Friday, September 27, 2013

Watch ABC 7:30 ACT tonight for a piece on Social Media and the APS

There should be an interesting piece on ABC 7:30 tonight in the ACT looking at the relationship between the Australian Public Service and the use of social media by public servants.

I was interviewed from Brisbane for the piece and know of several other ex public servants who were also interviewed or consulted.

There's also an interesting opinion piece on the topic today in ITNews by Steve Davies which is worth a read, The Government's push towards a silent state.

There are a number of people I know of concerned over the consequences now emerging of the 2012 changes to the APSC guidance on social media use by public servants, particularly combined with the line that appears to be being taken by the current Australian Government.

The longer-term implications are still unclear, however it is apparent that significant tension remains between the rights and responsibilities of public servants when it comes to their requirement to be perceived to carry out their work duties in an apolitical way versus their ability to participate in the community as an Australian citizen, with all the political freedoms this entails.

As governments move towards greater community engagement, but place increasing strictures on how public servants can participate in these engagements, where an opinion or concern may be interpreted politically, we're likely to see more cases of public servants being forced to choose between their career and their personal rights and more opportunities for unscrupulous managers to interpret vague public sector policies in ways which can be interpreted as harassment and bullying.

I see this as a rising cost to the public sector, as well as leading to greater reluctance on the part of public servants to participate in public discussions in meaningful ways, both on their own behalf and on behalf of the governments they serve.

Fortunately this trend isn't being repeated in other countries - from the UK to New Zealand public servants are being welcomed into community discussions both as individual contributors and on behalf of agencies - so in a few years the impact of the different approaches should be starkly apparent.

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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Appropriate use of LinkedIn in politics? Should there be a social media electioneering blackout prior to elections?

Yesterday I received the following message from a Linkedin contact:

Dear LinkedIn Friend

I hope you may be able to help me…

Over the coming weeks the Joondalup community will decide who will lead their City for the next four years when Local Government elections are held via postal vote. All electors residing within the City of Joondalup will receive their ballot paper from Wednesday 2 October and I am seeking support to be re-elected as Joondalup Mayor.

It has been an honour and privilege to serve the Joondalup community, working hard over the past seven years to build an effective Council team that has restored stability and credibility to the City of Joondalup.

Under my leadership as Joondalup Mayor, the City has matured into a vibrant, prosperous and liveable City with a connected and engaged community. This fact was recognised in 2011 when the City of Joondalup was named the World’s Most Liveable City at the UN-endorsed International Awards for Liveable Communities. 

If you are a resident of the City of Joondalup, I am seeking your personal support. If you don't live in the City of Joondalup but have family, friends and community networks in the City (suburbs listed below), I would be grateful if you were able to support me by forwarding this email and encourage them to vote for Troy Pickard as Joondalup Mayor.

I would appreciate your support to be re-elected as Joondalup Mayor so we can build on our successes and make the City of Joondalup an even better place to live.

Yours

Troy

PS – I apologise in advance if I have offended you by emailing this election material.


Troy Pickard
Mayoral Candidate
2013 City of Joondalup Election

I wondered whether people felt this was an appropriate use of LinkedIn - and what the consequences would be as more politicians began using LinkedIn in this fashion, and marshalling their network of supporters to make similar appeals to their networks.

I do recall receiving a similar message prior to the federal election campaign - however at federal level it would be a small and fairly targeted impost on people every three or so years.

Piling state and local elections on top of that, given the non-geographic nature of LinkedIn, could result in people receiving multiple copies of this type of appeal on a weekly basis.

So it raises a question for me - there's often an election advertising blackout period imposed on candidates in the week prior to an election, maybe this type of approach needs to be extended to social media as well.

Or perhaps we need a way to choose whether to opt-in to (or out of) political messaging on social channels, or even a total blackout on political campaigning via social networks.

Of course there's a position that people opt-in by friending or following certain accounts or people. If you follow a politician you can expect to receive political messages.

However what if you simply follow professional peers and friends - people who are not already politicians - who then take up politics, or become major supporters of a particular political cause?

You may have personal and professional reasons to remain connected, but simply not want to receive the political messages they start sending.

Can there be some way on social networks to temporarily screen out the unwanted material?

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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Identifiable public service social media voices no longer required in Australian government

The new Twitter profile pic for former
DIAC/DIPD Twitter spokesperson Sandi Logan.
Officials from the Department of Immigration and Border Control (formerly the Department of Immigration and Citizenship) have confirmed that Sandi Logan is no longer required to be a spokesperson for the department on Twitter (using his @SandiHLogan account).

Reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, from comments at the IPAA ACT Social Media event yesterday, effective immediately the Minister is the only spokesperson on Twitter, with the rebadged @DIBPAustralia account focusing on policy and programmatic 'good news stories'.

Sandi has already changed his Twitter profile image and changed the tone of his tweets.

I conjecture that he may even be required to close down the account, based on it having been established as a departmental asset and it being difficult to hand this over to an individual when the following has been built on the account being an official one (see my post on this topic, Is it theft if you personalise & retain an official social media account when you leave an organisation?)

More importantly this step has emphasised a 'do what I do' shift in how public servants may engage via social media. It sends a strong message that public servants may no longer be acceptable as identifiable public spokespeople for their departments.

This has significant implications both for current spokespeople and high profile social media users in the public sector and a much broader impact on the willingness of individual public servants to use these channels for legitimate customer service, policy engagement and service delivery.

While the Department's official account (@DIBPAustralia) remains and has been reinforced as an official channel, individual public servant voices will be hidden behind a departmental name.

I suspect this will only increase the reluctance of public servants to engage in public debates, reducing public understanding of how policy and services are developed and correspondingly reducing the public's ability to participate.

It will also likely reduce the ability for the broader community to understand the value, importance and difficulty of public service roles - damaging employment intakes for the public sector and the reputation and standing of the APS.

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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Can government policy, reports and consultation documents be communicated through animated infographics?

Government reports are often dry - really, really, really dry.

They are also often wordy, complex, long and, due to these properties, largely incomprehensible to the broader community.

Government policy and consultation documents can suffer from similar conditions. They are often quite complex, long and structured in ways that make sense to career bureaucrats but not necessarily to the general public.

Many agencies also dislike this and make all kinds of efforts to provide summaries, to simplify language, use images and charts and use other techniques to spice up these often long and complex government documents.

However at their core, they generally remain documents, words on paper that would be familiar to the scholars of Middle-Ages Europe, to the Ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians and to the many dynasties of the Chinese over the last six thousand years - although they may now be distributed by electronic as well as physical means.

Surely modern society can devise better ways to communicate complex information than relying on an approach that is now around six thousand years old.

And we have - by drawing from techniques that are much older and more resilient in human cultures. Pictures, dance and song.

Now I don't expect governments to communicate their reports, policies and consultation materials entirely through the use of the performing arts. Not all our politicians or public servants are as accomplished singers as, say Chris Emerson, who can be viewed below communicating about government budget reporting and the Charter of Budget Honesty in song with his band Emmo and the Wipeouts on an episode of The Hamster Decides.



However with multimedia and the use of infographics it is now possible to communicate government information in far more engaging and understandable ways than ever before.

This is being done by some agencies already. The Department of Planning and Community Development in Melbourne made a series of animated infographics to communicate material from their consultation, PlanMelbourne (which I've been privileged to work on through Delib Australia).



The use is not yet widespread, with most government reports, consultation documents, policies and other material still released as words on paper - however what if it was.

What if governments mandated that agencies were required to follow a visual first approach for all materials they released to the public, only using words on paper as a secondary technique?

Could agencies rise to the challenge, communicating their material far more succinctly in visual form - a five minute video rather than a 200 page single-spaced, small-type report?

Not possible? Material too complex and long? Too many statistics to cover?

Maybe the examples below might shift a few opinions.

The first example is from the creator of PHD Comics, Jorge Cham. As an internationally renown animator Jorge asked students to describe their thesis in two minutes.

Jorge chose the best descriptions and turned them into animated infographics, such as the one below from Adam Crymble on Big Data and Old History.



Second is an example from Peter Liddicoat, a materials scientist at the University of Sydney and the winner of the Chemistry category in the 'Dance your PHD' competition.

Peter's PHD was on the topic 'Evolution of nanostructural architecture in 700 series aluminium alloys during strengthening by age-hardening and severe plastic deformation' - a wonderfully complex and obscure topic that doesn't seem to naturally lend itself to dance, but somehow works.



What I think these example demonstrate is that there are alternatives ways for government to communicate complex material. They no longer must rely on words on paper.

Certainly bureaucrats can argue that word on paper are easy for them to produce, that they satisfy a substantial proportion of the community and they have a long track record - that 6,000 years of history I mentioned earlier.

They can also argue that there's no silver bullet for communication, no technique that will satisfy 100% of the audience, and that is perfectly true.

However while governments may consider words on paper the default position, the lowest common denominator way of making information available to the public, I think they are often used as an excuse to be lazy and unengaging.

Paper make the lives of public servants and politicians easier. Paper documents are relatively cheap and fast to write, review, approve and distribute - none of which is a benefit to the intended audience and community or improves the outcomes of a consultation.

Mark Twain once said, “I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

For governments words on paper are their long letters - the approach easiest for them, rather than for the recipient, their community or audience.

Agencies can now do better - using images, animations and video to communicate relegating words on paper to a back-up role.

I challenge them to try.

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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Opening up information and creating connections triggers ideas and innovation

I wanted to bring attention to a fantastic post in Wired today, which looks at how the explosion in writing is changing how humans think and learn, and how the connections being made by greater openness and improved communication are triggering ideas and innovation.

The post, Why even the worst bloggers are making us smarter, is worth sharing across your organisations and particularly with senior management as it provides an evidence-based view on why open is better than closed and provides insights into several of the transformations happening in modern society.

As the post points out, the internet has led to the greatest explosion in human expression (largely through writing) in human history - and people aren't simply writing for themselves, they are writing for an audience, no matter how small.

When writing becomes public, thinking becomes public and connections take over. Connections lead to innovation and innovation leads to improvements.

This encapsulates precisely why we need more public engagement from public servants, more explanations of policy decision-making approaches and more opportunities for wider audiences to consider, debate, refute and improve on the ideas developed in policy black boxes.

A broader and ongoing discussion is messier, but leads to more innovation and improvement. It can bust myths and debunk ideologically driven views which run contrary to evidence.

If governments are serious about improving themselves and supporting communities to improve lifestyles and dignity, they need to demonstrate this through greater openness and engagement, not more rules.

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Monday, September 16, 2013

DesignGov's public sector problem solving primer

DesignGov has just released the first iteration of their problem solving primer, a tool designed to share insights from the expertise and experience of decision makers and practitioners on what makes good problem solving.

Released on their blog as A problem solving primer, it's a great approach to start aggregating the combined wisdom of people who have to solve complex problems on a regular basis - particularly (but not exclusively) in the public sector.

DesignGov are seeking more viewpoints, so please consider making a contribution - your experience and insights may be valuable to others in ways you do not expect!

The entire work may be turned into a ePub (which I reckon would be a great idea and broaden its reach).


I was asked to contribute, and managed to write a piece that was far too long, so it has been shortened (with my approval) in the primer - however I thought I would include my full piece below.

It was in response to the question, 'What one thing would you recommend when dealing with limited resources and competing priorities?' and my answer was:

In every workplace it is necessary to manage situations where there’s limited resources and competing priorities.

While each situation may be different – a restrictive budget, changing environment or demanding boss – there’s an approach that has helped me work through many versions of this challenge.

I call it the Venn approach. It involves identifying synergies and similarities between priorities and designing solutions by reusing and repurposing work to meet different priorities.

The Venn approach involves the following steps:

  1. Take a breath to understand the boundaries
    The first step is to put aside some time to understand the resourcing limits and priorities.

    Often we can get so caught up on delivering what we think clients and bosses require, we forget to confirm what they really need. We can also have a false understanding of the resource limits, thinking we have less resourcing than we can actually call on, not grasping the range of skills at our disposal, or mistakenly believing we have more resourcing than has been allocated.

    By taking some time upfront to truly understand what we have and what we need to deliver when it is often possible to identify opportunities to reduce priority conflicts, maximise how resources can be used and reduce the risk of being caught short on money or time before a priority is met.

  2. Identify synergies and similarities
    While the priorities you have may be different, often there are opportunities to reuse some of your work to meet varied objectives.

    Whether it is reusing templates, processes, systems or outputs, there can be hidden synergies which allow you to more efficiently manage your resourcing to meet priorities with less strain and more cost-effectively.

    Whenever I have priorities which will recur, or have similarities with other duties, I look to create systems and processes that can be used to minimise the ongoing work to deliver outcomes – even where this involves slightly more resourcing upfront. This type of approach helps reduce future priority conflicts and frees more resourcing for new goals as they emerge.

  3. Share the value
    Often others in your organisation would also benefit from systems, processes, tools and the outcomes you’re required to deliver. It is always worth networking within your organisation, identifying other areas who have similar needs and challenges to you and approaching them around resource sharing and support.

    Having worked in online teams across both government and the private sector, I’ve become used to having a range of teams from across organisations needing similar outcomes which, if they attempted to meet them individually, would not be cost-effective for any specific group. However by aggregating these needs and their resourcing a great deal more can be achieved and more organisational needs met.

  4. Negotiate the timeframe and outputs
    It may be hard to believe, but sometimes managers instruct teams to work to unnecessary deadlines, or define the outputs they want when different (and easier to deliver) outputs may actually better match the outcomes needed.

    It is often worth checking with the person who issued the deadline whether it is really a fixed point in time, and under what conditions it could be shifted.

    It is also worth confirming the outcomes they need from a project, rather than simply delivering the outcomes instructed. Managers may not be aware of the range of ways an outcome may be met and you may find there’s an easier, cheaper, faster and even better way to meet their needs.

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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Should councils run their mayor's social accounts or agencies their Minister's?

It is rare but not unheard off for Mayors (or other Councillors) to ask council officials to run their Facebook, Twitter or other social media accounts - or for State or Federal Ministers to ask agencies to run their social accounts for them.

This can raise challenges for council staff and public servants - where may this cross the line from apolitically to political?

From my perspective this is a matter where a council or agency needs to draw a clear line between the position and person of an elected official.

There's no issue with a council running social media accounts for the Office of the Mayor, or for an agency running the social media account for a Prime Minister or Minister where that account is the respective property of the council or government and is used to post factual and non-partisan information.

However if these accounts are to be held in the name of a particular office holder - an individual politician - or are to be used for political or electoral posts,  there's no way a council or agency can run these accounts without damaging its reputation for being apolitical.

In these cases, where a Mayor or Minister asks for social media accounts that they intend to use in a personal and/or political manner, councils and agencies have to be prepared to step up and say no.

I know of a few cases across Australia where this hasn't happened - the area is still too new, and some public officials do not yet fully comprehend the difference between apolitical and political social media accounts.

The media has also been slow to grasp the distinction and hasn't yet called many public organisations to account for inappropriate operation of Councillor or Ministerial social media accounts, although I have begun getting calls from journalists who are interested in learning which are the right questions to ask.

This is another good reason why senior public officials need to be across the risks and opportunities that arise from social media. Knowing when to say no to a Mayor or Minister to protect the reputation and apolitical standing of their council or agency is part of their job.

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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

What does the election of a Coalition government in Australia mean for federal Government 2.0 and open data efforts?

As I've blogged previously, when state governments in Australia have changed ruling parties there's often been a temporary hiatus in Government 2.0 and open data activity, if not a series of backsteps - however in almost every case the trend towards greater digitalisation, engagement and openness has resumes.

With the transition from a Labor to Coalition Australian Government the question social media and Government 2.0 practitioners in Commonwealth agencies will be asking is what is their likely future under the new government?

The new Prime Minister has made it very clear that his infrastructure focus is on roads and that he has a very limited understanding of the value and importance of digital channels. The Coalition was also extremely sparing in its use of social media throughout the campaign, preferring to slip under the radar and avoid risk rather than engage with it (and their lesson in winning the election is that this approach wasn't a negative).

I'm also yet to receive any response from Malcolm Turnbull or other Coalition parliamentarians in relation to my questions about their policy position on Government 2.0, open data or membership in the Open Government Partnership - even when Peter Timmins from Open and Shut personally contacted a number of members also seeking a response.

Fortunately there's at least some light at the end of this tunnel.

The Coalition released its egovernment and the digital economy policy platform on Monday 2 September. Amongst a range of topics from NBN to cloud computing, the platform states that the Coalition will release a policy to 'accelerate Government 2.0 efforts to engage online, make agencies transparent and provide expanded access to useful public sector data'

The platform indicates that the Coalition will be taking a 'digital by default' approach, similar to the 'digital first' approach that was beginning to be adopted by the last Labor Government,
Designate the Internet as the default way to interact with users, other than for defined exceptions. We will look to establish a Digital Service Standard and Digital Design Guide, modelled on the UK equivalents, to ensure consistent design of current and future services.
Also modelled on part of the UK approach, the Coalition also outlined an aim to "Seek to ensure every Government interaction that occurs more than 50,000 times per year can be achieved online by 2017."

While slightly less ambitious that Labor's goals, this is a pragmatic approach to prioritising high-frequency transactions for digitalisation - although it is worth noting that there's no evidence this would provide significant cost-efficiencies. Sometimes it is better to prioritise lower frequency, but higher transactional cost services for digitalisation to gain experience in the process, realise cost-savings and as 'quick wins' as they can often be digitalised much faster.

The Coalition has also flagged an interest in mobile service delivery. While no specific goals for making services mobile-ready were outlined in the policy platform, it did go so far as to require agencies to report what proportion of their digital services are not mobile accessible from 2015.

This is encouraging, but potentially misleading. An agency with hundreds of low-use services may find it far more difficult and expensive than an agency with a few high-use services to deliver and report a high proportion of mobile accessible services.

Equally 'mobile accessible' can easily manipulated to mean different things - I can access many services via the web browser on my tablet and smartphone which are still essentially unusable on these devices due to factors including poor design, form complexity, or the requirement for a human conversation to explain specific requirements (hard to call a service desk while using a smartphone to complete the online form).

The 'digital inbox' concept sounds like a great idea in theory, however its practical value depends on how well it is implemented. In fact this is the perfect project to have a start-up develop, free of the bureaucratic constraints of government.

Having previously worked on CSAOnline, which allowed Child Support clients to access their letters from the agency online indefinitely via a secure logon, I recognise that some government approaches to developing digital services can be poorly tuned to delivering on customer needs - costing far more and taking far longer than comparative start-up development cycles.

The Coalition policy section on 'Government 2.0 and Big Data' seems oddly named and reflects a very narrow view of Gov 2.0 as meaning open data and 'tech stuff', whereas most of the international Gov 2.0 community takes the broader view of Government 2.0 being about transforming how governments and citizens interact with the aid of new tools and techniques enabled by digital channels.

The section essentially focuses on having AGIMO ask communities and businesses which data should be made open - something they already do (albeit in a low-key way) and advocating support for public-private partnership proposals from industry and researchers to use big data for public benefit. There doesn't appear to be a budget attached to this latter approach, so what the statement "The highest return proposals will be supported to proof-of-concept and beyond" means is anyone's guess.

The Coalition policy doesn't discuss how the government will or should use social and other digital channels to develop policy, shape services, engage and empower citizens, or provide any guidance as to whether events and approaches to encourage and support civic use of open data will continue to be supported.

Overall it has a very transactional 'government as vending machine' view - which is good as far as it goes (creating efficiencies is valuable) - but doesn't consider the participatory democracy aspects of Government 2.0, where digital channels can be used to support and build democratic engagement, reduce the risks of government getting policies and services wrong and introduce more ideas and analysis to 'black-box' agency processes.

We live in a world where the experts don't all live within the walls of an agency - or an ideological group - and this hasn't been reflected in either the construction or policy instruments outlines in the Coalition policy.

For all these flaws and concerns, at least the Coalition has policies in this area, and overall it isn't worse (if not much better) than Labor's policies.

As the policy platform hits the 'road' of practical governance I am sure there will be a rising interest in how digital channels can support the Coalition's goals in government, and agencies will continue using social channels for communication, customer service, engagement and other purposes.

On that basis I don't expect much slowdown in Government 2.0 progress under the Coalition, although we are unlikely to see an acceleration (as the US did under Obama and the UK under Cameron).

Ultimately Government 2.0 is not an ideological topic - it is about effective governance - there's enormous opportunities in Australia for both conservative and progressive politicians to use the bandwagon to improve government in this country, if they are willing to step onboard.

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Thursday, September 05, 2013

How Australia compares on the basis of voter participation and invalid (donkey) votes

We hear a great deal about the number of people in Australia that are of voting age, but haven't registered to vote, however we don't hear a lot about how Australia compares to the rest of the world in this regard.

I sought out some data from the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) to compare Australia with the rest of the world, to see how well we had been doing in electoral participation - which provides some indication of how engaged citizens are with government.

IDEA has data on national elections since 1945 for about 235 countries. This is available online as tables (such as this one) as well as downloadable custom files (through this interface) and great quick snapshots - though there's no datafeeds or APIs available.

As such it took only a short time for me to download the data, plug it into a Google Fusion table and produce the below map and charts.

This shows that Australia is amongst the roughly 18% of nations which have compulsory voting for their parliaments.



Australia also compares well in terms of voter turnout, sitting close to the top of the list (6th as below - mouseover the graph for details) based on the latest election results (looking at the period from 2009-2013), despite being one of our lowest turnouts since World War II.



Our invalid voting rate has been creeping up, particularly since 1984, and is now amongst the top 30 in the world in their last election (looking at the period from 2009-2013) - see close to far right on the chart below. This indicates a growing disillusionment with existing political parties, but hardly one which is fatal to our system.



Finally, below is a view of the entire world based on voter turnout in their last election (looking at the period from 2009-2013) - click on the coloured dots for a run-down of the voting statistics for each country, based on their latest parliamentary elections.
(larger version here)



Based on this data Australia remains a highly politically engaged state, although we've been in decline for around 30 years.

It would be nice to see Australian governments turn around this trend, reversing the decline in engaged voters and improving civic participation at all levels.

Certainly there's lots of good effort underway to engage citizens more actively in government, although this may be being undermined by increasing disillusionment with the way politics is being played.

The answer might be a rethink of politics, rather than a rethink of government - although this would need to be driven by some very courageous politicians.

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Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Weird and wonderful uses for open data - visualising 250 million protests and mapping electoral preferences

One of the interesting aspects about open data is how creatively it can be used to generate new insights, identify patterns and make information easier to absorb.

Yesterday I encountered two separate visualisations, designed on opposite sides of the world, which illustrated this creativity in very different ways.

First was the animated visualisation of 250 million protests across the world from 1979 to 2013 (see below).

Based on Global Database of Events, Language, and Tone (GDELT) data, John Beieler, a Penn State doctoral candidate, has created a visual feast that busts myths about the decline in physical protests as people move online and exposes the rising concerns people have around the world.

Imagine further encoding this data by protest topic and displaying trends of popular issues in different countries or states, or looking at the locations of protests in more detail to identify 'hot spots' - in fact John has done part of this work already, as can be read about in his blog (http://johnbeieler.org/)


Second is the splendid Senate preferences map for the 2013 Australian Government election, developed by Peter Neish from Melbourne.

Developed again from public information, this is the first time I have ever seen a map detailing the flow of preferences between political parties, and it illustrates some very interesting patterns.

The image below is of NSW Senate candidates, and thus is the most complex of the states, but shows how this type of information can be visualised in ways never before possible by citizens without the involvement of traditional media or large organisations.

For visualisations of all states and territories, visit Peter's site at http://peterneish.github.io/preferences/


These types of open data visualisation lend themselves to a change in the way the community communicates and offer both an opportunity and a threat to established interests.

Governments and other organisations who grasp the power of data visualisation will be able to cut through much of the chatter and complexity of data to communicate more clearly to the community, whereas agencies and companies who hang back, using complex text and tables, will increasingly find themselves gazumped by those able to present their stories in more visual and understandable forms.

We're beginning to see some government agencies make good use of visualisations and animation, I hope in the near future that more will consider using more than words to convey meaning. 

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Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Enter the Queensland Premier's Award for Open Data

The Queensland Government is currently running their first Premier's Award for Open Data, a competition designed to encourage and support the use of data released by the government and raise awareness of how it can add value to the community.

Open data competitions are no longer new for Australia, however it is great to see that Queensland hasn't put limitations on where entrants can come from - unlike previous state open data competitions.

This is a major step forward as it allows the Queensland Government to tap into good ideas from anywhere in the world, rather than limiting them to a geographic area.

The competition only offered $20,000 in prizes spread across four categories ($5,000 in each), howeve received a major boost with support from Microsoft, who is contributing an additional prize, which I value at close to $100,000. This Microsoft Start-Up Accelerator Award will be awarded to the team who develops the most innovative concept with the best start-up potential and will include: · five Nokia Lumia 920s, five Asus VivTab tablets, one four-month course at Founder Institute for the nominated team founder to attend from February 2014 and a maximum of $60,000 worth of Windows Azure for a maximum period of two years.

This size of prize pool is important for open data competitions given the efforts that teams and individuals put into development. I generally also suggest splitting prizes into a range of awards to give more teams the opportunity to win and thereby increasing participation and engagement.

Overall this looks like a good competition and it will be interesting to see the level and range of entries and the winners.

The support offered beyond the competition to entrants will also be interesting to observe, as open data competitions both in Australia and overseas have often suffered from being 'flashs in the pan' - with most apps and services created being abandoned after the end of the competition process.

To find out more or enter the competition, visit data.qld.gov.au/data-event/premiers-awards

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