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Its government for people – not computers!

Back around year 1990 I remember my amazement at learning that Iceland had the largest router network at around 50 routers of any European business or government. There was a pretty sensible explanation around the low density of the population and the realisation that a step change in the country’s economy as well as social and cultural life could be achieved through improving digital communications. Oddly I don’t remember the operating speed for the network, or more particular the end point/final miles, but in those text oriented days 19.2 kbits to the home seemed pretty good.

Over recent years it’s been Australia that has held my interest about what government can gain from its online services. It was not easy for the Australians who started with a firm line (would I dare say a ‘controlling view’?) on Digital Rights Management some years ago, but swiftly adjusted its view towards a more liberal or some say relevant, view of DRM to suit today’s issues, It collected its fair share of comments http://www.boingboing.net/2006/03/01/aussie-govt-report-o.html , but overall the outcome has been a ‘workable’ balance. It seems that this experience and involvement with a new younger ‘online’ generation might have been the spring board towards recent events.

So though it’s not a new idea, other non governmental organisations notably in the media have been there before, its pretty cutting edge stuff to see an official Australian Government HackDay! Though the event ended on 31st October currently the official web site is still running at http://govhack.eventbrite.com/ and the summary of the goal for the event is given as;

Governments collect and publish enormous amounts of data, but have limited resources to get it into the hands of their citizens in engaging ways. The rise of web based mashups by third party developers, building their own applications on top of such data sets, promises to make the data collected and published by government exponentially more valuable. The short term outcomes for GovHack include the development of hopefully dozens of new applications and mashups on top of Australian government data and web services. the increasing identification and promotion of Australian government data sets by their “owners” building new relationships between Australian developers and government “owners” of data

You can read what happened, what where the winners, which included the uniquely Australian solution entitled; ‘Its buggered mate’ http://its-buggered-mate.apps.lpmodules.com/ to report failed or broken government systems. http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/hack-day-like-a-tech-version-of-a-hippy-commune-20091102-hrw6.html . But here is my real point; this is a wonderful example of recognising and allowing ‘users, (citizens in this case), to decide how they want to use and interact with their government, (or enterprise). It’s not a hypothetical example, it’s for real, and more importantly it’s repeatable in most enterprises, providing the management understands the real point.

And what’s the point? To me it revolves around understanding what, and how, to open up APIs in the business processes without danger, allowing users to propose how they believe they should work, all without the constraints of the current management structure, or business model. Done correctly this is the enabling model for Enterprise 2.0 style business models where people at the edge have the power and capability to make a difference by being ‘empowered’ and people in the centre see the enterprise improve by supporting this move. That’s a big mind shift and not at all easy so in a sense it’s even more surprising to see it being done by a Government where it might normally be expected that the incentive to ‘improve’ by innovation would be low. However conversely the need to ‘change the game’ is high as the currently expectations of voters and the costs of government services taken together may well be a real driving force for radical change.

‘The art of letting go – enterprise 2.0’ a book published in 2008 edited by Soren Stamer (who I was pleased to meet some time back) and Willms Buhse http://www.reuters.com/article/pressRelease/idUS153162+23-Feb-2009+BW20090223 takes this as a key premise and provides some more interesting reading. The reality is that technology in the form of ubiquitous communications and interactivity has, just like with the PC, e mail and matrix working in the early 90s did before, changed the governance structure and enabled ‘letting go’ to be a creative enabling force and not the excuse of poor management failing in its duty to manage!

May be Hackdays will be the new management method of gentle but frequent reorganisation for optimisation in this changing age!

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It is pretty interesting to see the birth of ideas like GovHackdays…I would love to see government also do internal hackdays. Some of the best ideas and solutions are already in the government – they just don’t have the backing to bubble up and be executed. For example, in the U.S. alone there are 2.8 million feds. And I’m sure a ton of them would love to hack on their own systems and come up with solutions.

andy mulholland

Its definately a cultural issue – good management was deemed by a combination of business process re engineeering and IT to be the ability to ‘control’ the data and ‘manage’ the process in a push model out to the ‘selected’ users who were empowered by being granted access to the system.

Now the model is reversed and users are working or in their home life ion a pull model based on a mixture of search and browsers rather than applications. And this creates expectations and indeed in the minds of many citizens ‘rights’ to expect government to do it their way as after all its their money and elected government so why not?

An internal approach is a good way to start to safely change the rules with low risk!