It’s nice to see government agencies share with each other


This article is by Craig Thomler, the managing director of digital democracy company Delib Australia and New Zealand. Thomler is one of Australia’s foremost experts on eGovernment and Government 2.0 issues. It first appeared on Thomler’s popular blog, eGov AU, and is replicated here with his permission.

analysis One of the most frustrating and, I think, silliest things I found when working in Australian government agencies was how almost every department, agency and statutory body developed almost all of its own policies, procedures, software and tools.

There was often ‘undercover’ sharing – where people in agencies would ask their colleagues in others for copies of their whatever policy, so they could craft one just like it – however there was no central repository where public servants could go and browse standard templated policy documents or access software code developed by other agencies to resolve certain common issues.

At one stage I actively looked at building a research directory for government – either from within an agency, or as a third-party site – where public servants could list the research their agencies had undertaken and the research they needed to access or undertake, so that it could be effectively shared between departments, saving money in re-running research and informing policy decisions.

This attempt didn’t get off the ground as senior management strongly felt they had no obligation to share information on the research work conducted with ‘THEIR’ public dollars with other agencies – even the fact that they’d undertaken it in the first place.

Fortunately most of those senior managers have now retired (literally), and the new crop coming through are realising that, cash and time constrained as they are, that fighting over which agency ‘owns’ a specific policy, custom software or research that they commissioned gets in the way of productivity, efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

One of the outcomes has been the latest Australian Government whole-of-government website, GovShare.

GovShare had been talked about for nearly five years and has now finally arrived as a central location for agencies to share their work with other agencies to build standardisation and save money across the public service.

As the About page states, GovShare has been designed to support and promote collaboration across the Australian Public Service, and as an online resource it has been provided to APS agencies and their staff to:

  • Publish, discover and access a broad range of artefacts used within the APS, such as frameworks, guidelines, policies, standards, architectural models, open source software and a host of other ICT and business artefacts
  • Explore APS ICT services and solutions through the Agency Online Services Database and Agency Solutions Database
  • Find skilled people across the APS with expertise in particular fields or products; and
    contribute to online discussions using the forum.

This type of sharing helps save money and time in government. It allows agencies to collaborate to design the best possible policies, guidelines and software and then customise it if needed for their specific needs.

While the benefits of the site won’t necessarily be clearly visible outside of government circles, the efficiencies it will support will help agencies focus their resources on achieving the goals of government rather than on endlessly recreating the policies already in place elsewhere in government.

The site already contains nearly 2,000 ‘artefacts’ for review, reuse and adaptation, and hopefully over the next few years this will swell as more agencies become active contributors as well as takers from the site.

It will also hopefully expand beyond its ICT roots into other business areas – allowing agencies to share standard communication strategy templates, HR policies, procurement guidebooks and financial guidelines – tools and resources that help public servants understand and abide by the rules the government sets in these areas.

Hopefully the site will expand beyond federal government as well, bringing state and local into the fold. These governments often face the same challenges, often with fewer resources, and GovShare could have a large role to play in reducing costs at all levels of government in Australia.

Ultimately it would be wonderful to see ‘packages’ of policies and guidelines that a newly created agency or statutory body can simply pick up, adapt and use for their operations.

This would be similar to the ‘agency on a USB stick’ concept that I’ve been talking about for several years around a set of software platforms and settings that would allow an agency to put in place a solid set of operational systems in a very short time.

However it is, as yet, early days for GovShare. Its success relies on three things, ongoing support from the department hosting it (Finance), active participation by agencies in ‘gifting’ their work to a common store for other agencies to access and the political will and nous to not kill the program before it bears fruit.

I hope Govshare will succeed, and think the omens are good. Its journey over the next five years will be interesting to watch.