How can government lead during times of digital shake-up?

By Cheryl GeorgeJuly 20th, 2018

As digital tools, big data and a variety of new information technologies cause disruptive change across every sector of society, questions of leadership, direction and regulation feature more heavily in our discourse. Can there be an equilibrium between the regulation of powerful new tools and the maximisation of their benefits for citizens and businesses in a data-driven economy?

We spoke with Cheryl George,  Group Leader in Government Business and Stakeholder Engagement at CSIRO’s Data61, about government, collaboration and leadership during a time of digital disruption.


The role of government

Algorithm: What’s driving governments, when it comes to the collection and analysis of large data sets?

Cheryl George: A major role for government is to provide services, and to do so in a way that makes best use of public money. Becoming more efficient, driving lower cost and greater efficiency and greater return on the investment from services provided and money spent is a key focus.

Governments understand that the interpretation of data, the act of drawing insight from it, helps identify where these efficiency gains can be made, or where you can use the information you have more effectively. Governments have great opportunities to be early movers in this space, as they use innovation to improve the delivery of services to the public.

Algorithm: What about trust, public perception and safety?

Cheryl George: It’s always important to be careful about what you do with information. Whenever a government takes action, it has to have standards, consistent processes and practices in place. There are checks and balances – trust is what enables government to do its job.

We have to trust that when government receives our information, it will be handled in a way we’re happy with, that makes sense, and that it will be used it for purposes it was intended for that they don’t go outside these mutually agreed bounds.

Maintaining that trust is critical. Recent cyber breaches, for instance, have began to erode public trust is how data is stored and managed, so having robust and transparent standards on how data can be handled is important.

So, governments are in a good position to improve efficiency through innovation, but also highly conscious of the need to do it in a way that maintains trust.


Why Data61?

Algorithm: Where does a group like Data61 come into this?

Cheryl George: Maintaining trust in data whilst ensuring that you make full use of it to improve services aligns well with Data61’s offering, and what we see as the pathway to successful innovation in this space.   You need to have checks and balances, but you also need to be willing to explore out new ideas.

I think government in Australia is really starting to understand the potential value it may unlock through innovating in this space – a great example is its investment in the Platforms for Open Data (PFoD) initiative, which we delivers alongside the Federal Government. It’s about supporting government agencies in exploring out new ideas or demonstrating new data-driven solutions, often in parallel to the current mode of delivery, or identifying ways to integrate new, data-driven insights into decision making.

We’re watching governments evolve from ‘we’re just here to deliver services, to do as our legislation dictates’ to an attitude of evolution and innovation.  Our public expectations are changing too, both in terms of our service delivery expectations and modes, and the level of personalisation we expect. Government needs to keep pace.

Algorithm: Is there anything about Australia that makes us particularly well-placed for this style of governmental leadership?

Cheryl George: We have a pretty sound reputation, particularly regarding a robust approach to regulation. If you look at our medical sectors, as an example, we have a global reputation for having an incredibly strong regulatory framework in place. If you you want to get something approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), and to have it approved for consumption by people, you have to go through rigorous checks and balances.    Australia is respected internationally as trusted, well regulated market.

Algorithm: So that’s something that can engender trust in a global context?

Cheryl George: Yes, that engenders trust in a range of different areas. It’s not to say that the best approach is to always to heavily regulate, but it highlights the importance of thinking through the lens of how we ensure reliability, consistency and confidence.   We’re used to looking at a problem, then coming up with structures or solutions that allow maximum insight or value to be grained without turning a blind eye to some of the challenges.


The power of the network

Algorithm: How does Data61 help lead the growth of networks and knowledge sharing, with the aim of building trust, security and increases the chance of success for these innovations?

Cheryl George: We’re working with governments across Australia to support building digital maturity and skills within their workforces, exploring the potential of new technologies in their practices and identifying new innovation opportunities, but it’s critical this is a two way street. Government sees the need to embrace new approaches to their data but the onus is also on groups like us to help bridge the gap, and drive a better understanding of how new data-driven approaches can support their activities. There’s brilliant research, but that can’t happen in splendid isolation. It takes co-development to take these new ideas forward.

Algorithm: So strong networks help?

Cheryl George: We’re lucky here. There are already solid connections between our academic landscape, the research community, industry and government. There’s a genuine opportunity when we band together to co-develop solutions. In some areas, our local research is right up there with the best in the world – and these networks can be powerful in helping us develop solutions at home for a global context, too.

Algorithm: How does this process benefit from leadership and guidance?

Cheryl George: This is also our big differentiator.    Increasingly in Australia, and particularly in Data61, we’re focusing our research on finding solutions to real-world problems. We’ve set as our vision to not just progress and elevate foundational, data research in Australia, but to do so with an eye its real world relevance, and to look at the way Australian research can impact real world problems and challenges.

And this is not just a Data61 story, we’re drawing on a national network of highly skilled, passionate researchers and engineers who are having an impact They’ll run through walls to get something done. They want to have an impacts.    It’s a really good place to play, and an amazing story – and opportunity – for the country.

Algorithm: Does this approach have a positive impact in the ecosystem?

Cheryl George: A big challenge for the country is that we have a lot of capability spread across the academic network, but it’s really difficult for researchers to gather around projects unless they’re supported to do that work.

What our network has thrown into the mix through our formalised relationships with our university partners is an easy mechanisms to enable we can pull in specialist capability to be brought in for short term projects or part time, so researchers get the opportunity to work on interesting ideas or projects outside of their own work and organisation, building new knowledge and linkages.

It galvanises connectivity and understanding of what others around you do, and how it might be relevant. We’re starting to really see the valuable outcomes which can come from  enabling independent researchers the opportunity to add their capability to the pool and co-develop, and there’s not a lot of places doing that well, without great incentive.