Speech: Day Two Legislative Openness Working Group, IndonesiaInternal Affairs
Thank you for inviting me to speak to you this afternoon. I am honoured to be representing the Government of New Zealand, as Minister of Internal Affairs, at this workshop on Legislative Openness.
The New Zealand Government has a strong citizen centric focus, and is making strong achievements in its digital engagement and service delivery, in support of core Open Government principles.
I have been invited to speak to you today on the topic of Moving toward Digital Democracy: Using technology in Citizen Engagement.
Our vision for the future is to encourage and improve public engagement with government in a manner that is:
- Targeted, and
To achieve this, we have made a lot of progress in opening up data held by government and launching a directory of government’s public data.
We have built on our strong tradition of open and transparent government.Open data is at the heart of the 2011 Declaration on Open and Transparent Government. The Declaration directs New Zealand public service departments to actively release high value public data in open formats, which make re-use easy.
Last year we were rated 4th out of 77 countries for our work in government public data release by the World Wide Web Foundation and the Open Data Institute.
The New Zealand Open Government Data and Information Programme is developing and fostering an environment where high-value publicly-funded data is available for private and community sectors to re-use innovatively for economic, social and cultural benefit. This enables citizens to interpret government data, for example, government budget data and aggregated national secondary school student achievement data, and to link it to other data to gain new insights, and contribute directly to policy development or assessment.
The Corruptions Perceptions Index, released by Transparency International, continues to rate New Zealand, along with Denmark, as the least corrupt of 176 countries they measured. The New Zealand Government has also established a number of initiatives which deliver more open and accountable government to New Zealanders.
The Better Public Services programme of work includes ten results for social and economic outcomes. Two of these results, R9 and R10 are focussed on improving business and the public’s interactions with government, particularly in a digital environment. They are working to design customer services, from a business and citizen perspective. The government service design in the future will see a collaborative partnership approach to delivery.
In 2013, we released the Government ICT Strategy and Action Plan to 2017. The Strategy describes how we will unlock the value of government information and harness technology to deliver better, trusted, public services. The Strategy describes four focus areas including:
- Services are Digital by Default – capturing a series of initiatives to improve customer-centric digital interaction with government;
- Information is Managed as an Asset – describing how we will unlock the value of information while embedding privacy, trust and security practices;
- Investment and Capability are Shared – sharing investment and capability across government, to deliver effective and efficient public services;
- Leadership and Culture Deliver Change – building a collaborative and transparent way of working among the public service for collective benefits.
We are rebuilding our government entry portal newzealand.govt.nz. “Govt.nz” is being built through an iterated, user-tested design. It is already an exemplar of the use of plain language, consistent and easy formatting and compliance with government web accessibility standards.
The Government’s Web Accessibility Standard 1.0 focuses on improving Government website accessibility for people with disabilities. Accessible websites also benefit users without disabilities, as well as those using a variety of technologies to access the web.
We are also examining the feasibility of trialling and then implementing online voting in future local authority elections in New Zealand. Online voting has the potential to make it easier for people to vote in local elections; empower those New Zealanders who have difficulty with the current postal system; and hopefully, over time, boost turnout.
New Zealand can claim to be an early leader in increasing the public’s participation in government by digital means. I’d like to give you a few examples of how we have used technology to specifically encourage and improve public engagement with government.
Policing Act review
In 2006 a review of our policing legislation involved people being able to contribute ideas using a wiki, alongside traditional channels. This was a world first, drawing international attention and acclaim, and contributed to the development of the Policing Act 2008.
Green paper for vulnerable children
The 2011 Green paper for vulnerable children was the first Green paper released by the government in 14 years. The paper was written to spark public debate on how to improve the situation of vulnerable children. It was followed by a unique and truly open consultation, which included the use of online engagement channels including two dedicated websites, social media, and online surveys to promote the Green Paper; motivate discussion; and facilitate the submission process.
This multi-channel approach elicited a wide range of views. Around 10,000 submissions were received (which is quite a lot for a population of 4.5 million).
The Great New Zealand Science Challenge
A good example of how online engagement provides a mechanism for building long term relationships with citizens is the Great New Zealand Science Challenge. New Zealanders were asked to assist the Government focus its allocation of science funding by identifying the key scientific research challenges facing New Zealand.
Among other channels a Facebook page was launched, which received over 15,000 followers, indicating a high level of public interest in the challenges. As well as informing the process of identifying the research challenges, the Facebook following provides a means for government to continue to engage our citizens on progress.
Share an Idea
“Share an Idea” has been recognised as one of the best examples of public engagement of its kind globally. Following the series of devastating Canterbury earthquakes that began in 2010, the Christchurch City Council had only two months to develop a broad plan for rebuilding the central city.
The use of an approachable, engaging online crowd sourcing tool Shareanidea.org.nz turned the process on its head. Within six weeks of its launch, Share an Idea attracted nearly 60,000 visits and generated over 100,000 ideas. It had a direct effect in shaping the draft plan for rebuilding the central city. This built on experience with citizen-driven activities at the time of the Christchurch earthquakes, which linked the public up with essential services that were still open.
What we have learned
I think that the rapid evolution of technology, and the growing adoption and use of digital channels, is transforming citizen engagement. Not only are people much more willing to engage using the internet, they expect to transact and engage via the internet. The World Internet Project report in 2013 identified that:
- 73 per cent of New Zealanders feel that the internet is important, or very important in their everyday life;
- The majority of internet users (59 per cent) say they have used Government or Council services that are delivered online; and
- Almost half (47 per cent) have logged in to secure areas on Government or Council websites and half (51 per cent) of internet users have gone online to pay for taxes, a fine, or a licence in the past year.
This shift in the use of technology gives governments the ability to reach a wider audience for lower cost. For example, the official version of New Zealand legislation is now online. Citizens can read and print any legislation, bills and regulations at no cost.
I’d like to share some lessons we have learned on our journey so far:
- Firstly, there will always be a need to ensure that the voices being heard are representative. Online methods of engagement do not suit all stakeholders, or may not be the most appropriate method depending on the desired outcome of the engagement. Therefore, it is important to continue to recognise the importance of traditional and face-to-face channels.
- Second, it is often easy to make information available, but not accessible. Presenting information for ease of use and engagement is part of a larger on-going challenge to create citizen-centric channels and services.
- Third, the practice of making government data available online is only a worthwhile endeavour if people are aware it’s there and actively seek it out. There is a larger challenge for governments around increasing public participation and engagement generally in government decision-making.
- Fourth, a strong prerequisite for growth in the use of digital services is that citizens trust Government to protect the privacy and security of information that it holds on behalf of the public.
- Finally, the structure of government does not always align to the needs of citizens or ways of thinking, and the resulting fragmentation and duplication can make it difficult or confusing for citizens to engage with government. It is our responsibility to focus on their needs, and deliver a single, coherent system that integrates to meet the needs of citizens, businesses and government.
We, as a country, embrace these challenges and look forward to learning and growing together with the participating countries in the Open Government Partnership to deliver to our common vision and objectives.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak.