Accelerating a data driven future


I’ve had a love – hate relationship with data all my life. I was never any good at Math, yet as a social change advocate data was my ally and best friend. I also became increasingly frustrated that despite collecting volumes of data across government and NGOs, we don’t really make the most of it.  We don’t plan ahead, share data or collaborate enough. We are seriously lagging behind in terms of embracing data and digital and creating the space for experimentation and innovation.

I grew to love data in a new way when I attended my first GovHack in 2014, I met Natalia (@natalieasis), a data scientist who made me realise that data is a symphony for those who can unravel it.

Natalia says “For a data scientist, data is alive. When you learn how to *talk* to it, you start seeing beyond Matrix-like rows of numbers and discover a whole new universe of truth and beauty.”

Natalia believes that data is a medium for discovering patterns, she says “Everything in the world has an underlying pattern, be it planetary movements, history, financial markets, or what fascinates me the most – human behaviour.” She believes that data scientists are the modern shaman who “should dedicate years and years of training to learn how to talk to beautiful powerful omniscient data ‘spirits’.” Natalia loves investigating and interrogating the data and finds it rewarding “you experience the pure joy of finding things out and understanding how the world works – and thus gaining wisdom.”

 So how do hackers make meaning out of data – how do they extract life out of numbers and how can we get a glimpse of what this means for government and community?

GovHack is probably the best demonstration of how data is our friend and how easy it is to innovate solutions – the annual weekend competition is all about making meaning out of the reams of data collected by every level of government every single day. It has a devoted following of people like Natalia who live for finding the patterns and meaning out of a bunch of numbers, as well as tech, start ups and entrepreneurs.

David Bartlett, former Premier of Tasmania MCd this years GovHack Awards in Sydney said “GovHack brings to life the abundant government data that sits in largely idle form.” Having worked across state and federal government I can attest to this, we don’t work with data very well. GovHack is the best vehicle to acclimatize government and NGOs to see better use of data. The 2015 competition attracted 160 volunteers supporting 2,200 partcipants, over 100 teams and 6000 data sets in 31 cities across Australia and NZ that generated over 300 projects in little more than 48 hours.

Goddess and founder of GovHack, Pia Waugh, spoke passionately at the Awards about this year’s “epic GovHack continuing to have a community feel, it’s not a corporate or government event, it’s led by volunteers and it’s the best hacker community in the world.” And she’s right it’s a community owned and volunteer run family that keeps growing and increasingly attracting attention from politicians.

PM Malcolm Turnbull gave his attention and sponsorship to GovHack as Communications Minister, The Hon. Senator Arthur Sinodinos spoke at the GovHack Awards and gave a powerful speech about what he saw in this rich and diverse hacker community (see video here), In NSW Ministers for Innovation and Small Business have attended local events. I am confident that in 2016 GovHack will continue to amaze and inspire more politicians and bureaucrats to join the growing community of champions, sponsors and hackers.   Pia Waugh rightly said “ Dominello and Sinodinis are trailblazers in government and represent a great hope for our democracy, of which GovHack is a very important part of the architecture.”

NSW Minister for Innovation, Victor Dominello was blown away at the ideas that solved community or government challenges at the Sydney GovHack awards. At the national awards he said,

 “NSW Government is backing you all the way. We need more than ever collaborate more with you, you are fearless, cautious risk takers, you are the ones who have the potential to change the world like no other time before. “

The Minister recently announced the establishment of a one stop shop for data, the Data Analytics Centre (DAC) will pull the data together across 144 different agencies,152 councils and state owned corporations.  He has ensured the DAC has the legislative power to pull the data together so that we can get things done around some big government costs.

The newly established Digital Transformation Office (DTO) is a great initiative established by Turnbull to bring the digital revolution to government. It will fast track and drive a culture of innovation through greater cross sector and discipline collaboration with emphasis on leveraging academia, open source, SMEs, private sector, design, tech and start up.

Pictured – Paul Shetler, DTO at the 2015 GovHack International Awards , Sydney

At the GovHack awards, Paul Shetler was bold and unapologetic about his agency’s responsibility to transform the face of public services to be more relevant and responsive to its users. He said “It is no accident that the DTO’s first public initiatives is its relationship with GovHack. You want to work on stuff that matters.”

GovHack is a safe place for agencies to learn by doing and dip their toe in the water of civic hacking, learn how to collaborate in bold new ways. Agencies should encourage their staff to get involved in GovHack.

Paul Shetler, Digital Transformation Office

I recently joined the Board of the Australian Open Knowledge Foundation and have the privilege to work alongside data experts and enthusiasts who care about citizen engagement and are leading events like GovHack and Health Hack, I am the sponsor of an incubation stage project HackforDV . Our goal is to collaborate with the peak agencies and users of DV services, government and hackers to co- design solutions.

I believe civic hacking is the future, a balance of crowd sourcing solutions , thought leadership conversations, solution driven and outcome focused collaborations are key. This will change the way we solve problems across finance, health, systems, sectors, services . You are welcome to join the experiment

Three tips to get more out of data and in to hacks

It seems the planets are aligning and the constellation (GovHack, the DAC and DTO, and initiatives like Open Knowledge Foundation and Code for Australia and others) is accelerating the opportunities to engage with the data driven future, that is ultimately inevitable.

Anne-Marie Elias is a speaker and consultant in innovation for social change. She is an honorary Associate of the Centre for Local Government at UTS.

Anne-Marie has recently joined the Board of the Australian Open Knowledge Foundation.

Follow Anne-Marie’s  journey of disruptive social innovation on Twitter @ChiefDisrupter or visit 

This blog was first published in LinkedIn Pulse published 10 October.


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