Archive for the ‘geospatial’ category

Open Government vs Government 2.0

Australia and New Zealand have a proud history of calling the same thing different names, for no reason other than etymological coincidence. Duvet vs doona, thongs vs jandals, togs vs cossies. These differences are defended fiercely, in a kind of friendly rivalry.

It’s the same with open government. In 2009 the Australian Government 2.0 Taskforce developed a significant report that went on to inform government policy. The term stuck, and the open government communities in Australia are called Gov2QLD, Gov2NSW, Gov2ACT.

In NZ from 2008 we had open government barcamps, then Open NZ was formed. In 2011 the Declaration on Open and Transparent Government was passed. We’ve settled on ‘open government’ or in abbreviated form ‘opengovt’.

Despite these differences, the formation of open government policy in both countries, and the development of related communities of practice, has involved a lot of trans-Tasman exchange of ideas. Through visits to NZ by people like Senator Kate Lundy, Pia Waugh, and Nick Gruen, collaborative standards bodies like the Australia New Zealand Land Information Council (ANZLIC), and participation in conferences in Australia by our government officials, open government is a journey ourselves and our cousins across the ditch are travelling together.

The paths we take won’t be exactly the same. There are many differences, Australia has a state and federal system and two houses of parliament, NZ just has central and local government. Fundamentally though, we both come from the Westminster system, have cultures founded on egalitarian values, and share much in common in our economies and place in the Pacific.

In that spirit, I’m off to Australia this week. After my long stint head down at the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, it’s time to renew and strengthen ties. I’ll be speaking at a range of events, and hoping to learn lots from Australian progress in open data, shared services, geospatial data infrastructure, and participative engagement.

Among other things I’ll be speaking at:

I’ll blog what I learn as I go.

3 Pillars of Open Government

Can politicians embrace social computing in a way that is open, honest and truly participatory, rather than simply cynical bandwagon jumping? Was David Cameron, UK opposition leader wrong when he said that “too many tweets might make a twat“? It seems so.

The visit of Senator Kate Lundy to New Zealand, and the talk she gave to a packed room at Archives NZ on the evening of 26 August, proved, irrevocably, to me, that at least one politician is using social computing in a very powerful and authentic way.

Here’s what Kate had to say:

The ’3 Pillars of Open Government’ are:

  1. Citizen Centric Services
  2. Facilitating Innovation
  3. Open and Transparent Government

1. Citizen Centric Services

There are three tiers of government in Australia, local, state and federal. One of the big challenges is achieving an appropriate level of coordination between these three tiers, so you as a citizen you are not mired in the mesh of bureaucratic red tape. For example, even moving house and getting a new broadband connection can hit each of these three spheres.

How do we deploy geospatial data and geocoding data held by government? One site that demonstrates this is the Australian stimulus package projects and investments. where you can tap in your postcode and it will show you the projects in your area, how the money is being spent, and how the projects are going.

How do we engage citizens in the process of service delivery? The Australian Govt2.0 taskforce is the way the current government is codifying the potential uses of Web 2.0 technologies to facilitate citizen engagement. Government agencies are large bureaucracies that often act as silos. The Govt2.0 taskforce aims to provide input to Cabinet on a number of policy ideas that would never have come up from individual agencies, or even through a set of agencies working together. It includes a blend of both public and private sector leaders in digital innovation. The taskforce reports in December and has been asked to come to Cabinet with some excellent ideas that can be implemented immediately, and some examples of exciting things we can do in the future. The taskforce is focusing on showcasing innovations that are happening in the public sector and then can be emulated, mashed up and remixed. Kate said that “Unless we create environments where we can ask citizens how they want things done, we’re crippling our ability as a nation to innovate.”

2.  Facilitating Innovation

The Govt2.0 methodology was designed as an example of facilitating innovation through digital technology. The core focus of facilitating innovation is about opening access to government data so both public and private institutions can build useful services and tools on top of it. This adds value to the datasets, as well as providing better ability for collaboration between the government and broader community. An example of this in action was the recent emergency management response and coordination in the Victorian bushfires in Australia.

Kate mentioned the report that’s just been released in NZ on the significant economic benefits of open access to spatial data. In a digital environment, technologies enable collaborations that provide economic benefit and can enhance the way government works. It’s about not being afraid of sharing.

3. Open and Transparent Government

All constituencies want greater accountability from Government.

Australia has made a decision at Cabinet level to change the default position of government in relation to public sector information. Government now will make everything publicly available unless there is a reason not to. There are still complexities and costs around the Freedom of Information Act, and these are a profound barrier. The policy statement from Cabinet however changes everything. A default position of openness is a great place to be. The time the most dynamic change is possible is during a change in government, and during a recession.

Australia has a reform of the Freedom of Information Act legislation underway in order to reduce the complexities and costs of information that would otherwise be publicly available. Their National Archives policies on openness have helped with this process. They also have an Information Commissioner Bill before parliament currently, Kate believes that this role will be quite central in guiding agencies to make their information more accessible in a digital environment.

She said “Open standards are absolutely critical, they are tax payers’ insurance against government project cost blowouts in the future.”

Kate made an interesting and important distinction between transparent and accessible government, and transparent and accountable politicians. The line between these is a bit blurry at the moment, and that  conversation needs to be furthered at a public policy level. There is a need to separately understand agency public consultation through social computing technologies, and politicians using the same method to create more open conversation with their constituents. This will get very interesting when the advice politicians are getting from their agencies/officials conflicts with the advice they get from open, social computing enabled engagement with citizens.

I was hugely impressed by Senator Kate Lundy’s enthusiasm, passion, and belief in the viability of increasing openness in government. More on her innovative PublicSphere methods in a subsequent post.

Australasian geospatial metadata, standards, spaghetti and disappearing spacecraft

I’ve just been to the ANZLIC metadata presentation held by Land Information New Zealand (LINZ).

ANZLIC is the Australia & New Zealand Spatial Information Council. They provide leadership in the collection, management and use of spatial information in Australasia.In Australia they are working on the standards for a national address register, including standards, schema etc, but stop short of the implementation.

They are associated with, but independent from The [Australian] Office of Spatial Data Management facilitates and coordinates spatial data management across Australian Government Agencies.

ANZLIC is working on a range of initiatives, including ANZsi, a spatial marketplace, similar to GeoConnections in Canada. This will provide a marketplace for all spatial resources in Australasia. It will include integration with and to existing supply side infrastructre and initiatives, and anticipates demand side involvement.

They believe that spatial data use is becoming an everyday thing, involving off the shelf technology, increased user knowledge (due to Google Maps, Google Earth etc), and driven in part because at least 80% of government transactions have a ‘where’ component. They challenged us to think of what fell into the 20%, and the audience couldn’t come up with any government transactions that don’t have a spatial component.

ACIL Tasman did a study which estimated that inefficient access to data reduces the direct productivity of some sectors by between 5-15%. (Summary of findings here). ANZLIC sees metadata as an important solution to this problem.

They used the metaphor of a can of spaghetti to explain what metadata is. The can’s label includes a title (product name), an abstract (product description), a statement of quality (99% fat free, no artificial preservatives or colours), instructions on use (heating/cooking directions), a detailed list of fields in the data (the ingredients), and the extent of the data (weight, nutritional information). They also illustrated the importance of the use of standards with this story “Two Teams, Two Measures Equaled One Lost Spacecraft“.

ANZMET Lite is a tool that has been developed by the OSDM, with the help of the jurisdictions. Its target user groups are organisations with up to 30 resources requiring metadata records to be published, contractors who are collecting resources on behalf of clients, and are required to provide metadata records. It allows for the production of linked (connected to the resource) or unlinked metadata records. It also allows for parent/child relationships between metadata. There are a number of classes in the parent/child hierarchy, including dataset, service, model, tile, document, and many others.

There is also the ANZLIC metadata profile, and the profile guidelines, which include a mapping between AGLS / NZGLS and the ANZLIC Metadata Profile.

The tool is pseudo opensource, in that its origins were in the Australian Defence Force, who won’t let it be fully opensourced. You can however get the source code, and modify it, as long as you notify OSDM of the changes, and provide them back.

LINZ is working with MoRST to create a GeoNetwork node for NZ. In the meantime metadata created using ANZMet Lite can be emailed to for external publishing. More information on NZ Geospatial Office activity at

The significant problems we face cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.
Albert Einstein