Government learns to share

Technological innovation is transforming our world and New Zealanders expect government to interact with them in new ways. This means using network technologies that people are familiar with in other parts of their lives: social networking web sites and tools like blogs, wikis, and folksonomies; the full range of digital channels such as mobile phones, instant messaging, podcasts and digital TV, as well as Internet pathways. The eGovernment Strategy, 2006.[1]

The goalposts were shifting with the quickening pace of technology. Laws that barely coped with the early days of the technology revolution, the regulatory environment, the definition of broadband, and what was meant by e-government had all been stretched and were perishing like old rubber in the sun.

The government’s multi-billion dollar efforts to prepare for the onslaught of change across all areas of society had only gone part way to gearing for what was ahead. We hadn’t completed the old infrastructure, and the requirements for the new one were already being scoped out.

We hadn’t trained enough skilled people to work in computer science, engineering, and ICT yet our skilled teachers and tutors were leaving en masse.

There was a sense of urgency as the country was being left behind its peers in the OECD club. A major thrust was under way for greater collaboration between the public and private sector, along with efforts to bring e-governance and ICT-related projects into more flexible digital frameworks that could be refreshed until the recipe was right. At last it seemed all the research, reports, industry white papers, and hard lessons from a decade of experimentation would amount to something, as the government repackaged them into a 21st century vision statement.

Communications Minister David Cunliffe described the government’s Digital Strategy documents, first released for discussion in October 2004, as the most significant shift in direction for ICT policy since Labour took office in 1999. He envisioned it leading to improved technology skills, higher Internet speeds, a stronger focus on content development, and on-line learning and business resources. Our industries, he said, would take world-class ideas to the international arena, our researchers would keep abreast of the latest international developments in science, medicine, and agriculture, and our children would share virtual global classrooms.[2]

Cunliffe believed he could turn New Zealand into a world-class innovator with a place in the top half of the OECD through our use of ICT, which had the potential to create value, attract new investment, grow key industries, preserve our cultural capital, and enable our communities to prosper. Content, connection, and confidence were the three enablers for this Digital Strategy. Connection would provide the means, the right skills, and a secure on-line environment would deliver confidence and a compelling reason to access and deliver content and make it happen. Government, business, and communities were seen as the agents of change with their respective initiatives impacting on each other.

Stoking the ICT machine

In 2004 our combined information technology and telecommunications sector was a 50/50 mix worth about $11 billion a year – depending on who you talked to – making up around 5 percent of New Zealand’s GDP. Then there was the software industry with annual revenues of about $488 million and electronics, which was a multi-billion-dollar earner exporting about 75 percent of production. Who knew what engineering, e-commerce development and related service, support and consulting industries were bringing in? Then of course there were scientific and biotech breakthroughs and creative industries including film, radio and television, multimedia, and interactive games, all of which had high return for local investment.

As part of the big plan, government wanted to see ICT revenues double by 2010 to 10 percent of GDP or around $20 billion, in line with its 2003 ICT Taskforce recommendations. “It’s a big ask – we need to have a lot of things in place before we can achieve this,” said Jim O’Neill, executive director of ITANZ. “We have to have an industry growing at 5–10 percent a year and that can only be achieved by growing the capability of IT organisations, driving up the productivity of users and looking at infrastructure.” Overseas companies needed greater incentive to invest here, and business tax issues including the way research and development was treated were impeding the growth process. For example he said the state sector, which made up 50 percent of the total IT spend, typically opted for ‘the safe edge’ rather than the cutting edge. “Because government is in a dominant position it should accept the responsibility for growing the sector.”

O’Neill said health and education were perfect examples of where ICT could make a massive difference. “Some in the health industry think having 14 health boards doing their own thing is not so bad but others believe a small country like New Zealand can’t afford to have independent health systems that aren’t talking to each other.” There are now ways to get around varying health standards and delivery. Similarly through more widely deployed broadband, it was becoming possible to deliver a ‘fantastic curriculum’ right across the country. “If we use technology properly, rural communities can attract the same kind of teaching skills as Auckland Grammar.”

ITANZ wanted to see the government grow intellectual property from state-of-the-art government developments. Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) had digitised the property sector with a world-beating solution and the National Health Index of patients was another leading-edge local development that could be exported. We needed to leverage ‘off-the-edge solutions’ that addressed similar problems faced by other countries. “Because we don’t always have the resources we’re forced to look at problems differently. However we seem to be satisfied with having a great idea and selling five systems locally rather than turning this into intellectual property we can retain and continue to get benefit from,” said O’Neill.[3]

Sharing an umbrella

The government’s goal of doubling ICT revenues had stirred up deep feeling across the industry. What was government doing placing such high thresholds on an industry it had done little to foster in the past? How would such targets be achieved when the country hadn’t been training people with the right skills or providing R&D tax and other incentives to attract finance or grow businesses? And one of the questions that had been sidelined so many times was being asked again: how could the industry hope to lobby government for changes in the environment if it wasn’t united itself?

O’Neill and others agreed the wider ICT industry needed a stronger voice to keep driving things forward. Currently there were in excess of 100 vendor, user, or industry organisations across computing, software, Internet, wireless, health, and related areas, all seeking government attention. ITANZ was looking for a catalyst for rationalisation and prepared to be absorbed if a new, more representative umbrella organisation emerged. That was in line with a July 2004 report on government ICT procurement that recommended more collaboration between agencies, suppliers, and industry bodies to lower cost and risk, reduce complexity, and improve efficiency all round.

Within months O’Neill had his wish. His organization, formed in the 1970s at the height of the big iron and minicomputer revolution, and powered by chief executives and senior IT people from across the industry, had been absorbed by a new body, ICT-New Zealand (ICT-NZ). ICT-NZ had its first meeting late in 2004, and despite battling with several industry bodies over conditions of membership, saw itself as the umbrella body that would bring cohesion to the heavily fragmented ICT sector and help companies improve their performance in the local and international marketplace. It supplanted ITANZ and the Software Association. The Canterbury ICT Cluster, Health IT Cluster, the HiGrowth Project, the New Zealand Wireless Forum, and Canterbury Software Inc were early members along with InternetNZ.

Peter Macaulay, a former ITANZ president and InternetNZ chief executive,[4] said attempts had been made as early as 1998 to try to establish ICT-NZ and he was hopeful there would be strong cross-industry engagement. While there were still issues over what level of involvement there might be with the 1000-strong Computer Society and the powerfully independent TUANZ, Macaulay suggested, “Even if they aren’t going to be in bed together they can at least go to the same motel.” That at least should allow each of the different groups to get around the table and develop common streams, which would then allow government to deal with a single organisation.

He said communication between the various groups was absolutely vital for the industry to put a common face on issues. “A blatantly obvious example is child pornography on the Internet; that’s motherhood and apple pie stuff. Nobody is going to disagree with that, yet we don’t have a consistent industry position on it. NetSafe has got that position and it’s, ‘Yeah, whatever they say,’ but what we should do is have ICT-NZ actually saying ‘the ICT industry in New Zealand supports the NetSafe position because . . ..’” If everyone came to ICT-NZ with their issues and it was able to say there were eight organisations totally agreed and two disagreeing then it could work through the areas of disagreement, said Macaulay.

New framework emerges

After years of working things through, a single architecture, ICT infrastructure, and data standards were finally emerging across the state sector. The e-Government Interoperability Framework (eGIF), for example, created common ground for dealing with all government, local government, and business needs.

Under investigation were interagency and local government collaboration including the role of legislation, Privacy Act obligations, and incentives for agencies to develop shared processes. New Zealand’s chief electoral office was eager to progress its e-voting pilot in a selected electorate for the 2008 election. “We need to work on our service delivery architecture, secure electronic workspaces and authentication before we can transform government,” said Digital Strategy cheerleader David Cunliffe.

We needed to focus on information-rich activities where we create, collect, manage, process and access information. This would include better access from work, home or the classroom to national heritage collections, government information, and databases of publicly funded scientific and technical information. By 2006 the government wanted to provide communities with ICT tool kits to map their assets including buildings, skills, and equipment to determine needs and how best to meet them.

By 2007, he enthused, there would be community-based technical support services in place including training programmes, Web portals, and resources for teachers, school administrators, and the wider education community. This might include e-centres in community locations, such as marae, libraries, homework centres, and Citizen’s Advice Bureaus. Many of these centres would assume the new role of ‘infomediary,’ or guides to the world of digital information. Once all the components were in place, the emerging e-democracy, we were told, would enable instant public access to government information anytime, anywhere, from any device. Ultimately citizens would be able to provide feedback about quality of services or content, and contribute to proposed policies or legislation.[5]

The final Digital Strategy document, after 200 written submissions and wide consultation, was launched in May 2005 by the MED. It was designed to help create the right policy and regulatory environment to target government investment. The vision was that New Zealand would become “a world leader at using information and technology to realise its economic, social, environmental, and cultural goals, to the benefit of all people.”

The government committed around $400 million to various programmes. Contestable seed funding of $44.7 million was set aside within the Growth and Innovation Framework (GIF), $24 million for the Broadband Challenge urban fibre-optic network, and $20.7 million to the Community Partnership Fund to help build ICT skills in communities and regions, and create distinctive New Zealand content. Additional funds were made available for cultural and business portals, ICT business productivity workshops, and digital initiatives across government departments including digitising our National Archives and bolstering e-education.[6]

After stepping down as chief executive of InternetNZ, Peter Macaulay had taken the reins of the Digital Strategy secretariat, a role created within the MED. He’d had input into the original document, was familiar with the goals, and passionate about seeing them translated into action. “It was an easy decision to take the job but difficult for me to work within the MED which was totally incompatible with my way of working. They’re very good at policy but they do not get operations.”

During his 18-month tenure he allocated the bulk of the $44 million Broadband Challenge and Community Partnership funds but the cash dried up before he could complete everything he was commissioned to do. Around 200 organisations had provided input and support. In fact the strategy had gained international recognition for its foresight. Macaulay said he met people in government in Austria, Sweden, and Scotland who knew about the New Zealand Digital Strategy and wished that they had one. “I used to say you can have our Digital Strategy if we can have your connectivity.”

He believed the secretariat helped de-silo some government ICT projects and provide an over-arching link between the different departments, as well as developing the content strategy, now under the mantle of the National Library. And while the National Library was well down the track in digitising its own content of archival material, the irony, said Macaulay, was that the National Archives, the National Library, and the National Film Unit didn’t want to talk to each other.

After his 18-month contract ended in February 2007, he renewed his criticisms of the secretariat being locked in as part of the policy-making MED, which he insisted was unsuitable for overseeing operational management. He said it was difficult for someone from a business environment to deliver outcomes within a regulatory environment. “If there was a regulatory issue, say, with Telecom, I couldn’t talk to the party involved. That’s stupid. I spent most of 1996 not being able to talk to the important parties. You need to remove any operational unit from inside a regulatory environment.”[7]

The Broadband Challenge element of the Digital Strategy was designed to improve the availability of broadband Internet access, with seed funding to establish up to 15 urban fibre networks, and network access to rural and poorly served communities by 2009. By February 2006, 35 high-calibre organisations had submitted plans and 13 were asked to submit detailed applications. Six projects won approval.

Digging for digital depth

In 2006 the government focused on regulatory reform for telecommunications. In 2007, according to the MED, it would be refreshing its strategies for broadband, high-speed connectivity, digital content, and initiatives around digital capability and security. Prime Minister Helen Clark announced to Parliament in February 2007 there would be a Digital Strategy Summit, bringing together influential New Zealanders from the IT, communications, business, and community sectors who wanted to contribute to the country’s economic, social, and export growth objectives.

Digital Strategy V 2.0 would be the key outcome of the refresh programme leading up to, and immediately following, a three-day summit in Auckland in November. Government would ask business and community what else it should be doing to help create a digital future for all New Zealanders looking ahead to 2012 with new initiatives.[8] The overall themes would remain the same: ‘connection, confidence and capability, and content’; and the challenge – how to become a high-tech, high-value, creative economy.

It was clear the Digital Strategy had just scratched the surface, and the greatest danger would be to think that throwing a few million dollars at selected projects had solved the problem. Certainly there seemed to be an unprecedented willingness across all sectors to maintain the momentum and drive the new digital economy forward. The previous two years had been highly eventful. Hauled under the broader Digital Strategy umbrella, although not part of its initial ambit, were a gigabit speed science and research network, the launch of free-to-air digital TV and regulatory reform, which opened the way for a much more competitive telecommunications environment, particularly with respect to broadband access.

The amended Telecommunications Act 2006 put the government’s seal on full unbundling of Telecom’s network and recommended splitting the telecommunications giant into wholesale, retail, and network divisions. After a protracted battle with ISPs demanding better bandwidth access, Telecom, under threat of regulation, had opened the floodgates from October 2006, offering the maximum speeds its copper network was capable of delivering.

Those fortunate enough to live in a neighbourhood close to an exchange with high-grade copper lines and low broadband use, could potentially achieve speeds of up to 7.5Mbit/sec. In most areas, however, it was proving to average 2Mbit/sec–3Mbit/sec. The open slather approach showed up the frailty of Telecom’s copper network with more than 10 percent of Internet users now getting slower speeds than previously.

Of connection, ‘comfort and capability’, and content, the first ‘c’ still attracted the most attention. The Digital Strategy papers originally set a benchmark for carriers to deliver ‘pervasive high-speed broadband;’ preferably at least 10Mbit/sec, for residential and small to medium enterprises in towns and provincial centres, using either copper or wireless technologies. Telecom continued to ramp up its long-awaited NGN with faster fibre roll-out, and was shortening its copper loops and upgrading its copper capability to handle faster DSL2+ technology theoretically capable of up to 24Mbit/sec. In the meantime, the target speed seemed to have mysteriously dropped to 5Mbit/sec, something Telecom could claim it already did ‘where line conditions allowed.’ Even David Cunliffe now stated ‘high-speed Internet access – 5Mb by 2010’ in a June speech.[9]

The targets were part of the government’s long-stated intention to get the country into the top half of the OECD Broadband Statistics by 2007 and top quarter by 2010 after languishing at 22nd place out of 30 nations since 2003. Our international goals kept slipping, with officials no longer talking about getting into the ‘top quartile’ but the top half of the OECD figures.

TUANZ chief executive Ernie Newman said one way to improve broadband uptake was to remove the practice of using data caps. The survey showed 90 percent of broadband subscribers had a data allowance cap, a 7.6 percent reduction on the previous six-month period. Data caps were an anachronism and a major constraint in maximising Internet use; ISPs needed to find ways of getting rid of them if stronger broadband growth was to continue, said Newman. The predominant broadband subscription plans were 2Mbit/sec, up from 512kbit/sec six months previously. More than 87 percent of all subscribers had upload speeds of lower than 256kbit/sec. InternetNZ said upload speeds were at a ‘snail pace,’ making it difficult for consumers to make full use of broadband applications like videoconferencing and gaming.[10]

An economic issue

Newman warned our poor telecommunications performance was no longer just an industry issue, but an economic one. “Our backwater status in broadband among the Asia-Pacific nations was a massive brake on our economic and social development.” While the country had the right policy framework in place through the revised Telecommunications Act 2006 and had enunciated an excellent vision through the Digital Strategy, the legislation had come too late and the vision for the future lacked the necessary sense of urgency.

In June he said the Digital Strategy was in danger of becoming irrelevant, largely because of its underpinning institutional structures. “The private sector and other external stakeholders, especially those outside Wellington, have been left out in the cold. Buy-in to the Digital Strategy has been one-sided. I sense it has succeeded in becoming the government’s Digital Strategy, but it has failed to become the nation’s.” The crying need, he said, was to re-engage the hearts and minds of the private sector and to move far more rapidly down the digital path.

He said burying the Digital Strategy within a ministry that had ‘a thousand other drivers’ to focus on and engaging multiple officials who fitted it in among other priorities was not working. “The Digital Strategy in the widest sense should be given a government agency of its own for a period of five years, and come directly under the auspices of the prime minister to neutralise the vested interests, career concerns and fiefdoms that inevitably get in the way of any cross-agency initiative.”

It needed to engage the brightest and best of those who understood the vision and had the technical skills and energy to make rapid progress. “They must have an environment that empowers them and demands they turn the Digital Strategy vision into a reality.” He suggested a dedicated Ministry for the Digital Future could put some clout behind indications that the broadcasting and ICT ministries were looking at convergence issues, including future policy for broadcasting and telecommunications. Such a ministry would be the ideal repository for the execution of the Digital Strategy.[11]

What was needed, said industry elder and broadband consultant Laurence Zwimpfer, was an integrated network infrastructure from one end of the country to the other that could easily be extended into all rural areas. What’s more, we needed to upgrade our broadband definition. “We have had a lowest common denominator approach. What can be achieved over a pair of copper wires is nothing like the broadband visions many countries now have. We need to know how we are going to achieve this beyond little bits of government money to help keep it visible. There is not enough money to tackle the size of the problem or incentive for commercial players to make the investment needed.”

Zwimpfer warned existing plans weren’t sufficient to keep pace with future demands. “As soon as we decide 2Mbit/sec or even 10Mbit/sec is a good benchmark it will move on. We have to be a bit clever here; not everyone needs a 100Mbit/sec or gigabit connection but some people need all of those. We need a strategy that can migrate so different users can choose the type of connection they need.” It was time to take into account different tariff models for different sectors of society, not just the familiar carrier model which said “the bigger it is, the more you use, the more you pay.” That model had crippled the development of education, health, and even local authorities as they tried to keep pace with their user community demands. If local authorities, schools, and the health system were continually concerned about the cost of communications infrastructure they tended not to take risks.[12]

A Kiwi burger of content

In November 2006 a revised e-Government Strategy document was published, reflecting changes in the technology and communications environment and the impact of a growing digital generation who had grown up with the on-line world. As the e-Government blurb pointed out:

The 2001 e-Government Strategy, together with the 2003 review, highlighted the ways government could use the Internet to increase the value of services internally and to all New Zealanders. The 2006 update took into account the launch of the Digital Strategy and Development Goals for the State Services in 2005, focusing on the inevitability of technological change and the need for government to recognise and meet the challenges. This was an all-of-government approach aimed at transforming how agencies used technology to deliver services, provide information, and interact with people. The focus was now very much with the Internet as a channel for publishing information, and delivering interactive services.

The core goals were:

Part of the Digital Strategy was to have a Digital Content Strategy[13] in place by 2007 with rolling deadlines for communities and government. There was a growing desire to broaden the emphasis on gathering, archiving, and presenting government and community information using the Internet. The Content Strategy would chart a course for a content-rich New Zealand over a five-year period, where New Zealanders would be “actively engaged in the creation, sharing, use and commercialisation of content on-line and in digital form.” David Cunliffe said value was driven by content and the policy on digital content should reflect New Zealand’s intrinsic nature: “I want to see the Kiwi burger of content.”

In the May 2007 budget around $8.5 million over four years was made available to replace Archives New Zealand’s 16-year-old file location and tracking system, and other key systems to enable it to archive material that originated in a digital environment. The National Library recognised in its strategic directions to 2017 that the Web would be the centre of the new digital lifestyle that would change our culture and how we interact with information. It said the traditional model needed to adapt in order to be more responsive to users. The Web, it said would be the platform for interaction, information, education, entertainment, and communication.

“As we move further along the digital highway many more records are created in a digital environment and quality systems are essential to ensure these records are captured so they are useable both now and in the future. We want to ensure electronic public records are appropriately maintained by government agencies and are accessible as public archives for as long as they are needed,” said Judith Tizard, the minister responsible for the National Library and Archives New Zealand.[14]

However one important group felt sidelined by the whole process. While there was gratuitous use of Maori terminology, and what appeared to be an environment that embraced the language and culture, the reality of what was proposed through the nation’s new digital mantra had few specifics.

IT consultant Robyn Kamira, a member of the Digital Strategy Advisory Group, was concerned that many issues relating to New Zealand’s indigenous Maori people, the tangata whenua[15] or people of the land, had not been embraced in the Digital Strategy even though they had a large stake in the recording, storing, and retrieval of historical information in particular. The Treaty of Waitangi obligations of the Crown, which had in previous years included ‘principles of the Treaty’[16] clauses throughout legislation, seemed to have waned. Now it was as if discussions relating to the ancient agreement between the Maori chiefs and the Crown in 1840 had fallen off the agenda.

“The digital world permeates our daily activities to the extent that many tangata whenua commonly use digital tools and media to record, store and manipulate content. The government also has digital repositories of content that are sourced from or created by tangata whenua. These repositories are held within its museums, libraries, archives, courts and numerous government agencies.” Kamira said it could be argued that these combined repositories represent the largest collection of such content in the world. “The issue of how to protect and use this content, and how to ensure it benefits tangata whenua, is cause for ongoing tension with the government … because the ownership of content held by government institutes is not agreed and legislation does not recognise collective ownership[17] or the kaitiakitanga[18] roles and processes of tangata whenua.”

Kamira said even the 2006 Digital Content Strategy failed to recognise the Treaty of Waitangi and its relevance. While the drafting of this document should have provided an ideal opportunity to address outstanding issues of ownership and caretaker rights of Maori content, the failure to include the Treaty meant there was no leverage to work towards such a resolution. She said the Digital Strategy and its sub-strategy for content simply reduced tangata whenua to ‘community’ alongside pony clubs and other interest groups, and in doing so failed to recognise the historic and spiritual body of Maori and the intergenerational and unique nature of Maori knowledge. This was inconsistent with the content strategy’s statement that “Maori language, knowledge and culture [is] a vital part of New Zealand’s identity.”

To eliminate the high risk of loss of content, she said the digital strategies needed to identify tensions between government and tangata whenua with the aim of resolving ownership and kaitiakitanga issues and to reduce lost content, or content that was out of context because it was dislocated from the source.[19]

Grazing in the commons

The idea of a commons or a neutral place where commoners might graze their cattle or grow gardens, or the concept of resources ‘that a community recognises as being accessible to any member of that community’ has long been debated. For example, is the information of academics or local and central government a public good resource that should be freely shared or a commodity that can be bought and sold? The digital environment has had a huge impact on the flow of information and the way it is shared adds further fuel to the debate of what might constitute an electronic commons. Is this merely a collection of useful Web addresses, access to wikis and content development tools or can it go much further?

Creative Commons, launched in 2001 and headquartered in San Francisco, is a global movement to establish a middle way between extreme copyright controls and uncontrolled exploitation of intellectual property. To achieve this, a range of freely available copyright licences were established to allow creators to fine-tune control over their work and enable wider distribution.

Creative Commons was originally grounded in American law and practice to counter the effects of what its founder Lawrence Lessig termed “. . . a culture in which creators get to create only with the permission of the powerful, or of creators from the past.” He said modern culture was dominated by traditional content distributors in order to maintain and strengthen their monopolies on cultural products, such as popular music and popular cinema, and that Creative Commons could provide alternatives to these restrictions. It spread worldwide under the auspices of Creative Commons International, with 35 national licences so far established.

Through the Council for the Humanities, New Zealand is one of 44 countries involved in a project to create an indigenous set of Creative Commons licences. Through Creative Commons Aotearoa it is creating six new local licences.[20] The most restrictive licence, ‘Attribution: non-commercial, no derivatives,’ allows others to download works and share them, as long as they mention and link back to the author. However they can’t change the item in any way or use it commercially. The least restrictive, ‘Attribution by,’ lets others distribute, remix, tweak and build upon a work, even commercially, as long as they credit the author for the original creation use. All the licences allow the author to retain copyright outside of the licence’s specific fair provisions, and all are applicable worldwide for the duration of the work’s copyright.[21]

Critical documents on-line

The New Zealand Public Service had adopted new Web standards that emphasised accessibility regardless of technological or physical impediments. Government Web Standards v 1.0 replaced the previous guidelines and was formulated by a working group of ten reviewers representing government, people with disabilities and usability professionals. “The e-Government Strategy highlights the importance of accessible State Services in transforming the operation of government. These standards provide the building blocks for ensuring government web sites are accessible to all,” said Laurence Millar, deputy commissioner for ICT.

The new standards would help remove duplications and dated material, and focus on making information more useable. “This will give government agencies much more clarity and direction around how they use the Internet as a means of delivery.” Public Service departments would be expected to comply with the new standards, while state sector organisations were being encouraged to follow suit. Local government and the private sector were encouraged to adopt the standards.[22]

Central and local government were making significant inroads in getting their own communities in line, and documentation and processes on-line. By August 2006, 99 percent of government organisations had access to the Internet and 97 percent had broadband; 93 percent of government staff had Internet access compared to 43 percent of business staff, according to a Statistics New Zealand report. It showed 77 percent of government organisations were planning to invest in new or upgraded software, desktop hardware or ICT in the year to August 2007. Obstacles to implementing new ICT solutions were competing priorities, budget constraints, and a lack of qualified people.

More than 60 percent of forms and documents needed for public dealings with government were available on the Web and 26 percent of government organisations offered transactional services on their web sites compared with 34 percent of businesses. The report said 30 percent of people obtained on-line information about government organisations or public authorities on-line in the 12-month period and 18.6 percent of individuals downloaded or completed government forms on-line while a 10 percent made payments to government departments.

While it hadn’t been widely publicised the Statistics Department opened the way for on-line forms to be filled out by New Zealanders during the Census of 2005, and the response was considered a resounding success. There was on-line filing for tax and GST returns, ACC forms, company registration, statistical information and customs forms and outstanding fines could even be paid on-line from September 2007.

Inland Revenue had developed and launched a comprehensive e-Enablement Strategy, setting out a series of 52 linked initiatives. The Ministry of Social Development had installed a consolidated voice and data network with a toll bypass facility across its 240 nationwide sites. Moves were afoot to speed up the judicial process, enabling lawyers and police to file legal documents with the courts electronically. While a law change was still required, e-filing in conjunction with a $41.9 million investment in case management system could enable many commercial elements of commercial case work to be conducted outside the courtrooms and managed remotely.

Courts Minister Rick Barker told Parliament’s law and order select committee in June 2007, that courts’ current business processes were a Dickensian way of handling information, involving ‘mountains of paper.’ The modern solution was digitising everything to be accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week, remotely and by multiple people. The ministry had brought together systems operated by the Justice Ministry and the Courts Department during a 2003 merger. The ministry signed a $55 million IT contract with Telecom’s technology services arm Gen-i in February, reducing its technology suppliers from twelve to one.

Preserving the future

‘Continuum – Create and Maintain’ was a whole-of-government approach to record-keeping, designed to help government agencies meet best practice record-keeping standards, so that the most significant records of government were preserved now and for future generations. The long-awaited Public Access to Legislation (PAL) project was going through user testing in May 2007, ahead of implementation later in the year.

The extensive testing phase for drafting and publishing legislation across several government departments was to determine with certainty that the system functioned according to specifications in a ‘production like’ environment, loaded with copies of all legislative data – more than 7000 acts and regulations. Prime contractor Unisys was also testing performance. Even after release, legislative information from the PAL web site would be regarded as unofficial. Correcting punctuation and layout for consistency of style up to the high specifications of the Parliamentary Counsel Office (PCO) could take another three years before it was considered an ‘official version’ New Zealand legislation.[23]

In fact there was so much activity in e-government that the State Service Commission (SSC) reported a $32 million surge in spending over five years. By June 2007 it was revealed that spending on e-government initiatives accounted for 40 percent of all SSC spending, and contributed to an overall increase in spending of 125 percent over the previous five years. In the 2003 financial year SSC spent around $25 million, while in the 2008 year it was budgeted to spend $57.6 million. SSC e-Government director Laurence Millar explained the business case was based on the delivery of future benefits. The payback would be in taking costs out of government as a whole. The lion’s share of the increases came from funding the Identity Verification Service (IVS) and the Government Shared Network (GSN).

Millar said each investment contributed towards the SSC’s strategic e-government goals of accessible state services and ‘joined-up’ service delivery. Projects including secure email, the all-of-government portal and delivering collaboration tools had all contributed to the cost along with secure collaboration tools and document sharing. The public sector secure private network, a resource that sat between each agency’s individual intranet and the broader Internet, also came at a cost.

Other projects being developed over a number of years required incremental investment, including the all-of-government authentication programme, which began around 2001 and had delivered the Government Log-on Service and two-factor authentication for government users. The next stage was the Identity Verification Service, which won $9 million in funding over two years in the 2007 Budget and would authenticate external users. “The GSN initiative is expected to start generating a positive return from the middle of 2008,” said Millar.[24]

By the end of 2007 the GSN, a highly secure, nationwide, industrial-strength Internet and telecommunications provider owned by the state was delivering the best possible bang for the public buck to local and central government agencies. It had been approved in June 2005, and a year later the strategic and financial go-ahead was given and the roll-out began. The first agencies were onboard by mid-2007. Rather than allowing agencies to continue with the ad hoc approaches to ICT of the past, the GSN finally enabled them to standardise, aggregate, collaborate, and share resources.

In fact, David Cunliffe warned government agencies that if they didn’t commit to join the GSN he’d want to know why. He emphasised at the GOVIS (Government Information Systems Managers) 2007 conference that the Crown had made significant investment in a highly capable and secure system and indicated non-use of the GSN would not be taken lightly. He was no doubt wondering how much might be trimmed off the total government operating expenditure budget on ICT, which in the 2006 financial year was $1.1 billion.

No more isolation

SSC e-Government projects manager Edwin Bruce said government agencies could no longer work in isolation as they were increasingly required to move data between each other, the public, and businesses. “You are somewhat constrained in what you can do over the public Internet. Without a secure GSN you end up with point-to-point links everywhere. This is an opportunity to rationalise those links. There only needs to be one point of connection to get to all the other agencies in a secure and high-speed way, and from a cost perspective we’re very competitive,” he said.

“The number of Internet-based attacks on government web sites is on the rise and this alone has been a solid argument for consolidation; in fact security was pretty much top of the list, a distant third was the opportunity to exploit consolidated purchasing.” At least 16 suppliers were involved in building the gigabit nationwide network, which raised the bar on all existing offerings with guaranteed end-to-end performance enabling applications to be delivered centrally with no bandwidth bottlenecks. There were plans for speeds to shift up to 10Gbit/sec.

IBM was responsible for managing and monitoring the network and all the supplier arrangements, Revera (formerly HDS) and Datacom Systems supplied the data centre capabilities and FX Networks and DTS (Data Traffic Services) delivered the high-end ISP capabilities. Data tails and backbone capabilities were acquired from a range of suppliers including Telecom, FX Networks, Kordia (formerly BCL), Vector and CityLink and ultimately other providers of metropolitan fibre networks.

Early adopters were Maritime New Zealand, the Department of Labour, Archives New Zealand, the Ministry of Education, and Te Puni Kokiri. The Ministry of Education signed up to connect 60-plus sites. Health was in dialogue about the possibilities, and the Ministry of Social Development believed the network specifications were a good fit for its needs. By early November the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, SSC, the Department of Internal Affairs, and the NZ Police had signed up.

NZ Police would be able to provide high bandwidth between key communications sites and data centres, with the GSN delivering quick access to vital information, which could be crucial to police operations. The DIA would have a single point of access to other government agencies and greater bandwidth and greater diversity than its existing network for implementing larger IT projects.[25] There was potential for up to 300 government departments and agencies to join, including local authorities.

The SSC effectively owned the core network infrastructure including switches and routers which were predominantly Cisco, and the security infrastructure was a mixture of Cisco and Juniper. This equipment was located at the Datacom data centre in Auckland and the Rivera centre in Wellington. Then there was the CPE for each of the client sites, preconfigured to the security and capability standards of the GSN. “The reality is that implementing this level of encryption over public IPNetworks is bloody expensive, including over the telco networks. Even the biggest agencies find it difficult to make a business case for this, and for the smaller and medium sized ones it’s out of the question. The GSN has been engineered so everyone gets the highest security levels from day one,” said GSN project manager Michael Foley.

The fundamental building block and access point into the $23 million network was core.connect; typically a 1Gb or greater interface between an agency’s data centre and one or more of the GSN nodes. Using virtual firewalls agencies could build virtual private networks (VPNs) to any other agency as part of the controlled access network community. There was wide area office connectivity for agencies to get out to their own branches, including wireless connections for more remote areas, and a full Internet gateway tailored for high-level government communications needs. A remote service for outlying offices and mobile workers was also on the agenda. Key to the GSN was the eGIF, which created common data service formats freeing agencies up from technical obstacles of the past and enabling different files formats and types to be easily interchanged.[26]

Top of the list for GSN as far as infrastructure went was dark fibre, now available along the backbone of the North Island from FX Networks and in the metropolitan areas from Vector, CityLink and a growing number of public-private urban fibre providers, including those that received ‘broadband challenge’ funding. So how was the GSN roll-out paid for? There was a Clayton’s budget, the kind of budget you have when you don’t have a budget. It was being debt funded, in other words there was a huge overdraft facility – around $23 million – which it could dip into on an ‘as needed’ basis.

“We’ll draw down that debt as required and dive into the red while we’re building and deploying and as revenue starts appearing it will cover operational and fixed costs with a cycle to reinvest as we go along.” Edwin Bruce insisted there wouldn’t be any profit made from the GSN although he was confident it would break even and the cash should start rolling in from March 2008.[27]

The e-Government Strategy launched in March 2001 included a plan for local government to be: “Structured, resourced and managed to perform in a manner that meets the needs of New Zealanders in the information age, and which increasingly delivers information and services using on-line capabilities.” Under that mandate local government set its own strategy, which began to take shape at workshops in August 2002.

The resulting April 2003 e-Local Government Strategy[28] aimed to deliver easy on-line access to information and services, develop innovative products and services, enhance participation in local democracy and provide community leadership on e-business initiatives. The overarching goal was, wait for it… ‘for New Zealand local government to be a world leader in e-local government.’

Local Government New Zealand championed the plan, which would attempt to achieve a more collaborative approach between local authorities and central government. This meant sharing information and services, greater participation by citizens, and promotion of local leadership for community and business e-enablement. Improved access to ICT through learning centres, training programmes, tools, and affordable high-speed Internet services were also on the agenda.

In a July 2005 speech David Cunliffe urged councils to identify wider challenges facing the community in the future. “How can we encourage teleworking to reduce traffic? Could old computers be put out with the recycling? What is the council’s role in managing e-waste?” One of the key challenges, he said, was to ensure that all local government agencies worked together to achieve common ICT goals and outcomes. “It is important that agencies partner together to ensure that the benefits of the strategy are as wide reaching as possible.”[29]

The e-Local Government Strategy was built on by councils based on common guidelines and deadlines. By 2007 they had established a set of core and non-core services on-line; for example ratepayer interaction for building, resource management and licensing, and providing core information on their web sites accessible from the local government portal. There were a range of local government web sites for different sectors. Transactional systems and on-line billing were being worked on as was the goal to ensure all New Zealanders had access to, and training in, ICT through schools, libraries and the community.

At the July 2007 Local Authorities Conference in Dunedin, Local Government Minister Mark Burton was impressed with the clustering activities of local authorities which were creating their own development strategies for shared services and access to resources across regions. He singled out the fact that nine lower North Island councils had banded together to produce the Wellington Regional Strategy, a sustainable economic growth strategy for the region; three authorities in the Western Bay of Plenty had formed a ‘Smart Growth’ initiative to address social, economic, and environmental issues and the Regional Sustainable Development Forum had produced the ‘One Plan’ project in Auckland to strengthen the regional strategy and promote social, economic, cultural, and environmental well-being. Burton said the role of central government was as supporter or facilitator to help clear the path for such clusters, through co-ordination and funding.

Locally owned loops

Local Government On-line (LGO) was acting as a catalyst to encourage fibre-optic build-out of community networks and facilitating discussion groups, collaborative software development and a common Web portal for councils. The limited liability company was owned by the four major local government organisations, Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ), the Association of Local Government Information Managers (ALGIM), the New Zealand Society of Local Government Managers (SOLGM) and Civic Insurance, the insurance company owned by the councils. It ran the Internet platform for local government including the local government on-line portal ( ), a major portal where all the councils hosted their long-term community and annual plans.

LGO handled the communication between councils through a shared services approach. This included a local government on-line tendering room used by about 60 councils for electronic tendering. It also ran about 90 listserves or email discussion groups on specific topics, and operated nine shared workspaces. Chief executive Jim Higgins said the IT managers list was “hugely busy with people exchanging information.” There was also an ICT Working Group where central and local government representatives collaborated on projects. LGO was also involved in a small amount of software development, including on-line forms that all 85 councils could use, a major emergency management system which was trialled at Hutt Valley Council before being rolled out to the rest of the country, and a database for pollution management.

“One of the pollution control guys from Far North District Council told us they’d gone through the complex processes of bringing a court case against a company caught polluting, only to discover the same company was also facing court action from the Southland District Council for the same thing. Now we’ve built a database so councils can go straight to court if they find the same company is doing this elsewhere and ensure they get a big fine.” Higgins said the collaborative approach also worked as an informal way of keeping in touch over dangerous dogs, for example. “A dog ranger may realise a family with a dangerous dog has left town and swap notes with other councils to look out for them.”

However Higgins said the build-out of community networks by local authorities was still embryonic. “We began talking to them in 2004 but there wasn’t a lot of interest. Some IT managers saw it as an opportunity but others said it wasn’t their core business. That’s changed and there’s a lot of interest now with councils getting projects together and partnering with businesses and telcos.”

Many councils were aware their own web sites were becoming harder to manage as they began moving into e-government and needed a lot more grunt. This was also seen as an opportunity to get money from central government through the Broadband Challenge. Higgins said there was an unspoken acceptance within some councils to move into communications. “Many were already in the infrastructure business with water and sewerage, and in the past gas and electricity, so why wouldn’t they get involved?” He said the Broadband Challenge, which required councils to come up with a workable business plan and to form partnerships with local businesses, schools, hospitals, and the community, now had many councils working through those issues in the hope there would be a next round of funding.

What was missing at some councils was a keen individual who would get the vision and run with it. That had to happen without too many case studies of what could be achieved, as most of the fibre networks were still being rolled out. And while there was no grand plan across the country for connected networks at this stage, Higgins said that’s how the Internet evolved in the first place. “A lot of disparate networks appeared around the United States and then got bolted together. That’s what will happen here – lots of little high-speed networks springing up. Someone has to do it and clearly it won’t be Telecom or TelstraClear.”

Discussions continued about a common national network, and whether the GSN would welcome local government involvement. It would be handy for exchanging the primarily land-based data that moves between local and central government but there wasn’t a lot of other high-value data moving between councils. It was far more important for councils to get their own local networks together first, and that, said Higgins, presented its own difficulties when some places still couldn’t even get a good enough connection to pull up a Web page. “There are issues around getting better bandwidth out to remote areas and ensuring they’re not disenfranchising people when they move further into e-government. A serious number of councils are looking into these issues now,” he said.

Clever council’s commended

There were many examples of innovative ICT solutions transforming central and local government. The Smarter Systems Project of Libraries for a Greater Auckland Region (eLGAR) used a single library management system across Auckland City, Manukau, North Shore, Rodney and Waitakere Libraries.[30] The Botany Library in Manukau City was New Zealand’s first retail library using radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to manage a book collection.[31] The Ministry of Culture and Heritage’s Te Ara, the Encyclopedia of New Zealand was thought to be the world’s first digital national encyclopedia. It was developed over many years, with a range of rich information layers for different users including students, people living overseas and scholars.[32]

The Tauranga District Council’s National Dog Database, the National Library of New Zealand’s Web Curator tool, the GeoNet project from GeoNet Science and the Department of Internal Affairs’ Electronic Monitoring System were all further examples of government innovation winning a place in the finals of the Computerworld ICT Excellence Awards.

In addition to chipping New Zealand’s 500,000 canine companions, the National Dog Database links their details nationwide across 73 territorial authorities. The system is updated daily and allows animal control officers to search all dog registration, classification and infringement data in New Zealand.

The National Library’s Web Curator Tool supports the selection, harvesting, and quality assessment of on-line material. “It lets librarians collect web sites the same as they collect books so our important digital heritage can be preserved,” said National Library technical analyst Gordon Paynter. The new tool, developed with the British Library for $379,000, uses open source software across multiple operating systems.

The GNS Science GeoNet Project monitors earthquakes and advises people how to respond. Developed with the Earthquake Commission, GeoNet also assesses volcanic movements and landslides and a tsunami warning system is on the way. It also uses free and open source software and is designed to integrate with many systems to allow the widespread dispersal of information. Web hosting is done internally, but Web servers are based in California in case Wellington is taken out. GeoNet allows seismic and GPS data to feed into the same system, helping the study of what causes earthquakes and landslips to better determine their location.

Another innovation has been the Department of Internal Affairs’ Electronic Monitoring System (EMS) $42 million, IP-based, WAN linking New Zealand’s 20,000 gaming machines across 16,000 pubs and clubs. The project helped the government monitor the country’s pokie machines to ensure they paid out fairly and appropriate duties were paid.36 And the Weather Information Service Engine (WISE) from the MetService provided on-line weather, including five-day urban, alpine, marine and coastal observations and forecasts.[33]

Community still confused

While the government continued to emphasise the need for strong links with the community, and for greater collaboration and co-operation between community groups, there appeared to be no cohesive strategy to encourage all parties to achieve that. Initiatives were prefaced with the desire to encourage local solutions to local problems, build government and voluntary sector partnerships and provide services to citizens and customers through best use of information technology. However concerns were being expressed about the number of overlapping initiatives.

The DIA continued to upgrade and promote CommunityNet Aotearoa as the portal of preference for community and volunteer groups while the New Zealand Federation of Voluntary Welfare Organisations (NZFVWO) was getting a major technology upgrade, as were the Citizens Advice Bureau.

NZFVWO had funding for its community information management systems (CIMs) project approved in July 2007 to help the community and voluntary sector establish a ‘shared workspace,’ which would allow organisations to host their communications networks, including discussion lists, electronic newsletters and magazines, and email notifications using a common ICT platform. Since November 2006 a number of national organisations and individuals had committed to the project including Association of NGOs in Aotearoa (ANGOA), Volunteering NZ, NZ Council of Social Services (NZ COSS), Philanthropy New Zealand, Centre for Social Health Outcomes Research and Evaluation (SHORE), NZ Association of Adolescent Health & Development (NZAAHD), the UNITEC Not-for-profit Management Programme, Whitireia UPLIFT programme, Centre for Social Research and Evaluation (MSD), and Evolving Enterprise.

While there was a lot of talk in the Digital Strategy and other initiatives about collaboration and co-operation between community groups, Peter Sykes, director of the Mangere East Family Services, who’d been involved in the community sector for 25 years, said there was zero funding set aside for this. According to Statistics NZ, there were 97,000 people involved in community sector groups, all trying to access and share information. Only in the past 15 years had groups at the regional and national level started to value their work together, he said. “In the past you did your own thing and that was encouraged by local and central government, which didn’t want these sectors to become too strong, they liked to maintain some level of control.”

He and other community representatives had been trying to explain to government that they couldn’t get funding for collaborating, co-ordinating, or networking. “A lot of groups are doing great work but information sharing is not always taking place. It takes time to go to meetings to find what other groups are doing because they’re so busy working to meet their own outcomes.” Sykes said the community sector was only starting to realise it couldn’t keep creating new organisations. “There aren’t the volunteers or resources to do that. So how do you set up memorandums with other groups without having to form a legal structure? How do you promote collaboration?”

Meanwhile the DIA continued to contribute ‘several hundred thousand dollars’ in direct costs, maintenance and running the server and employing a three-person team running the CommunityNet Aotearoa (CNA) Web portal. From December 2003 it had openly stated it wanted to be first port of call for community organisations in New Zealand. “We will know when we have reached this point when CommunityNet Aotearoa is the start page for everyone working in and with Maori and community and voluntary groups and all such organisations have a link to the site from their own web site,” the advisory group had agreed.

CNA provides how-to guides, news, discussion groups, information-sharing, practical resources and hundreds of Web links to community resources and information across the country. It was launched in November 1998 as part of the Communities On-line strategy; a major update was completed in 2003 and another overhaul was underway in 2007. It was added to the list of key government Digital Strategy initiatives in May 2005 for its ability to provide ‘free, convenient access to relevant, quality information’ which could raise the profile and capability of the community sector and encourage information sharing between organisations. It was, however, only getting around 30,000 hits a month as at September 2006.

A new site manager had been appointed, technology was being updated to make user access easier, the links directory had been split into regions, making it easier for volunteer and community organisations to find each other, and data management services and software was being reviewed to more effectively deliver content. The site already had RSS feeds for distributing news headlines and more concise content, but in the future might be required to deliver material to mobile computers and cellphones. Through these transitions it had to be aware of those who didn’t have access to the latest technology.

“Despite the broadband rhetoric there are still a lot of people on dial-up and older computers that can easily be jammed up if we use the latest software from Microsoft and others. Our goal is primarily people interfacing with people and we don’t want technology you can’t access,” said Peter Sykes, founding advisory group member. “No community group could maintain those kind of costs, and while there are a number of other groups providing information for the community, voluntary welfare and social services community, CommunityNet Aotearoa is the only portal bringing them all together and pointing back out.”

The plan was to build greater support for the Maori, Pacific Island and migrant sectors, so they felt more confident contributing to and using on-line content; and to foster greater mainstream understanding of what was happening in those sectors. However Anglican Trust for Women and Children chief executive and former advisory group member, Wilson Irons, while convinced CNA had a strong future, said not enough people were linking their resources there. “Social services needed a clearing house as a gateway to a number of sites. That’s how it was set up but it never got there because it wasn’t updated and needed lot of resources.”

Collaborating seperately

There were also concerns about ownership and loss of focus as more people put their energies into their own web sites. What was needed, Irons suggested, was for the site to become more of a library for the community where people could download policies, procedures, discussion documents, newsletters and information from across the different sectors. Currently, he said, the duplication of information across all social services, community notice boards, and agency web sites was confusing.

One organisation which has a wide-ranging infrastructure and had been involved in an advisory capacity in the early years of CommunityNet Aotearoa was the Citizens Advice Bureau. With a change in staff over the years its commitment to the community site had waned and it had instead focused on updating its own extensive resources. Andrisha Kambaran, senior advisor at CAB’s Wellington headquarters, said there was no longer any formal arrangement with CNA nor were there any plans to be involved with it in the future. She suggested that the reasons for the site in 1998 might well have been much stronger when there were barriers to having a web site or using the Internet for community organisations.

She wondered how well the site had adapted to the changing times and whether it was still relevant and appropriate for DIA to continue funding it. Since the Digital Strategy was announced, many community groups had embarked on ‘a significant technical upscale’ to help them achieve their objectives and expand into new territory. CAB received $1.27 million from the Digital Strategy Community Partnership Fund (CPF) to enable the organisation to develop an integrated ICT infrastructure to increase its efficiency, accessibility and effectiveness. Some of its partners also contributed an additional $330,000.

The funding would “strengthen the well-being of our communities by enhancing New Zealanders’ abilities to realise their social, economic, civil, political, and cultural rights and their ability to participate more fully in democracy and society.” CAB had 2700 volunteers with 27 different nationalities represented and had 620,773 client inquiries through the 2006 year and about 36 percent of its clients were migrants.

CAB’s own digital strategy project would be “truly transformational,” said Kambaran. “We are certainly thinking big; an interactive web site with everything from digital stories to multilingual functionality; an enhanced intranet with a new content management system, including using digital media as a training tool for CAB volunteers; a networked environment for all Bureaus so that all computers in the organisation can access a centralised database of information.” The new funding would also allow the purchasing of standardised computers and applications for all bureaus.

She said the CAB, which operates from 91 locations from the Far North to Invercargill, was integral in making information that was important to people’s lives accessible, and offered a path-finding role, helping the public find the appropriate support or information. It would provide information and links to more than 50,000 organisations from its database with a focus on individuals seeking information, as opposed to community organisations seeking support.

True e-democracy denied

Getting communities across the country to engage in the decision-making process at local and central government level would be a major step towards meeting government direction statements. Whether the public sector was really listening to, and prepared to act on, the outcomes communities would like was another question altogether.

Andy Williamson, head of the Digital Strategy Advisory Group and community informatics researcher with a strong focus on citizen-led e-democracy, warned e-democracy in New Zealand was a flawed and failing ideal. His research pointed to significant frustration on the part of community activists who often felt unheard, and that any progress was hard fought for, and slow in coming. While the Local Government Act 2002 was designed to create more consultative models of local government, he claimed the reality was little more than rhetoric.

“Councils value the community voice less than their own opinion or the advice of paid external consultants. It’s like a game, where community input is sought but only acted upon when it aligns with council’s own agenda. It’s what I call ‘benevolent bullying’ in my research. Council appears to ‘play fair’ but in reality arrogantly position themselves as expert and the community as less informed, even troublesome and certainly problematic.”

The biggest obstacle in getting e-democracy, or for that matter broadband roll-out or community ICT up and running, is that the innovators continually ran into ‘a government-manufactured brick wall.’ “Local government in particular is hugely risk averse and won’t really dare do anything new or original. It seems to me that it is terrified of innovation or of being first. No one wants to stick their head up and make a decision. Central government is much the same. It’s chicken and egg – they don’t want to employ new tools, because they are unproven. Well, how convenient. There is also a lot of fear around e-democracy, those in power fear losing it. It’s often as blunt as that. Local government is a fascinating case study but all parts of government I’ve encountered in New Zealand and overseas would rather listen to a consultant than a citizen.”

He said the rise of a technocracy shifted decision-making away from elected representatives towards ‘experts,’ where decisions were based on science and professional knowledge, rather than public opinion. “There is an opportunity for citizens to reclaim their voices at a time when increasing decentralisation of decision making is mirrored by declining democratic participation and a public perception.”

Williamson said both the Community Sector Taskforce and the New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services stated they felt ignored by government when they had tried to communicate their needs, despite putting their views clearly. “I’m reminded of John Kenneth Galbraith, who once observed that government was ‘mentally moribund, seriously incompetent and, on frequent occasion, offensively arrogant’; 25 years later little has changed.”

He said it was still early days for citizen awareness of what ICT could achieve. “Even experts in e-democracy confuse the subject. I read an article in a newspaper recently entitled ‘e-democracy’ but it was simply about party election web sites, which is only a small sub-set of the topic … which just maintains the status quo, albeit on-line. We need more focus on the third party transformative sites that provide comparisons of candidates’ comments, previous speeches, where people really stood on issues, to help the voter cut through the haze of promotional rubbish.”

He said he didn’t believe ICT was the ultimate driver for a fully democratic model where public authorities became only regulators. “The system has a vested interest in maintaining its position at the top. The technocratic shift in government, in the OECD at least, is now so complete that governments would require scientific and technical reports to validate participatory democracy, and no consultant is going to do themselves out of a job that easily.” Also, this suggested some kind of technological determinism, whereas the real drive for adoption was social. The real driver for governments using ICT, he said, was economic expediency. “Some new participation models no doubt will emerge but these won’t go to the heart of the democratic process, they will simply be new ways into the existing underlying process.”

The challenge was for citizens to use the tools at their fingertips, or risk remaining in a ‘culture of bureaucratic dysfunction,’ where policy development had become highly academic, had lost touch with practical service delivery, and had no real respect for community sector knowledge. “Communities are over-consulted and then ignored. Along with falling rates of voter participation, this challenges the legitimacy of local democratic processes and leads to an increasing perception that local government is detached from the community.”[34]

Mockers and blockers

Government was certainly taking every step to make itself more connected and was even providing its own content in an effort to become more transparent. It used its own transmission and network company, Kordia, to install, operate, and maintain a system to Webcast parliamentary proceedings from mid-July 2007. When the House of Representatives is sitting, around 17.5 hours of proceedings are televised each week by eight remote-controlled cameras. Anyone can view the sessions on-line, although only question time is covered in full.[35] The in-house TV service broadcasts footage of political debates.

The project was designed to make proceedings in the House more accessible and to improve the public’s understanding of the democratic process. “Televising Parliament is valuable to democracy, as it gives the public the ability to see how legislation is made and how the government of the day conducts itself,” said Speaker of the House, Margaret Wilson.[36] Ironically only weeks earlier MPs had voted on a new set of rules around the broadcasting of parliamentary proceedings, extending what could be filmed, but banning any images that satirised, ridiculed, or denigrated MPs. Of course that simply became food for the satirists who upped the ante in a media challenge to the ruling, running as much old footage of MPs asleep on the job, making rude gestures and acting out in public places as they could find.

In the past news organisations had been denied access to the House for a period when they ran foul of parliamentary grace but under the new approach, it could be considered a contempt of Parliament, and even result in imprisonment. Journalists in Parliament’s press gallery and the Commonwealth Press Union’s media freedom committee criticised aspects of the new rules as an attack on free speech. Previously newspapers were only allowed to use images of MPs on their feet speaking, and they protested that the new rules extended the allowable use of images of MPs reacting to events to TV only. TVNZ, TV3, Maori Television, and Sky News said they would ignore the new rule relating to satire, which had the potential to erode democracy.

“The banning of the use of images from the debating chamber for satire is a precious over-reaction by MPs and unnecessarily puts limits on New Zealanders’ understanding of politics,” TVNZ news boss Anthony Flannery said. “The public has a right to see how their elected representatives behave and perform in Parliament – warts and all.” TV3 news director Mark Jennings said light-hearted and satirical coverage of politics was as old as the news media itself. Act and the Greens expressed sympathy with media views, but Deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen accused journalists of overreacting.[37]

Then after a solid year of urging New Zealanders to get with the digital programme, bolster export capabilities and lift GDP and our standing among our OECD peers, the government handed the marketing campaign offshore. The $11.5 million Buy Kiwi Made campaign was facing claims of hypocrisy after the MED handed a $6.3 million contract to international marketing M&C Saatchi – with directors based in Australia, London, and Auckland.

The scheme set up to champion New Zealand products overseas, was described as being a ‘a bit hypocritical’ by Norsewear New Zealand chief executive, Robert Linterman. “If we are buying New Zealand-made, what are we doing buying offshore resources? Even though they are a good company, surely there is someone domestically who can do this? It seems to fly in the face of what they are trying to do.” Christchurch outdoor clothing firm Earth Sea Sky owner, David Ellis, said he found it ‘unbelievable’ the Buy Kiwi Made campaign could not be run locally.

Official spokeswoman for the campaign, Green MP Sue Bradford, said M&C Saatchi was working with Kiwi firms and producing professional results. “It is not as if they are some company that has come in from outside without any understanding of the New Zealand context.”[38]

About that strategy

David Cunliffe remained confident the Digital Strategy was the appropriate framework for the government’s plans to boost our digital competence but agreed its governance and co-ordination mechanisms needed strengthening. He said the period to mid-2008 would be ‘absolutely and historically critical’ for New Zealand in terms of implementing the new telecommunications regulatory system, bedding it in terms of market behaviour through the Commerce Commission, and addressing remaining outstanding issues.[39]

New Digital Strategy programme manager Janet Mazenier had worked in the ICT industry for more than 15 years, previously as Telecom’s programme manager for Project Probe. She found her early days stressful and her resources pressed, but by the beginning of August was surprised at the huge goodwill and offers of help coming from government and the wider market. Regulatory changes in telecommunications in particular had made New Zealanders more aware of the digital future, with a growing number wanting to know how to get on board.

“We haven’t been particularly effective in the past in telling people what we’re doing but an enormous amount of work has been done, and as the process of the strategy has touched a number of sectors and communities the awareness has grown virally.” There were 111 community partnerships and 57 other initiatives across government that had all been funded or were being funded, including the Broadband Challenge projects, five MUSH (municipal, university, school, hospital) networks and three projects in remote and under-served areas.

Time to back winners

Mazenier agreed there was a perception the vision for transformation had been ‘for government by government’ but insisted the government wanted to look at new ways of engaging with business and communities. So would the coffers be refreshed for another round of Broadband Challenge and Probe funding? Would the Digital Strategy secretariat adopt a new structure? Mazenier wouldn’t pre-empt any decisions, only saying all options were up for consideration.

There would be ongoing consultation across all sectors which ultimately would be synthesised into strategic initiatives. A draft document outlining the contents of a potential Digital Strategy V 2.0 would be released early in 2008 as part of a work plan to narrow down specific outcomes that would remain current and relevant through to 2010.

Engaging those outside government remained a challenge. Community research and e-democracy advocate Andy Williamson said the early stages of e-democracy seemed to involve those who were already motivated. Mass engagement seemed to be largely issues based; something that directly affects us; for example, crime, environment, and planning law. ICT needed to be used in a way that increased interest and awareness through communication or even new ways to engage such as SMS polling. Citizens and communities needed to develop their own models.

There was a need to demonstrate the value of e-democracy to citizens who in the West, largely didn’t seem to care. “It’s naive to expect people to suddenly get excited but reasonable to think that smaller, perhaps topical or local waves of adoption are achievable if communities can be motivated and supported.”

His research suggested a basic social process of grounded leadership; people in both community and local government who could work together, motivate and inspire uptake of ICT, and engagement in democracy could bridge the different stakeholder groups and overcome inherent power structures and silos. “At the end of the day the most vulnerable are politicians – they have to get re-elected. In the UK, the ‘They work for you’ campaign is a brilliant example of holding our representatives to account, even though it doesn’t directly change anything, it makes a start on keeping the system accountable.”

Williamson was convinced e-democracy had some answers as long as the technocrats were kept out of the way. ICT had the potential to transform communities with its powerful tools for connecting people with information and each other .These tools were ideal for communicating a message and creating an interactive experience where the views of many could be expressed and potentially disseminated widely, offering citizens the opportunity to become more involved in the political and democratic process.

Getting it right he emphasised, was not simply about web enabling the same tired old processes. “They don’t work. They don’t engage. People are turning off from democracy because the process is run by consultants and bureaucrats. To reinvigorate this process we need to get people back at the centre – and who’s most qualified to do this, bureaucrats or citizens?”

Actually, he said, the correct answer was both, working together and re-building trust and confidence in democracy. “The Internet can make the process transparent but this is a risk for civil servants used to secrecy and controlling the process.” Equally, he said, the Internet can bring in many different views, and was a challenge for the single-issue fanatics that tend to drown out debate. “Most often the answer lies in the middle ground but this has been lost in democratic debate because these are the people who have switched off.”

That’s why, he said, e-democracy rather than simply e-enabling the status quo needed to be promoted on the streets, not just in council chambers. His answers included building power at the grassroots, making sure that everyone had access to computers, broadband and the skills to use them. “We look for what motivates people to get on-line. Then we help them to make democracy work like they want it to – make it work for them. We motivate each other, your neighbour is a better mentor than someone remote.”[40]

In many ways we were still dealing with the underlying and basic issues of enablement. Without connectivity there would be little comfort or confidence in what we did with the content. Ernie Newman from TUANZ was convinced much more needed to be done to pull the country back from its current state of telecommunications crisis. “The real opportunities of the digital age are gigabitting past while we dither along at dial-up pace. Never before has our country fallen so far behind the rest of the developed world in our embracing of a new, life-changing technology.”

What was needed, said Laurence Zwimpfer, was for bold people who had the backing of politicians, influential people in business and the community to step out of the crowd and take the Digital Strategy vision forward. While the government had consciously avoided backing winners in the past, it was time for all parties to share the risk of building the infrastructure for the future.[41]

Government needed to lift its game, particularly in the areas where it had the logical and democratic mandate; health, education, social welfare, and essential infrastructure. It must also remove the obstacles and provide incentives for businesses to do what they do best: innovate, employ, improve the skill base, lift GDP, and export excellence.

The bureaucratic mindset that launched visionary projects with huge potential national impact, then micro-managed them into policy frameworks, underfunded implementation, and became smugly satisfied with reports of potential outcomes was old-school thinking. The new mindset was to empower our visionaries rather than to sideline, or worse hijack and sanitise their ideas.



[2] Cunliffe press release and MED briefing papers, October 2004

[3] Keith Newman, ‘Time the Emperor got some clothes,’ magazine, July 2004

[4] Macaulay was elected as president of InternetNZ in July 2007

[5] Ibid

[6] Digital Strategy document:

[7] Randal Jackson, ‘Government’s digital strategy is “operationally broke”,’ Computerworld, 30 January 2007

[8] Digital Strategy update, MED Newsletter, May 2007

[9] Although a footnote on page 30 of the Digital Strategy document does state that “by current standards a ‘fast’ connection implies a speed faster than 5Mbps”

[10] Jon Hoyle, ‘Broadband connection growth starts to slow,’ Dominion Post, 3 August 2007

[11] Ernie Newman, chief executive, TUANZ, Address to Telecommunications Summit, Auckland, 25 June 2007, paraphrased for September 2007 feature

[12] Keith Newman, ‘Strategy shifts sought,’ magazine, September 2007

[13] The draft Digital Content Strategy discussion document:

[14] Budget 2007: Funding support for digital archives, Press Release: New Zealand Government Hon Judith Tizard Minister Responsible for Archives New Zealand, 17 May 2007

[15] Tangata whenua is used here to broadly describe the descendents of the indigenous people(s) of Aotearoa – it includes groupings such as whanau, hapu, iwi, Maori, etc

[16] Kamira says the term ‘principles of the Treaty’ is a softer version of what was in the original Treaty of Waitangi. It was first used in Matiu Rata’s Treaty of Waitangi Bill introduced into the House in November 1974. Rata said its purpose was to provide for the observation and confirmation of the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi. However Fulbright Scholar Elizabeth Rata says the idea began as a legal reference embedded in law after a meeting in 1986 between Sir Hepi Te Heuheu, paramount chief of Ngati Tuwharetoa, and the deputy prime minister at the time, Sir Geoffrey Palmer. ‘Tribal leaders had been saying the transfer of Crown assets to new state-owned enterprises might infringe Maori rights. Palmer went to see Sir Hepi, who told him Maori concerns would disappear if the new law said: “Nothing in this act shall permit the Crown to act in a manner that is inconsistent with the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi.”’ Rata quoted in Ratana Revisited, Newman, Reed, 2006

[17] Collective ‘ownership’ of content is the combined knowledge that is held and passed down to generations by whanau and hapu groups, for example. There is usually no legal title or copyright to the knowledge making it particularly vulnerable to misappropriation or exploitation by the commercial sector both in Aotearoa and overseas

[18] Kaitiakitanga can be loosely defined as inter-generational guardianship

[19] ‘Considerations regarding Tangata Whenua & the Treaty: The New Zealand Digital Strategy & the Draft Content Strategy,’ Robyn Kamira (Te Rarawa Te Aupouri), March 2007


[21] Ken Lewis, ‘Creative Commons licences available for New Zealand soon,’ Telecommunications Review, 6 August 2007

[22] Ken Lewis, ‘New Web standards for Public Service,’ The Line, 22 March 2007

[23] Stephen Bell, ‘PAL coming up the home stretch at last,’ Computerworld, 24 May 2007

[24] Rob O’Neill, ‘SSC defends $25 million surge in ICT spending,’ Computerworld, 11 June 2007

[25] Paul Clearwater, ‘Police and DIA join GSN,’ The Line, 25 October 2007

[26] Keith Newman, ‘Government superhighway takes shape,’ Telecommunications Review, June 2007

[27] Keith Newman, ‘Government superhighway takes shape’


[29] David Cunliffe, Address to the Auckland Mayoral Forum: ‘Digital Strategy and Local Government,’ 15 July 2005

[30] 2006 Computerworld Award for Excellence in the Use of IT in Government

[31] 2005 Computerworld Award for Excellence in the Use of IT in Government

[32] 2005 BearingPoint Innovation Awards Public Service Category Winner

[33] 2006 Computerworld Award for Excellence in the Use of IT for Customer Service

[34] Williamson’s quotes and comments are distilled from an email interview with Keith Newman, his postings on his own sites: and and an interview at the egov blog site:, 20 January 2007


[36] Parliamentary press release, 17 July 2007

[37] ‘TV networks will ignore MPs’ satire rule,’ NZ Herald, NZPA, 6 July 2007

[38] Kay Blundell, ‘Kiwi made campaign “two faced”,’ Dominion Post, 26 June 2007

[39] David Cunliffe address to 8th Annual Telecommunications and ICT Summit: ‘Fast-forward to the broadband future,’ 25 June 2007

[40] See footnote 38

[41] Keith Newman, ‘Strategy shifts sought,’ magazine, September 2007