Speech to the Technology in Government and the Public Sector conference

Monday, August 9th, 2010 @ 11:57AM

Firstly I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we have gathered, the Ngunnawal people, and thank them for their continuing contributions to our wonderful Canberra community.

The first term of a new government is arguably one of the most transformative periods in modern democracies as new ideas responding to new challenges overtake the old and irrelevant.

Around the world, governments and their leaders are exploring the possibilities the Internet offers to redefine democratic participation: and redefine it in a way that renews confidence in our systems of governance and public administration.

We are witness to communities leaping ahead with their own innovations in response to slow, old fashioned bureaucracies. The Internet is the open platform of choice and the freedom and creativity being displayed in the design of new digital tools – be they services, ways to communicate, collaborate and share – are all inspiring.

It is the nations which are able to harness the energy and excitement for active engagement using these new digital tools that will best be able to respond to the challenges and complexities of modern government.

Why? Because through this engagement we are able to tap into experience, ideas and expertise beyond the traditional sources – from the whole of the population – to better inform the task at hand.

Australia is well placed to be a leading nation in this regard. With our focus on social inclusion, lifelong wellbeing, sustainability and growing the economy, we have been investing in the foundations of our future prosperity.

I can say with some authority that Australia has never before been better prepared to leverage the opportunities of the digital age. Having held the IT portfolio in opposition and participated in every Senate IT and communications related senate inquiry for the last 14 years, we are finally making the investments necessary to engage in the globally competitive information industry and build our capacity to innovate locally across every sector through the creative application of technology.

The National Broadband Network and the Digital Education Revolution exemplify the magnitude of our plan to close the digital divide and ensure the next generation of Australians is well equipped to fully participate in an online-enabled society.

We have also seen major changes to openness and accountability through the Freedom of Information reforms and the soon to be established Office of the Information Commissioner.

So, what is Gov2.0 and what does it mean for the Australian Public Service?

The term Gov 2.0 is a play on Web 2.0. It infers the application of Web 2.0 tools and practices to government but also infers a next generation approach to government.

Web 2.0 is generally accepted as meaning the interactive and socially connected web that many users now take for granted. An environment where ordinary citizens are able to publish, collaborate, connect with other people.

Importantly, we are seeing the expectations of citizens towards government fundamentally change. Citizens now expect greater transparency, greater engagement, more personalised and intuitive delivery of government services, less hassle in getting what they need. Citizens expect government to ask them what they think, and they expect to be heard. This places additional pressure on both the political representatives and on the public institutions.

Governments everywhere are struggling to understand and meet these new expectations, and also how to establish new and innovative ways to deliver more for less.

Last month Minister Tanner published the Declaration of Open Government on behalf of the entire Australian Government. This document outlines the vision for the future for our government and our public sector, and it has three key principles:

  • Informing: strengthening citizen’s rights of access to information, establishing a pro-disclosure culture across Australian Government agencies including through online innovation, and making government information more accessible and usable;
  • Engaging: collaborating with citizens on policy and service delivery to enhance the processes of government and improve the outcomes sought; and
  • Participating: making government more consultative and participative.

These are important principles to reform how we do government in Australia. They lay the groundwork for a government more in tune with and responsive to the needs of citizens. They lay the groundwork for a more open, sustainable, interoperable and innovative public service. And they lay the groundwork for establishing a significant culture change in the public sector that embraces public contributions, that values and promotes the efforts of public servants, that recognises the value of collaboration across agencies and departments and more broadly with the private sector and general community.

What we are talking about here isn’t merely the use of Twitter or a prettier website. The application of Gov 2.0 principles will improve upon our very democracy.

I believe the most important documents that between them outline the direction and vision for the Australian Public Service are:

  1. The Gov 2.0 Taskforce Report and accompanying government response, and
  2. The Ahead of the Game: Blueprint for the Reform of the Australian Government Administration report.

I’d like to work through some of the key recommendations of the Gov 2.0 Taskforce and the Ahead of the Game reports to hopefully help you understand the practical Gov 2.0 potential for your agency or department.

The Gov 2.0 Taskforce Report

The first five recommendations are around leadership and creating a culture of open government in the Australian Government.

Central recommendation: A declaration of open government by the Australian Government
Recommendation 2: Coordinate with leadership, guidance and support
Recommendation 3: Improve guidance and require agencies to engage online
Recommendation 4: Encourage public servants to engage online
Recommendation 5: Awards

The Declaration as mentioned has been announced, AGIMO has been identified as the lead agency for the implementation of this agenda with Minister Tanner and Minister Ludwig overseeing it’s implementation through their portfolios. AGIMO have set up the Gov 2.0 Showcase, and will be working closely with agencies and departments to identify and document Gov 2.0 projects, lessons learned, and best practices. They have already published some good documentation for the use of social media and other Web 2.0 tools, as well as important guidelines for accessibility and public consultation. Public servants are encouraged through these recommendations to, and I quote “open up government decision making and implementation to contributions from the community”. New awards have been established to recognise and reward the efforts of individual public servants and agencies in this space.

The next seven recommendations are largely around the management, accessibility and public availability of Public Sector Information.

Recommendation 6: Make public sector information open, accessible and reusable
Recommendation 7: Addressing issues in the operation of copyright
Recommendation 8: Information publication scheme
Recommendation 9: Accessibility
Recommendation 10: Security and Web 2.0
Recommendation 11: Privacy and confidentiality
Recommendation 12: Updating the definition of a Commonwealth Record

The opening up of Government data has been shown both here in Australia and around the world to improve transparency and accountability of government, to increase public participation and trust in government and to create new opportunities for economic growth through public and private value adding to government data sets, such as through innovative mashups or reuse for emergency responses.

The goal of the Gov 2.0 agenda is to create a pro-disclosure culture, which basically means a culture where government data is made publicly available by default, unless there is a reason to not do so, such as a privacy or security case. Opening up public sector information doesn’t just mean putting stuff online. It means publishing government data such that individuals can access, use, reuse and automate the updates of, preferably without any technical or human obstacles.

For instance, the data sets should have appropriately permissive copyright such as most of the Creative Commons licences, should be available in an open data format that people can read, should be available with as much metadata as possible such as relevant geospatial information for mapping the data set, and government data sets should not require registration or other additional time consuming steps for access.
The implementation of a good open data strategy will certainly require resources in the short term, but in the long term will simplify the management of and public access to government data.

Currently an FoI request requires at times significant resources to respond, and many of these requests would be unnecessary if more information was publicly available online. The publicly available government record would then act as an authoritative source of knowledge that citizens, and journalists for that matter, can check with and refer to.

There has already been some good work and examples of these recommendations. For instance, the 2010-2011 Federal Budget papers were published under a Create Commons licence, and there is a lot of work going into the data.gov.au public sector portal, where citizens will be able to find and access government data sets across agencies and departments.

The final recommendation is about how government can encourage investment in and contributions to open government through minimising obstacles, introducing tax incentives and appropriately recognising the info-philanthropy efforts of volunteers, not-for-profits and corporates in the community.

Recommendation 13: Encourage info-philanthropy

The report was the result of 6 months of hard work by Professor Nicholas Gruen and a team of people from companies, non-profits, community organisations and government, and it presents an excellent plan for achieving open government in Australia.

I’m proud to say that the Federal Labor Government accepted all of the recommendations with few modifications apart from a few which were allocated to the Attorney Generals Department and the Office of the Information Commissioner.

Ahead of the Game

The Ahead of the Game report incorporated many of the recommendations from the Gov 2.0 Taskforce, but went further to exploring the specific opportunities and strategies for the Australian Government Administration. Leadership is identified as extremely important in any Public Sector reforms, and people are at the centre of the recommendations, because, as the report says
“Ultimately it is people, not systems, who produce excellence and drive change”.

It identifies nine broad areas of recommendations, with four key areas:

  • The first area is forging a stronger relationship with citizens through better delivery of services and through greater involvement of citizens in their government.
  • The second area is strengthening the capacity of the public service to provide strategic, big picture policy and delivery advice that addresses the most difficult policy challenges of the day.
  • The third area is investing in the capability of the public service workforce through improved recruitment and training processes, greater mobility and alignment of working conditions across agencies, and a new, more consistent approach to employee performance.
  • The fourth area is introducing a stronger focus on efficiency and quality to ensure that agencies are agile, capable and effective, backed up by measures to help them plan and improve their performance.

The specific recommendations along with my brief explanation of each are:

Reform 1: Delivering better services for citizens
This is about improving the delivery of government services to make them more responsive, intuitive and personalised for citizens. It discusses the importance of partnering with the government, private and community sectors to get the best possible outcomes, particularly to integrate across jurisdictions so that citizens with complex needs can access what they need through a single point.

Reform 2: Creating more open government
This will create better access to public sector information, but also better online engagement with citizens through Web 2.0 approaches including the facilitation of citizen contributions to government.

Reform 3: Enhancing policy capability
This is so that public servants are supported and encouraged to develop skills and innovate for better policy and strategic outcomes. It also encourages strong partnerships with external organisations, and the incorporation of best practise regulation and project management techniques.

Reform 4: Reinvigorating strategic leadership
A stronger leadership role is encouraged for Secretaries, but also it is important to better recognise and manage the talent of public servants which would greatly improve the ability to deploy skilled people more effectively.

Reform 5: Introducing a new APSC to drive change and provide strategic planning
This reform will create a strong, efficient and forward looking APSC to really support and foster innovation and excellence throughout the entire Public Service.

Reform 6: Clarifying and aligning employment conditions
Improvements of the employment conditions of public servants through creating more consistency in wages, terms and conditions, establishing new work level standards that ensure fairness through similar remuneration for similar work and frameworks that articulate the core skills and competencies required for the public service.

Reform 7: Strengthening the workforce
To identify and respond to skills gaps and ensuring the best prepared public service possible to meet new challenges and innovate.

Reform 8: Ensuring agency agility, capability and effectiveness
Better consistency across agencies and departments in measuring capability and accountability will create better outcomes.

Reform 9: Improving agency efficiency
Creating an efficient and productive Australian Public Service.

All of the recommendations from the Ahead of the Game report create a solid blueprint for the future of our public service, a plan that enables government to take an enormous step forward in productivity, innovation, collaboration and openness, and it is a credit to Terry Moran and his team.

I am again proud to say that the government has endorsed all of the recommendations from the Ahead of the Game report.

Support

The path ahead is clear. The Federal Labor Government has committed to the recommendations of both the Gov 2.0 Taskforce and the Ahead of the Game reports, and the Gov 2.0 agenda is being implemented, so the question for all of you becomes how will your agency or department engage.

There is a lot of support for your agencies and departments in pursuing a Gov 2.0 and Open Government agenda. AGIMO as the lead Gov 2.0 agency will be an invaluable resource, especially through projects such as the Gov 2.0 Showcase to identify and document exemplar Gov 2.0 initiatives in Australia.

The Australian Government Solicitor has expertise in the legal considerations of adopting Web 2.0 and Cloud technologies, and recently ran an excellent forum compiling a large number of useful resources.

The Office of the Information Commissioner is due to open in November 2011, and will be important for advice and information about opening up Public Sector Information.

The briefing paper from the Gov 2.0 Public Sphere consultation I did last year has some excellent resources and case studies from Australia and around the world, and can be found on my website.

The Defence Signals Directorate has extensive expertise on security concerns, and their Information Security Manual is a good resource.

Finally, there is an enthusiastic and thriving local Gov 2.0 community, consisting of public servants, Web 2.0 experts, open government advocates, and much more. Encouraging your staff to actively participate in this community will create opportunities for sharing knowledge and collaboration across government and the broader community.

Internationally, governments are experimenting and sharing their Gov 2.0 experiences. It would be well worth looking over this year’s presentations at the global Gov 2.0 Expo, particularly the keynote by Tim O’Reilly.

Conclusion

Through this speech I have covered a lot of ideas and principles that are hopefully helpful to you with your Gov 2.0 strategic development. I would like to conclude with a final thought for you to consider.

Gov 2.0 presents us with many transformative changes. Such reform will require government to go out to where the citizens are, where the conversations are happening to truly engage.

However, through this change, governments can also choose to become a trusted and collaborative platform for the nation. The platform upon which new innovations can thrive, new stories can be told and new economic and social opportunities will emerge.

You don’t need to simply respond to the changing times and expectations of the 21st century, but you can choose to put yourself at the centre of the change, to be part of the change for the better.

In Australia we have long led the world in eGovernment practices, and we are already being seen as leaders in the global Gov 2.0 community due to the inspiring and enthusiastic efforts of great people in our public service.

I would like to take a moment to acknowledge these efforts, and indeed recognise the achievements and contributions of the broader Gov 2.0 community in Australia.

I commend the Gov 2.0 Taskforce and the Ahead of the Game reports to you and I look forward to seeing more of your inspiring work in this space.

Thank you.

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