I'm trying something new. As a condition for granting any interviews, I'm now quid pro quo asking to interview the interviewer. I find that reporters and writers often have more breadth of knowledge about a field than anyone else. And I want to learn something!
Recently, I talked with Laurence Millar, who was New Zealand government CIO until May 2009 and is the editor-at-large for FutureGov magazine. Here's the first of my comments to him. What follows is what he said to me about open gov in New Zealand:
The current government in New Zealand took some time to cotton on to open government. I think that, in general, the left wing's political values are more naturally attuned the values of open government. As you point out, the UK has continued the work started under the previous government, so maybe it is more to do with the timing of the Open Government movement.
We have established a group of ICT Ministers, led by Bill English, who is Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance. I think he likes Open Government because he sees it as a way he can enlist the public as agents of change to improve government performance. In NZ, we have a politically neutral public service, so incoming governments always look for levers that they can use to move forward with their policies -- to move the bureaucracy. In New Zealand open gov been driven by enthusiastic individuals in the public service (who come from the open government values of them individually). It is bottom up rather than being top down by the manifesto.
Ministers have endorsed the Directions and Priorities for government ICT, which include a statement of support for Open and Transparent Government, with three workstreams
- Improve public access to government data and information.
- Support the public, communities and business to contribute to policy development and performance improvement.
- Create market opportunities and services through the re-use of government data and information for set of (unfortunately in ICT, rather than wider government transformation)
It is not quite as snappy as your mantra – transparency, collaboration and participation.
There is a group of agency Chief Executives, led by Land Information New Zealand, who provide leadership in the area of Open and Transparent Government, and there are champions in each department to push open government. The initial momentum has definitely come from the bureaucrats, bottom up, rather than being part of the manifesto of the politically elected leaders..
Tell me about the most interesting and innovative projects like the Mix-and-Mash Competition?
We discovered that if you find something for people to rally around that creates moments - for instance, the mix-and-mash, similar to your Apps for America. The winner was a mashup of walking tracks, using data provided by the Department of Conservation. There was quite a lot of anxiety about putting data that was not accurate, but what they found was that people were willing to update the map based on their experience on the ground. So we saw the virtuous cycle of crowdsourcing data quality improvement.
We've also had a powerful reminder of the power of crowdsourcing after the Christchurch earthquake. Eq.org.nz was a community-based website fed from e-mails and SMS twitter and Facebook notifications like "this ATM is working," "this supermarket has food," "you can get fresh water here," "pharmacies are available." The information is then pushed back out by Twitter, RSS, smartphone apps, and printed maps are distributed at community briefings. They even send out information via teletext. The site used the CrisisCommons foundation work, and enlisted about 120 volunteers from around the world to do quality assurance on the information, operating 24 x 7.
We don't have as many people here. We don't have the depth and cross-section of .gov, .org, .edu who can work with government data to improve the quality of life but we are building and growing this community.
Official sources can only process so much information, and they rightly focus on life and death, rescue and infrastructure issues. There is lot more involved in returning to normal daily life, and so the site extends the information published by official sources. I have been saying that the site provides information that is not important enough to be official information, but is still important to people recovering from civic emergency. It is first time I've seen cognitive surplus in action (or as you call it, civic surplus).
Beth: So what happened with the police wiki?
Not much happened to build on the experience; we did have some other successes in e-participation at the time, but nothing like using a wiki to revise legislation. I guess it was our Bob Beamon moment – it was so far ahead of the thinking at the time, no-one has yet caught up.