The ‘top 100’ digital government influencers: two Aussie public servants are in, ministers miss out

By Stephen Easton

Thursday October 10, 2019

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Last year, Australia’s prime minister was counted among the world’s 20 “most influential people in digital government” by Apolitical, an international network of public servants, and the digital transformation minister was in the top 100, but this year neither of their successors made the cut.

Two Australian public servants featured in the organisation’s first effort at listing 100 “international change-makers driving digital transformation in government” last year, and both remain the second time around.

Once again the top 20 includes Pia Andrews, who recently resigned from a key role in digital service delivery, public sector innovation and related policy areas at the New South Wales Department of Customer Service (and is now writing a series of forward-thinking articles for The Mandarin and Mandarin Premium throughout October).

Digital Transformation Agency chief executive Randall Brugeaud also made the top 100 a second time, among 31 people working in government roles.

Apolitical notes Andrews’ recent roles in the Australian Public Service, New Zealand State Service and in NSW, as well as the international recognition she has received for promoting “government as an API” — the publication of application programming interfaces (APIs) by governments as a cheap and efficient way to enable public valuation creation by third parties. Few beside Andrews were talking about this only a few years ago; now state governments have begun offering API catalogues.

Along with Brugeaud’s role at the DTA, and previous positions with the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the former immigration and border protection department, Apolitical notes he is a senior executive fellow of the Harvard Kennedy School.

The only major change from an Australian perspective is that in 2018 Apolitical saw fit to include then-PM Malcolm Turnbull and Michael Keenan, the former minister for human services and digital transformation, in its first list of global influencers, while their respective successors Scott Morrison and Stuart Robert are conspicuously absent the second time around.

No other Australians feature among the political leaders, academics and people from international bodies and non-government organisations in the top 100.

To come up with the group of 100 international digital-government influencers — which if nothing else is a handy online Rolodex for certain conference organisers — Apolitical explains it started with over 500 nominations from public servants, academics and others with relevant roles in the United Nations, OECD, Harvard University, the Inter-American Development Bank and a London-based consultancy called Public Digital.

“Research was then conducted into every nominee and a shortlist was decided based on a number of factors,” the organisation explains.

The final cut was based on the number of nominations, a person’s “power and potential to affect change at a national or international level, including by virtue of their position or mandate” and their past achievements, as well as national and international perceptions of the nominee’s influence.

Their home country’s place in the biennial UN e-government rankings is also taken into account “as an indicator of past achievement and international influence” and in that regard, Australia does very well, coming in second place last year, as well as in 2016 and 2014.

Any “significant speaking engagements” are taken as an indicator of influence along with social media presence and for academics, citations in peer-reviewed journals are considered.

“Digital government takes many shapes and brings together a variety of fields, including Artificial Intelligence, Digital Inclusion, Open Data, Citizen Engagement, Cyber Security, and Digital Identity, to name a few,” says Apolitical.

“The individuals on this list represent the open and agile nature of digital government, and highlight the myriad approaches that can be taken to build a slicker, smarter, more human-centred public sector.”

Anyone can contact Apolitical and nominate an influential person in the field of digital government for next year.

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