Thursday, December 17, 2015

What does membership of the Open Government Partnership mean for Australia?

On 24 November Prime Minister Turnbull sent a letter to the global Open Government Partnership (OGP) Secretariat confirming that Australia would progress to full membership of the OGP by July 2016 (continuing the process started by the former Labor Government in May 2013).

Australia will become the 69th member of the OGP, joining countries such as the USA, UK, Canada, The Philippines, Mongolia and India.

The consultation process is now underway, supported through the OGPau website and a consultation wiki at

I've been supporting the process through facilitating a number of Information Sessions on behalf of PM&C to help build community awareness about the initiative, to address questions and build engagement with the process.

Canberra's session was livestreamed and the raw replay is below.

I am also involved in the establishment of the Australian Open Government Partnership Network, a network of civil societies and individuals that support the goals of the OGP and aim to work productively with the Australian Government to help Australia achieve them as a nation.

If you're outside government and wish to stay informed about the process, or get involved in a network of people interested in the OGP's goals, learn more at

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Friday, December 04, 2015

Australian Tax Office (finally) considering going digital by default, but walk and talk don't match

The Australian Tax Office (ATO) is currently asking Australians what they think of the idea of the ATO going digital by default.

As they rightly point out in the Consultation paper, the current ability of the ATO to do this is restricted by legislation, which often defines the channels by which certain transactions can occur or services be provided, not simply the desired outcomes and outputs.

This kind of policy blindness to digital is to be expected in legislation developed before the 1990s, or even the 2000s, and can take substantial time to unwind and correct. It's less acceptable (though sometimes still present) in more recent legislation - reflecting a failure to learn and understand the impact of digital on the modern world.

For the ATO these policy issues have meant a constant challenge to work within their legislative framework to still deliver the best possible services to clients, thereby prompting accurate and timely payment of taxes and funding the government's operations.

To complicate matters further, the ATO has been shedding highly experienced staff in a series of budget cuts that, in my view, have severely degraded their ability to operate effectively.

I am glad to see this consultation occurring, however feel that the way in which they are doing it leaves much to be desired and, in my view, weakens my trust in the ATO's ability to go digital by default in a manner that maximises tax compliance through making it easier and simpler for people to meet their obligations.

The form provided for feedback has some unusual restrictions on the number of characters used in responding to the consultation paper, making it difficult for those of us who care to fully flesh out our answers with evidence and perspectives.

When submitting the form there's no acknowledgement of the submission - a standard in most online engagement processes today in order to 'complete the loop' and have people feel listened to and acknowledged. I did (after 40 minutes) receive an email with my submission, which is good, but is hardly the immediate feedback people should expect.

On top of this, the consultation itself seems to focus on a 'stick' approach to gaining compliance as the ATO goes digital by default.

There's no discussion of how the ATO will ensure that digital services are better and easier to use than their offline equivalents in order to create a natural pull effect as people walk downhill to the easier way of completing their tax obligations.

There's discussion of penalties for people who are slow to shift to digital services, but no discussion of rewards for those who move quickly and decisively. A stick without carrot approach rooted in old-style punishment-based thinking.

I think the ATO would be far better placed looking at ways to gameify tax paying, creating rewards for good behaviour and making the system habit-forming rather than a chore.

There's opportunities for the ATO to work across the tax ecosystem, into GST registration, company formation and key life events which lead to tax implications - graduations and retirements, new jobs and redundancies - simplifying the end-to-end system to make it a smoother and seamless process for addressing tax issues, directly or via other connections.

There's enormous opportunities for the ATO to API the tax approach, allowing third-party apps and services to be developed on top of tax paying, as the Canadian tax office already has done. In this scenario the ATO is the support service and engine, but not the interface, meaning they can run a better service with fewer staff and lower costs.

However the biggest opportunity is to move to a codesign approach for tax services, where taxpayers design the services and the ATO implements and manages them. In this scenario it wouldn't be the traditional senior public servants and Ministers approving the services and tweaking them to meet what they believe people want and need, instead it would be the actual taxpayers designing the services they wish to interact with and then approving the systems the ATO develops.

Definitely digital by default is a path the ATO must walk, but whether it walks it well and successfully should really be the key question and goal.

A consultation is a good first step, but the ATO needs to demonstrate that it isn't just walking the path, but is doing so with eyes and minds open, with a goal of the best outcomes for tax collection, via creating services that people don't hate to use.

The way the ATO designed the consultation itself is the first example of the ATO's commitment and approach to developing an appropriate digital by default approach - and thus far it leaves me concerned.

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Thursday, December 03, 2015

New data report signals a major shift in data thinking in the senior Australian public service

While successive Australian governments have touted 'evidence-based policy', a significant ongoing challenge within Australia's public service has been generating or accessing the right data at the right time - particularly across agencies - for actually testing policy assumptions and following a more agile policy development process.

I've personally witnessed the challenges within agencies of being able to locate useful and usable data for program design and delivery assessment, and the mechanics for sharing data between agencies, requiring formal agreements and long discovery and lead-times.

One of the more signficant side-effects of the open data revolution has been to highlight to agencies how little they know about the data they already collect and hold, who owns it (agency or external parties) and how hard it can be to share productively between agencies, let alone with the public.

A significant initiative this year was the commissioning of an internal data report by the Secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet, named the Public Sector Data Management report.

This report was designed to help the Australian Public Service (APS) understand its internal data landscape and recommend steps that could be taken to improve how data is generated, managed, discovered, shared and therefore used in policy and program development and evaluation.

Put simply, if the APS can get its approach on data right, suddenly it would become far clearly to both internal and external stakeholders how effective various government programs were, and clarify policy gaps and opportunities.

This internal report, now released publicly under Creative Commons licensing, offers a glimpse into how effectively data has been used in the APS, and recommends a strong series of measures to strengthen data collection, sharing and use.

If anything speaks to the commitment within the APS to use and share data more effectively, this report does. It's worth not only a read, but a close study.

The Public Sector Data Management report is now available online via the blog at

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Monday, November 30, 2015

Register now for an OGP Australia information session

The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet have just announced a series of information sessions regarding the Open Government Partnership and the process by which the Australian government is seeking to involve the community and civil organisations in the development of our first National Action Plan by the end of June 2016.

For information on these sessions, which will occur in the week of 14-18 December in Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne, visit the OGP Australia blog at:

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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Using open data for insights into Australian-registered charities

Rosie Williams of OpenAus recently released her latest open data project, Open Charities, to provide insight into the financials of Australian charities.

The service integrates the available open data from 53,000 registered Australian charities in a way never done before, allowing fast and simple analysis of charities by location, electorate and issue.

To fund this work on an ongoing basis Rosie has also introduced a subscriber-only feature at $50 per year which provides access to information on all of the government grants and tenders won by each charity - connecting together several different open datasets.

This information is useful not only for people considering donating to different Australian charities, but also for charities seeking to research their sector and those thinking about creating new charities.

It's important to note that all of the value unlocked by Open Charities and similar open sites would not be available if not for the hard work by volunteers such as Rosie.

There's still too few of these volunteers, meaning that there's potentially immense value left untapped across the tens of thousands of open datasets now released by Australian Government.

This means there's still enormous opportunities to identify and realise value for startups and social enterprises seeking new ways to repurpose data into useful knowledge.

If you've ever had an interest in finding solutions to social and economic problems, why not take a look at Rosie's work and think about the value you could add.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Presentation on digital citizenship, user experience & the emerging role of libraries

The other week I was in Wellington, New Zealand for the international Linked up, Loud and Literate: Libraries enabling digital citizenship conference.

Below is my presentation from the day, including the story of a recent customer experience with an Australian government agency.

For other presentations from the day visit

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Monday, November 23, 2015

Australian Government's decision to join the Open Government Partnership should help us come together to forge better outcomes

Last week the Australian Government announced that it was taking steps to join the global Open Government Partnership (OGP).

What's the OGP? it's a voluntary, multi-stakeholder international initiative supported by 69 national governments that was created out of the open government / Government 2.0 movement to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance.

This is a decision that has taken some time to make. While Australia was invited to join as a founding member of the OGP (with eight other nations) in August 2011, the then Labor government didn't make announce an intent to join until 2013.

After this, a change in government saw the decision revisited and ultimately put on hold, as the new Coalition government reduced the policy emphasis on government openness and transparency.

However, with the recent fresh wind blowing through government with a change in Prime Minister, openness and transparency has returned to the national Coalition policy agenda.

One outcome was the announcement of 17 November by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet that Australia was taking the necessary steps to become a full member of the OGP.

More information on this decision and what it involves in practice, both for government and for civil society, is available on the new website.

While overall there's been positive feedback from the 'insider' community that have been interested in this decision, there's also been some criticism of the process as it has been laid out.

Given this is the first time the Australian government has developed an OGP plan, I'm not that concerned about the process being perfect.The fact that it has started is the crucial point.

I expect the process will improve into future planning cycles as all participants - government, civil societies and the community - gain an appreciation of the most effective ways to work together in this type of endeavour.

We can learn from the experience of other countries, which is well summed up in this OGP report, however the Australian experience will be unique and hopefully all participants will approach this current process with good faith and a willingness to 'learn on the job'.

The most important outcome of this first OGP process isn't the first National Action Plan for Australia, it's the relationships and understandings forged between government and non-government open government players that will positively contribute to an evolving relationship.

While backbiting and criticising may get a good media run, it seldom builds strong workable relationships, if not framed within a context of identifying and implementing improvements.

OGP membership is an opportunity to build the transparency culture in Australia, bridge gaps and build a strong civil community. Let's maximise its value both for citizens and government.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Guest post: Moving things forward – addressing the information gaps

This is a guest post written by Rosie Williams, a leading Australian Open Data Developer and Citizen Journalist, who created and manages and writes for It's republished from OpenAus with her permission.

The Power to Persuade blog fosters new ways to collaborate across sectors for better social policy. Power to Persuade recently published a post of mine on open data in which I argued for the role of transparency in addressing social policy questions.
I recounted a recent attempt to discover the number of homeless shelters across Australia, only to be met with a quote for over $1,000 in consideration of it not being previously published and due to difficulties in extracting the information from the system. The most interesting thing bar the cost of the service is that the reason I was forced to seek this data directly from the AIHW in the first place was exactly because I had not found it in any of the reports published by government or community sector.
As a financial and political transparency activist I have been looking into how decisions regarding the funding of housing/homeless services flow through the policy process in order to understand why such a substantial unmet need for specialist homeless services is tolerated. Australian Institute of Health & Welfare figures show that nearly 60% of people making a request for accommodation on any given day are turned away. I want to understand what process leads to this outcome.
I have also heard privately from service providers, the very organisations required to report their own data to government that they do not have access to key metrics.
Open data is a fairly new concept for Australia.Open data is data that is made available free for re-use for commercial or non-commercial purposes. The government is yet to fulfil it’s obligations to the Open Government Partnership although there are rumours this is finally about to change. The OGP requires the Australian government to submit a National Action Plan detailing extensive consultation in the areas of fiscal transparency, access to information, income and asset disclosure, and citizen engagement, all areas which affect our power to make society answerable to our needs and the needs of the vulnerable.
The government has been opening data for the last few years but there are few instances of that data being re-used. My own projects in financial and political transparency are an exception. The Commonwealth government is now implementing new grants reporting requirements to provide consistency in reporting grant recipients and locations for every relevant agency. This data set is not yet complete or available in one spot but what is available is searchable at OpenAus.
It is only when data is put to use for a specific purpose that it becomes obvious where data sets are missing or data quality needs work. One of the biggest challenges to open data is where the need for data crosses jurisdictional boundaries as it does with many questions of social policy. Issues such as domestic violence or homelessness require data not just from federal services but also state agencies. With every state potentially doing it’s own thing with regard to data collection and publication, trying to find or use data covering multiple agencies or jurisdictions is a major hurdle in any attempt to make use of open data in Australia for improved transparency, policy or practice.
To address these issues, there needs to be engagement between jurisdictions and also between sectors. Government agencies responsible for gathering and publishing data need to engage with both end users of that data and contributors to that data in order to improve quality and foster awareness of the existence and uses for that data.
To provide a pathway forward I have set up a Slack community open to practitioners in social and data science, researchers and government. The goals of this community are as follows:
Community Goals
  • provide venue to engage end users of data, organisations contributing data to government and data custodians to better address social issues
  • lobby for improved data and transparency
  • provide answers on specific data questions eg where can I find information on x?
  • run events /produce materials in support of these goals
Community Participants
This community is for practitioners, researchers, policy makers and anyone who can provide assistance to these groups in terms of answering questions about where data can be found and what can be done with it.
My various networks cross the boundaries of journalism, technology, data science and politics. Providing a bridge between these groups paves the way for people with diverse skills and information to come together to help professional communities realise their aims. If you would like access to this community please email me from your work account for an invitation.
Slack is a platform that allows for chat between teams and private messaging and integrates with a host of other services. It is easy to join and use, taking the place of both email and forums for purposes of discussion and planning.
How to Participate
Email Rosie at admin @ from your work email to enable me to send you the invitation.

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Monday, November 09, 2015

Can an AI understand your online personality? How about your agency's online persona?

I've been having a play with IBM Watson's Personality Insights Service.

The service uses "linguistic analytics to extract a spectrum of cognitive and social characteristics from the text data that a person generates through blogs, tweets, forum posts, and more."

While this is quite a mouthful, the service provides an interesting external perspective on how individuals and organisations present themselves online.

As a benchmark, this is how Watson sees me from my last dozen blog posts in eGovAU (excluding the guest posts):
You are shrewd, skeptical and tranquil. 
You are philosophical: you are open to and intrigued by new ideas and love to explore them. You are empathetic: you feel what others feel and are compassionate towards them. And you are imaginative: you have a wild imagination. 
Experiences that give a sense of prestige hold some appeal to you. You are relatively unconcerned with tradition: you care more about making your own path than following what others have done. You consider achieving success to guide a large part of what you do: you seek out opportunities to improve yourself and demonstrate that you are a capable person.

In a nutshell that's not too bad an analysis.

However what happens when we analyse a government agency's social media presence?

In this case I decided to analyse the Digital Transition Office (DTO), by taking all their blog posts from July to November (excluding guest posts) and plugging them into the Watson Personality analyser.

So this is how Watson sees the personality of the DTO:

You are heartfelt and rational.  
You are self-controlled: you have control over your desires, which are not particularly intense. You are empathetic: you feel what others feel and are compassionate towards them. And you are proud: you hold yourself in high regard, satisfied with who you are.  
Experiences that make you feel high efficiency are generally unappealing to you. You are relatively unconcerned with tradition: you care more about making your own path than following what others have done. You consider helping others to guide a large part of what you do: you think it is important to take care of the people around you.

Now that's a pretty good result for an organisation (except maybe the pride bit). 

It seems to me that the personality that the DTO is projecting through their blog is fairly close to the approach and persona that the DTO wishes to portray within government and more broadly in the community.

Now how about another agency...

Here's a review of the Department of Immigration's Migration blog, taking all blog posts from October 2014 onwards (to provide a sample of the same size as the DTO and my blog).

Here's what Watson said about the Department of Immigration's blog's personality:

You are heartfelt, tranquil and skeptical. 
You are calm under pressure: you handle unexpected events calmly and effectively. You are self-assured: you tend to feel calm and self-assured. And you are philosophical: you are open to and intrigued by new ideas and love to explore them. 
Experiences that make you feel high well-being are generally unappealing to you. 
You are relatively unconcerned with taking pleasure in life: you prefer activities with a purpose greater than just personal enjoyment. You consider achieving success to guide a large part of what you do: you seek out opportunities to improve yourself and demonstrate that you are a capable person.

On the money, or off the mark?

Now of course this kind of process is flawed. An AI can only read the words it sees, it doesn't have a broader picture of an individual or organisation and it has been programmed to respond in given ways to given words or phrases.

However it does highlight an important point about communicating online, and in every medium, in the way you wish to be seen.

Does your online persona represent how you wish to be seen? Is it consistent across platforms? Is it appropriate to your organisation's goals?

It's worth using tools like this to check how your organisation is communicating and identify if there's attributes you are portraying which are contrary to how you wish to be seen.

If your online persona isn't aligned closely with your goals it can create issues in how people see you and how they engage with you - leading to greater negativity in interactions and diminishing trust and respect.

So think carefully about every post, tweet and status update - do they represent and reinforce your organisational values, or do they damage your image in the public eye.

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Guest Post: Three secrets to unlocking digital government. And you'll never guess what they are...

This is a guest post from Alun Probert, founder of GovComm and former Director of Communications at the NSW Government. It has been republished from LinkedIn with his permission:
Working in Government communications, it’s practically impossible nowadays to avoid discussions of all things “digital”. From the most extreme and simply distracting notion of “Disrupting Government” to the more sensible focus on the incremental improvement of all levels of service delivery, public sector teams worldwide are appropriately looking to the new world to streamline, improve and engage.
For organizations as vast as Government, the digital age brings potential enabling solutions in many disparate areas. Already locally, Service NSW has made an impact as it seeks to take transactions online in the same way that the banks did with the creation of online banking. Similarly, across Australia, government service delivery is being improved in a multitude of ways, from the provisions of free timetable apps to use of voice recognition software and other tools that reduce the complexity of simply making contact.

And in the Government marketing and communications field, outsiders may be surprised to hear that Government departments were early adopters of social media. The various police and emergency services may have been unexpected early users of tools like Facebook but nowadays they continue to evolve and improve approaches to content creation, accessibility and governance while others still debate “social media policy”. At least one head of a high profile department in the emergency services area has said that he couldn’t now imagine business without access to key social media tools. 

Meanwhile, and entirely unconnected in different departments, Governments were also early adopters of successfully using digital media channels to tightly target their broadcast messages, particularly to young people warning of the dangers of smoking and irresponsible driving. 

And all the way back in 2008, after years of booking multiple pages of newspaper jobs ads each week, I was involved in moving Government recruitment advertising online as the "new medium" was both more effective and a fraction of the  cost. I’m not sure I’ve ever written a more compelling or simple business case.

And coming bang up to date, one of the most extraordinary milestones of my time in Government was to see two “digital” campaigns, Pretty Shady and Get Your Hand Off It each achieve more than a million views on You Tube. From my time in the media, I knew that demonstrating actual results was the publisher's Holy Grail and here was a medium that showed us we had a million views. One million. It's probably more now. (I’m told the Victorian Government also launched a digital campaign called Dumb Ways to Die. Did quite well apparently*.) 

So in summary, we’ve got Governments across Australia looking variously at digital service delivery, increasing community engagement through social media enabled dialogue and departments everywhere launching apps and other digital tools to improve access to information. The “Open Government” movement is seeing increasing amounts of data released for public access and money is being saved across the board through the use of digital media for advertising. 

So I confess I’m getting a little frustrated by the amount of time and effort being spent talking about “Digital Government” as if it were some futuristic (and distant) ideal. It’s inevitable that notoriously risk averse organisations will want to take their time and work on the process, but clearly, the problem with applying old style market analysis in the digital age is that your findings might tell you to buy MySpace.

Taking into account the appropriately careful approach that public sector organizations must take, it seems to me that instead of further abstract discussions on digital government, instead there are three initiatives that would be useful areas of focus:

The first is that we all have to help make sure that everything that is happening in the next few months at the DTO is shared across Government departments. Everything. Methodologies used and not used, risk management strategies and performance reports. I’ve no doubt whatsoever that based on their current impressive record, the DTO team will make this happen. The rest of us though need to help spread the word far and wide. Not everyone is currently listening.  

Secondly, we must find ways of sharing all the proven "home grown" solutions with other organizations in the public sector, ideally worldwide. It’s undeniably true that there are differences between states and indeed countries, but the single biggest learning of my time in Government was that the similarities are often more important than the differences. (eg Most nations have an issue with obesity. All those that have cars and mobile phones have a problem with people texting while driving. It’s plain daft to look at these problems as local issues. Even if we can just get into the habit of sharinginsights, we will always be better off than starting with a blank sheet of paper.)

Thirdly, and possibly the hardest thing to achieve is we must find ways of giving people in public sector organisations permission to fail in the pursuit of better. As long as lessons are learned, failures can always be learning experiences and it’s the role of new public service leaders to create environments that allow this to happen. 

If we can make these three areas our focus, we can reduce the amount of time pontificating abstractly about “Digital Government” and instead put our wholehearted support behind the people who are best placed to make it happen. 

The people currently working in the public service. 
It’s probably not a great idea for another money spinning conference, but it is a cause we can all get behind. 

About the Author.
Alun Probert is a communications and marketing veteran and having worked on comms with five different Premiers in a decade in Government is now Head of GovCom, independent specialists in public sector communications and engagement.  

Get in touch at
*Astonishingly, Dumb Ways to Die has been seen by over 100 Million people.

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Friday, November 06, 2015

Economic value should be a benefit, but not the reason for open data

I've been reading various views and reflecting on the DataStart competition.

There's a shift I've been observing in how some people in government talk about open data that is making me quite uncomfortable.

I like that the commercial world is finally taking note of the value of open data and the prospect to build businesses using it.

I like that corporations are beginning to adopt some of the techniques of openness pioneered in the public sector and use them to build usability, value and (hopefully) profits.

I like that the government is taking a firm position on innovation and has finally begun to realise that Australia needs to have a strong and effective digital strategy with senior leadership to remain a relevant first world nation in a world increasingly built on data.

However there's one thing that does concern me.

There's been a progressive shift in language from certain government levels that suggests that the primary reason for releasing public sector information in open, reusable formats is for economic benefit.

Other benefits, such as the ability to hold government to account, improve policy development and assessment and the social benefits of open data in areas such as health, emergency management, education and employment, have been downplayed or ignored.

We've seen hackathons run in Australia on government data for six years now, with over 1,500 web services and apps developed by teams.

The vast majority of these apps and sites focused on social, policy or accountability benefits - very few were developed specifically with economic goals, even in competition categories focused on entrepreneurship.

These competitions have showcased a wide variety of benefits for open data, and agencies have, for the most part, heard this. However the language from the top of government is all about commercialisation and creating businesses from data, the other benefits ignored.

Exemplifying this trend, the DataStart competition doesn't specifically exclude non-commercial entrants, however there's no cash prize at the end for any such winner, the $200,000 investment package prize is restricted to those entrants who squeeze out a commercially viable business (as defined by RightClick Capital and Polleniser).

Other entrants can get, at best, some support from the Department and maybe a five-day start-up bootcamp in Sydney.

The message being sent is clear - non-commercial ideas for open data need not apply.

Essentially the DataStart competition puts the economic benefit of open data ahead of any other benefit - and again this isn't a bad thing. There's reason to support the commercial value of open data, just as there's reason to support the social and policy value of this data.

What is concerning is that the message from government is shifting towards making this economic benefit the main reason for opening up, or improving the quality, of government data.

This could lead into a situation where the data prioritised for collection, cleaning and open release is the data with commercial value, over data that has accountability or social value to Australia.

It attaches a price signal to open data - it must be commercially valuable, or it's not valued.

This flies against the spirit and full value of open government data.

I hope that we do not see governments making commercial decisions on whether to open up data based on the number and perceived economic value of the start-ups they foster.

Government has a bigger role in this, it should focus on public value - balancing how this is achieved, via commercial value, social value or the accountability necessary for a democracy.

So yay for DataStart, but it would be unfortunate if economic value became the reason, rather than one of the benefits, of opening up Australian government data to the public.

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Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Government launches DataStart fund to foster open data startups, but which problem is it trying to solve?

A few days ago the Australian government announced the launch of the DataStart fund, to be managed by Polleniser and with the involvement of RightClick Capital, which aims to foster open data driven startups with commercial ideas.

The pilot nine month process will see 20 startups pitch to a board of government and industry judges, with a winner to receive $200,000 in support to get their business off the ground.

This is an area that people in the open data scene have been discussing for a few years now, on the back of the low rate of initiatives coming out of hack events in Australia that go on to some form of commercial existence, let alone financial success.

Initiatives in this area are always good, however I worry about what problem this is designed to solve.

Is it the government's problem that startups aren't using lots of open data to facilitate their businesses, or is it an actual problem where startup businesses with viable commercial ideas involving open data cannot locate appropriate funding options?

I wonder whether the first step should be to ensure that the open data being released by government is both the right data for companies to use to deliver on commercial needs and is being released to a commercial standard.

Frankly while I totally support the increasingly open release of data there's very little that I see being released at a commercially ready level and granularity. Weather and public transport data at state level being a few of the exceptions.

There will be startup opportunists who bake a little open data into their startups to access this fund. There also may (I hope) be a few hack participants able to take their open data fuelled ideas forward in a more commercial way.

I am sure the government will happily support both types through this initiative in the hope this creates some momentum - and I truly hope it does.

However unless these start-ups have solid ideas with strong business cases and could essentially be profitable even if they had to collect the data themselves or pay for it, by and large government is still an unreliable source of timely and relevant open data.

Right now has a shoestring budget and no funds have ever been allocated by an Australian government to support agencies to develop and implement effective open data release processes.

While the team at has done a fantastic job with very little, and the ball is now truly rolling in agencies, which are increasingly interested in releasing datasets for public reuse, the lack of foundational funding means that the frequency of data collection, data quality and data release tends to be highly variable across government open datasets.

Right now I would prefer to see funds reinvested into ensuring government provides reliable data rather than on fostering businesses build on data sources that are insufficiently robust or could disappear overnight with a Ministerial or agency-level decision.

I know both the government and Polleniser are authentically enthusiastic and supportive of fostering open data driven startups. I hope that in coming weeks we see budgets allocated to help agencies provide reliable and robust open data sets, not just to fostering companies built on an unreliable base.

For now, register for a DataSmart information session (to be held in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and Canberra at (I will be at the Canberra event, so feel free to say hi).

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Friday, October 30, 2015

Come along to IAP2's November Canberra session on 'Introducing collaboration into the process of planning online participation'

I will be presenting at November's IAP2 session in Canberra from 6-8pm on 'Introducing collaboration into the process of planning online participation'.

The session will look at how to get internal stakeholders onboard and on the same page for an online participation process, particularly when they have disparate experience and understanding of digital approaches.

Using real world examples, and an interactive session involving Social Media Planner, attendees will get to work through the process of aligning stakeholder expectations and needs while building their understanding and support for an online engagement approach.

Presenter: Craig Thomler, Director, Social Media Planner
Time: Tues 10 November 2015, 6 for 6.15 pm (finishing about 8 pm)
Venue (TBC): Canberra Innovation Network, Level 5, 5 Moore St Civic

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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Fostering Entrepreneurship and innovation in Australian universities

Last week I was privileged to be invited to speak at the Canberra Startup Showcase, run by the UC Advertising and Marketing Society and EntrepreneurshipUC Society at the University of Canberra.

Together with three other entrepreneurs, Mitchell Harmer of Sign On Site, Dawn Hayter of Urban Providore and Joe Mammolita of iCognition, we discussed our journeys and experience in entrepreneurship and answered the questions of the gathered students.

It was an awesome experience. Each of the entrepreneurs had a very different background, and were at different stages in their company development, providing a broad cross-sectional view of what it's like to found and build a business in Australia.

Fostering entrepreneurship at Australian universities is critical for Australia to build future businesses and grow the economic opportunities for all Australians. The level of interest from attendees, including several who were already seasoned entrepreneurs while still in their early twenties, demonstrated that passion for entrepreneurship was alive among young Australians.

All they needed was the knowledge and tools to realise their passions, avenues to learn from more experienced business owners and access systems that can leapfrog their learning and avoid at least some of the pitfalls.

While I was expecting some interest from the students in Social Media Planner as a tool to support an aspect of business planning, I didn't anticipate how popular it would be - several students bought decks on the spot and more have followed up after the event.

This suggests to me that tools like Social Media Planner have a valuable place in helping our future entrepreneurs to define, refine and test their ideas, preparing them for the business landscape of the future.

I'm glad I could provide some knowledge and support to the students of the University of Canberra, and hope I can continue to support younger people in their journey towards entrepreneurship for years to come.

I hope governments, corporations and universities also recognise where and when our education system needs to be supported by relevant business experience and appropriate business tools.

Without appropriate support many potential Australian enterprises will fail, or not achieve their potential success, restricting Australia's economic development and success.

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Friday, October 23, 2015

Innovation, the International Space Station and horses arses

The International Space Station (ISS) orbits Earth about 15 times a day. As the largest human-built structure in orbit, it is visible to the naked eye when it passes over, only 330-430 kilometres overhead.

The ISS serves an important purpose as a microgravity and space environment research laboratory in which crew members conduct experiments in biology, physics, astronomy, meteorology and other scientific fields. It also is crucial in exploring the technologies needed to take humans back to the moon, to Mars and, eventually, the stars.
The ISS was built from a number of parts carried into orbit on different space missions, including a number of components carried on US Space Shuttles while they were in operation.
When the Space Shuttle was being constructed a number of its parts were contracted out to various companies across the US and other nations.
In particular the large booster rockets, which carry the shuttle to orbit and fall away for reuse, were contracted to a company in Utah, which built them onsite and transported them by rail to the launch site.
The engineers that built these boosters wanted to ensure they were as large and powerful as possible, but had to keep in mind that they had to be transported through a train tunnel, which was built to US rail specifications.
The US rail gauge is 4 foot 8.5 inches and was defined by the manufacturers of steam trains, who reused the standard they'd used in their previous work developing horse-drawn trams in the 19th century. The standard used for these trams was, in turn, based on the standard for building horse-drawn wagons, which was the former occupation of tram-makers.
The width of wagon wheelbases was, in turn, based on US road widths, which had been imported to the New World by the English, drawing from UK road standards.
The reason it was important for wagons to have standard width wheelbases in the UK was because of the ruts cut into the roads by hundreds of years of use. Make a wheelbase too wide or narrow and wheels would break more easily and often.
This was because the UK road standard had originally been defined by the Roman Empire, which built the first continent-spanning road network in Europe. The Romans built these roads both for trade and for easier passage by their armies, which included war-chariots drawn by two horses.
As a result, the gateway to humans exploring the solar system, the International Space Station, was designed on a thousand-year old standard from the Roman Empire, the width of two horses' arses.
Now what does this have to do with innovation?
Clearly there's been a long process to get from two-horses arses to the International Space Station, but at every stage many of the core technologies have been designed iteratively on those that came before them.
All the innovations that have occurred in that process occurred within a set framework, which both enabled and limited progress.
When thinking about innovation it is important to be conscious of the frameworks we operate within, personally and institutionally.
Our capacity to innovate is often shaped by our education, experience and environment. Often what we may call innovation is actually iteration - taking an existing model and improving it in some way.
Innovation in the purest sense occurs when there's a break from a past framework. These breaks are often highly disruptive as they force people to rethink all their assumptions and reframe their experiences in light of new ways of seeing the world, or a given problem or situation.
Some of these major innovative breaks include such things as the Theory of Evolution, the Industrial Revolution, the invention of the printing press (with movable type) and the creation of the Internet.
It's true that each was built on knowledge that came before it. Dinosaur skeletons were discovered long before Darwin and his peers conceived of evolution and books existed for thousands of years before movable type.
However in each of these, and similar, innovations, the way people saw the world shifted. Industries rose and fell, as did nations and societies. These new ideas and inventions weren't simple iterations on previously accepted wisdom that saw society make minor adjustments but continue on its existing course.
Often when organisations seek to be 'innovative' they are actually focused on being iterative, to improve what they do in order to maximise their success within the current social and economic environment.
There's nothing wrong with this but it doesn't necessarily require the same approach as actual innovation.
Actual innovation is about overturning what is considered normal, breaking from current practice and finding new approaches which redefine how we see and behave in society and our economic, political and social environments.
This type of innovation is hard. It involves lifting people out of their unconscious patterns and creating lasting change, often overcoming fears of the unknown and the well understood and comfortable lives people and organisations have created for themselves.
In fact humans are biologically wired against too much, or too fast, change. Scientific research has established that our brains reside in a lower energy state when supporting or defending the status quo than when we try to actually change our thinking. 
While we can, and do, change, it's far easier to consider innovative change when we're fresh, fit and fed rather than when we're stressed, tired and hungry.
So it's important when seeking to create or support innovation to create the right environment to foster innovative thinking, picking or designing appropriate locations and times for change to occur.
It's also important to use the appropriate systems and tools to support innovation. These need to help people step out of their comfort zones as comfortably as possible, to give people a change to play with ideas and approaches in non-threatening ways.
When people feel comfortable and safe they're far more capable and open to new concepts and approaches and able to consider the flaws in current situations in a far more objective way.
While I didn't realise it when I invented Social Media Planner, my card-based game-like system for helping people to design effective social media strategies around a table, over years of testing I've found that it fosters this innovative thinking. By taking people from a digitally-focused space to a collaborative tabletop environment they are better positioned to objectively play with different and innovative approaches and concepts.
When I observe or work with individuals and groups using Social Media Planner, they rapidly shift into an innovative state of mind, considering new options, devising new ideas and working together to develop and assess them to design new approaches to their social media engagement.
This is of course one small corner of innovation, but it has shown me the power in giving people a familiar and flexible tool, the physical playing cards used in Social Media Planner.
Through fostering an interactive physical activity in a low distraction environment with game-like goals and limits, individuals and group find they have the space to experiment, brainstorm and reflect.
The approach also addresses the 'blank page' issue, where people struggle to find a place to start on solving a problem or finding a solution. The scenarios included in every Social Media Planner pack allow people to safely learn the system without feeling foolish or lost.
The card-based approach also addresses the challenge of holding complex models in one's head. Most people typically can retain 5-9 items in their short-term memory at a time, however with the Social Media Planner tools cards laid out on a table it's easy for individuals to access 40 different concepts without relying on their short-term memory and interfering with creative thought.
If your organisation is seeking to innovate - or even to iterate - it's worth investing in the systems and tools which will help your teams do so in the fastest and most successful ways.
I've used Social Media Planner as an example of these types of tools because I designed it, tested it and have seen how effective it can be for organisations planning their social and digital media engagement. 
There's many other tools useful when innovating that are worth considering, as well as organisations experienced at fostering the spaces and mindsets that foster effective innovation and change.
So if your organisation needs or wants to change, to improve how it operates, to become more effective at serving its customers, clients, citizens or stakeholders, invest in tools that will help your people to innovate, accessing the creative potential every human possesses.
Don't simply put in place frameworks and processes to refine and proceduralise innovation and change, also invest in the environments and tools that foster innovation.
You'll get better outcomes, faster and more cost-effectively. And your people will be happier and more productive by being part of the journey.

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Monday, October 19, 2015

PolicyHack review by guest blogger, Anne-Marie Elias: The PolicyHack Experiment – A Futurist vision

This post is republished from LinkedIn with the permission of the author, Anne-Marie Elias, who attended PolicyHack as Champion and Facilitator for the Incentives To Develop Social Enterprises stream.

PolicyHack happened – just like that!
It was the courage of a newly appointed Assistant Minister for Innovation the Hon. Wyatt Roy MP and his bold vision to hack for change that led to one of the most sought after event tickets in town.
The Policy Hack experiment was about challenging the way bureaucrats collaborate and encouraging them to engage with the innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem to develop better policy and deliver better outcomes.
It was a brilliant exercise that demonstrated the capacity and appetite of entrepreneurs to come together with those from academia, corporates, capital, advisory firms, civil society and the tech and start-up sector to collaborate and develop innovative policy options for government.
PolicyHack had its fair share of critics. A number of blogs and articles appeared immediately prior to the event. They commented on the lack of planning and process, its haphazard development, its ‘exclusivity’ and the likelihood that it would produce no real outcomes in just one day.
In part they were right. However, in its defence, it was an experiment in innovation, pulled together quickly with no funds, a lot of goodwill, the generosity of a community and an enormous desire to show government that embracing the tools of innovation and entrepreneurship could deliver better outcomes. The Hack was well supported with mentors from Disruptors Handbook and Pollenizer and many others. 
It was very brave of the Hon. Wyatt Roy MP , BlueChilli and StartUpAus to take this on and push past the critics. Their chutzpah was rewarded. The energy was infectious with 150 participants, ten teams and champions - 60% of those women- generating 10 ideas in 6 hours. 
Was it perfect? No. Is that a problem? No. We know how to make the next one better.
Innovation is never perfect and neither is the current approach to policy design.
Innovation is agile, it’s iterative, it’s responsive and above all else, it’s nimble. It doesn’t stand still while ever there is a problem to be solved.
Compare this hack philosophy to the current approach to policy development. This requires the development of an evidence base (by the time it is gathered it is often out of date), it draws input from the usual suspects, often involves expensive reports from well-paid consultants, has to pass the front page Daily Telegraph test to avoid upsetting vested interests and frankly as a result, often fails.
Is it any wonder then that so many programs cost what they do and deliver so little to the end user they were meant to serve?
I am a firm believer in supporting initiatives that disrupt the status quo for the better and was blown away by how well PolicyHack turned out.
 PolicyHack was about demonstrating that there is a better way.
Champions 60% women 
The Vision 
Assistant Minister Roy spoke about the need for us to be diligent in our expenditure of public funds and observed
“We are going to be fearless and embrace the future. Help shape the vision for how our country can be a hub for entrepreneurship and Innovation."
Wyatt Roy, Assistant Minister, Innovation 
The Assistant Minister made it clear that PolicyHack was an experiment that allowed us to collaborate. He explained that this was the first of many PolicyHacks.
Assistant Minister Roy left no one wondering about his aim to encourage all members of the innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem to leverage our capital and support government to deliver better outcomes for our society and economy.
Who won?
The winning pitches at PolicyHack were Erin Watson-Lynn's Digital Innovation Creative Entrepreneurial Kids (DICEKids) an educational program for school children that prepares the next generation entrepreneurs and Nicola Hazel's NEIS 2 Entrepreneur accelerator, in effect a revitalisation of the New Enterprise Incentive Scheme.
These are both simple to implement immediately and can create our new generation of entrepreneurs in a relatively short time frame without any significant hit to the budget.
A quick diversion – the NDIS
The last time I got excited about policy was the National Disability Insurance Scheme.  I worked for the NSW Minister for Ageing and Disability, the Hon. Andrew Constance MP and he, like Wyatt Roy, was enthusiastic for change and drove an innovation agenda.
We co-designed the policy with people with disability and their carers. Living Life My Way was a policy hack of sorts where government collaborated with service users and service providers. Where it didn’t meet expectations was that little actually happened after the ideas and exchange.
It ended up being a great big expensive exercise with good intentions but little change. A few years later the outcomes of the scheme remain underwhelming.
Last year in the AFR, Laura Tingle highlighted the frustration with the burgeoning costs of the NDIS trial sites growing out of control. We hear that bureaucrats are hiring more consultants, commissioning more reports and there are concerns about how a scheme of this magnitude will be managed out of State and Territory governments in the next year or so.  
 Let’s deliver outcomes
In my humble opinion, the current set of bureaucrats working on the NDIS need to meet Paul Shetler, CEO of the Digital Transformation Office (aka the PM's Tsar) and his team as well as Pia Waugh of @AusGovCTO. They need to invite Paul and Pia to facilitate innovation dialogues to help the NDIS get back on track with the help of hackers from the innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem. Hackers who will apply their smarts and collaborate in order to solve this wicked problem without needing to spend any more money.
If anyone is listening we need to hack for disability to see how we can stretch existing budgets to extract more and deliver better outcomes for people with disabilities, their families and carers.
A similar idea was generated last year by the Cerebral Palsy Alliance (CPA) andUTS called Enabled by Design a design-a-thon bringing together people with disabilities and designers to hack practical solutions for accessibility, usability and desirability. We have some incredible minds in the innovation space that have done much for health and disability – Prof Hung Nguyen and Dr Jordan Nguyen are transforming health technology with their engineering, artificial intelligence and tech driven focus.
Delivering PolicyHack
StartUpAus will curate the content of the OurSay platform and the hack and Assistant Minister Roy and his office will deliver packaged outcomes and suggestions to relevant agencies for consideration and action. Policy Hack is a brilliant initiative and with a bit more notice and planning we can make an enormous impact on any big spend issues and, I believe, bring more efficiency and innovation to government.
The PolicyHack model presents a powerful method that can solve a lot of wicked problems for government. PolicyHack can be the darling of Expenditure Review Committees and razor gangs because it gets bureaucrats thinking outcomes not just process. It gets them collaborating to make change not compromises and it delivers breakthrough ideas that solve problems and create opportunities. Which as we know sits at the heart of good policy.
What next?
The challenge now is what happens next?  Craig Thomler says “the devil is in the delivery and while perfection should not be the enemy of trying, communication is key, transparency about the process, outcomes and community engagement is integral to the process.”
We haven’t nailed it yet. I think we need to invest some time in doing that. Coming together is the beginning. While we generated amazing ideas, I don’t know what will happen to these ideas post hack. Go to any of the hack sites and you see the promotion and maybe the winning ideas and teams but no further info beyond that.
My proposition
Here are four steps we can take to deliver an outcomes driven hack.
  1. Start with cross sector thought leadership groups to design the parameters and set the policy agenda.
  2. Align the right agencies (State and Commonwealth) with innovators in teams to co-design solutions.
  3. Set up a Post Hack Incubator so that the ideas can be further developed and piloted. These pilots must be supported both by government (through recalibrated funds and resources) and the innovation community.
  4. Keep talking to ensure all stakeholders remain engaged and informed by sharing the process, the results of implementation and the success or otherwise of outcomes.
We should be so lucky
I for one want to thank the Hon. Wyatt Roy, who, backed by the Prime Minister, the Cabinet Secretary Senator the Hon. Arthur Sinodinos AO, the Hon. Paul Fletcher MP Minister for Territories, Local Government and Major Projects and a growing number of Ministers, Members and Senators including  (Fiona Scott MP and David Coleman MP) our champions of change, have seen the constellation of government, corporate and the innovation community align.
We need to deliver outcomes from PolicyHack and develop an ongoing program of hacks for change because it is time that we did things differently and moved into a new paradigm where collaboration is key and where we get shit done, because our communities, economy and ultimately, our future depends on it. If not us, then who? If not now, then when?

Read more about the mechanics of PolicyHack in Gavin Heaton's blog Wyatt Roy's Policy Hack - A view from the inside.

Anne-Marie Elias is a speaker and consultant in innovation and disruption for social change. She is an honorary Associate of the Centre for Local Government at UTS.
Anne-Marie has recently joined the Board of the Australian Open Knowledge Foundation.
Follow Anne-Marie's  journey of disruptive social innovation on Twitter @ChiefDisrupter or visit 

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