[@OKFNau] Examples of Use of Commercial Government Data

Hugh Stephens hugh at dialogueconsulting.com.au
Wed Mar 18 05:53:32 UTC 2015

Going to jump in on this and add my $0.02. Warning, long rant ahead.

Pia makes a great point and we should certainly acknowledge the massive
work done and progress created by the advocates (like her) within
government. But as mentioned, the reason they are stand-out advocates is
because the bulk still doesn't really 'grok' new service and data delivery

Having worked primarily outside government (with government as a major
client group), run a few startups, and more recently within government
(statutory body though, so more quango?), Lachlan does make a valid
critique of *some* parts or groups within government. Change does indeed
happen slowly, and there are a number of big blue-chip companies that are
likely the same, but that doesn't qualify as an excuse. While I am not
working within government strictly as an IT person, I interact with our IT
departments/people a lot, and my experience (which I also saw quite a lot
of from outside) is more like Steve's.

Many of those I interact with don't seem to be aware of new technology or
paradigms, get scared at the thought of doing anything outside their safe
realm that they have always operated within (*closed* data. the thought of
open sourcing a tool that other departments or governments could build on
would honestly be mindblowing), and need (hyperbole warning here) at least
3 external consultants to implement a vendor-provided tool that could be
easily replaced with something open source, because open source is scary
and insecure etc etc. Much of their knowledge appears to come from what
vendor salespeople bring them or tell them, and it's not in the interest of
most vendors (particularly if you are a "dot net shop" or similar –
innovation lost to a single technology or vendor) to talk about open
(source) approaches. Won't go into too much detail, but have seen that
happen 4-5 times in the last 6 months I've been working here.

The people are well-intending and super lovely, but it's just a massive
difference from the tech startup world or the private sector. And as a
result, legacy technology and approaches take hold, and everything becomes

How can we move the needle? There needs  to be a driving force (perhaps the
DTO? That would be awesome if it is, so keep fighting the good fight Pia et
al), that pushes departments/bodies to get outside their comfort zone, and
learn some things from outside the government bubble.

Startup "fail early, fail fast" approaches apply just as much in government
as design thinking / lean principles or "agile project
management"...currently the culture isn't anything like "sure, go and test
that idea with <stakeholder|customer> and see if it's good. If it is,
here's a small amount of resources to build and implement an MVP, and do
more testing", it's still very "go and do requirements gathering x3 weeks,
then go to tender x 5 weeks, then build x <z> weeks, then go and show
stakeholders". We kind of need a group that promotes (the
education/training part) and distributes a government version of Adobe's
KickBox (https://kickbox.adobe.com/) or the many other innovation
programs/methods becoming prevalent in the corporate world.

Or even a program that takes smart and keen public servants and embeds them
with a digital startup or community organisation for a while (say 6-8
weeks) – kind of the opposite of the DTO which, from what I've read, is
meant to parachute in and be the startup engine for a while. The amount
that they would (hopefully) learn about iterative design, service delivery
and what can be done with technology in short timeframes (ship it! test
it!) I think would be a huge asset to take back to their employers.

Until we start enabling the people who are pushing for new things and who
can create meaningful change in how governments approach open data or
technology (which involves a lot of "help me or get out of my way", or the
very long-term education slog), I don't think that we are going to see much
beyond innovation beyond "bring in <big consulting firm> and pay them to
run a hackathon for 2 days, how very innovative". Which is sad, and a real
lost opportunity IMHO.

To try and provide some meaningful input into the original question, I
think that the other benefit that many don't consciously realise of an
'open data' initiative is the fact that it forces you to get your "data
(ware)house" in order. The process makes you take stock of what data you
own, what you can produce, and what might be able to be released – then
clean it up, format it into something comfortably machine-readable, and
publish it. That's a pretty significant value driver, even just for future
efficiency of internal projects that rely on any data sources.

Sorry for the rant – I know I'm preaching to the converted here, but just
wanted to give my perspective having seen both sides within the last 12-18


*Hugh Stephens*
Dialogue Group

*p*: 1300 846 768
*w*: dialoguegroup.com.au
*e*: hugh at dialogueconsulting.com.au
*m*: 0431 304 464

On Mon, Mar 16, 2015 at 12:52 PM, Steve Bennett <stevage at gmail.com> wrote:

> Hi Pia,
>   Nice comment. I think Lachlan's point was that there *are* lots of open
> data advocates that are good at working with government - he just isn't one
> of them. :)
> For my part, in Victoria, I've found plenty of enthusiasm and interest in
> open data in state and local government, particularly as you get closer to
> the people who work directly with the data. (VicRoads and City of Melbourne
> stand out as organisations that have made open data an organisational
> priority, not just a localised one.) My experience is that public servants
> are pretty risk averse, and not terribly well informed on new technologies
> and approaches, and a bit slow to grasp new opportunities - but if you can
> work around all of that (and often you can!), then you can make progress.
> Steve
> On Sun, Mar 15, 2015 at 11:22 AM, Pia Waugh <pia.waugh at gmail.com> wrote:
>> Hi all,
>> Just a quick one:
>> On Fri, Mar 13, 2015 at 3:30 PM, Lachlan Musicman <datakid at gmail.com>
>> wrote:
>> Government officials. I cannot express how grateful I am that there are
>>> people in this organisation who can talk pretty because I just want to
>>> break their kneecaps and push them into puddles with a sneer.
>> It'd be really cool if people could remember that "government officials"
>> are not a faceless enemy. There are a lot of us working in government to
>> improve things, and comments like this certainly don't help. If you make it
>> a "you're either with us or agin us" then you make it very hard to
>> collaborate, educate or change the status quo. Personally I'm finding
>> attitudes are changing within Australian governments (fed, state/territory
>> and local) quite rapidly and I'm cautiously optimistic things will continue
>> to get better. Meanwhile, I guess we'll start issuing knee protectors as
>> standard issue across the public service ;)
>> Cheers,
>> Pia
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