Friday, October 23, 2015

It was 20 years ago today (5)

Brendan Boyle moved to head the Ministry of Social Development at the end of 2011, and in 2012 Colin MacDonald became Secretary of Internal Affairs, and the third Government CIO.

In 2013, a new strategy document was released - Government ICT Strategy and Action Plan to 2017. The strategy identified four focus areas - Services are digital by default; Information is managed as an asset; Investment and capability are shared; and Leadership and culture deliver change.  These are underpinned by System Assurance with a focus on the risks and quality of ICT investment from a whole of government perspective.

Following a significant amount of customer research, development began on a new portal. Initially working with the source code for, the NZ team conducted alpha and beta tests, collected user feedback and eventually made the decision to move away from a portal to a consolidated information source, with links to agency sites for transactions.

First 2013

The design used in the beta version marked the return to the long form of website, with scrolling to see the full content. The feedback from the final beta version was that  the site was too formal, it needed a more “Kiwi” feel, and that it was “too boring”. 



Changes were made and the new site was launched in July 2014 with information from 44 agencies, structured in the way that users said they looked for information.  It also marked the return to from The site was no longer referred to as 'the government portal'; its remit had shifted: " is your guide to finding and using New Zealand Government services." As Colin MacDonald put it " is an example in action of putting the customer at the centre, and keeping the customer at the centre." on launch

After the site was launched in July 2014, the team received a lot of feedback about the site. Some of it was about how the site looked, and its structure; the public felt that the site did not look like a government site and were not sure that they could trust the information on it.   The new design lacked a distinctly New Zealand feel.

As a response to this feedback, looked different in February 2015. The changes were described by the team: "The pale blue colours and snapshots are gone.  So are the serif fonts. We’ve lost some of the white space and are using stronger visual cues. Our focus is on ensuring our site looks authoritative, and making it easier for people to find what they need. We’ve begun work to restructure the site, too. We’re aiming for fewer levels, and more intuitive content groups - so there are fewer clicks to find what you are looking for."

The changes included a more authoritative header and a clearer visual hierarchy. The results in user testing feedback were positive – “it looks friendly, like New Zealand”, “official looking” and  “efficient, warm and friendly” – and the new site was released in February 2015. – February 2015

As well as consolidating government information to make it easier to find, access and use, the team has also developed functionality to support open and transparent government.  For example, listing all consultations taking place across local and central government, which people can view by topics of interest or by agency. Government head office contact details are also available to be downloaded from the Government A-Z, via an API.

The next step will be to integrate services into people’s lives, and work has started work on modelling how services are used around four life events, though Colin MacDonald admits “this is, sadly, a relatively slow process.” The first life event to be examined is the birth of a child. The hope is that, rather than having to register with a range of agencies one by one, “you’ll be able to go to one place, and everything will be there to access and for you to use”, allowing parents to access such services when it’s convenient for them.

The team use the as an interactive space to share information and lessons learned in the web space.  Accessibility is critical to ensure everyone is able to use the new online channel, and the team have conducted research that shows low literacy, language and internet access are key barriers to finding government information online. As a result, the team are working on the design and test of non-text and low-text content, and translating key information.

It is clear that after 20 years, the spirit of connecting government with the public using the internet continues to drive the work programme.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

It was 20 years ago today (4)

The eGovernment team at SSC embraced Web2.0, sensing the importance of the move from one-way portals and delivery of information to increased interaction, two way communication and collaboration.  In 2007, the team launched an eParticipation wiki and and an eGovernment research discussion forum.

In early 2008, the unit started blogging and adopted Yammer as a social media tool.  As Joanna McLeod wrote in the first blog post: "Other agencies ask us for guidance in setting up their own blogs – what better way to help them than to give a clear demonstration of how we do it, and the policies behind our thinking? We’re interested in issues around identity, privacy, accessibility, intellectual property, web standards and Web 2.0. Views expressed in this blog are those of the contributors, and are not necessarily the views of the State Service Commission or its official policy." 

The Portal was upgraded to respond to the changes in technology and public expectations and a new portal was launched in March 2008, by the Minister of State Services David Parker. At the launch, he spoke about the need for government to keep up with the pace of change in the web world; over three  years, ideas that were just emergent, such as the use of images and RSS, had gone mainstream. The portal created a joined up and consistent experience across government (no wrong door) with a new Look and Feel, Tag clouds that reflect usage, and search in te Reo, as well as the opportunity to provide context specific promotion of agency services. March 2008

Laurence Millar commented later in the year that “there has been a favourable response to the rollout of the website – especially the downloadable search box, which means that New Zealanders can search government web sites from other web sites without the need to directly go to the portal – our interest is in people getting access to the information they are seeking, in a consistent and repeatable fashion, from wherever they are searching.”

The portal remained stable in this format for the next six years. 

By 2008, the EGU had grown from a dedicated policy focus, to operate all-of-government 24x7 services like the Government Shared Network (now and authentication (now RealMe). While it had benefited considerably from being close to the centre of government, the branch was now a dominant part of SSC with more than half the staff and 80% of the capital expenditure.

Cabinet decided that strategy and policy leadership should remain at SSC under the newly designated 'New Zealand Government CIO', and that service delivery (Government Technology Services) should move back to the Department of Internal Affairs. The transition was executed in two stages: in 2008 the separate functions of GCIO and GTS were established in SSC, in preparation for the transfer to DIA a year later.

In November 2008, Laurence Millar addressed the Public Sector Chief Executives as GCIO, and spoke of how the world had changed in the years since a group of them had suggested that e-government needed whole of government leadership. Government had collectively created policy and standards, built a portal, a secure network, authentication, LandOnline, TeAra, Companies Office, online tax returns, Customs single window, Studylink, National Digital Heritage Archive, and many more online services in every agency and sector. He closed his speech by suggesting that these achievements were not enough and that the government had not kept pace with the technologies that had so dramatically changed the expectations of New Zealanders.

Following the transfer of GTS in 2009, eGovernment strategy and policy leadership remained in SSC for 18 months, and then was also moved to DIA. Brendan Boyle, by now Secretary for Internal Affairs, took on the role of Government CIO.  He commented: “The prime minister is quite clear on the need for a CIO; he sees the advantages of a modern ICT environment and is a great believer in what ICT can do in terms of productivity. There is a greater tendency now to be more collaborative. I want to get the government ICT environment to be as coordinated and efficient as if we were one organisation.”  The new website highlighted the directions and priorities for government ICT.

The Knowledge, Information, Research & Technology branch was formed to encompass the strategy and policy role from SSC, Government Technology Services, Archives NZ, and the National Library, headed by Stephen Crombie, previously head of GTS.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

It was 20 years ago today (3)

The eGovernment Strategy 2003 envisaged a networked approach where agencies acted more coherently. The first step in government transformation was based on familiar sound sounding goals: “Successful government will become synonymous with processes and services integrated across the traditional boundaries between government agencies rather than ones confined to compartments. It will mean people being able to participate more readily across a spectrum of public sector activity and processes” said the eGovernment strategy summary written by Hugh McPhail, EGU Policy Manager. 
With the portal launched and the strategy published, Brendan Boyle moved to the role of Chief Executive at Land Information New Zealand in October, and Bethia Gibson took the position of Acting Director of EGU. Laurence Millar returned from working overseas and was appointed as the next EGU Director in early 2004.

The eGovernment Advisory Board was strengthened, with six public service chief executives, Mark Prebble (SSC), Christopher Blake (DIA), James Buwalda (Labour), Brian Pink (Statistics NZ), Bryan Taylor (Auckland City Council), and Geoff Dangerfield (Economic Development), and Kerry McDonald as an independent advisor.

In his first presentation to agency chief executives, Laurence Millar highlighted the importance of the portal. “SSC has received a large number of suggestions on how the portal should develop. The portal team has a future development path that includes the idea of no wrong door, sectoral portlets, information syndication and franchising”.

Linked services were also a feature of his presentation.


Other examples of linked services identified were: having a baby, starting a business, opening a café, student loans, hiring staff, finding and looking after a place to live, and a death in the family. While these concepts were easy to create in PowerPoint, the reality of linked services across multiple government entities was to prove elusive. Successive iterations of the portal continued to struggle with this challenge, and after 20 years seamless interaction across multiple government agencies is still not implemented.

In May 2005, the Government launched the Digital Strategy, a national strategy encompassing Connection, Capability and Content, which had been developed with input from government agencies, private sector and community representatives, under the leadership of the Minister of IT, David Cunliffe. 

 New Zealand Digital Strategy 2005

The Digital Strategy provided a wider context for eGovernment and a new look was launched for the government portal, under the direction of Jason Ryan, EGU Communications Manager. May 2005

The portal operational team, with leadership from Sara Barham and Victoria Wray, managed the daily operations of the portal, including quality assurance of metadata from government agencies, the RSS feed, metalogue, and NZGLS (New Zealand Government Locator Service). The portal email box contained a wide range of questions and feedback, which were forwarded to the relevant agency.

The 2006 update of the eGovernment Strategy focused on the inevitability of technological change and the need for government to recognise and meet the challenges. Annette King, Minister of State Services said in her introduction. "individuals and businesses have become accustomed to doing their banking online, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, so they expect to deal with government in a way that is convenient for them." The emphasis was now very much with the Internet as a channel for publishing information and delivering interactive services.

eGovernment Strategy 2006 

The eGovernment Unit published a White Paper on Web Site Search by Elyssa Timmer (SSC) and Bryan Lyall (NZTE). The research laid the foundation for the move to using a public index of government websites  initially provided by Microsoft MSN and later by Google, from their daily crawling of websites.

In 2007, a government-wide branding exercise resulted in the adoption of as the brand that would be used across all government media – print, television and internet.  The website moved from to in April 2007, to reflect this new brand, and the new syndicated search facility was introduced to the site two months later. 2007

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

It was 20 years ago today (2)

Trudy Rankin was the NZGO Site Manager in 1999 and worked on the development of improvements to the site; these included a new text based search engine, better integration of information on the site, and improved links with other sites. Individual government agencies gained the ability to update their information, and media releases were automatically sent to mailing group subscribers according to the news categories they selected.

The second iteration of NZGO was launched in October 1999 by the Honourable Jenny Shipley, Prime Minister, supported by Minister Williamson. 

It adopted a long form, scrolling to the bottom of the page, and by this time it also had a new url -

The launch was one of the last official engagements of the Prime Minister prior to the change of government in the 1999 election. The new Labour government continued to support eGovernment and the newly appointed Minister of State Services, Trevor Mallard, became the champion within Cabinet.

Government Statistician Len Cook was an active supporter of eGovernment. He saw the launch of the new NZGO as a very significant shift in collaboration across government, and worked with his fellow Chief Executives to persuade Michael Wintringham, the State Services Commissioner, that leadership from the centre was essential for the success of eGovernment.

Brendan Kelly and Russell Craig were working in the Strategy Development Branch at the State Services Commission (SSC), and were given the job of determining how this could happen.  Over several months, they developed policy that underpinned the case for intervention via an e-government strategy. With the support of their branch manager, Derek Gill, who understood the potential for government transformation, they became strong advocates for eGovernment and recommended that SSC should establish an eGovernment Unit (EGU). The founding roles of the unit were to:
  • develop a vision of how information and technology will play a role in delivering good government to the people of New Zealand in the future supported by a whole of Government information strategy
  • build a sound and shared body of thinking that allows information technology driven public sector change to be integrated into the devolved public management
  • establish a programme of aggressive yet realistic milestones for implementation.
Brendan Boyle was Registrar General of Lands before he studied for an MBA at the Massachusetts Insttute of Technology (MIT). He chose ICT and e-business electives, and completed his thesis on eGovernment. He commented “At that time, the boom was happening and I had access to leading-edge practitioners.” He returned from the USA to New Zealand in 2000 and took up the leadership of the EGU. 

The EGU developed the first eGovernment strategy in 2001, which highlighted the ways government could use the Internet to increase the value of services internally, and to all New Zealanders. Mike Pearson defined the eGovernment architecture which first used the term “portal” to describe the one-stop shop at the center – linking the public with government entities.
The portal project to create “NZGO on steroids” was part of an overall plan to improve the way government departments communicated with each other and the public. The new portal would take a thesaurus like approach that was aligned to how people think and behave, using metadata to describe what each government agency provided.

The definition of the metadata and refining the underlying keywords was pivotal to the effectiveness of the portal.  The Minister, Trevor Mallard, was educating his Cabinet colleagues by using the term “metadata” to explain how the portal would to deliver the right information about agency services.  Roc Coote came up with the name Metalogue, a clever modernisation of catalogue, to describe the full list of government services.

As Andrea Gray, EGU Relationships Manager explains “We had an energetic team working to establish an enduring relationship and a capability in agencies that would support their own development of their Internet presence over time." The aim was that agencies would recognise their websites as part of their service delivery arm (and not a brochure about their structure), and that accessibility was a primary design feature, not an optional add-on.

Many EGU people were involved in the completion of the portal, which increased in scale and complexity as the implications of the metalogue approach became clear. Trudy Rankin took over from Colin Jackson as Portal Establishment Project Manager, Kent Duston had the role of Portal Business Manager and Edwin Bruce was in overall charge of the Portal Project

The portal was officially launched by Prime Minister Helen Clark at the Mount Wellington community library in Auckland on 14 November 2002. The long scrolling form had been replaced by a more compact design that enabled all the options to be seen on the landing page.

The government wanted the portal to become the dominant means of interaction with citizens, but some were concerned that the 63% of New Zealand homes that didn’t have Internet access would miss out on online information and social services. There were still few services allowing citizens to complete transactions online but there were plans to increase this over the next two years. Access would become a focus of policy work in the next few years.

Monday, October 19, 2015

It was 20 years ago today

Twenty years of eGovernment and the portal in New Zealand
1. First Steps 1995-1998

In the mid-1990s, New Zealand government officials were starting to realise the potential for the Internet to change the way government communicated with the public. Two parallel initiatives were underway. In the Ministry of Commerce, the IT policy unit were developing a register of government departments and selected information about the departments. In the Department of Internal Affairs, the Government Within Reach project was building an index of the services provided by government and relating those services to individual agencies. These two approaches – what government departments do, and how information and services are accessed and perceived by the public – are common themes in the development of government portals over the last 20 years.

Ministry of Commerce

Reg Hammond and Colin Jackson were in the Ministry of Commerce IT policy unit, providing research and advice for Maurice Williamson, New Zealand’s first Minister of Information and Communications Technology. Colin managed to get hold of the dot.govt domain name, which had already been established for email use, and got a server running using The Ministry of Commerce wasn’t averse to experimentation but unwilling to make any investment. “I didn’t like my chances of going to the IT department and asking for funding to put this strange thing called a Web server in. They wouldn’t have bought that”. So he went to Victoria University and sought assistance from IT department head Frank March.

Colin tells the story: “I got some wine and cheese, invited the information people from lots of government departments, sat the projector on a desk, and showed them the web server, explaining this was now accessible from anywhere in the world. I said I want some money and your information. I asserted that this was the official government Web server and nobody questioned me, although the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade did give me a hard time because they hadn’t vetted it first.” 

Nathan (Nat) Norkington, a graduate student who’d been responsible for introducing web technology at Victoria University, provided a lot of the drive to get the web site operational. He began gathering the laws of New Zealand to make them more accessible to the public and ‘crawled’ government pages to download relevant information. The problem was that Government Print had sold the rights to all New Zealand legislation which was locked up in a private company website. As Nat puts it: “It had pretty crappy access and so I was in a sense liberating it from them. I was going to put them into a much better searchable web but a grumpy call from Wellington turned that off” 

Government Within Reach
Concurrent with the efforts at MED, the Department of Internal Affairs was working with Telecom NZ on the Government Within Reach project. The result was launched on 19 October 1995 - Government Blue Pages at the front of each telephone directory, providing a national index of services offered by government departments and agencies.
Two Ministers were involved in the launch – Warren Cooper, Minister of Internal Affairs and Maurice Williamson, Minister of Communications.

The index was also “being launched as an online service accessible through the Internet”

More than 1,000 listings of government services involving 195 state agencies were listed. Internet users could browse to the listings in the Blue Pages site - searching by text keywords or subject - to check which agency provided the service. They could then email their query to that agency. Only a handful of agencies were capable at this stage of replying electronically; messages to the rest were converted to fax. 

The project was sponsored by Neil Mackay, Deputy Secretary at Internal Affairs; Laurence Millar was the DIA project director, and the project was supported by an Advisory Board headed by former Treasury Secretary Graham Scott and including Social Welfare Director-General Margaret Bazely.  External stakeholder governance continued to be an important part of government website presence over the next 20 years. 

The project was reviewed by Paul Reynolds, an early member of the New Zealand digerati and sadly no longer with us.  He brought his characteristic Scottish acerbic point of view.

First hostile review of a government portal October 1995 
(not available online)

By 1997, with encouragement from the State Services Commission, the two initiatives had merged into one – titled New Zealand Government Online (NZGO) and provided at The governance arrangements were adjusted to include more active involvement of public service leadership. The NZGO Advisory Board was chaired by Len Cook, Government Statistician, other members included Margaret Bazley, Carol Stigley Chief Executive of local Government NZ, and Roger Blakeley, Secretary of Internal Affairs. NZGO was still operated by the Department of Internal Affairs. January 1997
The site was managed by Shane Middlemiss, who felt that the increasing importance of the Internet wasn’t understood at the time the GWR project started and the initial government webpages and blue pages web directory were launched. He wanted NZGO to deliver a more compelling portal experience, and developed a 3D style virtual lobby and counter with major public sector topics on a smorgasbord behind a customer advisor:  “We needed a universal customer advisor as the welcoming face of government so morphed a few hundred randomly-selected passport photos to create an average New Zealander's face.  Of course, the results were fuzzy, ugly rubbish so we ended up using the attractive face of one of the DIA IT support staff.  In the end we ran into probably one of the first accessibility clashes with the fixed width image map clashing, so it never made it to live use.”

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The post-digital social contract (part 3 of 3)

Restore balance and reclaim personal data

1.       The major actors – digital corporations and governments – need a haystack to find a needle.[i]  
They use a three step process to do this:
(1) Create and adapt models with inference engine and rules;
(2) Apply the model to data and match individuals to groups;
(3) Take actions based on the matching, observe the results and tune the model.[ii] The more data, the better the model.

2.       The old school design approach to controlling this surveillance is to ask questions like: What are the rules? What are the consent points? Where are consents held? What are the defaults (opt-in or opt-out)? What are the obligations to the individual?  How are those obligations met and monitored? How are obligations passed between actors? Can we regulate personal data markets? Should controls be centralized or distributed? What are the incentives? How do we resource enforcement?

3.       This old school design will not work. The solution cannot be designed from within the frame of reference of the problem. Governments and digital corporations are committed to the current operating model – institutions try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution. Accepting the parameters of data surveillance legitimizes the relationship between the surveiller and the surveillee.[iii] 

4.       The global personal data ecosystem must develop homeostatic controls to absorb the variety of the system. Dynamic equilibrium must balance the interests of the different actors using transparency, feedback loops, and intrinsic regulators.[iv]

5.       An effective future for the personal data ecosystem must manage this variety at a global level, cope with complexity and ambiguity, and be simple and easy to understand.  It must be designed for a future world and recognize that the rate of technological change is exponential, which is why it cannot use old school design. In the global village there are only Pulchinella’s secrets[v].

6.       There are no legal, political, economic or social levers that can control the data appetites of governments and corporations in the post-digital world.[vi] Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth. 

7.       The only option to achieve control is by using the technology to rebalance the asymmetry – similar to the coveillance idea proposed by Kevin Kelly.[vii] The technology must provide a facility for the surveillee to retrieve all information about their personal data including what has been collected, who has accessed the data, what data has been linked, and what inferences have been made.

8.       Personal data must be created with the ability to annotate and transmit information about what has happened to it. The annotations must be embedded in tamper-proof technology within the global personal data ecosystem, and the internet of things will need to manage these annotations.

9.       There are many questions that must be addressed in imagining this future – political economy, policy, leadership, engineering and technology – including:
·       What is the ethical foundation of the post-digital social contract? Why is it important and what are the underlying values?
·       Who has the interest, the insight and the energy to create the post-digital social contract? Where will leadership come from?
·       How can legitimate government espionage activities operate effectively in secret while preserving the values of the post-digital social contract?
·       What is the economic impact of the post-digital social contract? What happens to competitive advantage if there is full transparency of the personal data ecosystem?
·       Is it possible? Can technology attach persistent transmitters to individual items of personal data?

10.   I would like to think it is possible. The technology needs to be network-based and decentralized while maintaining trust and confidence. I have identified two areas where similar concepts are implemented in different domains – the blockchain and Distributed Object Numbering – which gives me some confidence that there is a technology that could achieve the rebalancing of information asymmetry.
·       The blockchain algorithm is currently applied in many digital currencies, of which Bitcoins are the best known. But some consider that the underlying technology could be a disruptive force in many other sectors – by creating a network of trust from untrusted components.[viii]
·       The Digital Object Architecture was designed to  enable all types of information to be managed over very long time frames, and has been defined in ITU standard X.1255 - a framework for discovery of identity.[ix]

11.   The future of the global personal data ecosystem need serious systems thinking, using expertise from a range of disciplines: lawyers & public policy analysts, commercial marketers & financiers, geeks & hackers, intellectuals, international governance specialists, privacy advocates, piracy advocates and data scientists.

[i] The Director of the NSA explained that they intercept all personal data to enable them to find “the needle in the haystack”
[ii] The model for placing people on no-fly lists is described in a 166 page manual analyzed by the Intercept ; more than 40% of the people on the list have no affiliation to a recognized terrorist group.
[iii] The idea that institutions become dedicated to the problem they set out to solve and so perpetuate the problem has been named (the Shirky Principle). As an aside, there are no English words for either of the 2 parties involved in surveillance.
[iv] These terms are taken from cybernetics; information on cybernetics can be found in An Introduction to Cybernetics (1956) by W Ross Ashby where he describes the Law of Requisite Variety, and in Brain of the Firm (1972) and Platform for Change (1975) by Stafford Beer, where he describes the Viable System Model.
[v] The idea that there are no secrets in the village was a central theme of Italian “commedia dell’arte” in the 16th century. Pulchinella Revisited explains how to derive four laws of secrecy in the information society.
[vi] As Evgeny Morozov says at the end of this long article   “the ultimate battle lines are clear. It’s a question of whether all these sensors, filters, profiles and algorithms can be used by citizens and communities for some kind of emancipation from bureaucracies and companies”  He suggests, in my view unrealistically,  that there is an option for social control of the big data stores.
[vii] “How can we have a world in which we are all watching each other, and everybody feels happy?”- a conversation.
[ix] For information on Digital Object Architecture refer to
Corporation for National Research Initiatives (CNRI) and Digital Object Numbering Authority