Open Government 2010

June 28th, 2010 at 12:19 pm by David Farrar

Have just taken part in a panel discussion at the Open Government 2010 (un)conference. The panel had some Govt and academic people on it, myself and Trevor Mallard (standing in for Clare Curran). Steven Joyce opened the conference earlier in the day.

There is a lively twitter feed that you can follow here.

I put a number of ideas to the conference, which I thought I would blog here also for feedback

  1. A Minister of Information (or ) whose job is to lead a culture change in Government focused on getting as much information out to the public as possible, now that we have the tools to scrutinise and analyse it.
  2. Each agency to have what I call an internal ombudsman. Their role isn’t to adjudicate on external requests for information, but to act as champions for getting information out to the public, and making sure this is in the DNA of all IT projects etc.
  3. Set up an www..govt.nz site which has the responses to every request made to a govt agency put up there 48 hours after it gets sent to the primary receipient
  4. All cabinet and cabinet committee level papers to be published on DPMC website (subject to normal OIA rules) automatically within six months of receipt.
  5. Set up a central map site where data (maybe using Google Maps) can be viewed, such as census data, deprivation data, housing data etc.
  6. Require all future govt agency databases to have a public access component to them.

What I am referring to with No 6 is databases such as the Justice offending database or the WINZ benefits database. You’d remove personal identification data, but give the public the ability to query the databases directly.

At present trying to get data on reoffending rates means you need to request it under the OIA, waits ages for it, and then if you want more data, do it again and it takes months and months. Think if you could query the database directly and ask it what proportion of first time offenders who are convicted of burglary reoffend? Or if you could ask the WINZ database how many people have been on a benefit for more than 2 years?

I’d even like to have Treasury give people access to their budget modelling software so people can model for themselves what a 0.5% increase in economic growth will do to the fiscals, or an increase in the age of superannuation etc.

Talking of the idea for a government OIA site, a group of clever people have put together their own site which can be used to send off an OIA request to an agency, and publish the response when received. It’s in beta mode so don’t use it yet, but a nice example of the sort of thinking we need.

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17 Responses to “Open Government 2010”

  1. Viking2 (11,467 comments) says:

    Go for it.
    Included should be all decisions that are taken in Parliament and the reasons why those decisions are taken.
    Too often decisions are being pushged down Kiwi’s throats without sufficient information nor justification.
    The latest and glaringly bad example is the ETS.
    It appears that a select group of a few at the Cabinet table think its a good idea (just like Rudds Lot), and are hell bent on doing this without bothering to openly explain why.
    For search as we may I am not aware of anyone who can point to a clear concise written explanation of what it will do for NZ, what it will cost us (properly researched and not just Oh $3.00 a week bullshit), and what the monetary gains are going to be for NZ.
    Smith and Key have opted to do a “do as you are told effort” here and like Helen and Rudd before them they will suffer the consequences.
    Just an hour ago I had a conversation with a farm accountant of long standing from the middle of cow country. He tells me that the farmers are asking him what effect it will have on them as cow farmers, because they have no idea themselves.That tells me that this Govt.’s communications with NZ’s 25% export earners is vitally lacking and if a group with that much grunt can’t get an understanding then what chance is there of the ordinary working man getting one.
    And he/she is the person being asked to pay.

    Plenty of work to be done with this topic and good to see that it is being bought to the fore. Keep it up David. Thanks.

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  2. davidp (3,581 comments) says:

    The National Library and Archives are doing a lot of good work putting digitised newspapers and indexes to archives online. But it would be nice if they would digitise the archived documents themselves and link them to the index. Also it would be easy to digitise births, deaths, and marriages rather than making people pay for them.

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  3. Pete George (23,559 comments) says:

    All good to foster openness in government, good work DPF, and it’s also good to see the multiparty involvement. This will take time but it’s working in the right direction.

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  4. krazykiwi (9,186 comments) says:

    Trevor Mallard (standing in for Clare Curran).

    Of course had Phil Goff been there.. and we’d all know who he’d be standing in for :)

    While I think Opengov initiative is a good thing, the niggling thought I have is that it’s window dressing. We have a largely disengaged, largely disinterested population and a succession of ‘leaders’ who feel their mandate is to rule rather than to serve.

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  5. Pete George (23,559 comments) says:

    It’s not window dressing if enough people drive it.

    Good politicians will mostly find openness easier to work with anyway, they’ll be doing the right things and be seen to be doing them. I don’t see a problem.

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  6. malcolm (1,952 comments) says:

    It would be brilliant. Think of how much more informed a Kiwiblog shitfight would be if you could do a quick cross-tab query on the Ministry of Social Development’s Welfare Database.

    And what’s all this nonsense about removing identifiers? One of the best and last defences against people abusing a system is their sense of shame/respectability. How many of those 10,000 would have bothered to trustify their affairs to claim WFF if it was all public?

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  7. krazykiwi (9,186 comments) says:

    @Pete, the problem I see is widespread disengagement. Opengov type initiatives will provide higher levels of engagement from those already interested (like us..) but do nothing to change the psyche of the disinterested voter and the politician intent on buying their vote.

    [DPF] What I am referring to with No 6 is databases such as the Justice offending database or the WINZ benefits database. You’d remove personal identification data, but give the public the ability to query the databases directly.

    Sure, remove the names of the ‘clients’, but in the pursuit of openness, publish the WINZ staff member name and date of last review. All WINZ benefits should be given an end-by date and the history of review and accountability for renewal decisions should be in public domain.

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  8. Brian Harmer (687 comments) says:

    I wonder if you will do this and remain with Redbaiter’s preferred 1901 upper limit of state employees? Who will go to make way for these extra functions? I should add that this is NOT a dig at Red, but rather a reminder that you too have favoured a smaller public service.

    [DPF: Yep. You need staff to program and run IT systems. But you might be able to do away with some policy analysts and OIA answerers if people can access the databases directly]

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  9. rolla_fxgt (311 comments) says:

    It would be excellent to have free (or reasonably cheap) access to Treasuries modelling software. Not only for fact checking politicians and comentators figures and assertations, but also personally I’d find it useful if I had access to it for the NZ pol sim.

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  10. Rex Widerstrom (5,354 comments) says:

    Viking2 suggests:

    Included should be all decisions that are taken in Parliament and the reasons why those decisions are taken. (my emphasis)

    Yeah, I can imagine it now:
    – Expediency
    – Keep the Maori Party happy (aka expediency)
    – Keet Act happy (aka expediency)
    – Greed
    – Tilting the playing field in our favour come the election (aka expediency)
    – Greed
    – To distract from broken election commitments from last time (aka expediency)…

    It’d be fascinating :-D

    DPF:

    All brilliant ideas. You’re to be commended for promoting them. I’d add that the Minister for Open Government’s role ought to extend to advocating for everyone in government – from Ministers down to senior public servants – be answerable in some fashion to the electorate by electronic means; be that a blog, an interactive “FAQ” type application (aka a knowledgebase), regular online chats or some other means.

    Also like rolla_fxgt’s idea of Treasury data being available, to which I’d add RBNZ modelling and data. They virtually run our economy, we at least have a right to know on what basis.

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  11. backster (2,171 comments) says:

    If you are going to create another ministry then one of the several unnecessary ones should be disestablished.

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  12. Viking2 (11,467 comments) says:

    hey Rex, if Act were happy we would all be happy and why not? Less tax, less restrictions on every god dammed thing we do, less Maori this and that, less teachers in charge ( hooray you cry), less men in jail, (now there’s a novel idea), business getting on with the job, less beneficiaries and so on and so on.
    Yeh what a great way to go.
    P.S. Less broken down sick immigrants sucking money out of our health system. Win win all round.

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  13. lastmanstanding (1,293 comments) says:

    It will be a cold day in hell before the hardcore agree to give up access to their information. What we see now is a heavily censored version of the truth. The thought that the citizens may have access and be able to debate with the same level of information sends shivers down the pollies and civil servants backs.

    That the plebs have the knowledge that is the power is unacceptable to these people.

    Thats why we have to keep the pressure on where we can like getting their expenses details. They dont understand the principles of good governance let alone have the will capacity and capability to practise it.

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  14. MikeNZ (3,234 comments) says:

    Our group (lots of policy wonks/lawyers) talked about Transparency and policy changes needed to further the cultural shift.
    We did agree that putting expenditure (+$1000) on the web for Local and National govt would be a driver, as once that was there the rest must follow like dominoes as the pull effect can be used by the pushers.
    Lots of talk around the OIA and the machinations within ministries.

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  15. francis (712 comments) says:

    It was interesting and potentially a quite useful gathering. I’m looking forward to a distribution of the findings, if there is one. Wish I could have spent the entire day there rather than just the morning.

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  16. Stuart Mackey (337 comments) says:

    Open Government? wasn’t that a policy of a British Government in which Jim Hacker served as Minister for Administrative Affairs? What was the result of that policy?

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