Yesterday I attended the
NSW Public Sphere [site no longer available] event at Parliament House in Sydney. Lots of highlights were covered via Twitter which you can find by searching for the #nswsphere tag. [Disclosure: I was a sponsor of the event]
The day was packed with short presentations – a format that I hope may change in future Public Spheres (having at least part of the day as more workshop/forum oriented I think would be beneficial) – both from the tech community advocating what they think is possible from Government and from Government agencies themselves sharing some of the more innovative projects that are currently underway.
I don’t fully have a sense of the mix of participants in the audience (i.e. between citizens and public servants) but I did get a slight impression that we were all of similar persuasions – i.e. that there was a bit of “preaching to the converted” going on.
This is still beneficial, of course, as it gives people a chance to support each other, connect and “share notes”. Perhaps future events focusing less on “Web2.0” and on the more salient public issues we face will connect people from more diverse backgrounds.
The Premier came for a visit, announcing a $100,000 initiative for “innovative digital applications and web services using public and government data relating to New South Wales” (more from Stilgherrian at Crikey).
This is a great incentive and is likely to spawn some interesting results – though I do hope to see some of the $$ applied to existing initiatives as well as new proposals. My hope is that this initiative prompts Government departments to more actively consider open data and APIs for their respective domains.
- Paul McLeay, Member for Heathcote, who has allocated over half of his discretionary budget to develop a Community Engine-based tool for engaging constituents to decide where government funding should go.
- Stilgherrian‘s talk, while ostensibly about risk vs. paranoia, veered across a number of topics (in a good way!) – from rethinking Government structures based on our current needs/social structures and capabilities, to iterative development of policies (using China as an example) – and for me was thoroughly thought provoking.
- The first half of Matthew Crozier’s presentation exploring risks echoed my experience/thoughts, though I think many in the audience – myself included – disagreed with his statements about anonymity. I also question his claim that a third-party moderated solution for community engagement was the best model – esp. given his vested interest in making such a statement.
- Pedro Harris, from the Land and Property Management Authority, demonstrated some of the (seemingly vast) geo-spacial datasets that the State is collecting and, in some cases, making available for public use.
- John Vandyke, from the team that manages the Transport Info service, talked about some new API developments (called TDX and based on open XML standards) launched to select developers early this month.
Jeffery Candiloro also talked about the My Representatives project which he claims is the only place where you can enter your address to find the important information that the site presents (electorate details, political representatives etc.).
During his talk he mentioned that his research pointed to over 580
representatives (he wasn’t able to 100% confirm these numbers!) at the various levels of Government in Australia, yet it has taken a citizen technologist to actually provide that information in one place – and in a way that is usable for the “average punter”.
Jeffery’s project, along Open Australia, demonstrate both:
- the sorts of tools that I think should be naturally provided by Government given they are the authoritative source of this information; and failing that,
- the power of data being exposed using web technologies when utilised by such citizen generated tools
On the latter point, Mark Stanton from Gruden is right to point out that data availability should be the first priority – and the Premier’s announcement suggests the Government supports this view.
Still find it disappointing that it has taken citizen efforts to provide this basic data – the details of our relevant representatives and the Hansard record respectively – that is fundamental to a healthy democracy.
I wonder if this is in part a result of what James Dellow from Headshift described as Government being more interested in the management of IT projects, rather than looking for solutions to the citizenry’s needs? (I’m paraphrasing here, but I think that captures the gist of what James said – you can check out his presentation on his blog – I would also heartily recommend reading Headshift’s paper for the Centre for Policy Development.)
This sentiment I think was echoed throughout the day – from technologists keen to point out that it’s not about the technology but about service delivery, to Peter Cooper when he said that “it’s not about Government2.0, it’s just Government – it’s what the people expect”, to Penny Sharpe (the convener of the conference) who suggested that she hoped to extend the Public Sphere process to a wider set of challenges rather than just technology (an initiative I wholeheartedly support).
In my workshops on social media and networking I do try to get this point across – so I was pleased to see this perspective so broadly reflected in the proceedings.
In all it was a fantastic day; kudos to Penny Sharpe and her staff for organising the event. During his announcement the Premier noted that he has given the green light for NSW Public Sphere to be more broadly developed across Government – I’m looking forward to participating in such future events…
Update 2009-09-08: Updated to correct a statement of fact thanks to Jeffery’s clarifying comment.