Thursday, July 31, 2014

Indonesia's 'People's Cabinet' is one of the most innovative uses of Gov 2.0 in the Asia-Pacific region

In Australia roughly 90% of us use the internet, whereas in Indonesia only around 42% of the population do - which still means that roughly 75 million Indonesians are online, or roughly four times the number of Australians that use the internet.

In fact Indonesia was ranked in 2013 as the fourth largest nation of Facebook users in the world, with 63 million users. This is behind the US with 147 million users, India with 115 million and Brazil with 69 million.

Where does Australia rank for Facebook use? We don't make the top twelve.

Even back in 2012 Indonesia was the fifth largest nation on Twitter by number of accounts and Jakarta was known as the Twitter capital of the world, sending more tweets per day than Tokyo, London, Manchester or New York.

With that level of social media usage, and as 44% of Indonesian voters were aged under 25, meaning that social media was the natural way for them to politically engage,  it's no surprise that the recent election campaign in Indonesia saw some highly innovative use of social media.

After the election the Indonesian President-elect had to decide on his cabinet.

Historically this is a behind-the-doors process, where the President and his advisors consider different candidates, sound them out and then announce the cabinet to the public as a 'done deal'.

Australia follows a similar model when the Prime Minister decides on his Cabinet Ministers (with the difference that they must be elected members of parliament). The decision is made behind closed doors, with some media and community speculation but no public engagement.

President-elect Jokoni, however, decided to follow a different model. He crowdsourced his cabinet.

Rather than making the selection a closed process, his team created and promoted a Google Survey where they identified three candidates for each of the 34 Cabinet positions and asked the Indonesian public to vote for which candidate they thought was most appropriate for the role.

If citizens didn't like any of the candidates, they even had the option to suggest their own.

The form specified that the President would ultimately decide which candidate was right for which role (fair enough), but the public did get the right to have a say.

You can see the original Google Form here (and at left translated), although the process has now closed.

It has now been moved and is live instead at eSurv: (translated image at left).

As of last week, over 18,000 people had given their views on which candidates they preferred for each role.

What influence did the public have over these choices? It's too early to say. However the approach adds a new level of engagement and transparency to the Cabinet selection process.

Could Australia do this type of thing? Well actually I've created a tool to do this, though it hasn't been used in an actual election as yet (keep your eyes open).

More importantly - would Australian governments do this type of thing? Have a Premier or Prime Minister give up some level of decision control in return for improved engagement and insights into public views?

Whether or not the current crop of politicians see the benefits, the next group probably will.

Hopefully they'll also be more willing to look beyond the anglosphere at some of the most innovative use of Gov 2.0 going on in elsewhere in the world, particulary in our neighbours.

As Professor David Hill of Murdoch University told The Citizen about Indonesia's attempt to crowdsource a cabinet, “This is a highly technologically-engaged electorate and there’s a lot that Australian political parties could learn from their Indonesian counterparts.”

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Monday, July 28, 2014

Communications professionals have only five years to understand digital, or become unemployable, and other professions are close behind

Back in 2009 I started telling communications professionals that they had ten years to understand digital channels and integrate them into their thinking, or there would no longer be jobs for them in the industry.

I also blogged about this in February 2010.

At the time this was highly confronting to a number of experienced comms people, and I got quite a bit of push-back, particularly from more senior and experienced professionals about how their skills would always be necessary and valued.

I've stuck to this prediction and still refer to it regularly when presenting on the topic, adjusted for the number of years remaining. We're now at five years and counting.

Today I came across a post by Anika Johnson in her LinkedIn blog 'Why digital is no longer optional (or why digital shouldn’t exist at all)' which points out that communications professionals with strong digital skills are now earning more than traditional communications people - and their jobs didn't even exist a few years ago.

She also has a prediction on timelines:
My prediction is that if you work as a communications, media relations or marketing professional and you continue to avoid digital you will probably have trouble finding a job within five years. It’s harsh I know but the horse has already bolted. My world is already digital – yours, whether you like it or not, is too.
Five years left if you're a traditional communications professional, unwilling to build your digital skills.

However the digital transformation society is undergoing isn't restricted to communications, so it isn't only people working in media, PR, strategic, internal and corporate communications, marketing and market research who are affected.

For everyone else out there, the digital steamroller is encroaching on your turf too.

Police and emergency services increasingly use social media to gather intelligence, coordinate and communicate during emergencies.

Human resources (or 'People' as they now like to be known as) personnel conduct the majority of their recruitment and employee checks online and increasingly employee issues involve the use of digital channels.

Teachers source materials and learn via online mechanisms, communicating with busy parents via emails and running portals for gathering assignments.

Policy officers conduct their research and source views online, tracking influencers and activists on social channels.

Service delivery officers increasingly respond to requests and complaints via digital and social channels, and the services they deliver are increasingly digital-first.

Engineers and IT professionals manage and host their projects in the cloud, as do accountants and bankers their books.

Lawyers keep up with common law rulings and law changes via digital repositories and carry tablets instead of trolleys of files, and senior executives increasingly access their board papers and organisational dashboards via handheld digital devices.

Landscapers and builders plan their work via online tools and taxi drivers live on their GPS systems in most large cities - even when they know every street, their internet connected device gives them the fastest route for the day's conditions.

Soldiers are increasingly using digital tools to assist in everything from surveillance (like drones) to logistics support, with the first autonomous robotic sentry devices currently in active testing

There's few professions unaffected by digital and, in most cases, the better the understanding of the digital tools at their disposal the better an individual can perform.

Of course many of these professions has more than five years before someone with no interest or aptitude for digital becomes unemployable, however in most cases it won't be longer than twenty years.

Indeed some of these professions may even disappear or be replaced - who needs taxi drivers when we have autonomous cars?

So if you're in any profession and still resist learning and applying digital approaches and tools to your job requirements, you're probably in the twilight years of your career.

Enjoy these years while they last. There will be plenty of digitally savvy youngsters (and oldsters too) ready to take on your role when you are no longer suitable.

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Innovation in Ageing Challenge launched by SA Office for the Ageing and TACSI

Coming hot on the heels of the VicHealth Physical Activity Innovation Challenge, the South Australian Office for the Ageing in the South Australian Department of Health has partnered with TACSI (The Australian Centre for Social Innovation) to launch an Innovation in Ageing Challenge.

The Challenge invites teams to review two briefs and come up with an idea for a great social business.

Up to ten shortlisted entries will have their teams invited to a two-day pitch training workshop, and the top pitches will be awarded a share of the $100,000 in funding available.

The winning teams will then have six months of rigorous support and mentoring to develop their business model.

Anyone in the world can enter the challenge, although entries have to demonstrate how they will materially benefit older people within South Australia (which is reasonable enough).

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

VicHealth launches Physical Activity Innovation Challenge

VicHealth appears to be one of only a few agencies across Australian state and federal governments that has made a solid attempt at introducing public challenges as an adjunct to traditional policy approaches.

While most governments in Australia still use the same techniques for policy creation that they've used for 80 or more years, after the success of last year's Seed Challenge, VicHealth recently launched a new challenge around physical activity innovation.

With $400,000 in start-up funds available to be awarded to the best ideas, the new challenge invites sports bodies, entrepreneurs and changemakers to develop innovative approaches to get more Victorians physically active.

With information available at VicHealth's website, the Physical Activity Innovation Challenge both brings the public and various sporting and innovation bodies into the policy development process, and helps expose the department to the latest thinking and ideas around prompting people to take up physical activity.

This is the type of thinking that more Australian policy makers need to adopt in recognition that expertise is no longer concentrated within government agencies, and that they need to look further than the 'usual suspects' of lobbyists, activists and pressure groups, for great ideas to feed into policy development processes.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

What happened at Innovation GovCamp 2014 (Canberra)

Last Saturday Australia's first national GovCamp was held as part of the Innovation Month program.

Innovation GovCamp 2014 involved events in six locations across Australia. Over 500 people registered to attend.

I attended (and helped organise) the event in Canberra, at the Inspire Centre at the University of Canberra.

It was a good day - with planned and impromptu discussions across five topic streams. There were a few technical issues with live broadcasting national sessions to all six locations, however we were able to adapt around this.

A report is being compiled by the national organisers, John Wells and Allison Hornery, however I've also put together a video slideshow that tells the story of the day, from my perspective.

The slideshow (embedded below) was compiled from the photos the camera I wore took. Called a Narrative Clip, and used for 'lifestreaming' the camera was mounted (visibly) on my lapel, and automatically took a photo every 30 seconds.

The Narrative Clip was lent to me by Alexander Hayes, an international expert on emerging technologies and Professional Associate with the College of Adjuncts at the University of Canberra, INSPIRE Centre.

The video slideshow was cut-down from the 800+ photos the Narrative Clip took throughout the day.

It was my first experience using a wearable electronic device for that length of time. I found that while it did capture some interesting moments, a large number of the automatic photographs were of not-so interesting moments or simply too blurred for use.

I did reduce the size of the photos (and therefore their resolution if viewed full screen) to accelerate the process of producing the video slideshow.

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Monday, July 21, 2014

Presentation from the AEMI Connections! Social Media in Emergency Management Conference

Last week I spent two days in the Australian Emergency Management Institute's Mt Macedon training centre facilitating and presenting at the Connections! Social Media in Emergency Management Master Class and conference.

It was an excellent event, with some outstanding presentations representing both government and public use of social media in emergencies.

Below is my presentation setting the scene for the use of social media in emergency management.

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You're probably not the audience

I've been reflecting on the number of comments and decisions I've witnessed lately where people have decided that a particular online approach, website design, engagement channel, interface design, fact sheet or other design or content is no good as it didn't appeal personally to them.

There's definitely a tendency in our society for individuals to think they are the central audience for everything they are exposed to - advertisements, entertainment, news and online content.

This individual viewpoint has been fostered over decades for both commercial and political ends.

The advertising industry has applied psychological triggers to make individuals feel that they are unique and worthy of consideration, while selling them mass produced goods on an epic scale. Hundreds of ads are targeted at each of us every day, attempting to influence our buying decisions by making us feel special or by convincing us that by buying their products we will become special.

Political leaders adjust their messages for their audiences, to help create an emotional bond. In effect they tell everyone separately that the view of the specific audience/industry/organisation/club they are talking to are special and therefore deserve to be heard and respected.

Schools do it when they refuse to give failing grades, simply 'needs improvement' and parents do it when they don't hold children accountable for their actions.

Even employers do it - using the notion of 'special' as a key tool for recruiting and retaining key worlers. Of course your staff are special - intelligent, hard-working, committed - otherwise you'd have hired someone else.

All of this helps build a belief in the infallibility and centrality of the individual. This isn't by itself negative, having strong self-belief is a key attribute for success in almost every field.

However it can also lead to ego pitfalls, the belief that an individual's opinion must be worth more than that of another person, or a view that the world needs to organise itself neatly around what we want or believe.

One of the areas I see this coming out frequently is in how governments design services, policies, content and engagements. All of these have traditionally been organised around what public servants or politicians believe are the right way to do them.

And by the 'right way' I mean the way that the politician or public servant would personally prefer to use or engage with government.

Again this isn't a universally bad thing - a particular politician or public servant may accurately represent the audience of the service, policy or content, or engage via the same channels and approaches as the citizens they seek to involve.

However, more often than not, they aren't the audience.

The late-40s male white public servant really doesn't comprehend the life experience of an early 20s female African migrant.

The career politician who has unfailingly worked for their party for forty years to achieve a seat as a older lady, doesn't have the life experience of spending 20 years running start-up businesses in the technology sector.

This isn't to say they aren't good people, committed to good outcomes, or unable to represent communities or administer programs on the public's behalf.

However it does beg the question of why we hold up senior bureaucrats and politicians as the final decision makers on programs, policies, content and engagement processes which are aimed at supporting more diverse communities.

What if the next time a website needed to be approved for launch, instead of a Secretary or Minister, the agency went to the community and asked, 'does this meet your needs' as the final approval step?

What if a policy team had to report to a citizen starring committee to approve a particular policy direction, or an agency delivering public services had to approve every process change with citizen stakeholders?

And I don't simply mean engaging with stakeholder groups - bodies purporting to represent different groups of citizens - I mean going directly to citizens and bypassing bodies with their own agendas.

The ABC does this in quite a sound way, inviting citizens to nominate for its board and having live audiences for a number of shows (there's no better way to ensure performance and detect bad concepts fast).

Our justice system does it too - we empanel juries of people, pay them a small sum for giving up their time, and have them involved as the decision-makers in trials, under the impartial eyes of a court-appointed judge.

Many councils around the world - and even some provincial/state and national governments appoint citizen oversight panels for various decisions.

This approach could be extended into the Australian Government as well. Rather than simply having members of parliament elected based on who decides to stand - a self-selecting bunch who often see politics as their career - we could seek to appoint panels of citizens to oversee a range of decisions and processes.

True it could cost a bit to set up and operate such a scheme, however the savings from adjusting decisions formerly approved by individuals who weren't the audience, to be approved by those who are, could lead to massive savings over time.

Fewer policies would have to be discarded, fewer services reconfigured and fewer actions apologised for and compensated in court.

So when you are next faced with deciding on a direction or approving the final version of a policy, service, program, website, mobile app, or other government decision - take a moment to reflect on whether you're the audience and whether you're the right person to be making that final decision.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Celebrate your social media successes, but don't forget that community trust is the key

In June Baltimore Police Department hit a milestone on Twitter, reaching 50,000 followers.

In celebration of this, they released the following video, reflecting the department's achievement and thanking the community for helping them make Baltimore's streets safer.

It is an awesome video and I totally support and respect organisations celebrating like this. It's important for staff to recognise when their organisation has done well and share in the success, and it can be a powerful way of connecting an organisation with its community.

This type of approach is also a great way to show that an organisation is composed of real people, who are simply performing a role when they don their uniforms. it humanises the staff and can bridge gaps between faceless bureaucracies and corporations and their constituents and customers.

Unfortunately this isn't where the story ends.

Several Baltimore Police officers have been charged with various offenses related to animal cruelty or inappropriate behaviour over the last few years, becoming the subject of significant media attention.

A local newspaper created a response to the Police Department's video using the same music (different lyrics) illustrating a number of these incidents, to paint a different picture of the Baltimore Police and, they said, as a courteous reminder for the Police Department to clean up their own act.

While this second video has only received 10% of the views of the Police video so far (it has been live for about half the time), it is a telling reminder for organisations of the importance of building and maintaining positive community relationships.

If the public are well disposed towards your organisation, they will (largely) support you on social channels. If your organisation has taken actions, or has been portrayed to have taken actions, that place it in a negative light, you will face a greater level of negativity when engaging with the public on social media.

This crosses channels, however is often most immediately visible on social channels due to their speed and reach. Ultimately a bad impression will reflect on how the public engages with your staff via other means - on the phone, in correspondence and in person - making it harder for staff to perform their roles.

Of course, it may take only one disgruntled, sarcastic or delusional individual to create and distribute material like the video above, and may not be reflective of broader community views. However how far this material will spread and how fair a representation it is seen to be depends on the pre-existing negative or positive views of your organisation.

A good reputation will have your community come out in support, a bad reputation will see the material distributed far and wide with support.

Social media isn't just a reflection of the world - it is part of the world. How your organisation conducts itself on social channels can significantly shape community views - creating a positive or negative impression.

So don't take this parody video as a reason to not celebrate your successes or shutdown your social accounts. Instead use them as ways to effectively engage with your community, helping solve problems and participating respectfully and humanly to build and maintain good relationships with the people you serve.

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Monday, July 14, 2014

Round up from GovHack 2014

GovHack is over for 2014, with teams finishing their hacks by 5:30pm on Sunday, 13 July.

With over 1,200 participants organised into 178 teams, 204 projects were developed in under two days, with 146 projects (based on my count) eligible for the approximately $70,000 in national prizes.

Note: GovHack has informed me they are still adding videos for teams with network issues, so the numbers in this post and my spreadsheet will underreport. I'll update it once final numbers are confirmed.

National prizes will be awarded in a red carpet event in Brisbane on 10 August. I'll be attending courtesy of GovHack, to live tweet and blog the event.

All the projects are visible at the GovHack website, linking to project pages. There's links to home pages and videos for projects eligible for the national awards.

I've analysed all of the GovHack projects and teams based on GovHack's site and you can view this analysis at:

Here's a few quick charts from my GovHack stats (mouseover for details):

Finally, below is the finishing video for GovHack 2014.

I hope I see you at the GovHack Red Carpet Awards!

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Friday, July 11, 2014

GovHack is underway - but what is it?

I'm participating in GovHack this year, spending my weekend working with a team to build a cool tool from open government data.

If you're a bit unclear on what a Hack is, the five minute segment below from ABS News 24, featuring GovHack national coordinator Pia Waugh should give you a better idea.

If you want to learn more about GovHack, here's the opening video - also featuring Pia Waugh, as well as the Minister for Communication Malcolm Turnbull.

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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Storify from the Innovation Month event "Google Glass as a certain reality"

This morning I attended the Innovation Month event "Google Glass as a certain reality", hosted by the Department of Education.

It was a great event, and extremely well attended (well over 100 people in the audience), featuring very engaging talks from Alexander Hayes, Matthew Purcell and seven of his students from Canberra Grammer School.

The Twitter back channel was highly engaging, and I created the Storify below from the conversation.

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Minister Turnbull launches brilliant #opendata National Map of Australia - plugs GovHack 2014

Yesterday Minister Turnbull announced the launch of the NationalMap beta - a project jointly developed by the Department of Communications and NICTA to create a single authoritative geographic view of Australia from an open data perspective.

The Minister said the Map was "part of the Government’s commitment to increasing the number of publicly available datasets."

The NationalMap beta, available at, aggregates datasets from Geoscience Australia, the Department of Meteorology, the Department of Communication, Australian Bureau of Statistics and a host of other agencies via

Ranging from topographic features to transportation networks and infrastructure to statistical boundaries (including the ABS's new mesh blocks), all of the datasets are available as open data and can be individually downloaded from within the map interface using their respective 'info' links.

There's also a link to 'Add data' to the Map, which I presume allows a user to upload custom data sets to display, although I could not get this to work.

The NationalMap is built on an open source stack of technologies, including Geoserver, Cesium and Leaflet. NICTA are contributing to these projects where relevant to help improve their capabilities.

In my view the site looks great.

I like the fisheye lens 3D approach used by default, and this can be easily switched to 2D if people prefer. The navigational controls are standard for online maps and the interface is simple to use, though a lack of visible labels means users have to mouseover each icon individually to find out what they do.

The NationalMap did load and update slowly when I used it, particularly as more layers of data were added. Given this is a beta, and presumably hosted on a lower end server with limited bandwidth, this was neither surprising nor a major problem.

Overall I think the NationalMap beta is a great step forward for Australia and provides a rich source of reusable open data for GovHack this weekend.

Hopefully this is only a taste of the projects the Coalition government is championing within government as there's tremendous value to be found in open data, if agencies receive a clear mandate to release it for reuse.

There are so many opportunities right now to use Gov 2.0 approaches to empower businesses and communities to more proactively engage in government policy development, service delivery and self-management. If the government can realise these with a clear and mandated agenda, Australia will be in a strong economic position for years to come.

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Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Overview of the Breaking Patterns Public Sector Innovation Summit

For anyone who didn't attend the Breaking Patterns Innovation Summit on Tuesday 8 July 2014 (which includes me), Oakley Kwon (@OakleyKwon) has compiled a fantastic Storify of the day capturing many of the key ideas and insights.

Shared below, it's worth five minutes of your time.

Also keep an eye out for the other great events throughout Innovation week.

The next one is tomorrow, Google Glass as a certain reality in education

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Having a dinosaur in your corner really helps with public sector innovation

It's quite common for those of us on the pointy end of Government 2.0, innovation, agile and open source/open data and similar 'progressive' thinking to refer to people who seem reluctant and risk-averse as 'dinosaurs'.

The terminology crosses the government/corporate divide - indeed I'm hearing it now more often in reference to senior management in large Australian companies than in government agencies.

Sometimes it's used as a term of affection, sometimes in derision - but there's always the implication that the designated 'dinosaur' is out-of-touch, missing opportunities and holding back their organisation.

However if you take a step back and think about it a little more, many supposed 'dinosaurs' are actually quite progressive in their thinking and activities. They may simply have a different role in the workplace, with different workplace priorities and key performance indicators.

Or they may simply be a product of different life experiences - grown up in an age when media was less complex and the internet was limited to academic institutions.

Sometimes all the 'dinosaurs' need to transform their thinking is a clear business case couched in terms they understand, or a life experience which makes them realise the world has changed.

Indeed I can think of one extremely senior Australian public servant who transformed their thinking after observing how their children used Facebook to organise a successful family gathering - realising social media wasn't just about sharing lunch images, but had real value as a tool for marshalling support and spreading information.

Other 'dinosaurs', however, can be destructive - holding back their organisations to the point where they miss large opportunities or damage organisational reputation and brand. I've seen this numerous times - to the extent where Ministers have been harmed by the decisions of senior public servants.

There's also a group of supposed 'dinosaurs' that aren't dinosaurs at all. They're impersonating dinosaurs for role or camouflage reasons - people who prefer to influence from inside a group, rather than from the outside.

So how can progressive thinkers ('mammals'?) help to tell which dinosaurs are which? How can they help dinosaurs evolve?

One particular strategy that helps is to have a dinosaur on your side - preferably a large one with substantial presence and influence.

If you can identify someone who is simply wearing a dinosaur suit for workplace purposes, rather than being a true dyed-in-the-scale dinosaur, you've got a significant opportunity to enlist that person to begin influencing from within. Provided that person is seen as another dinosaur (albeit a slightly unusual one), they can often significantly influence an organisation's agenda as a champion for innovation, open data, or whatever the progressive workplace cause might be.

Alternatively if you can find a dinosaur who is purely driven by their role or KPIs, identify how to match your business case for moving forward with their workplace goals. if you can align a progressive approach with their priorities you will find they quickly shift their position - even take ownership of the idea - as they can see the benefit in personal and professional terms.

However if you find that all your dinosaurs are true dinosaurs - unable and unwilling to change, even when the business case is strong - consider your options.

You could bring in supposed dinosaurs from other organisations that they trust and respect, to show them the error of their ways.

You could wait for an extinction event, their retirement, replacement or, unfortunately, a serious event which proves their decisions were wrong.

Or you can seek a new habitat - changing roles or workplaces to find one where there is more room for change.

Just always keep in mind that not all dinosaurs are really dinosaurs (just as not everyone claiming to be a progressive workplace thinker is one), indeed many think themselves quite progressive.

And keep in mind that having your own dinosaur in the corner is far more effective than simply throwing stones.

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Tuesday, July 08, 2014

The importance for government of respecting open source and open data copyrights

An interesting situation has arisen in Italy, with the country's Agenzia delle Entrate, the Italian revenue service and taxation authority, accused of copying OpenStreetMap without respecting the site's copyright license.

As documented on the Open Street Maps discussion list, Italy's OpenStreetMap community discovered a little over three months ago that the maps used by the Agenzia delle Entrate in the website of the Italian Observatory of the Estate Market (housing market site) closely resembled those from OpenStreetMap.

In fact, they were able to establish that the Agenzia delle Entrate had copied data from OpenStreetMaps, then superimposed other data on top.

Now given OpenStreetMaps is an open source project, crowdsourcing the streetmaps of the world, that shouldn't normally be a problem.

OpenStreetMaps' data is freely available to copy and reuse - that's the entire point of it.

However there was one factor that the Agenzia delle Entrate had ignored. That the copyright license to freely reuse OpenStreetMap data came with one condition - to credit the source.

Using a Creative Commons by Attribution license, which is also the default copyright for Australian Government information, OpenStreetMaps required only one thing of organisations and individuals reusing their data - to provide an attribution back to the source.

This the Agenzia delle Entrate had failed to do.

OK - this isn't a big issue, and the folk in Italy's OpenStreetMap community weren't that worried to start with. They simply emailed the agency to ask it to correct this omission.

No reply.

Three months later - with no formal response from the agency, and no rectification of the copyright on the site, the OpenStreetMap folk stepped up their criticism.

They created a website where Italians and others can view and compare OpenStreetMap with the Agenzia delle Entrate's site to see how the Italian government agency has violated copyright for themselves.

You can view the website here:

It's in Italian (naturally), so if you don't read the language an online translation tool can help, but isn't required to compare the maps.

I suggest that visitors use the search tool in the left-hand map to find 'Milan', which is the city recommended for comparison purposes. Note that the agency took its copy of OpenStreetMap a few months ago, so is not as up-to-date as OpenStreetMap itself.

The situation has grown from a simple omission into an active campaign, not only because the government agency ignored the community concerned, but also because that community now feels that if the government is prepared to ignore copyright requirements so blatantly, how is any other copyright in Italy safe.

Essentially if a government agency won't do the right thing when reusing intellectual property, why should businesses or individuals trust them - or do the right thing themselves.

It's something that every government agency should ponder.

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Friday, July 04, 2014

What happens to governments when the trust disappears?

It's difficult for governments to remain effective when the support of citizens evaporates. History is littered with failed states, civil wars and insurrections resulting from society's loss of trust in their rulers and governance systems.

In authoritarian states this support is often built on fear, coercion and control, which can prove to be very fragile when citizens lose their fear of a government, as Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and Syria have most recently demonstrated.

Whereas in democratic states support is given willingly based on a covenant that governments will do the best for all in society and citizens will follow laws on the basis that they are applied equally. When these covenants break down, they tends to do so more gradually and over a longer period of time, with a gradual loss of support as governments become more selective in who they govern for and institutions are eroded through partisan appointments, corruption and budget cuts.

However the end result can be similar, as Thailand, Zimbabwe, Somalia and Fiji have demonstrated, with civil war, authoritarian takeovers or societies completely breaking down.

It can take much time for societies to recover from these breakdowns, with economic loss, insecurity and often deaths before a state regains its feet.

Right now we appear to be living in a time of low trust in governments and many institutions, including public services around the world.

Globally the Edelman Trust barometer for 2014 recorded a 4% decline in overall trust in government from 2013 to 2014 (refer slide 23 in the deck) - with particular falls in the US, France and Hong Kong.

This has also been documented in US studies, where trust in the Senate is at only 7%, at 29% for their House of Representatives, and trust in the President's office in decline.

Australia saw an increase year-on-year in the Edelman Trust Barometer, however this wasn't evident in the latest Essential Report (1 July), which roughly annually assesses people's views of government and different institutions.

With an error of +/- 3% at a 95% confidence interval, the survey suggested that 31% of citizens trusted the Commonwealth Public Service, 25% trusted the Federal Parliament and only 12% trusted political parties.

Local councils did marginally better than any of the above groups at 33% trust. State governments were more trusted again at 39% (Queensland) up to 54% (NSW).

Also according to Essential, only 31% of people trusted the government to responsibly use any information collected and held about them.

Now these are numbers in isolation, what's more interesting is a trend over time.

Unfortunately Essential has only been polling on these topics for a few years - with some institutions (such as local councils) only starting last year, so it's hard to form an impression as to whether trust is increasing or decreasing in the longer-term, though many have seen short term declines in the last year.

Of particular note is the decline in trust in the Commonwealth Public Service, which has plummeted from 49% in 2011 to only 31% in 2014.

This is a 50% decline in only four years and should worry all senior public servants.

A lack of trust can lead to difficulties in sourcing information for policy creation, in getting the right people to contribute to shaping policies and can raise difficulties in implementing programs as communities ignore or distrust communications from the government.

Adjunct to this is the low ongoing trust in political parties, which has probably contributed to the high number of independents and minor parties elected in the last two federal elections. In fact a quarter of the seats in the current Senate are held by non-major parties, the highest proportion in our history.

This also contributes to difficulties in passing laws (as we're seeing already) and can lead to parliamentary paralysis. While the government of the day does have the ability to request a double dissolution election with the right trigger (which is already in place), its unlikely a government will do this unless they believe they can improve their position, which isn't the case right now according to opinion polls, and based on the trend appears to be getting less likely by the week.

Total trust2014201320122011
The High Court57%74%60%72%
The ABC54%70%54%46%
The Reserve Bank52%64%49%67%
Your local council31%38%
The Commonwealth Public Service31%35%30%49%
Federal Parliament25%31%22%55%
State Parliament24%28%
Political parties13%12%12%

At the same time we've seen a change in how Australians perceive democracy as a form of governance, with New Matilda recently covering Lowy research which suggests that, "Democracy No Longer On The Nation's Radar".

The research has been conducted for ten years and has shown a growing disillusionment with democracy in Australia. As reported by New Matilda,
"only 60 per cent of the Australians Lowy surveyed believed that “Democracy is preferable to any other kind of government”. By contrast, 24 per cent of Australians held the opinion that “In some circumstances, a non-democratic government can be preferable.” Another 13 per cent felt that “For someone like me, it doesn’t matter what kind of government we have”

For Generation Y respondents the figures were even more striking, with only 42% of respondents preferring democracy.

While these levels of trust in our system, politicians and public service are not yet critical, they are definitely concerning and need to be understood, monitored and causes addressed appropriately.

That leads to the next point - the causes of low trust in Australia and around the world.

I've blogged previously about how the internet is a contributing factor to this trust issue. People are able to rapidly share information, expose falsehoods and politically and socially organise more rapidly than ever before, and this has a material impact on how nations conduct their affairs.

I don't think many governments have yet internalised the impact of the internet on their political and governance behaviour, and this is costing them respect, lost time and effort.

The push for open government, which has stalled in Australian political circles (even going backwards in some areas in the last year), is a reaction to governments seeking to control information flows, even online, and generally failing due to failures to adjust their culture, regulations and behaviours to operate effectively in a digital society.

More openness is good for governments - provided they have thick skins, are prepared to accept criticism and are equal to the task of transforming both political and governance institutions into more engaging and effective communicators.

Without this transformation, governments are increasingly scoring own goals - damaging their political and governance credibility through secretive decision-making processes and decisions that are either or both poorly conceived and poorly communicated.

The 2014 Budget is a case in point - the government followed an 'old school' approach to leaking and preparing the public and then did the normal TV, radio and in-person select appearances to 'sell' it to citizens. However there was no real attempt to engage citizens online, through the social channels where the public were forming and hardening their views even before Ministerial media releases were published in newsprint.

Unfortunately we're still seeing the same behaviour repeated again and again - with government Ministers and agencies attempting to shutdown conversations they don't want by refusing to speak, an old-school approach which is based around government being the main source of information. Now, however, the community is willing to fill the gaps, so these conversations simply don't end - leaving government looking increasingly silly and ineffectual as the only silent group in the room.

This behaviour will contribute to further erosion of trust in institutions, and government agencies who do it to protect their Ministers are having the exact opposite effect - harming Australia's governance system in ways that may prove, over time, to be irreparable.

Governments are also scoring own goals through some of their decisions, which are only damaging the political estate further.

With all of this currently going on I am increasingly worried about the damage being done to Australian democracy and wonder whether it will be reversed before we see irreversal damage or the demise of one, or both, of our major political parties.

Through all of this I hope that the integrity and performance of the public service, recently rated one of the best in the world, is sustained, so that Australia will have the governance structures, expertise and dedication to rebuild trust in the systems we rely on to remain one of the happiest, most secure and wealthiest nations on earth.

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Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Guest post: Unlocking Budget Data in Australia: the BudgetAus Collaboration

Republished with permission from the International Budget Partnership blog

This post was written by Rosie Williams of InfoAus.

Unlocking Budget Data in Australia: the BudgetAus Collaboration

Budget transparency in Australia has recently taken a big step forward with the first ever release of federal budget data in machine readable format. Prior to this year, budget data in Australia had been locked away in PDF and Word documents. While these publications met the broad guidelines for reporting government spending to the public, analysis of government spending remained a difficult and time consuming process.

Providing information is one thing, making it usable is yet another.

Unlocking the data

As a novice programmer with a degree in sociology and background in activism, I decided to address this problem by creating a web tool that would allow users to explore the entire federal budget. The website — BudgetAus — works in much the same way as a search engine: users can search for their areas of interest to see how much money the government is spending, regardless of the agency or portfolio in which the spending occurs.

The original site was built from budget data that I manually copied and pasted from the existing PDF’s published by the government. The following year we tried to program scripts to scrape the data, but this proved too time consuming. The complexity of the data contained within the documents, and the fact that the documents presented information in different ways and were not broken down to the same level, proved challenging.

Behind the scenes, people had been working within government to release budget data in machine readable formats (as data files). However, they faced the same set of challenges – inconsistencies in the way the data was organized by different agencies made them unsuitable for use by programmers.
A budget visualization created using BudgetAus data. From Arthur Street’s Australian Budget Explorer.

Building a network

Having established my interest in budget transparency over the past year or so, I found a small network of people with a strong interest in what I was attempting. This network includes experts who work on the federal budget, veteran journalists, and professional programmers.

With the first release of machine-readable budget data imminent, we made a big push to have this data reformatted and made consistent with the requirements of BudgetAus and similar projects. This was no easy task, with a team working overnight with the Excel tables contributed by each of 180 agencies to produce line item data in a suitable format.

Going public

Getting the data is only one requirement of a successful budget transparency project. Engaging the wider public with the purpose of having access to the data is also crucial. I used a budget night event to find collaborators willing to put the budget data to use. With the help of some prominent independent journalists, Wendy Bacon and Margo Kingston, the BudgetAus collaboration, as it has become known, spent budget night using social media to find out what sort of budget questions people wanted answered.

Wendy set up a Question Bank on GitHub – an online, open source collaboration tool. This seems to be functioning quite well for public discussion of budget transparency questions. Some developers in our network set up a data visualization repository to support this and future efforts by coders and citizen bloggers to produce meaningful graphs and visualizations based on open data.

Everyone played complimentary roles, from the budget experts who providedbackground on the nitty-gritty of budget questions, to the media and our coders. Collaborators seemed to fall quite naturally into their respective functions.

Where to from here?

Based on this years’ experience of working with BudgetAus, the government is now designing a standard way for agencies to report spending.

While BudgetAus and its collaborators have helped to shine a light on the important issue of data consistency, there is much work that remains to be done. Answering questions such as how spending promises (estimates) differ from actual spending, and how different political parties make changes to public spending, will require retrospective data that is so far not available. To continue to build on the success of the project will require funding the formalization of a group working on these issues.

In the end it took leaders within government, the respective agencies, citizen journalists, citizen hackers, and the general public to begin a functioning budget transparency project. I hope that this is just a beginning.

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