How do you use technology to improve citizens’ lives?

This year I’ve been helping to build New Zealand’s digital ecosystem. My team sets the strategy, direction and standards for government technology, as well as offering what we call ‘common capabilities’. These are services (like infrastructure and identity) that agencies can consume, reducing cost and time and freeing them up to focus on their citizen facing services. We also guide agencies into taking a whole system view when considering the needs of their users and making investments.

I joined the New Zealand government at the beginning of 2016, moving across from the Government Digital Service (GDS) in the UK. My role here is to lead New Zealand’s international engagement with other government digital services and international groups like the D5, identifying best practices around the world and connecting us up so we can work together.

Although our contexts are different, we are often trying to solve similar problems, and in such a fast moving area, no one country has all the answers. I think it’s important in government to be a bit humble: sharing and reusing is a strength, not a weakness.

I’ve also enjoyed sharing what I learned at GDS with colleagues in New Zealand, particularly working with the team who are establishing a public cloud marketplace. I was part of the founding team who set up G-Cloud in 2012 and established the UK’s cloud first policy.

I subsequently worked closely alongside the team as the scope expanded and grew into the Digital Marketplace. It has been great to share our experience (and some of our mistakes) growing what was a small disruptive idea into a platform that’s delivered £1.5 billion (US$1.8 billion) of sales (to Nov 2016). The Digital Marketplace has significantly opened up the UK public sector to suppliers of all sizes, and supported the development of better public services.

This year in New Zealand we have run two proof-of-concepts, working closely with agencies and vendors, and will be taking everything we have learned into a live marketplace next year. It will help the public sector access a much wider range of services, as well as improve procurement costs and time significantly.

What has been the most exciting thing that you worked on in 2016?

In November I was invited by the US State Department to join the first Global Digital Leaders Exchange, a group of digital leaders from around the world brought together to share best practice and help build the international community around digital in government.

It made me realise what a position of privilege I come from – it often feels frustrating in government when the change doesn’t seem to come quick enough, but there is some fantastic work around the world from governments who have very different political, economic or geographic challenges to work around.

As part of the Exchange we spent time with the United States Digital Service, 18F and Presidential Innovation Fellows, and heard about their progress in applying technology innovation within government, as well as visits in San Francisco to the Silicon Valley Bank, Google and others.

Both this Exchange and my role in New Zealand have given me the opportunity to step back from GDS and learn more about what other countries are doing in this space. Singapore’s GovTech, for example, operates a very different model from New Zealand and the UK, and there’s a lot we can learn from that.

What tool or technique particularly interests you for 2017?

This is cheating a little as it’s not new for 2017, but I recommend Simon Wardley’s value chain mapping work (Wardley mapping). For the uninitiated I recommend watching one of his presentations, for example from OSCON 2015, or you can check out his blog.

He uses a mapping technique to break down large systems into their component parts, and visualise the evolution of activities and capabilities over time to understand how you should deal with them, and more importantly, why. I also really like his explanation of what methodologies you might use and when, which breaks down the usual agile vs waterfall debate.

If you were to share one piece of advice that you learned in 2016, what would it be?

KEEP GOING. Stability is a real strength of the public sector organisations I’ve worked for, and a really important attribute of any democracy, but it also quite naturally leads to inertia. Why break something that seems to be working?

We still have a long way to go to adapt to the Internet era, and this continues to mean questioning the status quo and asking some uncomfortable questions.

“Finding the right politician to back reform is essential.” Tom Loosemore welcomes Francis Maude to the stage at Code for America 2016
“Finding the right politician to back reform is essential.” Tom Loosemore welcomes Francis Maude to the stage at Code for America 2016

My former Minister in the UK, Francis Maude, summed it up at Code for America this year: “You’re not mad. You’re the sane, rational ones.” So keep going.

And finally, if you could recommend us one place to eat, where would it be?

You can’t beat Sunday morning brunch by the sea in the glorious New Zealand sunshine. My favourite spot is in Scorching Bay, about 10 minutes from my apartment in Wellington. From here you can sit in the sunshine, watching the sea with a lovely fresh breeze, eating a pretty great brunch.