SilverStripe recently attended and exhibited at GOVIS, a three day, IT sector conference for New Zealand government agencies. Our experience there reminded us why our government has such a hard time using the web innovatively.
SilverStripe staff were struck by the absence of a knowledge gap between speakers and delegates. In other words, public sector staff attending GOVIS were largely progressive and self-motivated individuals: not only were they aware of good trends and best practices to do with IT and the web, they were already pushing such ideas within their agencies. In fact, this made some speakers look like they were preaching to the converted on key topics like open data, web-based APIs, open source software, embracing standards, and enabling meaningful services and democratic process online.
But a knowledge gap must lurk somewhere, because most government agencies and IT projects fail to take advantage of the "new" ideas and best practices that the web industry and events like GOVIS have long advocated. This is a shame, because many of these ideas are no longer new—they are proven, and public sector staff and the private sector are itching to implement them. It seems that public sector staff are spending years attempting to gain approval for worthwhile projects from leaders who fail to understand what can be done with the internet, and fail to trust that their staff know better.
Two keynotes at GOVIS discussed the issue of political decision-makers holding back innovation in New Zealand government. Nathan Torkington was very clear in the second half of his presentation that government has a people problem, not a technology problem. In fact, he suggested that political leaders in New Zealand still have a lot of goodwill left they are able to spend, unlike their counterparts in the UK and US who have exhausted goodwill and who now need to actively restore it. Laurence Millar, who for many years acted as Government CIO, talked on the Sisyphean Challenge of Transforming Government. Laurence talked of six levers to drive progress in government, each with pros and cons: legislation, leadership, persuasion, people power, publication, and investment logic.
We're very pleased that all of the material from GOVIS is online at http://richmedia.govis.org.nz. If you're an experienced web professional, most of the content is nothing new. But it's great that conference content can be viewed, discussed and used to influence decision-makers long after the conference has ended. (Note that videos require a Microsoft Media Player plugin.)
If you're looking for presentations that went beyond explaining current trends and knowledge, a good person to watch is Matt Lane. He took a fresh and fun take on the future of the enterprise - we dare you to watch it!
If you are interested in an example of government innovation, check out the session on The National Broadband Map. The map project was created by SilverStripe for the State Services Commission, and it saw good co-operation from the telecommunications industry. There's a great story behind this project, which is now available for everyone to listen to and watch courtesy of Lewis Melville from the State Services Commission.
Of all the speakers, the award for daring to say what others won't goes to Don Christie, president of the New Zealand Open Source society. He was extremely candid on how public money is wasted on software and why our government must take far more advantage of open source software, especially in the education sector. Watch Don Christie talking on open source at GOVIS.
We hope you find the videos useful. If you're working to improve how government utilises the web, keep up the great work! You're not only helping our country, you are making it easier for the next agency to follow suit, and this will hopefully allow GOVIS to progress onto fresh material.
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