Back around 1990 I remember my amazement at learning that Iceland had the largest router network of any European business or government, at around 50 routers. There was a pretty sensible explanation for this, given the low density of the population and the quick realisation that a step change in the country’s economy as well as social and cultural life could be achieved through improving digital communications. Oddly I don’t remember the operating speed for the network, or more specifically the end point/final miles, but in those text-oriented days, 19.2 Kbits to the home seemed pretty good.
Over recent years it’s been Australia that has held my interest about what government can gain from its online services. It was not easy for the Australians who initially took a tough line on Digital Rights Management some years ago. However they swiftly adjusted their stance to a more liberal view of DRM to suit today’s environment. It attracted its fair share of comments but overall the outcome has been a ‘workable’ balance. It seems that this experience, and involvement with a new younger ‘online’ generation, might have been the springboard towards recent events.

So though it’s not a new idea, as other non-governmental organisations have done similar things, it is pretty cutting edge stuff to see an official Australian Government HackDay! Although the event ended on 31st October, the official web site is currently still running at http://govhack.eventbrite.com/ and the following summary is provided:
Governments collect and publish enormous amounts of data, but have limited resources to get it into the hands of their citizens in engaging ways. The rise of web based mashups by third party developers, building their own applications on top of such data sets, promises to make the data collected and published by government exponentially more valuable. The short term outcomes for GovHack include the development of hopefully dozens of new applications and mashups on top of Australian government data and web services. the increasing identification and promotion of Australian government data sets by their “owners” building new relationships between Australian developers and government “owners” of data.
Read what happened, including an overview of the winning entries which included a uniquely Australian solution entitled ‘Its buggered mate’ designed to report failed or broken government systems.
But here is my real point: this is a wonderful example of recognising and allowing ‘users’ (citizens in this case) to decide how they want to use and interact with their government, (or enterprise). It’s not a hypothetical example, it’s for real, and more importantly it’s repeatable in most enterprises, providing the management understands the real point.
But what is the point? To me it revolves around understanding what, and how, to open up APIs in business processes without danger, allowing users to decide how they should work, without the constraints of the current management structure or business model. Done correctly, this is the enabling model for the Enterprise 2.0-style business, where people at the ‘edge’ have the power and capability to make a difference by being ‘empowered’ by their organisation, and people in the centre see the enterprise improve by supporting this move.
This change represents a big mind shift and is not easy to achieve, so it is all the more surprising to see it being done by a government for whom the incentive to ‘improve’ using this kind of innovation is less than that of a private organisation However, conversely, the need to ‘change the game’ is constantly growing and the current expectations of voters and the costs of government services taken together may well be a real driving force for radical change.
The art of letting go – enterprise 2.0’ a book published in 2008 and edited by Soren Stamer (who I was pleased to meet some time back) and Willms Buhse adopts this theory as a key premise and provides some more interesting reading. The reality is that technology in the form of ubiquitous communications and interactivity has changed the structure of governance, just as with the PC, email and matrix working in the early 90s did before, and enabled ‘letting go’ to be a creative force, not the excuse of poor management failing in its duty to manage!
Maybe Hackdays will be the new management method of gentle but frequent reorganisation for optimisation in this changing age!