How do you use technology/policy to improve citizens’ lives? Tell us about your role or organisation.
I’m passionate about the urgent need to transform public services to be fit for purpose in the 21st century. That doesn’t just mean looking at digital services, certainly doesn’t just mean looking at emerging technology; it means thinking deeply about the role of public sector in a digital economy and digital society. It’s transforming how we do services, policy, legislation and regulation; how we actually operate as a civil service to be more open, transparent, engaged, responsive and resilient, and most importantly, more reflective of the values of the communities that we serve.
We should be actually shifting towards a public values management approach, where we are operating in a way that responds to and respects the value of the communities that we serve.
How I use tech to do that is in myriad ways. Service design and design thinking has been a really important part of that journey. It provides a fabulous way to – from a service delivery and policy perspective – think about the systemic change we need, to think about and understand our users, citizens and businesses.
It gives us a way of taking experimentation-based approach to policy, rather than just the pure traditional evidence-based approach. I love technology; I live for it. But the goal here is not to react to technology. For me, govtech is about the transformation of government into a social and economic platform on which every single person can thrive.
Experimentation-based policy is that notion of, at the same time as you’re developing a policy decision, you’re doing small micro experiments; you are testing your hypothesis, assumptions and approach. You’re seeing and observing that it has the intended impact. If it does then it scales. If it doesn’t, then you can iterate and try again.
So it’s about bringing an agile user centred and co-designed approach to the methodology so that we can rapidly iterate a policy position.
What has been the most exciting thing that you worked on in 2018?
I’m currently in the New South Wales Government and we are doing very, very exciting stuff. We established a policy lab in my first two months. The entire policy team have gone through a four-week policy sprint, and learnt new technology, methodology, user-centred approach to policy; experimentation based policy; prototyping and user research; and it has changed their world. We now have a still emerging but one of the world’s few policy labs.
Part of that policy lab work is also exploring the notion of legislation and regulation as code. When I was working in New Zealand and now continuing in New South Wales, we have explored the drafting of regulation as code from the first instance.
When you have a person drafting a regulation in the framework of developers who can consume that regulation, you can then co-design isomorphic human and machine readable rules. And then government can actually provide API for legislation in order that everyone, including themselves, can consume the rules in a common fashion.
A third project, from New Zealand, is something we are looking at doing here. They’re looking at what an optimistic day in the life could look like, by looking 50 years out. Looking at a 50-year future gives us a chance to inspire agencies to start thinking about service delivery beyond websites and apps. Many people are still stuck in that paradigm.
“Looking at a 50-year future gives us a chance to inspire agencies to start thinking about service delivery beyond websites and apps.”
So given the chance to realise we can actually reinvent the future, we can provide the sort of society that we want to be. Everyone suddenly starts feeling empowered to reimagine the current experience, and a dramatically better government.
These three things are probably what most excite me because all three of them are transformational, all will dramatically change the experience for a person and have a really big role in transforming government fundamentally.
If you were to share one piece of advice that you learned in 2018, what would it be?
One of the best things I learned in my time in New Zealand was that kindness is not just a nice to have, it is actually a critical part of a modern public service. If you can embed kindness as a fundamental value in a team, that actually brings out strength, resilience, engagement and empathy.
But you also need to model the way. It’s not good enough to do great things. You have to do great things in a way that people want to work. You have to demonstrate the way that you want to operate. If you do a fabulous thing, but you’re a terrible person to engage with, then all the good that you do will always be tarnished with that.
What tool or technique particularly interests you for 2019?
Personable AI. I am interested in the notion that AI should not just be a tool for automation or efficiency. It should be actually explored as an enablement tool for civic cooperation, participatory democracy, participatory policy. A personal AI might actually create a far more personalised experience than anything we could ever develop in government, while better protecting the privacy of people if that AI is controlled by and tethered to the individual, rather than provided by governmental company.
What are your priorities for 2019?
The policy lab, obviously. Creating, establishing and updating a digital design system for the government. Creating a public-facing evidence-driven backlog of opportunities to improve the citizen experience of New South Wales Government.
We are creating the opportunities for far greater collaboration, and reshaping the digital government narrative to be not just about public service delivery or service transformation, and more about public sector transformation. In New South Wales, we have a genuine opportunity to reshape that and I hope to reshape it around the world. Everyone starts to think a bit bigger and bolder about their own transformation, not just providing some services to people.
What is one skill that has helped you the most throughout the course of your career?
Critical thinking is probably the most important one, and self awareness. Self awareness helps you understand what’s happening at any point in time, and critical thinking helps to deconstruct and then to deal with the situation in the most effective way.
A third would be transparency and openness. By working openly, you actually hold yourself to a higher integrity, and it helps you ensure that your effort and work is accountable to the people that you serve.
What advancements do you predict will happen in your field in the next ten years?
Everything I’ve just said. We know that we’re going to see a shift in service delivery and citizen empowerment.
Travel is going to take off; some people will live in one country and work anywhere in the world. That will dramatically change the face of politics because countries no longer can just be the best place to make money. We’ll see a shift in wellness frameworks where countries will have to compete on being the best place to live.
Some countries are already doing that – you look at New Zealand and Canada, and a whole bunch of other countries where they have choose the optimistic path. Whereas other countries are taking closing down, avoiding things and reacting to fear.
“We’ll see a shift in wellness frameworks where countries will have to compete on being the best place to live.”
I think that the best places to live is going to win economically and socially. Yet too many people been focused for too many years on the best place to do business. That doesn’t last and it doesn’t scale.
Coffee, yoga, music… what powers you through your day?
First is a sense of urgency. Public services have a more important role to play than ever before. And therefore it is more incumbent upon us to transform public service than ever before. So a sense of urgency certainly drives me.
The second is the people. I work with extraordinary people everyday and they energise and inspire and challenge me and and deliver amazing things. So it is a wonderful journey with many allies in my own team and across the world. I’m absolutely driven by that.