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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