It’s not been quiet on Australia’s Government 2.0 front

While I’ve been very tardy at posting this year, due to busyness, significant life and work changes and a general lassitude brought on from blogging for so many years, the Government 2.0 scene in Australia has continued to progress.

While some of the faces and names have changed, and the public sector talks more about innovation, ‘digital government’ and ‘digital transformation’ than about Government 2.0, the overall direction remains the same – increasing use of modern digital tools and techniques to improve the operation and outcomes of government.

In the last six months we’ve seen a number of major initiatives take shape.

At a federal level the big news is the Digital Transition Office (DTO), modeled on the UK Government Digital Service (GDS) and the US Digital Service (USDS), was formed early this year with seconded staff and officially launched on 1 July with a budget of $254.7 million over four years. The DTO knuckled down to work even before it had a CEO or budget, and some of its activities and thinking is being shared on the DTO blog – with much more to come.

Recently the new CEO of the DTO was announced (replacing seconded SES officers), with the government choosing an overseas candidate who had developed a similar approach before – Paul Shetler, formerly Director of the GDS.

While it’s sad there’s little in the way of Australian talent ready at this level, it’s good the government has taken the step of appointing someone with the experience and nous to take on this difficult public sector role.

Also in Canberra, the Australian Public Service recently launched Public Sector Innovation Month, an event that has grown from strength to strength over the last few years. While I was interstate for the launch (on 6 July), I’m involved with a number of the scheduled events, and will try to provide some insights into the mood and activities throughout July.

DFAT also recently ran a wildly successful internal idea-sourcing process. Over 40% of DFAT staff participated, with 392 ideas and 16,000 votes submitted. A number of the ideas are being progressed, with a lucky few funded and recognised at a whole-of-DFAT event. I’m hopeful other agencies will take note of this approach and it’s well designed process (facilitated by Collabforge) and consider ways to unlock the ideas and experience of their (highly experienced) staff.

Nationally this month saw the return of GovHack, with 31 sites and around 2,000 registered participants across Australia and New Zealand. With 276 completed projects across 400 teams, this has been the biggest and best organised GovHack (according to the anecdotal reports I’ve received) so far.

I spend GovHack in the Melbourne site, managing and mentoring teams for the Victorian Government’s challenge, Taking government services digital. This was the first time GovHack had offered a challenge to hack government without the need to mash-up open data and was an exciting pilot for involving the public in digital service design.

Given that Melbourne, as the largest venue for GovHack in 2015, had more hackers and projects than all of GovHack in 2012, the growth of this event has been staggering, yet well managed.

The last few months have also seen the initiation of Service Victoria, an agency established within Victoria’s Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC), to take on the redevelopment of high volume and high cost Victorian government services in a collaborative way with the agencies that ‘own’ those transactions, as well as the integration of into DPC to provide it with a more central outlook and greater cloud.

The WA government has taken firm steps towards an open data portal, building on some of the great work done by local agencies and volunteers, while the ACT has rationalised and centralised its focus on innovation to improve effectiveness and attempted to hire a Chief Digital Officer (albeit unsuccessfully).

NSW has continue to move slowly towards greater adoption of open data, while Queensland and South Australia are seeing a slight pause as they rethink their ICT strategies and political foci.

The Northern Territory and Tasmania still lag behind other states, though renewed attempts are underway in Hobart to reinvigorate a move towards greater use of digital across government.

Larger local governments, particularly Melbourne and Brisbane, are pushing forward with strong digital agendas, while outside of government the OKFN have moved past their establishment phase and is beginning to support real change, while Code for Australia,a newer group, is beginning to flex its wings and create partnerships with governments to embed innovative Fellows to push along digital initiatives.

Across the board there’s still limited political direction and focus on the value digital can have for government, although both Turnbull at federal level and the latest Victorian Government have demonstrated clear commitment and advocacy on digital’s power to improve outcomes.

The role of the community in encouraging, supporting, and occasionally chastising, governments to become more digital remains huge, and we’re now beginning to see agencies recognise the need for digital leads, separate to existing executives. This is a huge opportunity for anyone who wants to work in a senior level in digital while achieving lasting social and economic good for the nation, states or local communities, and will continue to grow as more agencies identify their lack.

So overall, Australia is still very much in the early stages of the digital transformation of government, with pockets of maturity helping to bring lagging areas up to speed.

There’s a long way to go before government is truly digitally enabled – inside and out – but most governments now have their feet firmly planted on the road and recognise the value that striding forward will bring.