Category Archives: Government

Hacking the Government, in the UK

Recently I was over in the UK for our big Rewired State kids event in Birmingham. After we finished up and trekked back to town I had the opportunity to drop into Parliament and Number 10 to chat about what’s coming up in the near future.

Burgers at Number 10

This year again, Rewired State will be taking part in Parliament Week, a new national initiative which aims to build greater understanding of and engagement with parliamentary democracy in the UK. It was amazing to be able to not only get a great tour of the Parliament, but to also talk about how we can help them engage developers and understand what kind of data developers want to access from their banks of information! It was also good to have the ever impressive Bill Thompson along to talk about some fun ways to engage the developers on the day. Be on the lookout for some implementations from Bill’s mind.

Fun stuff aside, I’m continuously impressed with how ready the teams at Parliament and Number 10 are to engage with developers and really make data open for all. They are chasing not only opening up the data and providing it, but also working to provide interest around the data. After all, the data really isn’t much use unless someone is using it.

It’s always a challenge to convince people, organisations and especially government of the importance of being a data generator and provider of information rather than attempting to solely build and deploy applications on data only they can see. The brilliant work of the teams at both offices really is making a big difference.

In Australia, we’ve seen some interesting hacks built on Parliamentary and Government specific data and I’m really looking forward to seeing what apps hackers and developers manage to put together with it. There’s also some interesting things on the horizon here to share with you later. Hush hush, stay tuned.

Why I’m dedicating some time to help educators out.

A while back we were putting together a hack day in Australia and I was put in contact with some great people working with us over in the UK. Specifically, I was put in touch with Rewired State (rewiredstate.org). Emma was absolutely fantastic about helping us out and giving us some really great direction, suggestions and putting us in really on a great course for a good hack day.

Now, this struck me initially as rather weird. Here’s a great person, clearly great at what she was doing and obviously wasn’t going to have a hard time offering some great advice to us on consultancy for a bucket load of cash, doing all of this for free. Within 10 minutes of talking with her it became really clear that she wasn’t in it for the money. Emma immediately came across as being passionate about making a difference, about driving technology into people with the force that made them pay attention, but effective enough for you to not even notice you were being evangelized.

Over a year later, when Emma told me about Coding for Kids (codingforkids.org) I was immediately on board. While it focussed on the UK, a timezone, dateline and 36 hours away I knew that this was exactly what every major city, country, county and school needed. Someone willing to bring technology to educators, to schools, to get people excited, to get people motivated and more importantly, educated.

The premise is simple really, to change the attitudes of technology education, not specifically to revolutionise the way we teach it, but to really get in there and say “ok, kids need to know how to do things that matter, not how to write a resume, or slideshow”. When I went through school, I was sadly disappointed in the ‘computer’ classes that we received. While I became adept at making word documents and populating spreadsheets, this really did nothing to teach me anything about how to actually use a computer – what it was capable of.

Lucky for me my education in computers extended well beyond the borders of my school. Playing with terminals, breaking things and making them work again really drove not only my interest in technology as a whole, but also allowed me to acquire new skills. This is the very attitude I hope to pass on to teachers in the work I’ll be doing for Coding For Kids. I’m hoping to draw on my own passion on the subject and work with other very passionate people to make a difference.

So, if like me, you really want to see kids challenge the way we think about computers, to see what they really are capable of (or even to make you a kick ass resume), then you should reach out to them and let them know, take part, participate, teach something! There’s so much theoretical, evangelical and general awesome collectively amongst all the people I know – surely you guys can spare some time to cut a paper, record a podcast or chat with some teachers?

Dogs in Cafe Areas

Mixed news from the NSW Legislative Assemby today as the debate on ammendments to the Companion Animals Act resumed. The discussions were aimed at greater undestanding of the proposed bill set forth by the NSW Labor Party in allowing animals to be in outdoor cafe areas with their owners.

The legislation passed through the house, allowing dogs to be in cafe areas with their owners under some conditions:

1) Dogs must be leashed at all times while within the food consumption areas
2) No food can be provided to the dog in the consumption area
3) The area must be in an un-enclosed space and must be accessible without passing through an enclosed space
4) Permission is given by the operator for dogs to be within the consumption area
5) Dangerous dogs are not allowed within a food consumption area
6) Banned breeds are not allowed within a food consumption area, and finally and most importantly

7) These rules apply to food consumption areas, within Off Leash Dog Parks.

The original policy proposed by the Liberal Party allowed for specific exclusions of the act in relation to off leash dog parks. This would enable operators (such as Cafe Bones) to continue to serve dog treats and their world famous dog drinks to their patrons. It would also allow them to serve patrons who had dogs off leash around the cafe areas.

Understandably, dogs in any part of an off-leash area would have to be under effective voice control of their owners, limiting the risk to patrons and guests of the park and cafe areas.

City of Sydney representitve, Clover Moore, expressed great support for the changes that would enable her to take her dog with her husband to outdoor areas of cafes and to enjoy the time together. While she supported the bill she expressed displeasure in previous changes to the Companion Animals Act which only sought to penalise irresponsible owners vs promoting responsible animal ownership.

Moore, a dog owner, believes that the legislation proposed would make people more social with their animals and improve the general acceptance of dogs in NSW while also removing the problems currently faced by Cafe owners, who break the law in order to allow people to sit at their tables with their dogs on leash. The City of Sydney currently promotes responsible animal ownership with their free microchipping programs and with expansion of off leash areas and believes that the City of Sydney has a high rate of animal ownership and ultimately her citizens win from this legislation.

What Moore does next should be interesting, with pushes to new changes to the legislation hinted that will allow animals on public transport and within other areas that animals are currently prohibited from. She sees the City of Sydney as progressive and wants more animals to be allowed to live within apartments, which make up the majority of housing in her area.

Tony Roberts, of the Liberal Party, spoke to claims of 70% dog ownership in NSW, but expressed concerns that we were falling behind other states (such as Victoria and South Australia) and other modern cities (such as London) in how we handle domestic animal ownership in NSW. While supporting the bill, he also explained that the Liberal Policy may have been better as it was much simpler for the general public to understand. He also explained that dangerous people, not dangerous dogs would pose a greater risk to the community and that the majority (99.99% he explained) of dog owners are responsible and good, loving people.

Alan Ashton (ALP) jumped on board to promote more animals in public places, including hospitals. Ashton believes that patients can have an expedited recovery and improved general mental health in hospitals when they are visited by companion animals. (He did not distinguish between Therapy, Assistance of Companion animals). Jokingly, he suggested that “if you don’t love cats and dogs, animals and the beach boys, then you have a problem with life”.

While Ashton was the first to promote the leashing of dogs in off leash parks around food consumption areas, explaining that the risks of dog attacks was higher where food is not provided to dogs and where they are tethered he was not the last, with Robert Furolo following up with details on how dogs must be on leash even in off leash areas. He also explained that while the legislation permits dogs being in outdoor eating areas, permission must be granted by the operator.

Barbara Perry (ALP) solidified it for the Government, by outlining the terms of their proposal (as mentioned above). While the Liberal Party (Chris Hartcher) sought specific exclusions for off leash areas, Perry explained that this was irresponsible and not in line with the overall policy brought forwards. She concluded the debate by explaining that the risk to patrons and staff of off-leash cafes was too great to allow dogs off leash in these areas.

The question was put and passed. Bill agreed to in principle. Acting Speaker (Ms Beamer) declared the bill to have passed the House.

Sources:
http://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/prod/la/lapaper.nsf/0/A5D05E1E59823205CA2577210001B185

Start the Change

The Liberal Party of NSW have published a new website: http://www.startthechange.com.au/ which they are hoping will encourage people to tell them what they think is wrong with NSW, so they can help fix it.

The concept is great, outline what it is that you are planning, a base principle of any political website, but also enable users to interact directly with the powers that be in order to shape the policies of the Liberal Party moving fowards.

I think it’s a great concept for the party. It really shows that they are engaging the public and being open to suggestions and public opinion in order to determine their future moving forwards and ultimately, what they fight for in NSW if they get into power.

The downside is, that it may result in popular politices, with no real basis, this could result in legislation being passed that is popular at the time because of current events of what have you, but not genuinely good for NSW. I think that as long as both parties are approach things like this with it as a suggestion box, vs a platform then it should be aok.

I wonder if the Labor party have something much like it…

New Project

Working as an independant has helped me get a few things going, most notably though seems to be some of the Animal Welfare and Rescue advocacy that I’ve been working on. It’s been great to be meeting with so many people from all parts of the industry and discussing with them the challenges they have in moving forwards.

A sneak peak?

This is why I’m very pleased to be working on a new project, a collaboration between a number of agencies that will lead to better education and understanding amongst the community in what the responsibilities of domestic animal owers are. Through the project, we hope to educate, not lecture, those who do not know much about owning a pet, whether they are thinking about buying a new family pet, or if they already have one.

It’s important to remember on projects like this,¬† that so often it is easier to complain and point out flaws in people and their handling or care of animals – it’s much more dificult to educate and it generally has a slower response rate. Often it will be small and important improvements in short to medium term education projects and ultimately, generations before we see significant change in behaviour and social aspects of our work.

Our new project is set to be very exciting and as we work to make animal welfare an issue throughout Australia I will continue to discuss it on here. In the mean time, I have to keep a few things hush hush, so stay tuned – and I will release more information soon.

Adventure of a Lifetime?

Some people say, that breaking out of the norm and stepping into the unknown can be good for the psyche. Whoever says that, should be redressed immediately. The fact of the matter is that the unknown is so appealing to so many and completely terrifying for others for exactly the same reasons. It’s only the way that people react to that terror that really changes between the two.

In my case, I’m a bit of mixed feelings. I’m totally excited to be heading out of my day job and into some new things. I think I can equate it to when you were a kid, that you waited with baited breath to see what Santa had brought you for Christmas. It was an exciting time! This excitement, is great. It keeps you up at night writing out proposals, calling emergency meetings with the business partners and running around telling everyone how awesome you are.

Then, there is this other side to the terror, that creeps in quietly. It sits behind the couch while I am talking on the phone over dinner, it hides in the bookshelf while I madly print, highlight and re-edit slides, brochures and our website. It follows me ever so quietly downstairs while I hang the washing out while I think out exactly how I’m going to attack problems when I get back upstairs and it lurks through the shadows, unknown to even my trusty beagle as I run around the bay.

When I go to bed, it takes it’s position on the air conditioner next to my bed. Before I turn the lights out it makes itself comfortable and finally as I jump into bed, put my head to the pillow and shut my eyes, it begins to whisper quietly. My body, screaming in agony through my tired muscles, mind and spirit, works hard to listen carefully, my brain chugs slowly to interpret the barely comprehensible whispers as words.

“You – are going to fail.”

It’s really hard to ignore the fact that the creeping terror is there. It’s there when I go to sleep and it leaves this foul taste in my mind for the morning. I carry it with me all day and although it gradually gets quieter as the day wears on, it’s still there when I finally get back to bed – and then the cycle starts again. It’s kind of funny how this works thou – because the level of terror I feel when I think about my new adventures, is not overpowering the sense of excitement I am getting out of it!

This is helping thou – the terror is keeping things real. It’s helping me make decisions and it’s helping with my general sense of self, because I know that there is so much riding on me – and these projects – so if I don’t do well, or if I make the wrong decision I know that I only have myself to blame. Having that second guessing really does ensure that I am confident in my decision first, (even though sometimes I still make the wrong one!)

So I will keep you posted as to my travels into freelancing. In the mean time, wish me well :P