I never need much of an excuse to go for a curry, but when my friend Mohamed Shareef, Government CIO of the Maldives, said he was in town - we popped over to a nice South Indian banana leaf restaurant to catch up and shoot the breeze.
He’s a fellow Mini fan - so we talked about cars for a bit - but it wasn’t long before the conversation came round to e-government, and what he had to say was interesting. He’d been part of a discussion earlier in the day where someone had told him about the latest innovation in passport delivery in Singapore.
Singaporeans are able to collect their passports from special vending machines, registering their biometrics at the point of collection - imprinting them upon the chip in the passport seconds before it gets delivered to the vending machine’s tray. But how long does it take for the passport to get to the vending machine, following the initial submission of the passport application details? 7-10 days was the answer.
A government official from Bahrain said that it only took a few days for their citizens to wait to receive their passports - and an official from another country explained that with their new system, citizens only had to wait for two hours!
As a Brit, who has to wait 4-6 weeks, I couldn’t help but feel a little hard done by. And it got me thinking.
One hundred years ago the British civil service was the most sophisticated, technologically savvy public administration in the world. It was at the forefront of harnessing new communications tools, and also in the transformation of process and hierarchy to promote more effective decision making across the machinery of government.
There’s a wonderful document dating from 1918 - the Report of the Machinery of Government Committee - which sought to propose improvements to the structure of public administration. It first flagged the tension between structuring government around users, or structuring government around the services to be delivered.
The UK civil service still does a very impressive job, all the more so considering the stringent cost-cutting they’re undertaking - but it carries a tremendous legacy of thinking, and process and precedent. This necessarily makes it difficult to reimagine service delivery. A century’s worth of entrenched interest, political axioms, and sunk investment all encourage an incremental approach to change.
The question is - are we now going to see the same happen to countries like Singapore, which has for the last decade been a byword for cutting edge service delivery and value-for-money outcomes.
I believe Singapore finds itself increasingly saddled with the ‘Achiever’s Curse’ - where the reasons for previous success become part of a well understood institutional narrative that then fosters a linear approach to change, rather than a transformational one.
It is certainly interesting to see e-government upstarts snapping at the heels of established e-government leaders, and there is nothing pre-ordained about Singaporean administrative effectiveness. What’s been achieved to date has been the result of considerable effort, and considerable effort will be required to sustain and build on those achievements.
Yet the very language of ‘building on those achievements’ carries with it an implied drag on performance - “Singapore is an e-government leader,” said Mohamed before tucking in to a nice piece of tandoori pomfret, “which means that it now has a lot of legacy systems.”
Nobody would argue that Singapore is wobbling at the summit of public service excellence - but much as we’ve seen this season in the English Premier League football, there’s a general flattening of performance between governments. Everyone is Manchester United these days. So this means that there is a lot to play for in the various bi-annual rankings of e-government effectiveness, and in public sector benchmarks like the FutureGov Awards.
It should be remembered that a decade ago Canada was the undisputed leader in government service delivery, not Singapore. It will be interesting to see which countries top the pile in the coming years - and even more interesting, to see why.
Last Saturday, 22 February 2014, was the International Open Data Hackathon or what organisers dubbed as Open Data Day.
The event aims to gather citizens in cities around the world to develop applications, liberate data, create visualisations and publish analyses using publicly available information in a bid to support and encourage the adoption of open data policies by the world’s local and central governments.
I’ve been following similar events lately, and reading about the unique applications developed in such events makes me wish I had a knack for coding (and I’m sure I’m not the only bystander who feels this way).
Events like Open Data Day saw the development of meaningful applications that are designed to take advantage of today’s cutting edge technologies to provide citizens with information relevant for day-to-day decision making.
For an open data champion like Richard Moya, the CIO and the Under Secretary of the Department of Budget and Management in the Philippines, hackathons are their way of spreading public awareness about their recently launched data.gov.ph. Through such events, they hope to build a demand that will compel the next batch of leaders to build on the current administration’s transparency achievements and publish more datasets.
My conversation with Moya, made me think about an interview I had a few weeks ago with two experts from a mapping agency’s cartographic design team, and Sandra Jameson, am Australian caregiver to a 75 year old arthritis patient.
I wanted to get their perspectives on what they think about their local online arthritis map, which their local health authority designed to help users easily locate a range of health and recreation services, public infrastructure and healthcare practitioners nearest to them.
Though the perspectives from the technical experts were a very good learning experience, I found Sandra Jameson’s feedback quite interesting.
She said: “I was a little intimidated when I first opened the map. I didn’t quite know where to look or start. I was close to clicking the ‘exit’ button because the interface was quite overwhelming.” but of course after encouraging her to navigate her way around the portal, she quickly got a hang of it. In fact, she told me that: “I can now find services that are in our neighbourhood quickly for my patient. It has saved me hours from making calls and surfing the web.”
Open data champions like Moya and the tech community envision grand outcomes out of opening up data. This includes greater public engagement, improved transparency and accountability, and the creation of innovative ideas. In order to make this a reality, it is important to consider how public information is translated and communicated to citizens like Sandra Jameson.
In addition, governments, NGOs, the private sector and the academe should work together to not only spread the awareness of open data, but to also bring to light the many ways citizens can use the data. By doing so, not only spurs the demand for more data to be published by governments but it also allows them to adopt different perspectives of analysing the world around them.
The current wave of digitisation in the public sector has made privacy controls more available, but also more complex. Fundamentally, privacy has implications for public trust in the government, and makes a difference on how the digital government provides better services.
The government has to be concerned with privacy implications from the data it collects itself, and also the data it authorises other organisations to collect and that collected by unauthorised organisations - and how all this data is stored and used.
Violation of privacy can expose governments and citizens to severe risks and recent revelations on this mean that it is high on the agenda of all countries now. Privacy is not new on their agendas however - Australia’s Information Commissioner, Professor John McMillan told me that Australia has had a Privacy Commissioner for over 20 years now. But since 2010, Australia has brought the functions of privacy, freedom of information and information management together under a single coherent scheme.
Governments are now concerned with the implications of technology and information management on privacy. The laws that are administered today were created in a world of paper records - governments have sensed an urgency to adjust policies and frameworks to reflect the current and future technology landscape.
Are citizens clear about the trade-offs between surrendering control over personal information and access to new services? Catherine Mkude, PhD researcher in e-government at the Institute of Information Systems, University of Koblenz-Landau, Germany, suggested, “We need models of privacy where the compromise that is required can be made clear to the users. Additionally, more methods are required to inform and allow citizens to still have power over their own information.”
In recent weeks countries from Europe, America and Asia Pacific have announced plans to reform policies looking to better regulate the collection, storage and use of their citizens’ data. Australia is due to release major privacy reforms in March this year. “We strongly advocate the principle that ‘good privacy is good business’. It is very much in the interest of both government and industry to have strong privacy practices,” Professor McMillan noted.
In November last year, New Zealand created a Government Chief Privacy Officer role to lead an all-of-government approach to privacy, and provide assurance and advice on privacy issues. Last week, the government announced the establishment of the New Zealand Data Futures Forum - a working group of government and industry experts to incorporate more detailed feedback on how personal information is used.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has proposed developing a communication network within Europe so that any information exchanged between citizens is subject to European levels of data protection, instead of being routed across the Atlantic.
There have been reports in Indian local media that the National Security Council has proposed setting up a similar network within the country. The Indian Government has also announced plans to release an email policy requiring all public sector employees to use the email domain managed by the National Informatics Centre.
Across the globe at the White House, John Podesta, Counsellor to the President, blogged about a review on ‘Big Data and the Future of Privacy’. This review is expected to “serve as the foundation for a robust and forward-looking plan of action” on privacy protection.
During a recent catch up with Glenn Ashe, former CIO at the Australian Attorney-General’s Department, he highlighted that digitisation of government and privacy are also tied together in a sense that while governments are going through the process of digitisation, they also need to update the information they have to deliver better digital services. Sound privacy laws and their enforcement play a key role in getting citizens online to update their information and enabling the government to do a better job.
Olli-Pekka Rissanen, Special Advisor in Public Sector ICT to Finance Ministry in Finland, pointed out to me, “Digitisation of government means that we can combine and connect information from different sources. The challenge here is that we have to be very careful with how we do this because one might accidentally violate an individual’s privacy. Open data is a specific example where this implies.”
The final result plays out from how the new frameworks, laws and policies are implemented down to the individual level. Educating employees is the key message that Privacy Expert, Frank Ahearn, would like to give to governments to better protect their agencies and citizens.
Australia has released a ‘Better Practice Guide’ for mobile privacy recommending app developers to take a ‘privacy by design’ approach and use brief privacy notices, privacy dashboards and in-text notices to tell users what will happen with their information in real time.
As a citizen, I think this is a great way of using technology to give users clearer information and more control over how their data is used. And I’m excited to see what other innovative approaches countries in Asia Pacific will take to protect their citizens’ privacy.
FutureGov recently crossed 1000 likes on Facebook during the Christmas break. The entire editorial team did a little victory dance around the office and high-fived our new Community Manager. In the spirit of celebration, I think it’s timely to recognise some of the successful public sector social media initiatives, particularly by police agencies.
Last month, I visited Singapore Police Force (SPF) Headquarters for the first time. I was completely blown away by the level of engagement and activities the agency has achieved on the key social media channels.
Today, the agency has garnered huge followings online, putting them among the top five government social media sites in the country. It has over 353,000 fans on Facebook, more than 17,000 followers on Twitter and exceeding 6000 subscribers on YouTube! And they have plans to launch an Instagram account this year.
“We are pleased with the high engagement we are seeing on these channels. Our Facebook posts usually receive over 100 likes each. The videos on our YouTube page are also very popular with the people, it currently has more than 5 million views,” says Fong Weng Kiong, Assistant Director (Policy & Development), Public Affairs Department of SPF. (read the full interview here)
Looks like FutureGov has a long journey ahead of us - their success truly inspired me. And they weren’t the only law enforcement agency to do that.
Yesterday was Safer Internet Day and Australian Federal Police (AFP) Acting Deputy Commissioner Close Operational Support Tim Morris announced the expansion of its ThinkUKnow internet safety programme.
When I last spoke to Federal Agent James Braithwaite, Team Leader - Crime Prevention, High Tech Crime Operations at AFP about the ThinkUKnow programme, he said that YouTube has been an effective channel to reach its audience.
The channel has 1,330 subscribers and over 1.4 million views. One of the most popular video on sexting (sending sexually explicit messages and/or photographs via mobile phones) called Megan’s Story, took A$250 (US$235) to produce and has received over 760,000 views.
Many other police forces are joining the party. Just this week, Kerala Police officially launched its Facebook and Twitter accounts. It has been experimenting the use of Facebook since last October.
Its latest post this afternoon calls for eyewitness accounts of police corruption and invites citizens to send in photographs, videos or audio recordings of incidents. It’ll be interesting to see the response of its 36,000 Facebook fans. In the first 40 minutes of the post, it has already attracted over 90 likes, 48 shares and 7 comments.
There are lots more success stories out there and if you’d like to share yours, do get in touch with me.
While we celebrate these victories, I know there are still many struggles around engaging citizens in the new media environment. Fong told me some of the challenges SPF faced in navigating the new social media space and how they have adapted new styles and strategies. Do look out for the interview later this month.
In the meantime, if you have not joined our social media communities on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram - how about doing that today?
Thanks to old (but not old) FutureGov hand Laurence Millar, Editor-at-Large, emeritus, I came across my online doppelganger the other day at this blog.
I found JS2’s post about ‘Open Democracy’ very interesting. Read for yourself, but ‘James Smith-the-Younger’ was sharing his burgeoning interest in new social, collaborative tools to get involved in the political process. I’m sure all of you reading this would like your citizens to feel equally keen to participate. I have always believed that a broad sense of ownership of the political process is essential for a flourishing community.
Of course, government is about governance - about accountability and responsibility. So it can’t be left to an enthusiastic few to dictate what does and doesn’t happen. I don’t think my father has any less right than I, or James Smith II, to be involved in decision making - and as my father doesn’t use the internet very much, policymakers can’t give themselves wholly over to online policymaking. But neither should we throw the baby out with the bath water - we need to explore how new tools can help government work better.
What follows is my response to my namesake’s blog post; I’d be interested to hear what you think.
I think the thing to understand about politics in an era of mass media is that manifestos are marketing pitches - and just like any marketing pitch, they are principally intended to show a political party off to best effect. For marketing to have a recurring positive impact, the message should of course correspond with the product - which is why George Bush (senior) got in to trouble when after declaring “Read my lips: no new taxes” he raised tax. However there is not a causal relationship between sugar-coated, high-level and really rather abstract statements of belief - and actual policymaking. No plan survives first contact with reality, as they say, and certainly not marketing plans.
Secondly, regarding constitutions - well the United Kingdom, along with many other countries around the world, has one. The fact that it’s not a written constitution does not mean it’s not “proper”. Think about what the difference between written and unwritten means. Let’s take the United States - their constitution, beautifully phrased, was hammered out by slave-owning gentry in the late 18th century - and continues to inform how Washington DC operates to this day.
In fact, in the last session of Congress - House Republicans dutifully gathered on the first morning to read through the entire constitution - an example of constitutional literalism to do America’s Founding Fathers proud. Yet it is this same constitution that is largely responsible for the legislative and policy making gridlock.
A written constitution is a statement of faith that what it puts in black and white will largely hold true for all time - and of course we know that 18th century views of how the world should be run are unlikely to be able to reflect the complexity of the world we live in now. Look at the US courts and how they’ve struck down the net neutrality policy of the US government - all according to constitutional precedent, from a constitution written in 1787. It might be the right decision - but I wouldn’t base it on principles laid down by 18th century, male, protestant, white, slave owners.
Contrast this with an unwritten constitution - which basically holds that legal precedent (evolving legal interpretation and subsequent legislative enactments) dictates how we should view the world at any point in time. This helps explain why slave owning was abolished in the UK in 1833, and not in the US until 1865 (following a war which cost the lives of 750,000 people).
With all our good intentions, it is not self evident that everything we think about how the world should work in 2014 should constrain our grandchildren’s children in 2114. I love my Nana - but her outlook on the world was informed by a very different worldview to mine. If you believe that a constitution should be able to respond organically to changing circumstances - that’s why it should be unwritten. It enables every generation to legislate and live according to their own circumstances.
To follow through on your analogies - an unwritten constitution is open to reiteration by consensus, whereas a written constitution is proprietary and comes with hard to change licensing conditions developed in a previous era.
What I do think is very interesting is the question of whether, and if so - how, politics will be affected in an era of micro media (distributed, highly social media). I’d like to think that it will help refocus a plurality of discussion on the issues that make the biggest impact on all of us on a day-to-day basis: local politics. This would certainly help reduce the affective divide between younger generations of citizens (like yourself) who are interested in forming tightly-defined, short-lived, communities of interest to solve particular problems, and ‘traditional politics’.
I completely get the fact that a democratisation of media is enabling ‘non-experts’ to have their voice heard across the spectrum of issues; in the internet, talk has gone from being cheap - to being free. Many younger people find it strange to see that in an ever more collaborative, participatory world - politics and politicians belong to another era (which they do - they’re digital immigrants rather than digital natives). But rather than trying to tackle the biggest, most complex issues - the kind of small interest groups enabled by the internet that you’re interested in are probably best deployed at the local level. These days context is king.
Creating self-help groups for the marginalised (single mothers, the disabled, the elderly, ethnic minorities, longterm unemployed) to effect change in their community and get their voice heard; determining the right balance in land use - green space vs low cost housing; school policy; these are all issues to be addressed with commitment, and passion, which can be better harnessed and directed with the many group-formation and organisation tools available.
For someone who has been covering the Government GIS space for more than three years, I’ve come to enjoy the perks of having the perfect vantage point to watch how government decision makers are leveraging what I consider as one of the world’s most powerful technology.
As part of our continued efforts to spread awareness and appreciation for GIS, we at FutureGov are curious to know what you feel are the next big trends in the government spatial community.
This curiosity was sparked by a discussion posted by Ben Searle, the former General Manager of the Australian Office of Spatial Data Management, in the Public Sector GIS Linkedin group which I started last month.
In his post, he said: “My thinking is that the governments’ traditional uses of spatial capabilities will continue in the traditional areas of environment, land administration etc. However, a spatial or location focus is now being applied across other areas such as health, transport, city management, urban design, waste and in the building and construction sectors.”
True enough, more and more healthcare organisations are looking at GIS to help them provide the best quality care and treatment to their patients.
While a lion’s share of hospital budget is usually targeted at the building of new facilities and latest diagnostic equipments, investing in GIS allows healthcare practitioners to have a precise understanding of the links between a patient’s health and where he lives and works.
“The linking of location to any government data will bring benefits, but the key is in ensuring that the ‘spatial’ concept is not ‘sold’ as the solution. It should be part of the solution, but only a part.” (To view his complete response please visit the Public Sector GIS LinkedIn page)
Ben’s post and the responses that followed, inspired me to get in touch with my network of contacts for their perspectives. With that, please refer below for the trends they said are shaping and influencing their spatial journey:
Open data/Linked data
Location analytics and Business Intelligence
Promoting spatial awareness to build up local supply of geospatial professionals the industry requires to develop
Both indoor and outdoor 3D data will become the norm
Internal personal location services/Indoor GPS (prison, healthcare services, etc.)
End user focus on self-service tools
Introduction of socio-economic information within a location framework
Place-based Policing/ Intelligence-led policing
Greater integration of statistics and geospatial information
Internet of things
Open Source GIS
According to Prof. Abbas Rajabifard, past President of the Global Spatial Data Infrastructure Association, the trends mentioned above reflects the fact that governments are all seeking to establish more efficient and effective societies.
“These trends have implications for technology, applications and innovation. However, I also believe key transformations will be around the realisation that organisations will need to connect and collaborate across industry and sectors to better integrate GIS and Building Information Modeling (BIM) in the whole land development process to support future cities, and incorporate crowd-sourced and social media networks,” he said.
The Government GIS channel of FutureGov aims to bring together a close knit community of GIS champions (as what I like to call them) in the region. I would like to thank those who took time to help us identify the topics and trends most relevant to the community. We’ll definitely keep these trends in mind in future conversations and interviews with the region’s top decision makers so that we can give you content that matters.
One last thing, If you’re a senior decision maker in a government agency with goals to meet and issues to address and have little clue as to what GIS is, talk to your GIS/IT department and explore what this technology can do for you and your entire organisation.
Do you want to add anything to the trends listed above? Feel free to do so by commenting below or in the Public Sector GIS LinkedIn page so we can continue this discussion with the rest of the FutureGov community!
When I first started using Dropbox and Google Drive, I wasn’t thinking about where all my data and information was going. It was great for me - I could access my documents from any device, easily collaborate with others and I wasn’t paying anything for it. (And I didn’t think anyone wanted my freshman year research papers.)
At the FutureGov Summit 2013 in October, Agus Pudjijono, Head of Application and Data Processing Centre at Indonesia’s Ministry of Public Works, shared with me his team’s experience with deploying a private cloud for the Ministry.
“The main challenge was the IT culture in Indonesian government agencies. If an application is built, people want a physical server where they can store the application out of concern for security,” he said.
At the same time, once the private cloud was announced, officials couldn’t wait to get their hands on it to benefit from the simplified IT and reduced costs, Pudjijono added. How did they reconcile the threats with the benefits of cloud?
When we visited the Indonesian Ministry of Finance, their Chief of Data Centres shared a similar story. The departments had temporarily migrated to the cloud while their data centres were being consolidated. But when the time came to go back to the data centres, he and his team faced resistance to migrating out of the cloud.
At a workshop during the Summit, Ray Teske, APAC Leader of Avaya’s Cloud Services and Solutions, pointed out that the underlying issue with cloud adoption among the participants was the transition from legacy IT systems to cloud rather than the technology itself. And this was based on the experiences of 30 government leaders from 12 countries across Asia Pacific.
At last week’s NEC Innovative Solutions Fair 2014, I met up with Shinya Kukita, Chief Engineer at NEC’s Global Business Unit. He believes that the transition to cloud doesn’t have to be done overnight and economic forces will in time weigh out the differences.
“As long as government agencies feel uncomfortable about moving into the cloud environment, they will keep their existing systems up and running. Eventually, there will come a time when it will become difficult to maintain the old system and a decision to move to the new environment or continue with the old systems will have to be made based on the economic benefits,” Kukita noted.
In recent news we’ve seen Hong Kong and India roll out their government cloud. They have different levels of economic prosperity and IT culture in government, but the positive impact of cloud led them both to overcome the resistance and reconcile with the shortcomings.
The United States’ FedRAMP is a great example of a government-wide standardised approach to security assessment, authorisation and continuous monitoring of cloud service providers, allowing agencies to take advantage of public cloud based on their individual needs.
Are there prospects for similar central government programmes in Asia Pacific? Can governments enjoy the best of both public and private clouds with a hybrid cloud? And how can the message of cloud be taken down to the state and local government level? These are only a few of the issues that I look forward to delving into with government IT leaders this year.
I live on mobile apps. A day doesn’t pass without using one - booking a taxi, converting currencies when I’m overseas, posting interesting articles on LinkedIn and Twitter, managing my schedule, mobile banking and more.
Last week at the Apps4SG competition organised by Infocomm Development Authority (IDA), I met the top 12 finalists who have created innovative apps using government datasets to improve the way we live, work and play in Singapore.
As a committed foodie, my favourite of the 12 was definitely ‘Hawkeree’, an app that helps you navigate the city’s massive treasure trove of good hawker (street food) delights. So before you join that long queue for the award-winning chicken rice or travel the extra mile to a remote hawker centre, you can check in with the Hawkeree community.
“The Singapore government has been aggressively opening up its data since the data.gov.sg programme was launched in 2011. It started out with 5000 datasets and today has grown to almost 8700 datasets,” said James Kang, Assistant Chief Executive of IDA. “And we hope to continue in this direction.”
Singapore’s open data journey has seen a lot of success, triggering innovation in the infocomm industry and more interestingly, among citizens.
Great innovation can come from the people, Kang noted. “A lot of ideas and new apps are coming from people from all walks of life, sometimes without any technical or application development experience or knowledge,” he said.
The Australian Information Commissioner Professor John McMillan also highlighted the power of releasing data to the people, in a recent conversation with FutureGov.
While big data brings great benefits to the government, McMillan said that the value of data is fully realised if it is made available to the people. Australia is now working closely with the community, industry and all levels of government to develop a national action plan for open government.
Two months ago, the Philippines’ government launched the data.gov.ph portal, making public sector datasets available to citizens.
When we met up with the Commission on Higher Education’s Open Data Champion Maria Teresita Semana, Director III, Policy, Planning, Research and Information before the launch, she was busy identifying datasets that would bring the greatest benefits if made open.
“Data is power. The more we leverage it, the more we are able to sustainably plan for our future,” said Semana. She spoke with so much passion that I knew in my gut she was a real believer.
Our conversations with regional open government leaders hit home the fact that public agencies around the world must continue the good work of releasing data to citizens and businesses. This year, we should see this movement continue with an additional focus on converting those datasets into formats that people need.
“At least 99 per cent of datasets on both data.gov.sg and OneMap are in machine-readable formats, and we are working hard to make the remaining 1 per cent machine-readable,” Lim Soo Hoon, Permanent Secretary (Finance)(Performance), Ministry of Finance Singapore, said at the Apps4SG competition.
I’m certainly inspired to contribute to the government-citizen co-creation process after seeing all the amazing apps these finalists have created. What other types of public sector data will be useful? With the current available datasets, what problem can I solve or how can I enhance our lives? What apps have you and your organisation used, or supported the development of, recently? This is definitely something I will be keeping an eye on this year.
I was very happy to attend a small gathering celebrating Siong Guan Lim’s career in the Singapore Civil Service. Frankly he’s been there, done that - and has now also written a book about it all (‘The Leader, The Teacher & You’, 2014, Imperial College Press) - having been Permanent Secretary in turn at Defence, Education, Prime Minister’s Office and Finance, Head of the Singapore Civil Service, Chairman of the Singapore Economic Development Board, a Professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, and currently President of the country’s government investment company, managing US$100 billion of foreign currency reserves. His Curriculum Vitae made me feel rather inadequate, I must say.
Happily Mr Lim is a very friendly, down-to-earth man, and was willing to share his thoughts on how the nature of public service had changed in his time, and was now set to change further in the coming years.
Lim says that of all the roles that government serves - controller, regulator, nurturer, facilitator, convenor - the last of these is the most discomfiting because “the outcomes are not predictable and the government can easily find itself in a dilemma of showing it is prepared to listen and gather ideas, and yet is unprepared to actually act on them”.
He believes that governments that do not become more active in this last role of convenor or ‘aggregator’ risk losing popular support, irrespective of how successful they are in the other areas of responsibility.
In order to successfully build on the shifting sands of changing citizen expectations, Lim stresses the need to build an organisational culture that is forward-looking and receptive to change. During his time he was responsible for implementing the ‘Public Service for the 21st Century’ (PS21) vision - which sought to enshrine the principle that the need for change is a permanent state of being.
PS21 aimed to achieve this by grooming a generation of leaders and future leaders who embodied an attitude of service excellence, and oversaw modern management techniques for cost-effectiveness and efficiency - as well as staff wellbeing, and commitment to continuous learning.
The results are there for all to see, and I would say that while the achievements are world class, challenges remain. On the one hand the Singapore public sector regularly tops global rankings for impartiality and the absence of corruption. At the same time Singapore continues to dazzle the rest of the world with its combination of the rule of law, public safety and economic performance.
But despite this strong track record, the government’s share of the vote has fallen in successive elections, and new online forums for public discourse have enabled the disaffected to find their voice, and find one another. These are challenging times to be in public service, and as Lim said - the outcomes are not predictable.
Perhaps one challenge facing the highly meritocratic culture of Singapore’s civil service is its emphasis on the country’s scholar-elite. Many civil services around the world have a ‘fast track’ for the talented, so Singapore’s practice is not unnatural - but I wonder whether a culture of streaming talent fully equips civil servant leaders with the skills to negotiate an ever more democratic, and opinionated, public arena. These days for every policy initiative there is a loud social media response - it’s a minefield.
More broadly, I think that politics is becoming more pluralistic globally. Recent results in Malaysia and Delhi, the clamour for universal franchise in Hong Kong, the breakdown of the civil compact in Thailand, the proliferation of parties in Indonesia, even the rise of fringe parties and caucuses in Europe and the United States. Elections increasingly have a ‘long tail’, with the share of the vote at the political margins growing fast at the expense of the political centre ground. This shift to the margins probably favours consensus over bold policy initiatives, and certainly poses new challenges for civil service leaders.
The predictability of outcomes that, according to Lim, is government’s natural preference is not the world we operate in today. We live in more interesting times.
This Christmas I’m on a mission to help my Mom (Ed. Mum), a businesswoman managing the family’s corporate logistics business, learn how to use and appreciate the value of a map - more specifically the Philippine government’s geoportal.
My family runs a corporate logistics business in Manila. For over a decade, banks, IT companies and several other MNCs have trusted us to ship, relocate and transport their servers, mainframe computers, ATMs and various other semiconductor equipments safely to their intended destination in the Philippines.
So if you happen to be in Boracay island and see an ATM right next to you, there’s a very high possibility that our crew put it there.
For a business engaged in logistics, updated maps of cities and provinces are not only crucial for operations but even more so for business continuity. While they do have them in the office, they’ve been depending on the same worn out sheets of provincial road maps for almost 10 years. This adds little value in their decision making and planning for their future directions.
End-users like my Mom (Ed. Mum) have this aversion to anything that is considered “too high-tech”. In fact, last Christmas, I noticed her preference for using her old dumb phone over her iPhone. She complained about how complicated the interface looked and insisted that all she needed were the basic call and SMS functions and nothing more. However, after teaching her the wonders of Instagram, the iTunes appstore and instant messaging apps like BBM, Whatsapp, Viber and Facetime, she slowly but surely adapted to new and easier way of doing things that matter to her and her job.
The same thing happened when I told her to access the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ geohazard map. I was trying to convince her to move the company’s warehouse facility somewhere that isn’t vulnerable to floods or potential storm surges from future Super Typhoons akin to Haiyan.
Since the current warehouse is located right next to a creek and about ten minutes away from the coastal area, it is imperative that they move the whole warehouse - and perhaps the whole office - to higher ground given the increasing incidences of flooding around the neighbouring areas.
She encountered difficulty navigating around the geohazard portal, telling me she couldn’t understand what a base layer meant or how she was supposed to see the areas around our city that are vulnerable to floods.
I often write about the benefits of GIS and the value users can derive from leveraging geoportals and other similar initiatives. However, sometimes I find myself wondering why these efforts are underappreciated. Is it a question of marketing? Is it the platform? The language?
Companies like Google have helped liberalise geospatial information. Google Maps is so pervasive that citizens use it more than their own national mapping authority’s geospatial information. They rely on it for their day-to-day decision making so that they can avoid traffic and choose the best route to take to get to their destination at the shortest possible time.
Having this kind of information is empowering, and it gets even better and more powerful when you have very detailed and authoritative geospatial information about things that not only matter to you, but also for your family, your business and your community.
Since its not in Google’s commercial interest to release authoritative information on what areas are classified as “unfit for dwelling” and are prone to natural hazards such as floods, landslides and earthquakes, this gives governments the opportunity to provide citizens like my Mom (Ed. Mum) crucial information to help her save her business.
Having the means and the power to understand the physical and cultural patterns of where you live is critically important. As governments move towards openness by releasing various data sets to facilitate innovation, it is important to consider how public information is translated and communicated to citizens, especially at the grassroots level.
With that said, how can governments or mapping organisations provide a good and meaningful user experience to citizens accessing their geoportals? How can they encourage more citizens to use their existing applications? How can they make it more inclusive?
In 2014, I will continue to be focused on sharing the perspectives and best practices of how governments are making location information matter to citizens. I can’t wait!
My recent trip to Canberra had many firsts - first time in Australia, first interview with a Minister (more on this coming up soon) and first ‘selfie’ (it’s the Oxford English Dictionary’s ‘Word of the Year’ for ‘self-portrait’, so my Editor made me take one).
I was the lucky journalist from our Singapore office to attend the company’s 4th annual FutureGov Summit Australia in Canberra at the beginning of the month. A new Australian government, with a strong focus on digital engagement, and the usual restructuring of agencies and ICT budgets that go hand in hand with government transition, meant that I was in the right place at the right time.
This FutureGov Summit brought together more than 300 government ICT leaders and technology experts to engage in intensive discussions around the latest ICT developments impacting government service delivery in Australia.
Starting with Minister of Communications Malcolm Turnbull’s welcome address, down to my last conversation with Peter Alexander, Chief Information Officer of the Australian Treasury two days later, there was a consistent emphasis on the need for innovation in the public sector to deliver better services.
Minister Turnbull called for a change in attitude towards innovation in digital government. The critical objective is not just saving costs, but making it easier for the community to interact with government through a more engaged and responsive digital platform, he highlighted.
Competition drives innovation in the private sector - but where does the drive for innovation come from in government? How should government ICT officials be thinking about innovation?
Glenn Archer, Government CIO for Australia said that ICT is more than just about efficiency - it’s about transforming the way government functions. Happily for Archer this was echoed by every other CIO from Australia and New Zealand that I spoke to.
CIOs need to go beyond running IT operations and get involved in how technology can innovate and improve business processes, said the Treasury’s Alexander.
Part of this is investing in the right ICT portfolio for the agency and its needs - one of the key steps is knowing when to kill a project, as pointed out by Charles Palmer, Director of Information Integrity at ACT Government.
Graham Clewes, Chief Executive Officer at Medway Youth Trust, in the United Kingdom, said that Australian public sector officials have often viewed efficiency and innovation interchangeably - something that does not always hold true.
I caught up with Les Pall, Master Strategist for Cloud and Big Data, Enterprise Group, HP South Pacific, and Paul Muller, Vice President of Global Strategic Marketing, HP Software, during one of the networking breaks at the Summit. “Everybody we have spoken to is very aware of the possibilities that technology brings to the table. They know what citizens expect,” Muller said. From his conversations as an IDT leader, Pall shared that technology seemed to be the “last inhibitor” to digital transformation - many are inhibited by structure, culture or legal framework in the agencies.
Given the speed at which the IT sector is innovating, change in attitude towards innovation is inevitable in the public sector. The question remains as to how this change will come about. Will it be driven by political leadership, legal framework, management and restructuring of agencies, or public private partnerships? Probably a combination of these.
My thoughts were echoed by Clewes when he said at the close of the two days of conversations, he sensed a high level of nervousness but also a high degree of optimism in the room as everyone grappled with the implications of a digital government.
As to whether the ‘I’ in CIO is innovation or information, I think that no single person can be in charge of driving innovation in an organisation - innovation needs to be broadly supported to avoid the ‘tall poppy syndrome’ (the temptation to cut down anything that rises above the rest).
It is, however, a useful reminder that ICT is one of the critical enablers of innovation within an organisation. CIOs and their teams play a crucial role in assisting transformation by ensuring that legacy systems, as well as legacy thinking, doesn’t stand in the way of change.
“When I was elected Mayor, they told me that one of the most important things you have to do is to gather data. So I gathered data,” Mary Jane Ortega, former Mayor of San Fernando City of the Province of La Union, The Philippines told me when we caught up last month.
During her term as Mayor in 1998 to 2007, the City with a population of 115,000 became an economic hub and one of the most dynamic cities in The Philippines.
More impressively, she had an unprecedented approval rating of 92.5 per cent. (American presidents have an average approval rating of 54 per cent.)
“It wasn’t an easy journey for me,” she continued. “I discovered we had five ‘Jurassic’ computers in the city, none of which are capable of the data collection task. So we upgraded them. And after we collected the data, I realised we didn’t have anyone who could analyse the data.”
In other words, the bottleneck in Big Data is not technology - but human capacity. If I had a dollar for every occasion I’ve heard this said over the last seven years, I’d be typing this blog from a luxury resort in the Bahamas. I’d have also been a dollar better off a week ago when I caught up with Stefan Sjostrom, Vice President Public Sector Asia, Microsoft.
“There really is a shortage of people who are able to analyse, interpret and use data. It is a challenge that cuts across the public and private sector,” said Sjostrom.
I know that other cities struggle with data collection too. Seoul Metropolitan Government’s former CIO Jong-Sung Hwang said that despite investing millions of dollars in sensors embedded into roads, the city failed many times to capture accurate and usable real-time traffic data.
After years of trial and error, the city finally found a cheaper workaround last year by installing touchcard payment system which uses GPS technology in the city’s 25,000 taxis.
Ortega understood the pain of not having data. “One of the first things I did as Mayor was to go through personnel files of my team. If I had all that data digitised, I wouldn’t have to spend sleepless nights doing that manually,” she said.
After a very successful term, Ortega is now Special Adviser of the Regional Network of Local Authorities for the Management of Human Settlements – CITYNET.
CITYNET and Microsoft City Next signed a Memorandum of Understanding last month to collaborate in helping cities across Asia tackle many of their biggest challenges, such as urban migration and decreased budgetary resources.
Sjostrom highlighted the importance of the mayor’s role in modernising a city. “Until now, we have had long and successful dialogues with city CIOs, pragmatically solving infrastructure issues as they strive towards becoming future cities. Today, across Asia, we are seeing the baton being passed to mayors, who now understand the technology language and are solving real problems and achieving their visions.”
“Mayors are troubleshooters, they are pragmatic problem solvers. They can negotiate, bring people together to solve problems, even people who are not in their jurisdiction,” added Sjostrom.
Meeting a really successful female Mayor made my day, but listening to her speak passionately about Big Data and the role of technology in modernising cities really topped that.
I look forward to meeting more of these inspiring public sector officials at our next Cities and Big Data Summit.
Public sector ICT infrastructure is going through a phase of tremendous change: 2014 will set a new record for public sector ICT spending in the region, but also for the number of ICT projects that fail.
On the one hand there is a wave of consolidation throughout the region as unsustainable legacy infrastructure is phased out. As a new free FutureGov Report - ‘Asian Government ICT Project Priorities 2014’ - indicates, IT departments are taking the time to review their strategic use of ICT, opening up new opportunities for vendors.
At the same time, a number of new technologies are intersecting to fundamentally change the capabilities, roles and responsibilities of public sector ICT.
(Now’s a good time to take a deep breath)
Cloud computing is providing the inexpensive, scalable capacity to process and store ever larger amounts of information being generated by increasingly pervasive remote sensors which are part of an expanding ‘internet of everything’ fuelled by Machine to Machine (M2M) communication which is being leveraged by Big Data solutions to understand and manage heightened levels of complexity in public sector planning and policymaking.
These tectonic shifts in the ICT landscape create tremendous opportunities for government agencies to change the way they provide services to citizens, businesses and civil servants themselves - but all of this is playing out against a backdrop of the consumerisation of ICT within the enterprise. These are challenging times for government IT departments. Although public sector CIOs in the region are typically resisting the trend towards BYOD, it is happening anyway.
The world of ICT is becoming much more complex, with big changes to the external ICT environment and the needs of users are changing at a faster rate. As a result expect increased emphasis on agile software development, where agencies break down larger ICT projects into their constituent elements with a view to delivering services faster, and with less risk. The alternative is to be overwhelmed by the growing complexity of the ICT environment.
As Singapore’s GCIO, James Kang, said earlier this year: “We can no longer wait nine months or more for the delivery of projects, the world is moving too fast. There has been a tendency for agencies to list their maximal requirements, including things they did not need. This can lead to very complex programmes where the risk and magnitude of failure increases. What we want to move towards is a more disciplined approach, where the most important functions are prioritised and the emphasis is on going live as quickly as possible.”
All of which goes to underline that, for government departments, it is not business as usual. We are going through a period of acute stress - so expect the incidence of project failures to increase, as as mentioned in last week’s blog, expect government departments to enter in to much more collaborative working relationships with their ICT suppliers.
One of the interesting things I observed at our recently concluded FutureGov Summit was how enthusiastic government officials were to get their hands on technology.
At the HP booth I was pleasantly surprised to see that even the most senior government officials, generally without a background in ICT, were busy poking and prodding and asking lots of questions. This surprised me, as I have always tended to focus my attention on the magic that happens during the small-group conversations in the main conference room - but I realise that there’s a lot of magic that happens on the exhibition floor too.
It reminded me of a conversation I had about eight years ago with Dr Cheok Beng Teck, the then CIO of Singapore’s Ministry of Defence. As he was flicking through our print publication, I noticed him pausing at all the adverts, rather than all the beautifully written (by me) interviews with government executives in the region.
As I tried to steer him to my painstakingly written editorial, he said that he would get round to reading it later - but that for now, he wanted to see which technology companies were targeting government through the pages of FutureGov magazine, and what solutions they were focusing on: “As soon as you leave university, your technology exposure drops markedly,” Dr Cheok said at the time. “IT officers in government need to be reminded what the latest technology can do, otherwise our knowledge turns to stone.”
This was a bit of a revelation for me, and I thought to myself that maybe advertising works afterall.
These sentiments were echoed by Laurence Millar, the then GCIO of New Zealand, when on the fringes of one of our early conferences he said that one of the reasons he liked going to events was because it allowed him to interact with multiple vendors in a short space of time - as opposed to having companies constantly knocking on the door of his office requesting a meeting.
Seeing how government actually quite likes the opportunity to keep itself abreast of the latest developments through FutureGov’s platforms, this is going to inform some of the changes we intend to make to this online publication.
This is currently the third version of the web site (if you’re interested, here’s a snapshot of the first version), and frankly hasn’t seen many changes since 2009. But from March 2014, we will be moving to an entirely new platform which will allow us to provide new tools for government, new data services for technology companies, as well as more options for technology companies to partner with FutureGov and manage their relationship with the region’s public sector.
It’s clear that the region’s public sector is working its way through the implications of a number of intersecting technology trends - inexpensive cloud computing providing the capability to leverage the Big Data generated by the rapidly falling costs of remote sensors to provide ever more personalised services to an ‘always-on’ generation of mobile users.
What is also clear is that to deliver the level of service that citizens, businesses and civil servants expect, the public sector is going to have to work much more closely with its technology providers. The future of government is going to be more collaborative - across government, between government and its users, and not least between government and its suppliers.
So as FutureGov enters our second decade we will continue to work closely with government and industry to provide the best possible platform for engagement with the largest, most established, and most awarded community of government ICT officials in Asia Pacific.
Between now and early 2014 we’re going to be pretty busy working on a range of cool/shiok/ayos/gerek/attagasama/mast/darun/tuyệt/ku/sugoi new features - including subscription services for government, new benchmarking tools, an easier to use awards interface, the region’s biggest government projects directory, personalised alerts, RFPs, CXO mentoring … all this, along with a fancy new colour scheme.
The new features have very much grown out of feedback from our reader community, as well as from our technology partners - so if you have a question, or have a feature you’d like to see not already mentioned, do get in touch with myself and my colleagues. We’d love to hear from you.
I was lucky enough to get a guided tour of Hong Kong’s forthcoming Digital 21 Strategy when I popped in to the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer on Monday and chatted with Daniel Lai, Hong Kong’s GCIO.
I’ll save going in to all the details for the full interview article next week (all I’ll say now is there’ll be more data, more sharing, more cloud, more personalisation, and more apps), but as this is now the third iteration of Hong Kong’s ICT masterplan that I’ve covered (there have been five in total) it is heartening to see Hong Kong’s continuing appetite for reinvention.
In a nut shell, Hong Kong Government’s first strategy focused in putting in place the infrastructure of e-government (1998), the second on e-business (2001), the third on ramping up e-government services (2004), the fourth on widening access to government services (2008). Now, with the foundations in place, there is an emphasis on leveraging ICT to drive innovation - in process, in services, and in the wider economy.
I found it encouraging that the approach being taken by OGCIO found an echo in the comments from officials across the breadth of Hong Kong’s public sector as I moderated discussions at the 5th annual FutureGov Forum there on Tuesday.
Hearing feedback from the Land Department, the Hong Kong Police, the Efficiency Unit, the Education Bureau, the Hospital Authority, as well as from technology companies that work with Hong Kong’s public sector, I’m hopeful that once the 2014 Digital Strategy is finalised and resourced in time for the new financial year (April) that it will reflect a genuine pan-government consensus.
Everyone now understands that Cloud, Big Data and Open Government are converging in a way that is going to accelerate change in how government operates. Increases in the scalability and agility of the underlying government platform, combined with definitions of data that now transcend individual agencies, and a commitment to opening up this treasure trove of Public Sector Information to the wider community - there is a sense that government is going through a genuinely transformative moment in time.
The challenge for the region’s governments is that awareness of these intersecting trends is pretty lumpy - the central IT agencies typically have a good weather eye for the way things are headed, but the larger monolithic spending agencies often take an age to modify their direction of travel. But perhaps as a result of Hong Kong’s unique politics - one country, two systems etc. - I got a sense of a lot of nervous energy, even anxiety, in the conversations I had with officials. Something needs to be done, they seemed to be saying - and as we near the end of the public consultation phase for the 2014 Digital 21 Strategy, it looks like Hong Kong will have a fitting document to put this energy to good use.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve always been fascinated by cities. It started off with a love of their architecture - of how the built environment reflected usage. It helped that the nearest city to where I grew up was London, which is a pretty nice city to have on your doorstep.
Over time I realised that the architecture, and the cityscape of which it was a part, reflected the complex confluence of a range of competing pressures. All cities seek to reconcile transport, recreation, residential and workplace needs in a finite space. They are the original system of systems - and they’ve been on the rise for the past 10,000 years. Since 2008, the world has been predominantly urban.
My fascination with cities only grew when I came to Asia 15 years ago. Up until then, I’d imagined cities to be static things that endured. On seeing Manila, Singapore, Jakarta up close and personal, I realised that what man raises up, can be torn down quickly enough. I saw for the first time that cities were always in a state of flux - that the planning decision which made sense 10 years ago can quickly be overtaken by events on the ground. Seeing the city as a slate that can be wiped clean was a very different approach to the one that I had grown up with.
The City, London’s financial district, is hardly fit for purpose. The current road layout still follows the original medieval lanes, and the building lots are irregularly-shaped, with little scope for the large, open trading floors in vogue with the world’s big financial services companies. I can imagine that a Singaporean planner would have long since rebuilt the place - straightening out roads, regularising land parcels, and keeping everything clean.
This lack of sentimentality for the built environment is not without its social costs - we saw a tremendous outpouring from the citizens of Hong Kong when Queen’s Pier was demolished in 2008; Singaporeans increasingly bemoan the redevelopment of their old schools and neighbourhood landmarks; Tunku Park in Kuala Lumpur is to be turned in to a highrise development, much to the anguish of a number of KL-ites I know; and Beijing must surely regret tearing down its 600 year-old city walls in 1960.
But of course, if nostalgia and a love of old things doesn’t hold you back, then there is a lot to be said for knocking things down every few years. Population declining? Knock down some kindergartens, free up the land for more productive use. Collapse of an old industry? Pedestrianise the district, bring in a Starbucks, and maybe give it some fancy street art. Growing car population? Build a motorway or two. Change your mind? Knock it all down again.
This flexibility in land use enables capital to be redeployed relatively easily. I can’t say the results are always pretty, but it supports a dynamic city - and Asia is full of some of the world’s most dynamic cities. Manila’s population grows by 1 million every five years, so I guess they’re going to have to knock down a few more old buildings.
But while the wrecking ball can do wonders for urban vitality, there is, of course, a better way. As you might expect, technology plays a key role.
When circumstances change, land use has to change. But if you could do a better job of anticipating these changing circumstances, then the knock on benefit would be that you would need to knock down fewer buildings.
Quite apart from lost heritage, knocking down buildings is expensive, time consuming, and energy intensive. I’ve noticed how a lot of ‘eco cities’ seem to turn a blind eye when it comes to discarding their existing infrastructure.
So how do you do a better job of anticipating changing circumstances? You maximise your access to all available information to improve the quality of your decision-making. More and better data, results in more informed and better decisions. More and better data? Sounds like a job for the ICT Superhero of 2013: Big Data, only you can save us now!
Of course, don’t just take my word for it - FutureGov recently quizzed some of our friends (including the Mayor of Surabaya - click this link, then click the video to see how much she likes FutureGov) in the region’s biggest cities, to ask them whether better quality data, more rapidly processed, and effectively visualised, would make a difference to their city.
Of the 50 respondents, they said Big Data was key to public safety (36 per cent), liveability (54 per cent), economic development (62 per cent), urban planning (78 per cent) and transportation (84 per cent).
It’s a lot cheaper to build the infrastructure in anticipation of future demand, getting your predictions correct the first time, than it is to build in haste and repent at leisure. This is the absolutely crucial difference that Big Data makes - and this is the direction that we’re taking our third cities event, to be held in Singapore next April.
If, like me, you think that leveraging ever greater volumes of data is the kind of approach that smart cities need to take in order to build safer, successful, sustainable communities, then do get in touch - as I’m working on the conference agenda for Cities & Big Data Summit as we speak, and would like to get a broader range of inputs.
One of the many results of IT consumerisation is that citizens now have easy and instant access to media and information through their mobile devices, desktops and social media applications. The way individuals and organisations interact has been revolutionised, and this is not any less applicable to interactions between governments and citizens.
What are governments in Asia doing about this? This was one of the questions running through my mind during last week’s 10th annual FutureGov Summit 2013 in Phuket.
I had the opportunity to speak with more than 80 government officials about their citizen engagement initiatives while I and my editorial colleagues led a series of roundtable discussions on the subject of citizen engagement.
One of the challenges was that while jumping in to social media was easy - these days everyone is able to open a Facebook page or a Twitter account - but sustaining the level of communication expected by citizens was something that departments were not prepared for.
The depth of community engagement that takes place on social media remains shallow - many governments still view social media channels as a means of broadcasting updates, rather than engaging in conversations. Officials were very concerned about losing control over their information - reducing the impact of the citizen engagement activities.
Before the rise of new media, the main source of public information was the government. Governments could regulate the media if they wanted to and this meant that there was a very close alignment between citizens and government. The explosion of information availability from the internet has rebalanced the relationship, and removed forever citizens’ “information dependency” on government. This risks creating an ever larger gap between government action and public opinion.
Civil servants need to find a safe way to bridge this gap between departments and citizens, while maintaining the usual governance processes that enable impartial policymaking.
Adding to this, politics and policies no longer enjoy the primacy that they once did in popular media. More people follow their country’s sports teams and film stars than their tax agencies. But effective communication between citizens and their government is necessary in order to make good policies. This means that governments have to do things differently now in order to persuade citizens to give them their time - they have to take part in a new kind of conversation with citizens through social media.
Parallel to citizen feedback on policy-making, governments also have to manage citizens’ expectations and ensure that they have access to accurate information. Citizens are talking about government across various social media platforms - they’re sharing, posting, liking, tweeting, retweeting, blogging, pinning, instagramming. The government’s absence from these platforms means that it is not able to address concerns, respond in a timely manner and provide the right information to citizens. If this is where citizens chose to spend their time, then government needs to commit to being present if it is to remain relevant.
A delegate from Singapore pointed out that the Singapore government initially did not want to be active on social media, but it soon realised that the community was already talking about the government online and it had to be active on social media to be able to address those concerns. “More people are now using social media to access information rather than visiting websites,” he added.
Government officials I spoke to were concerned that they had little control over the information they shared on social media. Opening a Facebook page for an agency would mean that users could instantly provide feedback which is very often negative, and is public. The fact is that these criticisms would be taking place on social media even if the agency is not active on these platforms. Having an active social media presence provides government the opportunity to make its side of the argument heard in these conversations.
As a civil servant from the Maldives said - there needs to be clear ‘rules of engagement’ or “social media etiquette” to guide civil servants.
Many of the Asian government leaders I spoke to feel that most social media activity should be directed at the youth. While this is arguably true, circumstances are changing fast and governments now have the opportunity to prepare for this change.
Social media is no longer used just by the twenty-somethings, as usage amongst older demographics increases. I recently gave in and accepted my parents’ friend requests on Facebook, and my father is probably more active than many of my twenty-something friends.
Having a Facebook page or a Twitter account is necessary but not sufficient. You need to have something to say, and you need to empower your team to say it. This means resourcing your communications team to provide the responsive feedback that citizens expect from social media - but just as importantly, providing your team with the authority to place content in the public domain, knowing that it may end up being argued over by netizens.
Graham Bell, London’s CIO, believes, “We need to embrace the fact that entering the arena of social media means we lose complete control over information sharing.”
So the powers that be in Washington have decided to kick the can down the road and let government get back to work for now. I’m not sure the last few weeks have been the greatest advert for liberal democracy - but it has been a great advert for the importance of government services.
While I’m no sweaty revolutionary, I did enjoy a succession of Republican Congressmen quickly switch from castigating “bloated government” to proclaiming that they’d never intended to suspend the work of accident investigators, Veteran Affairs, the National Parks, the Statue of Liberty etc. It turns out the Feds aren’t so useless after all.
Life’s tightrope is a much scarier place to be perched once the government safety net is taken away. There was a similar realisation back in 2008 when governments round the world stepped in to stabilise the global financial system as it teetered on the brink.
The truth is that it’s in the moments of crisis, both personal and national, that the essential nature of government fully reveals itself. Head over to Bohol and Cebu, and you will find a lot of people absolutely convinced of the importance of government, as it helps with the rescue and rehabilitation of communities affected by Tuesday’s earthquake. Ditto that for communities in eastern India hit by typhoon Phailan (same size as Hurricane Katrina) at the beginning of the week, and today’s Typhoon Nari in Vietnam.
Waves lashing palm trees and winds ripping roofs from buildings certainly makes for gripping news - but at the other end of the spectrum, governments spend most of their time on prevention. How do you create a news headline around a disaster that never happened? How many TV minutes get allocated to stories about the people that didn’t die of Malaria, who did go to school, who were able to access regional markets on roads that weren’t washed away?
It speaks volumes about the service mindset of government officials that you have so many great stories where you either prevented a problem, or fixed a crisis - yet place so little emphasis on getting these successes out in the public eye. It’s the greatest story never told, and I am wagging my finger at you: you must do a better job of promoting the essential work of government.
You can’t take it for granted that your citizens will keep the good things you do front of mind. Nobody likes government when it’s time to pay their taxes - not unless they can recall something amazing that government did for them. If you’re going to go to all the effort to be amazing, on a daily basis, make sure your taxpayers know about it.
Certainly myself and my editorial colleagues will be doing our bit to sing your praises when we head off to Thailand next week for the 10th annual FutureGov Summit. We’ll be debating, scribbling and dishing out awards - and all the while, we’ll be quietly in awe of the impact of your work on millions of people in the region.
A decade seems like a significant amount of time for me to have been covering the work of you and your colleagues. In that time I must have interviewed over 1000 public servants, of all shapes and sizes - and successive FutureGov journalists have collectively interviewed many more times that amount. The golden thread linking each and every one of these interviews has been your desire to make a difference. Give your corporate communications team a kick in the backside, and start spreading the news.
The digital generation is used to being surrounded by multiple devices and rich-media content. This exciting cyber world, however, stops at school gates and classroom doors, and is replaced by traditional static blackboard and textbooks.
This widening digital gap between their personal and school life is not a new problem. You could throw money at the issue, roll out infrastructure and the latest devices overnight, but these are just tools. When devices are switched on, what content will the children consume and where will it come from?
I visited Brunei for the first time last week under the invitation of the Ministry of Education to witness its launch of the Media and In-Service Centre or MiSC. I had the opportunity to speak with Education Minister Yang Berhormat Pehin Orang Kaya Seri Kerna Dato Seri Setia Haji Awang Abu Bakar bin Haji Apong after the event. He described his difficulty relating to education materials he used to learn English as a student.
“When I was a student in the 1950s, English language was taught with materials from England. I read about meadows, winter, autumn, etc - things I do not understand. I had to use my imagination to understand a small phrase and memorise words by heart,” described Yang Berhomat Pehin Abu Bakar.
MiSC was set up to meet the increasing need to provide locally-relevant rich-media educational content that teachers can use in the classroom.
“Instead of studying the Amazon Forest, young Bruneians can learn about the pristine rainforest that covers most of the eastern part of Brunei. We could also create engaging digital content that teaches them about their own famous water village Kampong Ayer, or pass on folk tales that inculcate values that we treasure,” said Cheryl Ong, Consultant at globalSOF Holdings, a key partner in MiSC and the wider e-Hijrah education masterplan.
At the opening of MiSC, the Ministry shared some early works of the teachers and staff. One of which was an entertaining animation of the legend of Nakhoda Manis - or ‘Captain Manis’ in Malay - of how an unfilial son turned to a rock known today as ‘Jong Batu’, located in the Brunei River.
According to Samir Patel, Principal Consultant and Project Manager of globalSOF Holdings, buying content is a quick and easy solution to obtaining content, but it is an expensive business model which is vendor-dependent and not sustainable. “New Zealand spends approximately B$20 million (US$16 million) a year licensing third party content, mostly from Australia. Singapore schools spend an average of B$55 (US$44) per student per month, and that is separate from what the ministry spends,” he said. “Moreover, licensing content means you don’t own the intellectual property and you cannot change any of the content.”
With internet, young Bruneians have been consuming a lot of content that is not aligned with Melayu Islam Beraja (MIB), the national philosophy of Brunei. It has become a real concern that their values are at risk. MIB is a blend of Malay language, culture and customs, the teaching of Islamic laws and values, and the monarchy system. MiSC gives the Ministry control over educational content and the platform to create resources with unique MIB values.
So, even with the large volume of content now readily available - and sometimes free - on the internet, Brunei has helped me to see why they have chosen this path.
Today, cities account for more than 50 per cent of the world’s population and produce 80 per cent of global Gross Domestic Product. These figures are expected to increase in the coming years as cities develop, harness new technologies and become ‘smarter’.
The paradigm has shifted from the conventional wisdom that economic growth is solely driven by central governments. Now, cities are economic powerhouses vying to attract talent, create industries, and facilitate innovation which will then pave the way for a knowledge-based economy.
Senior city officials from some of the region’s most dynamic and liveable cities attended a cities conference organised by FutureGov. We had Chief Executives, CIOs, CFOs and Heads of Planning from cities like Jakarta, Delhi, Sydney, Tokyo, Singapore, Beijing, Wellington, Auckland, and others. 54 per cent of the delegates said efficiency was their city administration’s biggest focus.
According to Tim Williamson, Chief Executive Officer of the Committee for Sydney, for the longest time, cities have been focusing on improving their infrastructure, with little attention given to community engagement. This is exacerbated by a silo mentality in many government departments resulting to inefficiencies in public service delivery.
“It’s time to nurture living breathing communities rather than sterile compounds or research silos,” he said.
Williamson’s thoughts rippled through the rest of the high-level delegates, with Raj Mack, Head of Digital in the Birmingham City Council, United Kingdom, saying that it is important to emphasise the importance of moving away from isolation and start collaborating to achieve efficiency and better outcomes.
“A true smart city will enable the interoperability and integration of siloed city systems, and has a genuine commitment to enhance digital-enabled services,” Mack stated.
As with any organisation, the political will and leadership can either drive its success or stagnation. True enough, 75 per cent of our delegates said political issues are their biggest constraints in achieving a “Best Run City” status. This contrasts with only 15 per cent who considered “financial constraints” to be the primary obstacle.
Meanwhile, 60 per cent of our delegates said economic development is their city administration’s main area of focus. Followed by transportation (30 per cent), citizen services (5 per cent) and urban planning (5 per cent).
While economic development is achieved by combining several drivers such as technology, talent, and infrastructure, at the end of the day, it relies heavily on political will and the right leadership, to orchestrate and manage all these elements in order to truly achieve be considered a ‘Best Run City’.
As a journalist, I’ve met many modernisers whose early ICT initiatives were dampened by misplaced priorities and lack of political will, and yet, they continued to push for change and greater efficiency by engaging other high-level stakeholders to be involved in their projects.
In fact, just yesterday I was catching up with William Artajo, Director of the Management Information Systems division from the city government of Cebu, who said that the government should strike a balance between governance, accountability and responsibility so as not to stifle innovation.
“If good governance drives a city, you’ll immediately notice it when simple things like opening up a business is simple and convenient for entrepreneurs. Additionally businesses and the people have confidence in the city’s resilience.”
John Merrit, Chief Executive Officer at the Environmental Protection Authority in Victoria, Australia, commented that for places where corruption is rampant, good governance is something people are really asking for because they crave for development outcomes that are close to heart such as better airports, accessible public services, etc.
Today’s emerging technology platforms are giving cities the opportunity to transform how they work and how they serve and engage their constituents. Leveraging it would not only allow cities to improve services, but it is also essential in cutting down the bureaucracy and red tape that stifles growth and innovation in the organisation.