Transforming public services so they are fit for purpose in the 21st century

By Alvaro Maz

Sunday May 19, 2019

Smart city. Getty

Dear Prime Minister-elect,

Congratulations on your win and the opportunity to lead this great nation; to your team and all the people that supported you. I’m sure you recognise the privilege, and now that the dust has settled, it’s time to start the real work.

One of the reasons making progress in government is so hard is that, as our society has hurtled into a digital age, we’ve left government processes and the idea about what is government, behind. But as Pia Andrews says, if “we made this, we can remake it.”

Five years ago, I began a journey  to help the government do something that was very rare at that time: empower people to solve the problems we face, and redefine citizenship and democracy.

Today, with enormous respect for you and the office you are about to assume, I would like to invite you to reimagine that government can be.

I’ve previously written about the importance of having a central, unbiased focus on digital and how government needs to lead the way. I’m assuming this is part of your agenda and that with the many talented people, inside and outside government, a digital government is on the way.

What I want to invite you to think about is how government can, and should, become the institution that allows all Australians to have a meaningful impact on the public sphere. Let me explain.

Today, public service positions are targeted towards people who consider themselves public servants. This, unfortunately, has limited the diversity of skills and people in public service and stopped the one institution that can represent all Australians, to reflect the communities it serves.

In the words of Tim O’Reilly, the government is what we can do together that we can’t do alone. The current options for people to have input into the public sphere generally fall to voting or becoming a public servant — there’s nothing in between.

Transforming public services so they are fit for purpose in the 21st century requires new ways of working. To prepare for the future, the public service needs opportunities for everyone to meaningfully provide input into civic life — opportunities that are demand-driven, flexible, outcome-focused and require specialised skills.

READ MORE: Mind the gender gap: the hidden data gap in transport

Today, government jobs are ongoing and full-time, something future generations will wonder about.

But even in the last few years, we’ve seen something remarkable; interesting, ambitious positions being created inside the government to bring new ideas in.

We need to expand these opportunities and tap into the amazing potential that is waiting to use their skills for good. Here are a few ways this could happen:

  • Test new policy and services with under-represented groups like women, Indigenous communities or people with disabilities. Not community consultation, but having meaningful opportunities for these groups to design services and policies.
  • Expand skills with digital teams when there is need. Code for Australia brought dozens of tech teams into government for six-month stints to build new services, and show a different way of working. They haven’t been consultants; they’re talented technologists that want to use their skills for good.
  • Give people decision-making power. Last year, the Victorian government ran an initiative called Pick My Project, which allocated $30 million for the community to decide how it was going to be spent. This not only develops more transparency and understanding of budget allocation processes and outcomes but greater ownership and a sense of belonging.

The future of government is not only digital; it’s a place where all Australians see themselves in, where all of us can have a meaningful impact, enjoy the results together, understand where our taxes are going and create the platform that transforms our country.

Getting into power is the easy part, governing is where the difficulty really begins. We’ll be here, supporting and cheering for modern governance and the success of this great nation.


Your friends in civic tech.

READ MORE: What UK pollsters can tell Australians about citizen engagement and the 2019 federal election

Alvaro Maz is an entrepreneur with a passion for public issues, technology and social change. In 2013 he launched his first venture, Creative Suburbs, an online platform to help more people make a difference in their cities. He then co-founded Code for Australia in late 2014 which led to launching Code for Aotearoa.

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