Thursday, September 18, 2014

What happened at the National Library's Digiculture event: Social Media and the Public Sector

On Tuesday 16 September I participated in the panel for the National Library's Digiculture event: Social Media and the Public Sector, along with Facebook's Mia Garlick and the Department of Finance's John Sheridan.

It was well attended and well-discussed on Twitter (under #digiculture), with the biggest laughs of the afternoon coming from the surprising (blooper) revelation that John's army career had lasted 22,000 years.
He certainly looks good for his age.

One attendee, Kenji Walker, used his sketching skills to create a visual record of the panel, which I've embedded below - thanks for this Kenji!

Finally The Mandarin published an article on the event, Social media in public sector: beat the journos, don’t say anything stupid 

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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Where is the use of digital by Australian governments headed? An interview with John Wells

This is the third in a series of interviews I'm doing as part of Delib Australia's media partnership with CeBIT in support of GovInnovate. I'll also be livetweeting and blogging the conference on 25-27 November.

View other posts in this series.

As one of the national organisers of Innovation GovCamp Australia, founder of GovCampus and producer of Gov 2.0 Radio, John Wells is one of Australia’s leading advocates for public sector innovation. John is also a co-director of Cofluence, the content partner of Hannover Fairs /CeBIT GovInnovate annual summit.

I spoke with John, who is chairing a stream at GovInnovate, to discover where he thinks Australian government is heading in the digital area.

John said that Australia was experiencing a period of rapid take-up and acceleration in open data. “In the last 12 months alone there’s been a seven-fold increase in the amount of data available in, and events such as GovHack are growing rapidly in size and participation by not only hackers, but also government data custodians.”

Internationally, John says, there are also changes afoot. “Across western countries the role of digital in government is subtly shifting towards a more evolved focus on public sector renewal, beyond the traditional approaches to reform.”

“We’ve seen an evolution from the connectivity of eGovernment to the public conversation of Gov 2.0 and now through to the collaborative and participative opportunities that open government presents.”

He believes the future of politics and public administration will be less about left vs right and more about open vs closed and that government organisations as well as citizens must be prepared to capitalise on these collaborative opportunities.

John said that GovInnovate 2014 will be a good opportunity to tease out this change and the impact it will have on the role of Australia’s public sector.

“Having both Mark Headd from Philadelphia and Dominic Campbell from London at the conference mean that the panel discussions will benefit from both a European and North American perspective.”

“It will give participants an opportunity to contrast national programs across the US with local government initiatives in Britain, discussing topical civic approaches from Code for America through to NESTA’s work in the UK.”

John also believes that there’s an opportunity to build on the public sector’s interest in innovation, building on the enthusiasm to adopt more strategic and sophisticated approaches.

“In a public sector context innovation can suffer from being undervalued or viewed in cliqued terms, such as ‘light bulb moments’. Digital has a large role to play in supporting this evolution, particularly in helping people to step beyond their comfort zones.”

John says that digital touches many aspects of an agency and has become a leading driver of innovation.

“As we learnt at the recent national GovCamp on innovation, digital touches on and impacts leadership, program design, engagement of communities and stakeholders, on collaboration across the silos of the public sector and between the public sector, business and civil society.”

Because of this, John feels it is increasingly important for public servants to step beyond what is safe and familiar, challenging themselves to test existing practice and experiment with new approaches to governance.

“What I hear from public sector leaders is that it is important for all of us to learn how to hear about and engage with topics and learning opportunities that are unfamiliar, that address areas outside their personal work scope and comfort zones, as we live in an era where increasingly solutions are found through interdisciplinary practices.”

He believes that GovInnovate will be an opportunity for participants to challenge themselves in this way. “Coming to the conference with a mindset of valuing diverse experiences will help ensure that participants take away something new that will refresh their perspective of what is possible.”

You’ll be able to hear more from John at GovInnovate on 25-27 November in Canberra.

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Monday, September 15, 2014

A view on the maiden tweets of Australia's federal politicians

A politician's maiden speech in parliament is usually constructed with great thought and care. It serves as a platform on which they plan to stand for the rest of their term, the issues they intend to prosecute and the topics on which they prefer to engage.

However can the same be said of their first tweets?

I've compiled all of the first tweets of our currently sitting federal politicians (the 79% with Twitter accounts) into both a timeline and a word cloud to provide a glimpse into how much thought they put into their first declaration on this highly public platform.

You may judge for yourself whether the first tweets of politicians provides an insight into their character, interests and key concerns - noting that only one current federal politician created their Twitter account before entering politics.




The most common words from the first tweets of current Australian Federal politicians

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Friday, September 12, 2014

New South Wales's iVote® system - an interview with Ian Brightwell

This is the second in a series of interviews I'm doing as part of Delib Australia's media partnership with CeBIT in support of GovInnovate. I'll also be livetweeting and blogging the conference on 25-27 November.

View other posts in this series.

If I had to pick someone to be in charge of developing an electronic voting system, I’d want them both to be highly skilled at technical project management and a passionate supporter of democracy.

Ian Brightwell fits both criteria in spades.

“My first voting experience was in 1974 when the Whitlam government was re-elected. Then in 1975, when this government was dismissed, I recall seeing people arguing in the street over politics, which I had not seen before and indeed not seen since.

“After the dismissal in 1975 and before the election, no-one I knew said they would vote liberal, and then we saw a liberal landslide. It was at that point I realised the virtues of our electoral system and value of the secret ballot, allowing people to express their view without undue influence from others.”

As the CIO of the NSW Electoral Commission, Ian Brightwell is responsible not only for all of the commission’s IT infrastructure, but also for Australia’s most exciting online electronic voting initiative, the iVote® system.

The iVote® system is an internet-based voting platform which has been custom-built to support the NSW government’s requirement for remote voting at parliamentary elections. Under current legislation only electors with vision or physical disabilities and remote or voters absent from NSW on election day are entitled to use the system.

In 2011, the first time the iVote® system was used, some 46,684 electors used it while over 200,000 people are expected to use the system in the next state election in 2015.

Ian says that despite the limited number of voters currently entitled to use the iVote® system, it has already demonstrated its value.

In 2011, he says, there was a much larger group of out-of-state voters than they had seen in previous elections, as people didn't have to go to specific locations to vote.

Ian says he can see the iVote® system being expanded to other groups of voters in the future, but at this stage he is comfortable with using the platform for those voters the Commission find difficult to service– where it is hard to get to them manually –it also allows more time for the system to be refined before it is scaled.

One group Ian identified as a potential future target audience were postal voters.

The head of Australia Post has said that first class mail may not be available within 5 – 10 years as a result of Australia Post reducing postal services in line with declining demand. On this basis it is possible that all Australian jurisdictions with postal voting will need a replacement approach for future elections.

He also sees absent voting at local government elections as an area the iVote® system can help. This is particularly a concern because NSW’s Local Government legislation doesn’t permit absent voting at a council elections (this problem will be exacerbated if the proposal by Sydney City Council to require businesses to vote is enacted). For NSW local government elections there’s around 300,000 more non voters fined than at state elections because absent voters are not able to vote.

Another area of interest has been for plebiscites and ‘mini-polls’. Ian demonstrated the system at Parliament House in Sydney, primarily to minor party representatives. They were excited about the potential for using a system like iVote® to include more direct democracy in our system through polling voters on what they thought on different topics.

Ian isn’t sure this is necessarily a good idea, “I’m not sure voters are always well placed to make decisions on complex individual topics, due to the depth of material to absorb and the range of options, but it is an interesting proposition which needs further exploration.”

He believes that “voters are far better at picking the people they want to represent them for parliamentary decision-making.”

Ian does however believe that the iVote® system could be valuable for referendums, which he says there’s a current reluctance to run due to the cost, “the marginal cost of electronic voting, once the system is established, is much lower than that of paper voting.”

One area that Ian doesn’t see the iVote® system moving into any time soon, is replacing the local voting booth.

He believes paper voting is a key method for retaining confidence and trust in the electoral system – particularly given the concerns that have been raised overseas with electronic voting systems in physical locations.

Ian also said that, “for the most part with our current arrangement, replacing attendance paper voting with electronic attendance voting would be quite costly, and there would have to be clear set of benefits to offset that cost.”

Ian believes there isn’t a strong push for Australia to move to electronic attendance voting as there’s sufficient trust in the existing electoral system.

However, he says “with manual systems voters have to trust electoral authorities to do their job and although there is some ability for voters to see this in polling places there can be no evidence votes are finally counted as cast because the final count happens weeks later in remote offices and electors cannot observer this process.

However, with an electronic system you can provide the elector with a little more transparency, though they will have to understand the more complex electronic process to fully appreciate the verification information they have been provided – it’s a different kind of trust.”

Speaking of trust, the iVote® system has been designed with modern security to ensure that the system is as secure and unshakable as possible. Ian says they have updated the security and will conduct penetration testing to mitigate the risk of hacking at the 2015 election.

Also, he says, as the system is in place only during election periods, there’s a very limited window for a hacker to break through security and alter the results.

While no electronic system is perfect, he’s confident that his team has done everything possible to ensure that NSW voters using the iVote® system can trust that their vote will be recorded and counted accurately.

Ian says that the international experience has been that electronic voting isn’t a universal preference if offered to all electors anyway, “a few countries have offered electronic voting to all citizens, and have found that it peaks out at 20-30% of voters, with others preferring physical polling places or other forms of voting.”

“In Australia voting is a community and social activity and taking away a polling place from a small community can create enormous controversy and concern in the community.”

Ian thinks that we should not take away from physical voting or the opportunity for civic social contact, but definitely should offer a diversity of ways to vote, with electronic voting part of the mix.

In particular Ian said that there are issues with areas, with large and growing populations, where in older areas the available polling places can get overrun and newer areas there are no available venues for polling places. He says there is a need to manage the pressure on the attendance voting system which is already feeling over loaded.

While the iVote® system may not be used now to replace physical voting, this still leaves a large number of voters it can service. Ian says that these days 20-30% of votes are not attendance votes (in district votes in a polling places or pre-poll).

an also says that, from the data we have on voting patterns by voting channel, all voting channels generally have a similar electoral outcome. That is electoral commissions see similar voting trends across attendance, postal, absent voting channels. Electronic voting in NSW in 2011 was no exception, it gave a similar electoral outcome to other channels, so in the future this pattern should hold for other jurisdictions that choose to use electronic voting. This is a useful way of determining if major electoral fraud has occurred in just one voting channel.

While the iVote® system has been designed for NSW state voting, Ian’s team kept in mind that it could be used for local government voting in the future. He says that NSW has far less turnout for local elections, “we send out up to 300,000 more penalty notices for local government voting than for state voting.”

Ian also says that other states and territories are watching his team’s work closely, “we’ve had lots of interest from other states, federally and overseas, and expect interest to translate to some action after the next election.”

Looking into the future, Ian said that he didn’t see huge change in voting approaches in the next five to ten years, but expects an ongoing shift from postal to electronic and increasing levels of absent voting driving electronic voting.

He also sees increasing levels of early voting being the first avenue for attendance electronic voting being used “it is already immensely popular and we see 50-100% increase in early voting election on election - but parties hate it as they have to get their party volunteers there for 2-3 weeks prior to election day and it is hard for them to manage their election message. The public love it as it frees them up on election day. The reality is the public will win this one in the long run.”

Australia already has a very high voter participation rate, so while in the US electronic voting may be seen as a way to raise voting participation, Ian says that’s not a consideration in Australia, “as we have such a high participation rate we have has bipartisan support for electronic voting.”

You’ll be able to hear more from Ian at GovInnovate on 25-27 November in Canberra.

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Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Digital Disruption - an interview with Marie Johnson

This is the first in a series of interviews I'm doing as part of Delib Australia's media partnership with CeBIT in support of GovInnovate. I'll also be livetweeting and blogging the conference on 25-27 November.

View other posts in this series.

Marie Johnson, Managing Director of
the Centre for Digital Business
A few weeks ago I sat down with MarieJohnson to discuss her presentation at GovInnovate and the thinking behind it.

Marie is currently the Managing Director and Chief Digital Officer of the Centre for Digital Business, and as a passionate technologist and innovator has had career that has spanned Executive rolls in the corporate and public sectors.

She now advises senior public servants and corporate executives on the new capabilities required by business, government and society to meet the challenges and opportunities of the digital age.

Marie says that digital has been truly disruptive to society and is one of the most serious challenges to government administration in a century.

She believes there’s two forms of disruption, unpredictable and predictable.

The unpredictable kind includes real breakthroughs in technology and new and unique emerging business models that no foresight could have predicted.

The predictable kind result from a series of incremental changes over a relatively long time – a ‘long tail’ of disruption based on the evolution of known technologies and business models.

While unpredictable disruption is exactly that – unpredictable and therefore difficult to plan for, the predictable kind gives organisations with the appropriate horizon scanning approaches an opportunity to prepare.

In her view government hasn’t been paying enough attention to predictable forms of disruption, “some innovations have been brewing for awhile and should not be disruptive to government where it has been monitoring and horizon scanning.”

Marie worries that government hasn’t taken all the steps necessary to adequately prepare for known trends,

“Let’s have a look at, say, the government online strategy in 2000. It looked at moving everything online while maintaining face-to-face and hard copy channels.

The strategy in 2013 said exactly the same thing – placing all high volume transactions online, but keeping hard copy transactions as well.

There’s been no progression in strategy over that time, and implementation over the period has focused on channel switching, moving services and forms online with little business transformation.”

Marie says this could be because digital hasn’t been disruptive enough – governments in Australia have been able to stave off transformational change by creating workarounds to existing systems and processes.

However the longer transformational change is delayed, the more expensive it becomes and the more likelihood there is of ageing system failing and creating far greater disruption for governments and society.

This risk grows as governments fragment their service delivery channels, attempting to maintain existing approaches while also seeking to exploit emerging channels to citizens.

She believes there’s a real opportunity at the moment for governments to be transformational in their thinking, not just linear, making interactions with government more intuitive and seamless.

For instance, Marie says, “agencies should be required to declare what they are going to put online, and what they will be taking away.”

Marie used the example of car registration stickers. Now that police have number plate scanners and integrated registration databases, there’s little need for drivers to display a sticker on their windscreen providing details of their car registration.

She says that most drivers’ license authorities in Australia have now abandoned registration stickers, removing a lot of the process and policy that supported the issue, printing and management of the sticker process.

“Another example is in the work I did with Immigration. We took away the need to have a paper visa label in passports to enter Australia.”

Marie says that Australia didn’t require paper visas, but was issuing about two million of them a year due to a range of reasons including a preference by some travellers who wanted to have a paper visa as a tourism souvenir and proof of their visit.

This process involved substantial expense – the design and printing of visas, their storage and distribution, staff time in sticking them in passports and the overhead of having people come to Australian embassies Immigration posts to get them.

She says that after a review process to understand the extent of the cost of paper visas and the corresponding impact in focusing on electronic ones, the decision was made to set a price signal for paper visas.

Marie says that “the government passed legislation requiring a payment to get a paper label – the electronic visa is still required. Now the issuance of paper visas is almost negligible – saving printing, storage space, staff time, processing and more.”

Marie believes there’s many areas in government that could benefit from transformational rather than linear adoption of technology – changing the way systems and processes work, rather than simply replicating them digitally.

She also believes that the notion of citizen-centricity needs more consideration, “there is no citizen-centricity in government as every agency has a different viewpoint and interaction with citizens.”

Instead, she says, we need to have a discussion about what services we can replace or take away, and how we inform citizens about doing so.

“This isn’t about cutting essential services, but removing unnecessary complexity that feeds on itself.”

She sees this issue in how government defines and manages ‘ICT’ projects,

“Look at audits and capability reports over the last 15 years on government “ICT projects” – how they have failed to deliver, have been very expensive and, on occasion, led to policy failure.

We’re still having the same findings today – how can that be? Why hasn’t government improved and learnt from the past?”

In reality, she says, these are not ICT projects, they are focused on policy and service delivery and have simply been defined as ICT as they involve the use of technology to automate and integrate policy and service delivery.

“So when the Audit office looks at them and there’s a capability review, it looks at them primarily from an IT perspective and can overlook the real reasons for project failure or who should be updating and changing their approach.”

Marie says that agency ICT teams in government are under enormous stress, struggling under an increasing load of business as usual work, maintaining existing systems, with limited capital budgets for replacing legacy systems.

She says that many ICT teams are reaching the point where they have little or no capability to able to maintain existing systems, implement new business projects and innovate, “I think this is one of the challenges for the APS.”

She also says that the whole issue around the client/citizen experience has only recently started to be looked at.

“In the recent egovernment strategy, there is no mention of the client experience. Instead it speaks of heavy and light IT users and is very much a production view rather than looking at what that means for the delivery of policy and citizen experience.”

Marie says her question to agencies is, “can that egovernment strategy support the new welfare reforms from the government? My view is that it probably can’t.”

Marie believes government needs to focus more on becoming a platform, as increasing social complexity and advancing technology blurs and removes the lines between traditional portfolios.

“Where we have the connected car, RFID chipped livestock generating data and highly pervasive connected services – what does this mean for government services and government policy?”

“Rather than having each agency doing their thing independently and in a self-sufficient manner, like factories in the early industrial age, government needs to become more of a utility and a platform - actively sharing skills across policy and service delivery areas, rather than persisting as ‘stove-piped’ bureaucracies.”

Marie sees one of the biggest current areas of disruption as being in finance, with emerging mobile peer-to-peer payment models, crypto-currencies and crowd-lending already beginning to disrupt traditional banking and transaction models.

“We have a lot to learn with what is happening in growing markets such as Kenya, where innovative models of payment delivery are changing how financial systems and currencies operate.”

She says that in Kenya, a country with little in the way of infrastructure, phone-based peer-to-peer payments through a network of payment providers, called M-PESA, has become a leading characteristic of their economy.

Marie believes Australian bureaucrats need to look at how nations beyond the anglosphere are addressing modern challenges. She says there’s many areas in our government where public policy innovation could occur through learning from what’s happening in other countries.

In particular Marie says governments need to broaden the scope and range of inputs on policy development.

She discussed a case study from the UK’s Great Ormond Street Childrens’ Hospital (GOSH), which during the 1990s was trying to understand the very high mortality rates for surgery in congenital heart disease.

Doctors identified one high risk area being the patient’s transfer from the operating room to the ICU.

They identified this complex task as being analogous to that of a pit stop in Formula One, and doctors from GOSH visited a pit crew in action in Italy to gain insights into how hospital procedures could be improved.

In a pit stop a lollipop man waves in the car and oversees all the work done to get it back on the track. All the mechanics and technicians have clearly defined roles to perform concurrently, designed so as not to interfere with each other.

The doctors videotaped the handover process in GOSH and sent it to be reviewed by the Formula One team. Out of this analysis came a new handover procedure.

The anesthetist was given the same role as the lollipop man, to step back and look at the big picture, making safety checks.

These changes led to significant reduced errors and reduced mortality rates.

Marie says this type of cross-industry learning is vital for government – looking beyond traditional sources of advice and support, “Agencies can’t keep doing the same things and consulting the same people. We need to confront digital disruption.”

Finally Marie said that government should offer a user experience that is on par with the very best in any other domain.

She believes the reason this doesn’t happen is that there is a massive capability gap in government in what she calls ‘capability architecture’.

Marie says that different parts of government, agencies and groups in agencies do their own jobs well, however there is no one specifically trained, mandated and responsible for ensuring those jobs all align and fit into the larger architecture of a policy or service.

Instead, she says, they end up being connected together by manual workarounds, third parties and individuals accessing the services.

“In other words government is creating wonderfully designed parts, but not flawless systems.”

She sees a place for what she calls a ‘Transformation Commission’, responsible for future scanning and aiding agencies to adopt transformational techniques.

In conclusion Marie believes that that fossilised ICT systems that are not fit for purpose for the future are becoming a critical concern for agencies.

However if government can adopt a transformational approach to policy and service delivery, improve internal and external collaboration, improve its trend detection and reaction, and connect all these disparate threads together, Marie sees a much brighter future ahead.

You’ll be able to hear more from Marie at GovInnovate on 25-27 November.

More of Marie’s thinking is available through her blog posts, including:

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