists alike.

Australia has a much stronger National Toilet Map - with national coverage, excellent features and the open data required for developers to incorporate a national map of toilets into their own online services.

There's only one consolation for the British. 

While their 'Balmy Army' is flocking to Australia to watch the cricket (and take in the Australian sun and surf), at least they'll have no problems finding a toilet after a long hot day at the game.

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Friday, December 06, 2013

Australia beyond Gov 2.0 - Gov 2.0 Radio broadcast from the Govinnovate forum

Gov 2.0 Radio has released the live broadcast of the final panel from the Govinnovate conference, 'Australia beyond Gov 2.0', one of the panels I participated in.

Find out more about the broadcast, panel and Gov 2.0 radio at gov20radio.com/2013/12/beyondgov20/

Or listen to the panel below.



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Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Partial participation for partial residents?

A challenge for governments today (particularly local ones) is how to consider the views of non-residents, people who travel into their jurisdictions for work, entertainment or other reasons.

While consulting them within formal processes is possible, it can be hard to engage them beyond the most cursory involvent in local issues, even when many of the decisions in a town, city or state significantly affect their livelihood or welfare.

This is already a topic amongst many of the local governments I speak to, who must weigh the interests of people who travel from nearby council areas to work in their jurisdictions. These people may be spending from a quarter to half their time within the jurisdiction they work in, accessing local services such as roads and parking, libraries, public toilets, parks and civic offices.

Equally local residents may do nothing more than physically live in a jurisdiction - accessing many or most of the services they need from a neighboring jurisdiction. With border towns in Victoria, New South Wales ACT and Queensland residents may be accessing most services from another state.

Society has evolved methods for accounting for the cost of these services, through user-pays schemes and border agreements, however methods for recognising a non-resident, or rather a partial-resident's stake in decision making processes are still limited, possibly because it required significant technology to accurately estimate how much time a person spent within a jurisdiction and account for this in decision making.

So as society moves towards a 24/7 awareness of where individuals spend their time, via GPS in mobile devices, should governments reconsider the basis of the decision on who gets a say in elections,? Considering time spent in a jurisdiction rather than, or in addition to, land-ownership, residency or citizenship.

Let's consider how this might work.

If a resident of one jurisdiction works in another, they could use their mobile device to record their location over a period of time like a log book or diary - which many drivers keep for tax purposes.

After a significant time period (mayb a month or two) they would register their location with the councils where they spent most of their time, so they can be assessed as a  'partial-resident, entitled to vote in council elections with a fractional vote representing the time they spend in the region.

With the right ICT systems this would not be excessively hard to track - perhaps to offset costs people who wish to be considered partial residents would be required to cross a time spent threshold (maybe 10%) and be charged a fee based on this percentage, which offsets the cost of the services they use (unless they can prove they should get a waiver based on appropriate grounds).

On being registered, partial-residents would be entitled to vote in local elections, however their vote will only count proportionate to the registered amount of time they spend in the jurisdiction.

Full-time residents will get full votes, meaning that an issue would need to be particularly large for partial-residents to change the outcome of an election.

This might be an unworkable system - I can think of several ways it could be gamed that would need careful thought. However the question is a valid one - with people increasingly travelling to work and play, how do governments ensure they have an appropriate say in local decisions?

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Friday, November 29, 2013

What will future digital services in government look like?

On Wednesday I attended Intrepid Minds' Digital Service Delivery in Government conference. It was a good conference, with decent attendance and an excellent range of speakers (moving far beyond the usual suspects).

At the event I gave a presentation on the future of digital service delivery - a topic which let me discuss some (and by no means all) of the new technologies and trends on our horizon.

I probably didn't go quite futuristic enough on some areas. One area I saw as being five years out, virtual service officers in shopfronts, is already in use by Centrelink (as I was told by a DHS representative at the conference). The future can creep up on us quickly!

However my overall message was not about any specific services or trends - it was about the need for governments to closely consider the consequences of the decisions they make today.

Laws governments create, or technologies or approaches agencies choose, can turn into blind alleys or have expensive and damaging consequences.

While government doesn't generally seek to be an early adopter, it still has enormous influence over how society is shaped through how laws are crafted and grant or assistance programs are designed.

This means that even when governments see certain areas as too immature or risky to get involved with, they can still influence their development and indirectly select for or against certain trends.

We're at a point in history when change is happening too fast to ignore, challenging institutions designed for a slower-changing society. Government needs to continue delivering - but do so in a flexible and agile way that reduces the risk of getting locked into specific shapes or systems that can rapidly shift. To do this, the public service must strengthen its capability to scan the horizon, learn how to fail fast and become better at testing and iterating, using open approaches and platforms and identifying and engaging the right stakeholders.

In the conference there were some strong views for and against some of the ideas I presented - which is a good thing. We need to have these discussions now to ensure that the influence governments have, and the choices they makes, continue to deliver positive social and economic outcomes for society and for within government itself.

Below are my slides. While they don't provide the same depth as my presentation, they may still be useful in stimulating thinking.

Note: All images from The Jetsons are copyright Hanna-Barbera

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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

90% of Australian federal politicians now use Facebook and/or Twitter

I've been tracking the number of Australian federal politicians using social media channels for some time, with the proportion using these channels (principally Facebook and Twitter) sitting at the low-mid 70% level for several years (see my last post on this from June 2012).

However I've just finished updating the figures based on the September 2013 election and have found a large jump - just over 90% of federal politicians now use social media to engage with Australians.

I'll give a breakdown below, however I thought it worth comparing Australia to the US government. Twitter recently blogged that 100% of their Senate and 97% of their House of Representatives used Twitter.

That compares to 71.62% of Australia's Senate and 72.67% of our House of Representatives - still some way to go to catch up.

In fact our politicians appear to favour Facebook, with 72.97% of Senators and 90.67% of MPs using the service.

From my analysis there's three key features that distinguish Australian federal politicians that use social media from those that do not - age, gender and House.

Firstly age - older politicians are far less likely to use social media than their younger colleagues.

The average age of this parliament is several years less (at about 50 years) than the previous parliament (at about 52 years), with a number of older politicians having retired or lost their seats.

The largest increase was in politicians born since 1980, who increased from two to seven in the latest parliament. Those born in the 1970s also saw a significant increase from 36 to 50, while those born in the 1960s increased slightly from 76 to 82 parliamentarians. In contrast, politicians born in the 1950s or earlier declined from a total of 112 to only 85 parliamentarians - with no-one born before 1940 remaining, down from one in the last parliament.


(Note there's fewer politicians (224) counted in the latest parliament because there's a Senate vacancy to be filled and an extra was counted in the previous parliament (226) due to a member resigning and being replaced. This does not statistically alter my findings.)

The large number of younger politicians significantly impacted the level of social media use. While politicians born in the 1980s or 1990s all used social media (100%), and those in the 70s were almost as prolific at 98%, this declined to 93.9% of politicians born in the 1960s, 83.56% of those born in the 1950s and only 66.67% of those born in the 1940s.

 

This reflects the adoption we see in the wider population and there's been a similar experience in other countries - people aged 50 and over are far less likely to engage via social media. This takes generational change to alter (within organisations as well as within politics).

I haven't looked into the average age of residents in electorates with older representatives, however I would be surprised to find a difference to other electorates - my conclusion is that older politicians are less likely to use social channels due to their own media preferences, not due to the preferences of the people they represent - leaving them increasingly vulnerable to younger and more social media savvy would-be politicians.

The second major factor impacting on social media use by politicians is their gender. Women are generally more likely to use social media channels than men and this shows through in our politicians as it does in the broader community.

While women represent 30.8% of our elected representatives, they represent 32.7% of politicians using social media - with 91.3% of female politicians using Facebook and 76.8% using Twitter, compared to only 81.9% of male politicians using Facebook and 70.3% using Twitter.

Overall 95.6% of our elected female politicians use social media, compared to only 87.7% of male politicians.

The uses the genders put social media to also varies significantly, with female politicians far more likely to interact actively with their constituents than males, who spend more time broadcasting political messages, engaging in political slanging matches or interacting with a small circle of journalists - more on this another time.

The final significant factor was which House of parliament that politicians had been elected to. While one might think that Senators, who represent an entire state or territory, might find greater utility in social media to reach the larger number of, and more spread out, constituents they represent than members of the House of Representatives, whose electorates are usually much smaller than our states, the situation is exactly the reverse.

While 92.7% of the Members of the House of Representatives use social media, 90.7% on Facebook and 72.7% on Twitter, only 85.1% of Senators do, 73% on Facebook and 71.6% on Twitter.

The particular discrepancy is in Facebook use - which suggests to me that politicians see Facebook more for connecting with their constituents (which Senators tend to find less important) while they see Twitter more for connecting with journalists and scoring political points (which is as important for Senators as for Reps).

Factors that didn't impact significantly on whether a politician used social media were their party and the remoteness of their electorate. While regional areas of Australia tend to have lower internet and social media penetration than the cities, the representatives of these electorates actually could find more value in social media as it helps transcend large distances between settlements - there was no significant difference between social media use by metro and regional representatives except in respect the age of the politician.

All of Australia's parties (and independents) are relatively consistent in their level of social media use by politicians - with the Greens and Independents (including KAP & PUP) the most likely to use social channels (100% of politicians), as social media can help them overcome any limitations on their ability to attract traditional media attention - helping to level the playing field for communication and fund raising.

The two major parties (Labor and Liberal) were neck and neck in their use, each with about 90% of their elected politicians using social media. At the tail were the Nationals, where only 84% of their politicians use social media - though this isn't really that low as it only meant 3 of their 19 parliamentarians aren't using social channels, and these are three of their oldest politicians, aged 70, 63 and 54.

Below is an infographic that explores the data a little further, and you can view the spreadsheet of my data and analysis using the link: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0Ap1exl80wB8OdDYtNXA1ZE9oaEtWX25OM2paNGlIcHc&usp=sharing

I also have Twitter lists following all Australian federal politicians - divided into house and party affiliation, which can be accessed from https://twitter.com/eGovAUPollies.

I have also created daily newspaper-like digests of these lists, which can be found at: http://egovau.blogspot.com.au/2012/06/read-all-about-it-get-your-daily-dose.html (updated to reflect the current parliament).


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Monday, November 18, 2013

Register now - hugest Gov 2.0 Canberra event for 2013 - THREE international speakers on 4 December

For the last Gov 2.0 monthly event in Canberra for 2013 Pia and I have been able to arrange three prestigious international speakers - who are all in town at the same time.

Who are they? None other than Andrew Stott, former UK Director for Transparency & Digital Engagement; Davied van Berlo, the Netherlands' leading Gov 2.0 advocate and founder of Civil Servant 2.0; and Martin Tisné, steering committee member of the UK Transparency and Accountability Initiative and the Open Government Partnership.

The Gov 2.0 Canberra event is on Wednesday 4 December from 2-4pm. The venue is still being confirmed, so we're not quite sure of seating yet - early registration is a must!

For more information (including full bios) and to register visit http://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/gov-20-december-event-tickets-9386642701

Note that we may try to go for drinks with some of the speakers after the event - we'll tweet details on the day for people who can't come to the event, but still want to meet up.

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Friday, November 15, 2013

Who's open sourcing in Australian government?

Open source is no longer new news. The movement has been around for over 30 years, longer than the public internet or widespread use of mobile phones, and around the same age as the desktop computing revolution which saw computers on every office worker's desks.

However for some reason open source has taken a very long time to get any traction in government. Even ten years ago there weren't many government framework in place allowing agencies to use open source software, let alone create and release open source software, documents or tools.

In fact misconceptions about what 'open source' means are still quite common. I still encounter folk who believe that 'open' means insecure and unsupported - even though some of the most widely used and deployed systems in the world rely on open source platforms - such as Apache web servers, Drupal and Wordpress websites - which have vast numbers of developers globally finding and fixing bugs and improving performance.

Others confuse 'open' and 'free' - there's always cost in deploying a solution, whether proprietary or open source. The difference is that with open source there's no ongoing licensing fees and vendor lock-in, which can add a great deal to development costs over time.

There's also sometimes concerns that open source may not be robust enough for intense use by large organisations. Of course this varies according to specific software, however there's no evidence backing this up as a general claim (particularly given Apache runs an estimated 65% of web servers)

Fortunately, the attitude of government towards open source appears to have begun to change.

In Australia several governments have IT policies which requires the consideration of open source in software decisions (though why it remains necessary to use policy to force IT management to consider potentially better solutions remains to be seen).

Governments are also deploying open source software, at least for web use - with the Australian Government's Department of Finance offering its GovSpace platform (which uses Wordpress) to any government agency at a relatively low ($4,500 annual) price.

Drupal websites are also flourishing - the last website I was responsible for in government, MyRegion, was a Drupal installation with an open source mapping stack (alas now the department has been absorbed, I understand the site will also disappear - I hope the code will be preserved for other agencies to reuse).

Some governments have even begun releasing their own open source software and materials, available for reuse by other agencies, governments and the broader community.

The US government has done it with We The People, the UK government has done it with ePetitions, their Service Design Manual and a variety of other materials, Canada has released their Web Experience Toolkit (WET), Philadelphia has released mobile apps, the City of San Francisco has released their entire municipal law base and New Zealand Land Information has released a range of coding tools.

In Australia the ACT government has released several code snippets and their Open Data Policy as open source and the former AusAID partnered with the Indonesian government to release the InaSAFE natural hazard impact scenarios plugin (get the code here).

The US even has a closed community where government employees and contractors share information about the open source software they're releasing and that is available for them to us (the Open Source Center).

This makes perfect sense if you consider that government-created software is a public asset, rather than a cost.

While some software may rightly need to be tightly controlled, there's a vast range of potential code for which there's no cost to government, and potentially significant value in open sourcing, allowing other eyes to spot bugs and provide improvements, while reducing the need for duplicate code development within and across jurisdictions.

When code is open it means that agencies can properly scrutinise it, understanding how it functions, the security risks and detect any potential backdoors - something much harder to do in proprietary software, which is closed source (customers can't analyse or edit it).

There's a great list of case studies and examples of governments open sourcing code and content at Github's new Government centre, http://government.github.com, unfortunately though in Australia we don't seem to have any comprehensive list of which governments and councils are creating and releasing open source materials.

So I've created a spreadsheet, which I'll add to over time, of open sourcing going on across the Australian public sector.

If you're open sourcing materials, have used or know about others who have created or used open source code or materials from Australian governments or council, please let me know in the comments below.

Hopefully over time we'll see this list grow and become more official (maybe governments will even list their open source materials in their own sites one day!) - joining the government open source community.



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Thursday, November 14, 2013

Be part of the first ever Australian eSnapshot on Gov 2.0, egovernment, open and connected government

The national e-Snapshot 2013 is the first in a rolling series to capture current thinking and practice around technology-enabled innovation for government and the public sphere including such areas as e-Government, Gov 2.0, digital government, mobile gov and open government.

Organised by Cofluence, an organisation who has worked extensively in the Gov 2.0 field globally operating services like Gov 2.0 Radio, the e-Snapshot 2013 asks some big questions: How is connective tech helping the public sector? How is it helping citizens and interest groups? Plus it hopes to explore some useful approaches to what's actually working.

The e-Snapshot is being supported by CeBIT Global Conferences and top level results will be available at the GovInnovate Summit in a session chaired by Deirdre O'Donnell (the former NSW Information Commissioner).

Complete the 60-second e-Snapshot here: http://cogovsnapshot.cofluence.co/#snapshot
(note there's an optional additional survey too)

Or learn more about the e-Snapshot at: http://www.cebit.com.au/cebit-news/2013/towards-open-government-esnapshot-australia-2013

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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

About 1.5m tweets have now been sent by Australian councils and government agencies

I've updated my tracking of Australian government and council Twitter accounts and found that the roughly 920 accounts I track have sent in total 1.47 million tweets.

Given there's some accounts that have closed down which I no longer count and probably a few more I've missed, I'm comfortable that Australian governments have now sent approximately 1.5 million tweets.

This represents explosive growth. It took 63 months (from November 2007 to January 2013) to reach one million tweets, but only 11 months to get from one million to 1.5 million.

The next half a million is likely to take even less time - I expect we'll reach it some time in July 2014 (and will report back so you can see if my prediction is correct).

But who's tweeting?

I'm glad you asked.

You can see my full list of Australian government tweeters at: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0Ap1exl80wB8OdFhwX3BmSzV6MW5zWGlNVnFoeVhVSGc&usp=sharing

However the top ten most active, by tweets, followers, following and by age are below, followed by the number of tweets divided into category, location (state) and jurisdictional level (national, state/territory and local).

You might be surprised who's who in the roost.


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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Why Australian councils and other governments need to be very careful using SurveyMonkey & other US-owned online engagement tools

I've had an interesting and robust conversation online in the last day regarding how Australian councils and governments are using overseas services like SurveyMonkey to collect information from citizens and residents.

It's no secret that SurveyMonkey in particular is widely used, with other tools like SurveyGizmo and Wufoo also used by many Australian councils and governments to collect personal information from citizens in consultations.

I think these are great tools - well-made and cost-effective. In the past, I have also encouraged and supported their use.

However every council and agency using them needs to be very careful in doing so.

Many of these tools are owned by US companies, which makes them subject to the Patriot Act and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The Patriot Act, passed in 2001, was designed to fight terrorism in the US and strengthened FISA, originally passed in 1978 , to make it legal for certain US agencies to request data from US companies pertaining to non-US citizens, while prohibiting the company from revealing that the data has been taken.

What this means in practice is that any data collected by an Australian government or council in a US owned services such as SurveyMonkey may be provided to the US government, without informing or requiring the permission of the Australian jurisdiction or the individuals whose personal data is taken.

Whether or not the US government exercises its rights under the Patriot Act and FISA, any Australian government using US-owned online services (regardless of where in the world they are hosted), cannot legally make the guarantees they are required to make under the Australian Privacy Act to control how any personal information they collect on citizens and residents is distributed or used and to only use the data for the purpose for which it was collected.

This poses a major challenge to Australian councils and agencies as they are open to being found in breach of the revised Privacy Act, which now includes million dollar fines for governments that do not comply with it.

I recommend reading the new Australian Privacy Principles (APPs), as provided by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, to get an overview of the impact of the privacy changes, in particular APP 1 (which requires actual privacy documentation from entities), APP 2 and APP 8.

APP 2 outlines the requirement to support anonymous and pseudonymous responses to consultations - meaning that any service or approach (including RSVPs to a physical event) that requires a user's real name may no longer be legally able to be the only channel for consultation responses.

APP 8 is particularly worth reading for how organisations that collect personal data are allowed to share it across jurisdictions. I'll let people read it for themselves and source their own legal interpretation, as it places a large legal question mark over the use of US-owned services due to the Patriot Act and FISA.


Any council using US-owned online engagement tools must decide whether convenience and saving a few dollars is worth the risk - knowing that they are breaking Australian law.

Of course this shouldn't stop councils or agencies from using online engagement services. Provided an online engagement service meets the requirements of the Privacy Act it is fine for an Australian government to use them.

This covers data collection services from companies domiciled in nations which do not have an equivalent to the Patriot Act and FISA - such as the UK, New Zealand and Canada, amongst others.

It also doesn't exclude the use of US-owned services such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter where citizens have directly chosen to sign-up to the service based on its terms of service. The presumption is that citizens will do due diligence and make their own risk assessment regarding whether they are happy to comply with US laws. Where governments have a presence, they are not the direct intermediary for citizens using the service and therefore only need to be mindful of the privacy ramifications of information published on the council or agency's own account pages.

It may also be possible to mitigate legal risks around tools like SurveyMonkey through excluding all personal questions in surveys - although this could be more difficult to defend in some cases as the IP address and other metadata automatically collected by these services may be sufficient to built a connection and identify a respondent.

Or government agency or council could require all respondents to agree explicitly before engaging that they understand that the Australian jurisdiction collecting their data cannot guarantee the safety of that information due to US law - although this could seriously damage the level of actual engagement and trust.


Fortunately, however, when agencies and councils look into the use of online engagement tools they don't need to only look at US or other overseas providers.

There are local providers of online engagement tools, including the company I now lead, Delib Australia.

Local providers are required to meet all Australian laws and, for the most part, host their services locally (as Delib does), removing jurisdictional risk and potentially making them faster to use (as data doesn't have to travel over congested international networks).

That can raise prices a little - hosting in Australia is more expensive than hosting in the US and local providers can't access the same economies of scale or venture funding as US companies.

However it doesn't raise the price that much, when considering the benefits of local support (in Aussie timezones) and greater responsiveness to local government needs.

Speaking with my Delib hat on, as I know Delib's prices best, councils and not-for-profits across Australia can access Delib's combined Citizen Space and Dialogue App services for under $500 per month.

State and federal agencies, who need greater flexibility and control, won't pay much more for Delib's robust, well-tested, online survey and discussion tools, which were co-designed with governments for government use, and comply with Australian privacy, security and accessibility requirements.

Other local providers offer a variety of other online engagement tools and should also be considered.

So when an Australian council or government agency wants to engage online its staff should think very carefully about whether they select a US-based service, or a local provider - considering whether they are willing to trade a little in cost for a great deal in legal risk, loss of control and less support.

They also consider whether they wish to support Australian or US businesses, Australian jobs or US venture capitalists.

The choice shouldn't be too hard, even on a tiny engagement budget.

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Monday, November 11, 2013

Has Australia reached 'peak open' in government?

The Open Government Summit in London saw well over 1,000 representatives from over 60 governments and 30 civic organisations meet last week to discuss the progress the Open Government Partnership (OGP) has made in opening up governments to greater scrutiny.

Attendees included heads of state, Ministers and high level officials while Australia, which is not yet a formal member of the OGP (expected to join April 2014), was represented by the Australian Government Chief Technology Officer, John Sheridan.

Indonesia was appointed co-Chair of the OGP - an interesting development given the current asylum seeker 'discussion' between Australia and Indonesia's governments.

One topic that seems to have caused much frustration for delegates was been whether we have reached a level of 'peak open'.

This represents a level where the openness possible using 21st Century technologies meets the unwillingness of entrenched 20th Century government and political institutions to change.

Symptoms include a mistaken focus on egovernment (online service delivery) as 'open government', the release of trivial opendata, while important data remains hidden or even governments using social media engagement to conceal the lack of actual openness or capability for citizens to engage productively with governments in transparent ways.

Another symptom has been the revelations of secret spying by governments on citizens - which may reshape relationships between the US and Europe and between Australia and its neighbours.

Similar signs are visible in Australia. Whilst Australian governments have remained publicly committed to openness and transparency, there's no common agreement on what these terms mean. How open is open? How transparent should governments be?

There's signs that a number of governments in Australia are drawing back from certain aspects of openness, particularly in the political sphere. A number of government social media accounts have fallen silent, or shifted to one-way broadcast, following the last federal election. We've seen the commitment to ongoing release of open data decline in many jurisdictions (after an initial burst) and we've seen little in the way of political leadership for openness, with many signals that politicians prefer controlling information over releasing it.

I've watched open government groups become increasingly frustrated and concerned at Australia's lack of forward motion. Where we see other nations moving forward, Australia appears to be, at best, trading water.

Even Australia's Information Commissioner, John McMillan, appears to have diplomatically suggested that Australia was far more proactive on Gov 2.0 in 2009-2010 than it is now.


The Gartner Hype Cycle is a good model to consider in this regard, and has been used similarly to explain the expectations for, crash and subsequent rise in social media use in government.

Garner Hype Cycle: http://www.gartner.com/technology/research/methodologies/hype-cycle.jsp
Based on the cycle, Australia could be characterised as rising towards the 'Peak of Inflated Expectations' since the Gov 2.0 Taskforce in 2009 (the 'Technology Trigger' that initiated high level public engagement by the Australian Government with Gov 2.0).

The current 'coming together' of open government activists and advocates that I've seen in the last few months, with their concerns over whether Australia is truly progressing in the area - or drawing back - is a characteristic of a shift to the 'Trough of Disillusionment'.

Of course this is only an illustrative model, and may not relate precisely to what is occurring in Australia, or around the world, however if it is it implies there is a great deal of positive change waiting to occur with the 'Slope of Enlightenment', once the Trough has been cleared.

Personally I hope this is the case. Australia can withstand a little less openness in government, which will held the public and media appreciate the value of open and broaden the support for openness in the future.

Right now 'open' doesn't win votes for a particular party and, as such, is largely a nice-to-have beyond the minimum required scrutiny inbuilt into the Westminster system.

If we proceed deeper into the Trough, with a more closed and uncommunicative government, Australians might learn to more broadly recognise the importance and value of openness.

This could turn it into an electorally significant topic, leading to greater political engagement and leadership with openness.

So has Australia, or indeed the world, reached peak open?

In the short-term perhaps.

However the benefits of open government have started to be realised and both media and citizens around the world have been learning that openness reduces corruption, improves accountability and provides economic benefits to nations who are willing to bear the cost of occasionally embarrassing institutions and politicians.

In the long-run I believe that we'll see open government continue to grow and blossom, with both citizens and governments receiving the benefits of more authentic engagement and broader participation in decision-making.

The challenge to public servants and open government advocates alike remains the same - how do you ensure that openness doesn't become a fad, but instead becomes part of the bedrock of our governance and political system, 'inverting the triangle' from a presumption of closed, to a presumption of openness.

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Tuesday, November 05, 2013

The Government Data Landscape in Australia - extended

The Gov 2.0 team in the Australian Government CTO's office in Finance recently released a great list and mindmap of the Government Data Landscape in Australia. This included many of the policy and practical data initiatives across Australian governments.

This is a living list and should be expected to grow and change over time, so I've taken the data and transposed it into Google Spreadsheet, to makes it easier to amend and update and easier for people to filter, sort, integrate into sites or apps and analyse.

I also addressed a few linking issues (which I have noted in the spreadsheet) as well as addressed the accessibility issue of using the word '(link)' as the hyperlink (an unfortunate side-effect of exporting data from MindMeister).

I've opened up the spreadsheet for people to edit, so the community can help expand this list in an actively collaborative way.

Note this is based on Finance's blog post of 26 October 2013, so depending on how and when they update the list, the spreadsheet may be behind or ahead in currency at any time. There's also no guarantee that the Department will refer to or reference this spreadsheet.

However it should remain a useful centralised and community editable list of government data policies and initiatives across Australia.

The editable government data landscape spreadsheet can be accessed at: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0Ap1exl80wB8OdC1jdXFsQTh4R2ZHWDI2SFBxdjVxY2c&usp=sharing

I've also embedded the spreadsheet below.

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Monday, November 04, 2013

Australia's great leap forward in digital diplomacy

In the UK the Foreign Office states, in regards social media, that "The FCO encourages all staff to make full use of the opportunities offered by social media to help deliver FCO objectives", and "we do expect social media to be a core part of the toolkit of a modern diplomat."

In the US the current Secretary of State, John Kerry, has said "Of course there’s no such thing any more as effective diplomacy that doesn’t put a sophisticated use of technology at the center of all we’re doing to help advance our foreign policy objectives, bridge gaps between people across the globe, and engage with people around the world and right here at home," and "The term digital diplomacy is almost redundant — it’s just diplomacy, period."

Many other nations have taken similar steps to introduce digital channels, particularly social media, into their diplomatic suite.

Australia, until recently, was regarded as a laggard in digital diplomacy. I've heard us described on forums for diplomatic staff as highly conservative and as potentially damaging our diplomatic efforts through taking an excessively risk-averse approach to using social media in diplomacy.

Fortunately this has changed over the last year, with the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) having become far more active in digital channels to promote the values and character of Australia.


Under the auspices of DFAT, Australia now operates over 60 social media accounts for digital diplomatic ends, including 22 Twitter, 30 Facebook, three each for YouTube and Flickr, a blog and China-specific accounts on the Sina Microblog, Sina Blog and Youku (a YouTube equivalent).

I've briefly analysed these accounts, which you can view at: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0Ap1exl80wB8OdDF6YTVKZWt1MGh5UEIwaFVZZ19pTEE&usp=sharing

DFAT's social media accounts now cover around 60 countries and, while most were established in 2012 or 2013, they are already growing Australia's digital diplomatic reach and influence.

Countries covered by DFAT social media accounts at 4 November 2013


While Australia still lags powerhouses like the UK, which has over 240 international Twitter accounts alone and the US, which now has over 300 Facebook page and is tweeting in over 11 languages, we've definitely established ourselves in the second tier of countries engaged in digital diplomacy.

We're roughly equivalent to countries like Ireland, or Canada, both of which have just over 30 Twitter accounts and between 60 and 80 social media accounts overall in use for diplomatic purposes.

This is a sold start - although it has occurred without a broad and public discussion of how to most effectively use social media in diplomacy, as in countries such as the USA and Canada.

Hopefully as DFAT builds its skill base and guidance, we'll see less broadcast and more engagement by embassies and ambassadors online - more public conversation that leads to real and valuable diplomatic and economic outcomes from these channels.

After all, with civilian populations and governments alike increasingly engaging each other on social media, being absent online excludes an agency or government from important conversations and allows others without Australia's best interests at heart to fill the gap.

Below is my consolidated list of DFAT's social media accounts, drawn from DFAT's media page and current at 4 November 2013.

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Friday, November 01, 2013

Social media policies from across Australian governments

I've been compiling a list of social media policies released by government agencies and councils across Australia as a central resource bank for organisations who are either still in the process of creating their policies, or are interested in reviewing and improving them.

Thus far I've identified just over 70 policies - a small number considering Australia has over 550 councils, 100 state departments and 18 federal departments, plus all of the independent agencies and statutory bodies across the nation.

This is even smaller when considering that I took a broad view and included policies written for the public as well as those written for agency staff or as models for other agencies to adopt.

Based on previous research I conducted in 2012 (which will be repeated next year), many Australian Government agencies claimed to have or be developing a social media policy, but hadn't considered whether to publish it as yet.

I consider staff social media policies as one of the standard documents that agencies should disclose proactively, and it will be interesting to see when I ask them next year whether agencies feel the same way about this.

Anyway, below's the spreadsheet of social media policies - please comment if you have more to add (I'm not ready to open it up to general editing as yet).

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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

How do we solve falling trust in online services before it becomes critical?

A few days ago LinkedIn launched its latest IOS app, Intro.

The app promises to integrate LinkedIn profile content directly into emails, allowing more rapid connections and helping give email recipients access to a range of relevant information about the sender.

Given both Apple and LinkedIn are well-known brands, many people are likely to trust that this app is safe for them to use, that these two global companies have taken every step to ensure that users are not exposed to privacy risks.

It's also not a big decision. Intro is free and installing the app is a two-click process, done in under 30 seconds. People are unlikely to spend the time to look at the usage policy in detail, or consider the impact of such a simple decision when they trust the brands.

However, in this case, trusting LinkedIn and Apple may not be wise. Global Security Consultancy Bishop Fox released a very compelling post outlining serious concerns with how LinkedIn's new app works.

According to Bishop Fox, the app works in the same way as a 'man in the middle' hacking attack, by sending all of a user's emails through LinkedIn's mail servers. Here they could be read by LinkedIn or, if encrypted, this process could stop the final recipient from ever receiving the email.

LinkedIn states that it will keep information from the emails it captures - and while it states that LinkedIn “will never sell, rent, or give away private data about you or your contacts.” there's no clarification of what data LinkedIn might consider private, nor any solid information on how LinkedIn has mitigated against the type of security breach it suffered in 2012.

This is just a single instance of a situation where the public are being asked to trust a company to do the right thing online, while there's no guarantee they will, and often there's few ways for an individual, organisation or even a government to hold a company to account when they fail to keep their end of the trust bargain.

So the conundrum for the public has become, who can they trust online?

Clearly there must be a level of trust to use online systems, with banks and government clear cases of where trust relationships are critical for transactions and service provision. With no trust in online systems, online banking and egovernment could not exist.

Social networks are also important. As places where people store personal information and share more and more of it over time, there's a clear requirement for companies to appear trustworthy and safe.

Even search engines, which have become the front door to most websites (with Google the dominant player), have a huge trail of data on their users - what you search for helps define who you are, particularly when people use search for medical and personal matters.

The public must implicitly trust all these organisations to both play nice with their personal information and to secure it such that nefarious groups or individuals don't get it. However it has become very clear that they simply can't.

Whether it is commercial providers, who primarily use this data to identify more effective ways to sell, or governments and banks who require this data to validate individuals, the number of reported data breaches is rising - in a global environment where few governments legally require companies to report breaches to the people potentially impacted.

On top of this comes revelations of data surveillance operations by government agencies, such as the NSA, commercial entities such as the example from LinkedIn above, where the data helps them productise their users, or organised crime, who use hackers and insider sources to secure valuable data for use and resale.

However despite increasing concern over how data is secured, who can access it and how it will be used, individuals continue to use many of these online services, either because they simply cannot live their normal lives, or conduct business, without using them, or because of the "it won't happen to me" principle.

If public trust disappears, what does that mean for every organisation using the internet to build its business or to provide more convenient and cost-efficient services?

What impact would it have on government, where a shift to electronic transactions means less investment in other channels and, over time, less capability to meet citizen needs should a collapse in online trust occur?

I don't know how this situation can be resolved, particularly with the low attention paid to ensuring organisations report and rectify data breaches and be clear on how they will secure and use data.

While it is a global issue, individual governments can have an impact, by establishing a robust privacy framework for their citizens and recognising that people own their own data and any organisation allowed access to it should be held accountable for not securing or using it appropriately.

Do we have such a regime in Australia today?

I wanted to finish with an extract from the response I received from the Australian Privacy Commissioner when I reported the LinkedIn app using their email form:

Dear Craig  
Thank you for your enquiry.  
The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) receives a large quantity of written enquiries each day. An representative will be assigned to your enquiry and will be in contact soon. 
We aim to respond to all written enquiries within ten working days. 
If your enquiry is urgent and requires an immediate response, please telephone us on 1300 363 992 and quote your reference number. More complex phone enquiries may require a written response and may still take some time.

A response within 10 working days (14 actual days).

I wonder how many individuals may have their privacy breached, or organisations their confidential data exposed, by a single popular mobile app from a well-known company in this period of time.

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Thursday, October 24, 2013

What's the digital communication capability of Australian governments?

On the back of the UK Government's second whole-of-government communications plan, the UK Government has been undertaking a Digital Communication Capability review asking (in simple terms), how is digital communication and engagement done, and how could it be improved?

The Review has involved consultation with Communications Directors, digital engagement specialists and senior executives across the UK Government and was led by a team of three independent reviewers with a deep knowledge of digital communications.

The review is still in the closing stages (final due in November), however has been an extremely transparent process, with all comments available online and the draft report already released for final feedback (similar to the process the Australian Gov 2.0 Taskforce used in 2009, but has been rarely used since in Australian government).

Many of the top-line findings would resonate with Australian public sector digital communications professionals, with the headline finding being:

Pockets of good practice notwithstanding, the headline finding is that digital communication in government is developing in silos and not in the mainstream. The consequence is that it is being outpaced by the best of the commercial and NGO worlds. Too much is broadcast and does not seek to engage. And, crucially, it is still treated by many in departmental leadership positions as a specialist area where the risks usually outweigh the benefits.
Underneath this, the review found that there wasn't a natural home for digital within departments - with placement in existing areas such as media relations leading to a biased approach which didn't serve all agency needs.

It also found that;
  • departments were not realising economies of scale, with different agencies separately purchasing the same or different social media management and analytics tools, 
  • communication focused far too much on informing rather than conversations, 
  • objectives were based on easily measurable quantitive scores (such as followers or tweets) rather than on changing outcomes,
  • there was an over-reliance on 'build it and they will come' approaches, 
  • there was a shortage of skills - exacerbated by a lack of confidence and judgement, 
  • there were limitations on access to social media due to IT security considerations - which may be valid but were poorly explained and understood, and
  • there was a lack of trust and overriding pre-occupation with risk.
Unfortunately there's been none of this type of work done in a systemic way in Australia - despite it being possible to take an approach (such as the UK one) and repeat it across every state, territory and the federal government to provide a comparable model (then do a cut-down version for local governments).

This is similar to where I started with the Digital Innovation Review I conducted in Victoria (no other states or territories have been interested in a similar review as yet though).

I'd like to help. Any takers in government?

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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Government as a Social Machine featuring Professor Dame Wendy Hall

I blogged today from the Government as a Social Machine forum hosted by ANZSOG and featuring Professor Dame Wendy Hall from the University of Southampton in the UK.

The discussion involved a diverse group of stakeholders from public and private sector organisations and covered the history of the internet and the challenges organisations, particularly governments, and citizens face in adapting to the new knowledge-rich, engagement-rich worked enabled by global real-time distributed communication systems.

Wendy also presented at a NICTA/OKFN event this afternoon, and is presenting at the Semantic Web Conference in Sydney later this week and in Victoria next week at the first Digital Literacy event being held by the Victorian public service (details of most of these events are in my Gov 2.0 calendar to the left).

Wendy opened with a story from before the web, on how no-one predicted the Internet, despite some earlier thinkers, such as Vannevar Bush, who foresaw a memory device (memex) in his brilliant work 'As we may think' in 1945, which contained many of the elements of modern computing systems.

She also discussed Ted Nelson, who coined the terms hypertext and hyperlinks back in the 1960s and Doug Engelbart, who invented the mouse, windows and much of the user interface that we find familiar today. In fact Doug gave the 'mother of all demos' which foresaw modern computers and the web.

Wendy recalled that when she met Tim Berners-Lee at the Hypertext conference in 1991 (which rejected Tim's paper on the web), she thought it was presumptuous that he had named the hypertext system he had invented the 'World-Wide Web', presuming that people around the world would use it.

At the time she didn't think the web was original or breakthrough - "how wrong you can be", she said.

Wendy said that Tim's strategy was to give away the web, making it an open protocol and standard - universally free to use and not controlled by any organisation. She said that otherwise Tim felt that the web would not grow or thrive, but be locked down by political, academic or commercial interests.

She also said that Tim believed that to make the web scale, it had to be able to fail. While many at the time believed that a system which could dead-end, linking to a non-existent page, would turn away users, Tim strategically introduced the '404 error' (which appears when a web page isn't found) to encourage individuals and organisations to build out the web, rather than limit it.

Wendy asked whether we could have built the web another way. She believes that we may have to at some point as the web is only 23 years old, "barely out of nappies".

Wendy also believes that there's many ways to kill or corrupt the web, such as having specific organisations or governments control it - however we don't really know the outcome of these scenarios as we haven't had those experiences yet.

She did ask about what if the Internet disappeared overnight - how would it impact on individuals, organisations, societies, even countries?

The impact of a one-day shutdown of Wikipedia was immense (she said) during the SOPA protest, and there is an increasing risk in some developed nations that blackouts, caused by inadequate electricity supplies, could cause a blackout of information, with people unable to access the information they need to cope with the situation.

Wendy also said that when Tim created the web he understood that it had to include an easy way to write, as well as read, web pages - leading to the development of his first web browser, which was also an editor.

Wendy said that in 1996-8 while the web was growing, the Internet wasn't sufficiently mature for broader use, due to difficulties with slow modems, finding information (pre-Google) and the cost of computers - making categories such as online shopping inconvenient.

However now the technologies have matured Wendy believes that High Streets will disappear. She said that the UK government's decision to sell off the Royal Mail, which was instituted in the Victorian era, is a sign of this change flowing through the system.

Wendy said that years ago she consulted to the Royal Mail, highlighting to them that the new business they needed to dominate was parcel delivery, based on online sales "however they didn't get it".

Wendy also said that "it is very hard to convince the big juggernauts of industry, including government, to change".

She said that, for example, large organisations seem to believe that people will always read books - Wendy believes that yes they will read, but not necessarily books.

She recalled telling biologists years ago that they would be reading papers online. They retorted that the Internet was so slow and computers so heavy that they would never be able to read their papers on the train. Wendy said, "Now, ten years on, biologists are reading their papers on the train using iPads."

Wendy said that Google was inconceivable before the web, and engineers had 'proven' it wasn't possible to quickly index huge amounts of information.

However she said that since Google, the world has changed - and Google is also no longer just a search engine, they are incredibly diverse, "there are at least 2,000 driverless Google cars driving around San Francisco".

Wendy believes that once an organisation has a majority of people using it on a network it becomes very difficult to dislodge. Google, eBay, Facebook and now Twitter are giants, at least in the English-speaking world - different titans exist in China.

Wendy opined that Google may be the James Bond villain of the future - because it knows what you search for, "everyone has searched for something they would not want to be made public". She believes that if Blofeld took over Google they would have something over every politicians.

However, Wendy said, when used benignly or even for commercial profit, Google is fine. She also believes many other industries are in a similar position of potential control over society.

Wendy also believes that even before the arrival of social networking "we should have known how much people would want to write about themselves, take photos, videos and share, based on what we knew about human psychology and behaviour".

Wendy said there is now an expectation that people can find anything, any knowledge online and if an organisation, product, place or individual doesn't have an online presence "they don't exist." As a result, Wendy believes that the web should be the first way any new entity is introduced or promoted.

Wendy said that while Tim Berners-Lee invented the technology and helps set the standards, we (globally) have created the web. We write the websites, blogs and micro blogs. We make the links and the apps. "The web doesn't have shareholders or owners - we are collectively the creators and custodians of the web."

She said that the web exists because we want it to be there, and it will keep existing as long as we want it to exist, so we all have a responsibility to ensure it is a place we wish to frequent.

When people ask her about issues online, she tells them that we didn't make the streets safer by imposing curfews - similarly we need to create the right culture on the web, not create legal restrictions.

Wendy said that Wikipedia was started as an experiment - even Jimmy Wales didn't believe it would work - however it is now equivalent to 1,900 volumes of an encyclopedia, most of which is very accurate. It has grown its own governance, it wasn't invented ahead of time, a lesson for organisations today.

Wendy also said that YouTube is another giant attractor to the web, the place for storing and sharing videos - now owned by Google.

Wendy believes that if an alien had came to earth a hundred years ago and then returned today they would find everything had changed - except possibly education, which is now being transformed by MOOCs. The first platform for MOOCs has also been bought by Google, which is developing it as an open source platform. She asked "who will be the university of the future? Google."

After the break Wendy took questions, giving a view that while cybersecurity is a risk to society, it is not a risk to the web. She commented that it was an area of high expenditure for the UK government.

She also said, in response to comments at morning tea about people being advised not to trust Wikipedia as a reference, that Wikipedia is at least as trustworthy and accurate as printed encyclopedias, plus it has a faster error correction rate. Plus, she said, we create Wikipedia, so it is what we wish to make it.

Wendy also believes that privacy won't kill the web, young people are growing up with different concepts of privacy and will adapt their approach and the web to suit their values.

However she believes that blackouts, siloisation and/or the end of a level playing field for creating and publishing content would end the web. Wendy said that net neutrality is also important. Without it we would lose the level playing field and commercial or ideological interests could control publishing and access to the web.

One of the crowd has commented that probably government is the biggest risk to the Internet, and Wendy says that she has concerns over legislators making decisions about an ecosystem they do not understand, which can lead to all kinds of unforeseen and undesirable consequences.

Wendy said it is hard to dictate in the web, to get people to use something they don't want to use. To get the network effect requires co-creation, meaning that government must work with communities collaboratively to develop platforms which benefit both.

An ABS representative said that they are now opening up a lot of data through APIs and unleashing developers through GovHacks to co-create new tools and services, however it is still a not insignificant challenge to get people within government to just agree on a common definition for Australia or Sydney, to allow datasets to correlate across agency.

Wendy next talked about Twitter, and how its real-time nature can support, even drive, community movements, "the way bad news spreads now is via Twitter. It is a mechanism for warning people to get out."

She said the interesting thing about Twitter is that it is being co-created, with functions like RT, MT and hashtags invented by the community.

Wendy believes co-creation is critical for the web, not only codesigning systems, but using systems which allow people to add value as they go about their daily interactions, such as via ReCAPTCH and Duolingo.

Wendy then talked about the semantic web, a web of data, saying it was in Tim Berners-Lee's original vision for the Web. However without sufficient data online (she said) we cannot experiment to find out what this will become or create the network effect, where people share and reshape data and create services or new visualisations with it.

She wrote a paper with Tim in 1996 which identified four principles for the Semantic Web, however says that the commercial sector still didn't get open data, hugging it tight.

Then governments began opening data based on discussions with Tim and others, leading to President Obama's declaration and a cascade of open data releases by governments around the world and initiatives like the Open Data Institute.

Wendy used an example of UK prescribing data, how open data allowed the NHS to identify 200 million pounds in savings each year.

Wendy said that while engineers and scientists often think of the web as a technological byproduct of a set of simple standards, it is a socio-technical construct, effectively a 'social machine' co-created through interactions between technology and millions of humans.

The technologies that underpin the web didn't create the web - people did, providing the content, linkages and developing, sharing and using the apps and websites that sit on it. However without the technology the web could also not exist.

Wendy said that social machines start with an incomplete specification that evolves and grows to cover more of the problem via interactions. They achieve participation through local incentives and the network effect, eventually succeeding through a process of rapid trial and error involving subsets of participants.

Wendy is working on understanding social machines through a 'web observatory' at Southhampton University that observes, monitors and classifies social machines as they evolve. She said this will also become an early warning system for detecting new disruptive social machines and identifying the 'tipping points' where they become ubiquitous.

Her group is studying Twitter networks, as well as Wikipedia and YouTube, amongst other services, to understand 'activity pulses' and how they help explain social movements and trends. For example, Wikipedia was a better indicator of a trend around 'Gangnam style' than Google with the trend occurring a month earlier on Wikipedia.

She asked how does Government, potentially the original social machine (as one audience member commented), transform itself to take advantage of digital channels to be a better social machine?

How do governments employ gamification, the network effect and web observatories to develop and deliver better policies and services?

How do we address the challenges of the 24-hr news cycle, election cycles and other factors which make developing and maintaining social machines difficult?

Wendy said she can't help reflecting back on governments from Victorian times, the 19th century, that created amazing long-lasting infrastructure in Britain that still serves the population today. She believes they were amazing social machines and still have lessons to teach us today on how to transform government to address the challenges of the 21st century.

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Friday, October 18, 2013

Suggestions for governments stepping into open data

I've been completing a survey for the Spatial Industries Business Association (SIBA) related to the Queensland Government's open data initiative, where one of the questions asked Can you list or describe any learnings that would be useful in Queensland?

I've provided a number of my thoughts on this topic, having closely observed open data initiatives by government over the last five years, and written periodically on the topic myself, such as:


To share the thoughts I placed in the survey more broadly - for any value they have for other jurisdictions - I've included them below:

  • Data released in unusable formats is less useful - it is important to mandate standards within government to define what is open data and how it should be released and educate broadly within agencies that collect and release data.
  • Need to transform end-to-end data process. Often data is unusable due to poor collection or collation methods or due to contractual terms which limit use. To ensure data can be released in an open format, the entire process may require reinvention.
  • Open data is a tool, not a solution and is only a starting point. Much data remains difficult to use, even when open, as communities and organisations don't have the skills to extract value from it. There needs to be an ongoing focus on demonstrating and facilitating how value can be derived from data, involving hack events, case studies and the integration of easy-to-use analysis tools into the data store to broaden the user pool and the economic and social value. Some consideration should be given to integrating the use and analysis of open data into school work within curriculum frameworks.
  • Data needs to be publicly organised in ways which make sense to its users, rather than to the government agencies releasing it. There is a tendency for governments to organise data like they organise their websites - into a hierarchy that reflects their organisational structures, rather than how users interact with government. Note that the 'behind the scenes' hierarchy can still reflect organisational bias, but the public hierarchy should work for the users over the contributors.
  • Provide methods for the community to improve and supplement the open data, not simply request it. There are many ways in which communities can add value to government data, through independent data sets and correcting erroneous information. This needs to be supported in a managed way.
  • Integrate local with state based data - aka include council and independent data into the data store, don't keep it state only. There's a lot of value in integrating datasets, however this can be difficult for non-programmers when last datasets are stored in different formats in different systems.
  • Mandate data champions in every agency, or via a centre of expertise, who are responsible for educating and supporting agency senior and line management to adapt their end-to-end data processes to favour and support open release.
  • Coordinate data efforts across jurisdictions (starting with states and working upwards), using the approach as a way to standardise on methods of data collection, analysis and reporting so that it becomes possible to compare open data apples with apples. Many data sets are far more valuable across jurisdictions and comparisons help both agencies and the public understand which approaches are working better and why - helping improve policy over time.
  • Legislate to prevent politicians or agencies withholding or delaying data releases due to fear of embarrassment. It is better to be embarrassed and improve outcomes than for it to come out later that government withheld data to protect itself while harming citizen interests - this does long-term damage to the reputation of governments and politicians.
  • Involve industry and the community from the beginning of the open data journey. This involves educating them on open data, what it is and the value it can create, as well as in an ongoing oversight role so they share ownership of the process and are more inclined to actively use data.
  • Maintain an active schedule of data release and activities. Open data sites can become graveyards of old data and declining use without constant injections of content to prompt re-engagement. Different data is valuable to different groups, so having a release schedule (publicly published if possible) provides opportunities to re-engage groups as data valuable to them is released.

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