Digital Commons and Public Policy with Pia Andrews (#33)

We talk about digital commons, public policy, and Pia's dream of an optimistic future.

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Pia Andrews is an open government and data ninja [1] who has been working in making the world a better place for 20 years. She currently works within the (public sector) machine to transform public services through greater transparency, democratic engagement, citizen-centric design, open data, emerging technologies and real, pragmatic actual innovation in the public sector and beyond. She believes that tech culture has a huge role to play in achieving better policy planning, outcomes, public engagement and a better public service all round. She is also trying to do her part in establishing greater public benefit from publicly funded data, software and research. Pia was recognised in 2018 and 2019 as one of the global top 20 most Influential in Digital Government and was awarded as one of the Top 100 Most Influential Women in Australia for 2014.

Pia is currently the Digital Lead and Special Advisor for the Benefits Delivery Modernization program at Service Canada (ESDC) in Ottawa, Canada. There she is helping design and deliver a holistic and modern digital channel for the Canadian Government to deliver a delightful, dignified, user-centric, responsive and integrated digital journey that motivates and empowers people to help themselves.

In our conversation, we talk about digital commons, public policy, and Pia’s dream of an optimistic future.

PS. Sorry about the bouts of background noise in this one, old house, tin roof, heavy rain. But I am confident the quality of the content will make up for it!

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Show Notes

[00:00:53] Pia’s journey to the tech space.
[00:01:27] Exploring a few different potential career options.
[00:01:42] Working in tech support and discovering open source.
[00:02:55] From tech to advocacy and policy.
[00:03:46] Working with Fmr Senator Kate Lundy and gaining experience politics and the public sector.
[00:04:09] As a sysadmin, it was only logical to want to understand the political system.
[00:05:13] Closing the divide between implementation and policy.
[00:05:51] How does Pia’s experience with digital commons and the open source community integrate with developing policy for governance?
[00:06:01] The methods and the ethos of open communities benefits work that you do ‘for the people’.
[00:07:14] The tech that can be built upon.
[00:07:53] How people are using open data resulting from open government initiatives.
[00:08:18] Resourcing for open data.
[00:08:55] The barriers and benefits of implementing open data.
[00:09:20] Eliminating one of the barriers to participation through setting up open data as a service.
[00:10:07] Open data providing numerous benefits to both data providers and requesters.
[00:11:31] Pia’s theory of ‘natural motivation’.
[00:12:08] Michele’s foray into open data (public toilets!).
[00:13:56] Starting GovHack to build motivation for open data.
[00:14:10] The good and the bad hackathons.
[00:14:53] Wanting a regular, safe, collaborative environment.
[00:16:40] Encouraging democratic participation beyond the ballot box.
[00:17:59] Pia’s motivation to study politics at a tertiary level.
[00:18:12] Feeling that a technology degree would not cultivate ways of thinking that aligned with her own.
[00:18:58] Learning public policy because you need to speak the language to affect change.
[00:20:24] Critical thinking and self-awareness.
[00:22:14] The similarities between the hard left and hard right.
[00:22:46] The Internet Filter.
[00:23:45] The value of hearing valid, opposing opinions.
[00:25:01] Pia’s dream of an optimistic future.
[00:25:59] Our systems should value human outcomes and not financial ones.
[00:27:44] The impact of trust, truth, and authenticity (and the pandemic) on Pia’s vision.
[00:28:30] People can’t change to what they can’t imagine.
[00:29:03] COVID exposing the flaws in our existing systems.
[00:30:26] COVID triggering an impetus for change.
[00:31:00] “it is neither feasible nor desirable to return to pre-COVID status quo” - Dr Sania Nishtar (Special Assistant to the Prime Minister of Pakistan on Poverty Alleviation and Social Protection) at NextGenGov 2020.
[00:32:28] Setting up governments that value ‘good’ and encourages broader participation because we can do better than this.
[00:34:01] We are a lot more influential than we realise - Working towards the light on the hill.
[00:35:47] We can all create a vision for ‘good’ and work towards it.
[00:37:07] Engage with old and different knowledge systems to understand the values that they bring.
[00:38:06] Learning from indigenous knowledge systems in Australia and New Zealand.
[00:40:22] Indigenous Protocols and Artificial Intelligence.
[00:40:35] Much of our knowledge is disembodied. We lack context and accountability.
[00:41:02] Embodied knowledge systems apply context to the information you receive, and you are accountable for it.
[00:42:43] Data driven AI will only take you so far. It needs context and values.
[00:44:12] AIs work on a deficit model based on the status quo. Don’t predict the future, invent it.
[00:44:47] A shift from predicting what happens next to cultivating it.
[00:46:15] Ensuring that we apply our craft in the context of values with action.
[00:47:04] Having conversations about our individual ‘lights on a hill’.
[00:48:19] Globalism isn’t just about supply chain, it’s about the opportunities and challenges of a global community.
[00:48:47] The relationship between government, academia , and private sector needs to be improved.
[00:49:14] Academics and scientist are naturally motivated by what is inherently good.

Topics/Resources/People Mentioned

Books

Additional information

Bonus Questions

What hobby or interest do you have that is most unrelated to your field of work?

Martial arts. So I’ve done martial arts for just over 30 years. And martial arts have been a major shaping of my thinking, of my techniques, of my patterns analysis. And martial arts has been a real stabiliser for me as well, because I think particularly as a female, just having no physical sense of danger when so much of the media and movies and everything tells you that, you know, women are victims, I think that that can subconsciously sink in for a lot of women. And it was only in probably my mid to late twenties I realised how much so many of my female friends and colleagues and people I just met were afraid physically day to day. Whereas for me, getting followed at home by a creep is not a physically scary thing for me, because there’s a part of me that knows I can handle it.

Which childhood book holds the strongest memories for you?

Hmmm, from my childhood would probably be either the The Hobbit (J R R Tolkien) or The Magician (Raymond E Feist), but most influential in my life was a little later than childhood :) I would strongly recommend Neuromancer (and everything) from William Gibson, Diamond Age from Neal Stephenson, and Accelerando from Charlie Stross, which have all been quite influential in my thinking. I even made some music influenced by Gibson’s stories (on my soundcloud :) Like Echoes in Space, which was a collaborative remix based on Jones the cyberetic veteran dolphin in Johnny Mnemonic.

What advice you would give someone who wants to do what you do? Or what advice should they ignore?

Honestly, don’t strive to do what someone else is doing. Live your own dream, your own values. Figure out what ‘good’ looks like for you and how you can contribute to making it happen, and then do that. Create a network of advice that you trust (including people who aren’t friends) and always check yourself against your values, your vision and your trusted network. There will always be haters, but don’t let that get in the way of doing something meaningful for you.

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[1] Pia has also studied martial arts since 1990, so she is more qualified than most to this title 😉