Reading the political runes is one of my favourite pastimes - I love a good gossip about which party or politician is on the up, and which are slipping back down the slippery pole. It helps that I’m in a privileged position where I get to chat off the record with informed observers from within the government machine, and certainly 2013 has been a very good year for me so far.
Xi Jinping assumed office as President of the People’s Republic of China in March - and it has been interesting to see the ripple effects, particularly at the provincial and municipal level. We’ve seen a decided shift in emphasis towards citizen engagement via social media starting at the top. The General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China - on Instagram and Weibo (Weibo = Twitter clone)?
Xi’s recent declaration of war on “rumour mongers” and call for “a strong army to seize ground of new media” at least demonstrates the level of importance the Chinese authorities place on social media. China’s population has never been so aware of itself, and that’s a challenge for an unelected government. Look at the unprecedented publication of the (edited) transcripts from the courtroom where Bo Xilai, formerly a rising political star, is being tried for corruption and abuse of power. The Chinese authorities are wrestling with the Dragon’s tail.
Closer to (my) home, I particularly enjoyed experiencing Malaysia’s general election earlier this year. I drove from Penang to Singapore, via Ipoh, the Cameron Highlands, KL and Malacca on election day itself - the last time I’d experienced anything of this political intensity was when the United Kingdom beat Argentina in the Falklands War. There were flags carrying the symbols of each political party by the thousand - and that was in every town and kampung that I passed through.
In Malaysia we saw the election turn on a sixpence - with the opposition winning the popular vote for the first time, but Prime Minister Najib’s government retaining power thanks to strong support in rural constituencies. Expect to see a raft of digital inclusion programmes soon, particularly around distance learning, rural connectivity and telehealth.
It’s probably no coincidence that Prime Minister Najib has overseen one of the most remarkable pan-government commitments to social media of any country in Southeast Asia. Again, government departments have embraced social media because it received direction from the top. Like President Xi, Prime Minister Najib is also on Instagram, along with his Chief Secretary, and is similarly active on Twitter and Facebook. In fact all of Malaysia’s key agencies are on Facebook; I may be one of their biggest fans.
Next up, with an election on Saturday, is Australia - or rather the federal government. While we won’t know the results until next week, I think we can make some predictions for how the public sector ICT landscape will look after all the dust has settled. The Coalition’s Policy for E-Government and the Digital Economy is a pretty good starting point, judging from the polls.
This time next week, the issues likely to be front of mind for civil servants in Canberra, Australia’s seat of government, will include the following:
By a happy coincidence, these are precisely the topics that we will be covering at our annual gathering of government ICT leaders in Canberra, FutureGov Summit Australia (2-3 December, National Convention Centre).
But what will these fine sounding words mean in practice? Well, I believe that if you want to know where Canberra is headed for the next three years, take a closer look at what has been going on in Queensland
The 2012 Queensland state election led to a change of Government, and incoming Premier Campbell Newman announced major changes to the structure and operation of government, and declared that his administration “is determined to change the culture of the Queensland Government to be more open by allowing more public access to Government information collected in all regions, in all kinds of formats, for all kinds of reasons.”
Some of the immediate changes involved putting in place clearer reporting lines, and ensuring that each department of government was overseen by an individual minister. Another departure was the decision to appoint a politician to a specific e-government role: the Leader of the House in the Legislative Assembly, Ray Stevens, was made Assistant Minister to the Premier on E-Government.
I was fortunate enough to catch up with Ray when he visited Singapore earlier this year on a fact-finding trip. His role is to oversee the development of Queensland’s Open Government web site, supported by the Director-Generals of all Queensland Government Departments.
The speed with which changes have been implemented has ruffled feathers, as is to be expected. Australia, bizarrely, has three-year terms for its state and federal government - which means that haste is required in order to get anything done within the electoral cycle. But we’re already seeing results, and will be discussing them in Brisbane in a couple of weeks at FutureGov Forum Queensland.
Queensland is a little behind the curve when it comes to core aspects of e-government - only around a third of government transactions can be performed online, some way short of the 50 per cent target the government had set itself. But overall, there is a refreshing clarity of vision.
“Data is becoming the currency of our society. By making government data available to the public we will allow Queenslanders to develop innovative services and solutions. The open data revolution is a key part of the government’s agenda to drive growth and job creation in Queensland,” Premier Newman declared when outlining his administration’s approach to public sector data.
This strong vision from the top is being matched by execution. By next month, all statutory bodies will have published an open data strategy, including a roadmap to release datasets - with a pan-government review to assess results at the end of the year. Already there are a few public-facing government ICT dashboards up and running and charting the activity of government projects, with more to come.
As the Assistant Minister for E-Government, Ray Stevens, says: “In Queensland we really want to make sure we’re achieving the highest standards of public sector information reuse. The process has got to be ongoing.”
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