CeBIT 2010: Gov 2.0 building a strong foundation for open democracy

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010 @ 8:47PM

CeBIT 2010

CeBIT Hannover 2010

Tuesday, 2nd March 2010

Introduction

If the first incarnation of the internet saw the democratisation of information, and made us all publishers, the second incarnation of the internet – Web2.0 – is the democratisation of innovation and decision-making, and will make us all co-designers of civil society in the 21st century.

This brings with it a great deal of responsibility, perhaps more than most people realise. The role of Government during this phase of evolution is central as it will set the tone for how and why citizens could and would engage.

I’d like to tell you today how the Australian Government is setting about bringing Australia into this future.

As a politician who has been engaged in ICT debate, policy development and every ICT related parliamentary committee since I took office in 1996, I am extremely proud to be able to say for the first time: ICT is at the top of the Australian political agenda.

You may have heard of some of Australia’s big policy actions in isolation, for example the National Broadband Network, or our Gov. 2.0 taskforce.

You may not have heard about some of our other related policies such as the Digital Education Revolution, or the Government ICT procurement Reform Program, or the Powering Ideas policy which outlines the research agenda for the 21st century.

These are all parts of the Australian Government’s big policy narrative of recreating Australia as a high productivity, innovative, digitally enabled economy.

This narrative is informed by principles of openness and transparency in government and achieved through four broad strategies.

These are ACCESS, PARTICIPATION, INNOVATION and GROWTH.

Today, I will mostly focus on participation, however let me first explain the current big policy actions and put them into their strategic context.

Access

The digital divide is a bigger problem than it seems and is getting bigger as the speed on online social and economic innovation accelerates.

Those who are not connected online, whether at home, at work or at the very least through public venues such as libraries, simply miss out. Mobility constraints are also amplified.  In a vast country like Australia, this opportunity gap is further exacerbated by geographic isolation.

Social inequity will be magnified in the absence of the internet.

In economic terms, Australia understands full well the impact of geographic isolation globally and locally. We know our future will be best served by a high productivity, high innovation economy operating on the open platform of the internet.

And if we are smart about it, the evolution of a democratic system to one more able to adapt and respond to, engage with and best serve our citizens.

In Australia, on of our biggest issues has been the availability, cost and speed of Internet access.

To deal with this, our big policy action is the National Broadband Network. This is a commitment that every Australian citizen will have access to at lest 12 megabits per second broadband, with 90% of Australians being reached by a fibre to their premises and able to access a 100 megabits per second.

Let me repeat, no one anywhere in Australia will have less than 12mbps and 90 percent will have 100mbps.

This policy, costed at up to $43 billion Australian, is the single largest infrastructure commitment by an Australian government in our history as a nation.

We have made this commitment because we understand that high speed Internet access is necessary infrastructure for growth and development in the 21st century. It underpins almost all elements of society and business even today.

Before making this commitment we went to the market and requested proposals for a national broadband network. Unfortunately no proposal came back that offered value for money.

This is largely because the huge welfare gains from a national broadband network include enormous external benefits that government can value, but a private builder cannot capture.

Recent OECD research has demonstrated this through measuring the kinds of paybacks from public investment in broadband through efficiencies that can be gained in health, education, transport and other sectors.

However, this market failure created a once in a lifetime opportunity for the Australian government to innovate, to level the ISP playing field in Australia, to correct past market failures and to exponentially improve the services available to all Australians.

We understand the importance of a fast, reliable and future-proof network for education, for the community, for health, for business, for government and for new ‘public good’ innovations that haven’t even been dreamt of yet.

We’ve been careful to make sure this network will be wholesale-only, to maximise competition and innovation at the delivery and applications level.

We’ve learnt from the experience in the UK, the US and Europe. We understand that market structure, underpinned by a strong regulatory environment is the key to stimulating competition and innovation.

The Internet is the platform to better serve and engage with Australian citizens, however whilst ever there are some citizens without online access we only increase the gap.

The National Broadband Network commitment to universal internet access will close the digital divide in Australia, creating the right environment and incentives to invest in online public services.

Access is only a means to an end, but it is the essential prerequisite to building participation in the digital economy.

Participation

In the short 110 years since Federation, successive Australian Governments have overseen crucial changes to improve our democracy.

But it is the universal, high bandwidth future Australia is creating that will facilitate the greatest transformation in democratic participation .

People are moving away from passive modes of communication in droves. Hours once spent absorbing television broadcast services are now spent on social media sites, picking and choosing one’s content preferences, sharing, referring, collaborating.

They are more active consumers than ever before. Citizens will demand the same active, participatory, collaborative approach to the governance, administration and activities of their communities.

With participation at the heart of this emerging global Gov 2.0 agenda, governments need to consider how to facilitate this engagement that is informed inclusive, safe and meaningful.

Before I turn to Gov2.0 there is another less well known big policy action that serves our participation goals by investing directly in development of online and computing skills in the next generation.

We’ve called this commitment the Digital Education Revolution.

It is a $2.2 billion investment that will place a computer into the hands of all upper secondary school students. The policy also provides for the professional development of teachers, teaching resources, broadband connections, servers and curriculum content.

Australia has a healthy blend of public, private and independent schools. But until this program, their diverse resource bases meant that there was great disparity in the availability and use of technology to better enable teaching and learning.

We are also getting information technology into more Australian homes. Computer prices, particularly netbooks have dropped so significantly over the past 5 years that they have become affordable for most Australians. However we also have a rebate program for parents under a specified income threshold to help with the cost of buying computers for their children.

As the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd recently said:

Labor understands that in the 21st century, information technology is not just a key subject to learn, it is now the key to learning all subjects.

The Digital Education Revolution policies will help us to leverage our investment in the National Broadband Network: The next generation functioning with confidence in a digital environment will drive productivity and engagement.

But what of the rest of the population?

Gov 2.0

Another big policy action the Australian Government has begun in the transformation of the way the government delivers services to, and engages with, citizens.

Our strong political commitment to openness and transparency is complementary to the potential of the interactive web, web 2.0 or as it’s described when in the context of Government and citizen, Gov 2.0.

I have also offered my views on Gov 2.0 over the last year. Defining what I see as the three pillars of Open Government namely, citizen centric services, facilitating innovation through open data and transparency, and government engagement with citizens.

The challenge before the government was articulated by our Minister for Finance, Lindsay Tanner, upon the launch of a new Taskforce in June 2009:

“Citizens are no longer passive users of the Web but instead use it to meet, discuss, argue, build communities and access the precise information they need to manage their lives.

Technology is also driving a new focus on transparency — as citizens rightly expect to benefit from public information created using their money.

And technology is bringing people together so that the essentials of public life — including debate, activism and other forms of citizen engagement — are increasingly taking place online.

This poses huge challenges and opportunities for Government, in two major ways.

One, greater access to cheaper information is producing innovation, much of which has public benefit.

The second important development is that Web 2.0 enables citizens to bring their knowledge, perspectives, resources and collaborative efforts inside the tent of government.”

In describing these opportunities, online tools and open community methods as Gov2.0, the Minister charged the new Gov2.0 Taskforce the responsibility of specifying the steps to transform the government.

Chaired by economist Dr Nicholas Gruen, the taskforce consisted a well respected group of public and private social entrepreneurs.

The Gov2.0 taskforce stressed the importance of Government creating a trusted platform for non-technical people to engage with and contribute to.  Australia has seen extremely rapid adoption of new technologies over the years. We are seeing this same trend for online social networking.

Australians spend more time using online social tools such as Facebook and Twitter per capita than people in any other country, and we are amongst the world’s highest in proportional population uptake.

These phenomenal growth rates compel the government to get on board. To resist is to risk obsolescence.

It is not a phenomenon that can be written off as a fad of the younger generation. The age profile of the social network media is much broader than most expect, for example, retirees are a growing online demographic to consider. The largest age group on Twitter is 25-34 yr olds.

The final Report of the Gov2.0 Taskforce titled simply “Engage”, offered practical, meaningful reforms: ranging from releasing public sector information and datasets, to providing permissive copyright such as creative commons licensing for our digital cultural collections, to opportunities for greater citizen engagement via social media.

These reforms sound straight-forward, but experience to date shows they have some intractable characteristics.

The Gov2.0 Taskforce Report has already been recognised as an important contribution to the global Gov2.0 discussion and the Australian Government is due to formally respond to it soon.

In the mean time, major legislative reform with the goal of improving Freedom of Information is well underway. There is legislation to update the Archive Act and introduce an Information Commissioner to oversee improvements to transparency, accountability and the Gov2.0 agenda.

As a parliamentary member of the National Archive of Australia Advisory Council, I can see first hand the importance of reforms to the Archive Act to improve digitisation of records and compliance with open standards-based electronic records management, including metadata.

Open standards are the taxpayers insurance from future ICT cost blowouts. While not glamorous, these issues are the bread and butter challenges of good administration and governance in the digital era.

Crowd-sourced content

I am very proud of our Archive’s capacity to innovate. Not only did they develop their own open source records management application, Xena, but they have recently been recognised as an exemplar in online crowd-sourcing innovation.

Our Archive has seized the opportunity to be a platform for citizens to contribute to our collective memory of our nation through a web initiative called Mapping Our ANZACS.

Mapping our ANZACS is a web site is based on a sophisticated mash-up of the Archives database of Australia’s 1st World War soldiers and the geo-code of their enlistment location.

The web site invites relatives and friends of the veterans to share their memories and images of their loved ones that is both respectful and inspiring. From scanned letters from the front to pictures of cenotaphs in their home towns, our collective memory is a work in progress.

The Australian national broadcaster, the ABC, has moved in this direction too with the launch of ABC Open. This initiative will see a social content producer in each of our regional areas that will encourage and provide a platform for crowd-sourced local content.

It really is amazing how the simple and low-barrier-to-entry Social Networking tools have revolutionised how people communicate, connect and collaborate.

Online policy collaboration

The natural extension is that people now expect to have similar engagement with their political representatives and government agencies that intersect with their lives.

As the Gov2.0 Taskforce stresses, as a government we need to very quickly respond with our own innovation within the public sector. What do the models and methods of online co-design, collaboration and consultation look like?

I am convinced we can learn from the open source community, after all this is how they have operated for years.

To this end I am fortunate to have been able to work with someone with extensive experience in open source collaborative environments. Pia Waugh, formally the President of Linux Australia and now my adviser and I designed and implemented what we call the ‘ Public Sphere’, our take on one such model.

An experiment in highly collaborative, transparent and online policy development with citizens, we used tools in the cloud including wordpress to blog, a live wall, Livestream, youtube, twitter, flickr, zing, slideshare, facebook, a wiki and a tool called ‘Australia 2 Beta’ to rank recommendations at the end.

A ‘Public Sphere’ combines a physical event with social networking tools applied to the conversation and task at hand. These complemented the use of my own website to draw together the input in a completely inclusive, open and transparent way.

If you are interested in the technical methodology of publicsphere and the post event networking analysis, I refer you to this video in which data analysis company Palantir uses the public sphere event to demonstrate their tools. We also collaborated with National ICT Australia using their OpinionWatch semantic analysis tool.

We’ve had great feedback on all three of the public spheres we held last year and we intend continue to demonstrate the value of tapping into the wisdom of the crowd for policy development.

I also want to mention the Realising our Broadband Futures Forum. Under the leadership of the Minister for Broadband, Communications and Digital Economy, Stephen Conroy, a range of social networking tools were used and applied to extend the conversation beyond the walls of the forum venue with great effect.

Remote nodes were established and via a live stream of proceeding and access to Google’s ideascale we were able to draw input from organised groups in other cities and regions. Individual citizens could equally participate via the web in their office or home.

So, government and politicians encouraging citizens to remotely access forums via the internet is evolving continuously with good effect around the world and Australia is no exception.

Empowering citizens with facts and information is another area the Gov2.0 Taskforce emphasised.

There are two main practical areas where we can open data: Firstly, cultural collections and secondly, data sets collected by government such as statistics, climate trends and geospatial information that if opened could provide opportunities for public and private innovation.

The collections held by galleries, libraries, archives and museums represent our history and heritage and the institutions that manage them bear a great responsibility to preserve these works and ensure access for everyone now and in the future. Digitisation can help with both of these goals.

Many of the cultural collections in libraries and museums are out of copyright, so through their digitisation, the application of a permissive copyright licence such as Creative Commons (BY: attribution) becomes a natural path for ensuring access to and enjoyment of these cultural works.

Indeed it is within the mandate of most cultural institutions to make their collections as accessible as possible, and they inevitably find that putting some of their collection online attracts more visitors to see these works in real life.

Increased digital access will remove the inhibiting effect that living in a geographically vast country has on experiencing our cultural collections; build interest in the collections and the associated social and cultural history; facilitate educational use of the cultural assets; drive new communities of interest and inspire innovation and enable improved preservation of original cultural assets.

In additional to the Australia’s National Archive and Library, the War Memorial and the Sydney Powerhouse Museum already have significant parts of their collections online and this trend will continue, as it has around the world.

Of significance to the effort to open up digital cultural collections is the work of Wikimedia Australia, and their counterparts around the world, who work closely with the Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums sector to help open up cultural collections for public access online.

We can expand the concept of opening up digitally preserved collections to other useful data generated and commissioned by government.

Australia has been forward thinking in this regard, but real progress until recently was limited to a couple of federal government agencies: The Office of Spatial Data Management and the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Under the stewardship of the Gov2.0 Taskforce, we have had several Australian government-led mash-up events using newly opened government data sets and the results have been useful and entertaining.

It’s Buggered Mate was the winner of the mash-up competition at ‘Govhack’. This site is a geospatially enabled user-driven community complaint register on much needed maintenance in your neighbourhood.

Diverse examples of innovating with open public sector information to make it useful to citizens include the Victorian Government new bushfire initiative, the Federal Government’s My School, and the  Australian Agricultural and Natural Resource Online.

Although open public sector information can create opportunities for better services for citizens to be built and delivered, it must be noted that there is a strong relationship between open public sector information and open government.

Open public sector information allows citizens to have an insight into the processes and outcomes of government: citizens are empowered to better engage by being more informed, and hence more able to hold governments to account.

This last point can be quite intimidating for governments, but only if there are poor processes or programs not achieving their goals.

A government that embeds openness and transparency into its leadership and administration will make better decisions: decisions that the community supports because they understand what led to them.

In this way openness builds confidence in democracy and government administration. This is why the Australian Government is so committed to the many reforms designed to improve openness and transparency at all levels.

Mid last year I did a podcast with Professor Lawrence Lessig about the relationship between open data and open government. He made this comment:

“if you’re not free to use the materials of your culture in the debate and expression about how politics should develop, then the open democracy will be hampered in a way that is really unnecessary. So I think they’re intimately connected and we need to see both of them move in the same direction.”

I heartily recommend this podcast to you for further insights into this topic.

Innovation

Opening up useful government datasets has proved extremely successful in the United States, where all government data – unless there is a security, privacy or business case otherwise – is made public.

For instance, they found making geospatial data publicly available actually increased the value 20 times more than what the US government could have generated by commercialising the data themselves.

Further, the Measuring European Public Sector Resources  Report conducted by the European Commission showed the overall market size of public sector information is EUR $27. billion.

Some practical steps government can take to make public sector information and data useful for innovation in the private and public sector include the following:

Firstly, ensuring government news and data is able to be subscribed to, aggregated and is machine readable. An Australian data.gov.au has already been established for published datasets.

Secondly, compliance with open standards and application programming interfaces (API’s) so all data formats and communications protocols are useable. This allows government to be adaptable and ensure government systems are interoperable.

Thirdly, capture good metadata so the context and history of government knowledge is preserved and finally, insisting geo-code data is recorded so that over time more government data can be compared and presented geospatially.

The Gov2.0 Taskforce echoed the Special Minister Of State’s call that the ‘default’ for public sector information ought to be findable, machine readable, gratis (as in beer) and libre (as in speech), unless there is a good reason to keep it confidential like privacy or security.

Compliance with these sorts of rules doesn’t always just happen. Governments have a mix of direct and outsourced ICT resources, making procurement methodology a key determinant of productivity and efficiency.

Making sure Government is a smart buyer of ICT is also important to both public and private innovation, particularly in Australia where the government is the largest procurer of ICT.

The Australian Government also takes seriously their role in the market by allowing intellectual property to flow more freely from public contracts to the private sector, enhancing the business opportunity to value add and perhaps export in to new markets.

This link between capacity to innovate and procurement policy is not necessarily immediately obvious, but without addressing the process by which government purchases, uses and maintains technology it is impossible to improve innovation.

In April 2008 Minister for Finance, Lindsay Tanner, engaged Sir Peter Gershon to lead an independent review of the Australian Government’s use and management of information and communication technology .

Released back in October 2008, the Gershon Review had seven core areas of recommendations including the strengthening of pan-government ICT governance, strengthening of agency governance, cost reductions in ICT business as usual spending, skills developments, consolidation of data centre resources, and improvement of ICT sustainability (Green IT) throughout government .

I want to focus on how Gershon cleverly enabled innovation even through the process of cost cutting by stipulating, and I quote:

“that 50% of the savings generated by these recommendations be transferred to a central fund for reinvestment in projects to improve efficiency and effectiveness of ICT business-as-usual activities, such as replacement of legacy software and hardware with high support and maintenance costs”

I like to call this an innovation dividend.

It is estimated that over the four years from 2009 to 2013, $502 million Australian dollars of savings will go into this fund and be available for reinvestment.

In this way, project funding for specific innovative solutions that will save money and have a transformative effect is provided to departments over their normal allocation.

This significant policy action will break open some of the constraints that long term contracts impose. I am talking about scheduled refreshes of hard and software and paying a premium for support. Years of experience have taught me ICT procurement can make or break a government’s capacity to innovate and deliver just about any program.

Many projects have already been funded through the resulting ICT Reform Program and Minister Tanner will be releasing a list of the projects in the coming weeks.

Today I am very proud to announce that an IT Supplier Advocate will be appointed as part of the Supplier Advocates initiative from Innovation, Industry Science and Research Minister, Kim Carr.

The advocate will work as a broker and spokesperson for small to medium-sized businesses in the information technology sector. This initiative recognises the importance of government being able to access the often nimble, innovative capacity of small business.

Small business competes for government contracts on a level playing field in Australia and that’s how they like it. While a supplier advocate won’t change this, it will ensure the scales don’t tip against small business competing for government contracts in unfair or unreasonable ways.

With multinational enterprises and government Chief Information Officers often hesitant to undertake business with small to medium-sized businesses due to perceptions of risk, the IT Supplier Advocate will work with parties to mitigate these often unfounded perceptions of risk associated with contracting a small business.

Another useful linkage for business in the government procurement market is the National ICT Australia (NICTA) eGovernment Technology Cluster. This ICT research and commercialisation institution has offered to work with the  IT Supplier Advocate .

The eGovernment Technology cluster, located in Canberra at the heart of the federal ICT procurement, can provide services and facilities to help small businesses field test and prove the scalability of their IT solutions to prospective corporate partners and government customers.

NICTA is a part of Australia’s network of ICT research facilities and was established to ensure Australia participates in key emerging information and communication technologies. I look forward to sharing a platform with NICTA’s Chief Executive Officer, David Skellern a little later in the day regarding ICT procurement.

I also want to stress the importance of  green ICT, the application of information technologies to reduce carbon emmissions. Using ICT to reduce the carbon footprint of government as well as lightening ICT’s own carbon footprint ought to form part of all innovation strategies.

To accompany green ICT strategies, we need practical implementation plans, including benchmarking and measuring progress and, critically, the human resources with the requisite skills to do the work.

How we develop the human resources in Australia is therefore an important element of a successful strategy. Australian National University academic Tom Worthington’s new book Green Technology Strategies: Using computers and telecommunications to reduce carbon emissions, contains the courseware to upskill our existing ICT professionals and will help Australia tackle this significant challenge.

Growth

Australia is the 12th largest ICT market globally, and the fifth largest in the Asia-Pacific region. It is a sector of considerable R&D investment, holding 26% of all business R&D expenditure in Australia.

The use and development of ICT underpins all industry innovation because it sits at the heart of modern business.

The Australian Centre for Innovative Industry Economic Research confirms the ICT sector sits above mining, agriculture, transport, manufacturing and media in terms of gross value add to the economy.

Given the high contribution of the sector per se, and the transformational qualities of technology use, ICT innovation continues to attract record investment in research and development from the government and business.

In line with this understanding of innovation as the heart of economic growth, our Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and research, Kim Carr commissioned Powering Ideas: An Innovation Agenda for the 21st Century.

Powering Ideas provides for a 10-year reform agenda to make Australia more productive and more competitive. Implementation is supported by $8.59 billion Australian this year for investment in Science and Innovation representing an increase of 25% on previous years.

The Information Technology (IT) Industry Innovation Council was announced on 5 May 2009.  It is chaired by Mr John Grant and held its first meeting on 21 July 2009.  The establishment of the IT Council recognises the leading role that IT plays across all sectors of the economy and its potential to enable innovation which can transform existing industries, create new ones, improve Australia’s competitiveness, assist with solutions to environmental problems and enhance social inclusion. It is one  of six Industry Innovation Councils established by the Minister for Innovation Sen Carr.

During August 2009, the IT Council undertook a series of stakeholder engagement workshops in Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney.  The IT Council’s first meeting involved the development of a strategic roadmap.It has  developed a work program around NBN readiness, education, commercialization and entrepreneurship and is providing policy advice.

The IT Council is collaborating with other innovation councils. It is working with the Built Environment Innovation Council’s Digital Modelling Working Group and  provided advice to the Automotive CRC on IT capabilities for the automotive industry technology roadmap project.

The Chair of the IT Council has invited Council Chairs to collaborate, where they see merit, on where and how the use of IT can contribute to the success of the sectors covered by each Council.

The Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy Mr Stephen Conroy prepared Australia’s Digital Economy: Future Directions. This blueprint articulates key strategies to maximise the benefits of the digital economy for all Australians: government, industry and the community.

Australia ranks fourth in the world in terms of overall e-readiness with a score of 8.83, up from ninth position in 2007.  E-readiness is a measure of the quality of a country’s ICT infrastructure and the ability of its consumers, businesses and governments to derive economic and social benefit from ICTs.

It is well known that Australia’s economic performance has been the best of all OECD countries through this tough global financial environment currently being endured.

The Australian Government has enjoyed relative success to the extent that we have avoided technical recession and are leading the world to recovery.

We acted decisively when it mattered and we have been able to shield our economy from the worst.  Importantly we were able to sustain through this period, the strategies designed to transform our economy to one that is high-productivity and fuelled by innovation.

Whilst the economic growth of the past decade can be attributed to a commodities boom, growth in the future will be a based on 21st century infrastructure, and a highly educated, digitally engaged population.

We are well placed to be a significant global test bed and market for high bandwidth network applications, with our early adopting population, with our national broadband network being built and our unprecedented political commitment to research, development, innovation and commercialisation of ICT.

Conclusion

Governments don’t sit outside society, they are created by them. Democracy as a system of government developed to reflect the values of engagement and representation that citizens themselves held dear.

The digital revolution has taken us into an era of exciting opportunities for our society as a whole.

It gives us the means to live smarter and lighten our carbon footprint on this earth.

It creates opportunities for Government to do better what they have always done.

It will empower citizens to get involved in unprecedented ways and inevitably evolve our democracy once again.

But governments must recognise that an historic change is taking place.  What it means today to be a member of a community is being revolutionised at a pace we have never experienced, not even during the industrial revolution.

The old ways of governing are going to reach their use by date for the evolving digital citizen. Governments that do not reflect their digital lives can not represent them.

At the same time, governments cannot allow some citizens to be left behind in some relic, analogue society that is rapidly driven to the fringes. A fractured society will also soon reject its structures of government.

In other words, Governments have to be as digital as the community, but they also must ensure that the whole community is digital.

Because we understand this, Access, Participation, Innovation and Growth in relation to ICT are all important strategies for the Australian Labor Government.

We have had made great strides in each of these areas already and the various policies put in place are starting to reap rewards for our sustainability, our economy, our democracy and our society as a whole.

I am extremely excited to be part of such a visionary and forward thinking government in Australia, and to have so many key Ministers, including Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, so deeply committed, involved and interested in the part that technology can play.

I look forward to the hopefully not too distant future where government and citizens and collaborate and co-design the next generation of democratic government together.

I want to finish with a warm thank you to Jackie Taranto and Hannover Fairs Australia for inviting me to share my thoughts and experience of what is happening in Australia with you today.

I hope it has been useful and you will find this speech along with links to all reference material posted on my blog .

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