Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Becoming an iPhone, not a vending machine - GovInnovate 2014

This morning at GovInnovate 2014, Mark Headd from Accela spoke on the topic of civic hacking - a movement that involves people helping improve their society through spontaneous and unpaid volunteering.

He highlighted the example of a group in the UK who, while out on a night out, found a broken bike rack and set about repairing it.

These types of acts are contrary to the popularised notion of hacking, which involves malicious invasion, theft and destruction of virtual properties - data, systems, websites and physical devices connected to digital networks.

However civic hacking is a very powerful force and an expression of people's desire to improve their own environments and societies, to contribute in a positive way.

Mark spoke about government as a platform, suggesting that government must become more like an iPhone than a vending machine, in that rather than delivering everything itself, end-to-end, that government focus on the 'irreducible core' of functions and allow the community, not-for-profits and businesses deliver everything else, including services build on and for government.

He said that Apple's most significant innovation was opening up the iPhone to third part apps, resulting in an explosion of creativity and innovation, and building the iOS platform, first phones and then tablets, into the phenomenon it is today.

The challenge for government is in ensuring that it releases data and services in appropriate services for reuse - not simply dumping spreadsheets online as open data, but developing APIs and other data services which allow data and government services to have a community endpoint, enabling civic hackers to generate services and solutions of value to the community.

He also said that where government is focused on delivering services, it must take note of the 'design paths', the routes chosen by citizens to achieve a destination.

Similar to worn paths across public areas, civic hackers are now creating design paths technologically - redeveloping government and commercial services to suit their own needs.

Governments that adopt these two principles - enable civic hackers, and follow the design paths, are likely to become vastly more effective at meeting citizen needs while reducing costs and complexity.

Mark finished by saying that the window for innovation is still open for government, however that window may not remain open indefinitely - technology is not forgiving and the community is powering ahead.


  1. governments have enabled civic hackers for years... this is not a new idea... christian groups do this all the time, with government approval, upgrading schools, gardens, and all sorts of public owned infrastructure.

  2. As for API's I think people should have to register and get an api key, then explain what they are building, similar to what ABR and Aust Post require today.

    1. Of course the problem with being an iphone, it's simple and single minded, and becoming unpopular because it isn't customisable...