Will you nurture the tree so that it bears fruit? Our question to the new Minister

Blog | 2020-11-26 | By: Digital Council for Aotearoa New Zealand
Close up of a small, white resin 3D printed tree against a green background.
3D tree gifted to the new Minister for the Digital Economy and Communications, and Minister of Statistics. Designed and printed by Callaghan Innovation’s AddLab

Pockets of Aotearoa and the public sector have been busy embracing technologies, growing expertise, growing data, creating apps, downloading apps, making games, playing games, buying the latest devices. That was the easy part. The hard work is now to come — that is, tending to an ecosystem that fully harnesses innovation, grows trust and embeds equity.

That’s the message we took on Monday to the new Minister for the Digital Economy and Communications, Hon Dr David Clark. Our challenge to him and his colleagues: Will you be the orchardists who nurture the soil and adapt to and influence the changing environment? How will you make sure each year’s harvest is plentiful for generations to come?

We’ll publish our full briefing to the Minister later in December when our new website is live. Meantime, here are some of our key pieces of advice.

Tending to the ecosystem

A healthy digital and data ecosystem requires a holistic approach that goes beyond producing and delivering digital gadgets and services. A joined-up, systemic and innovative approach requires complex planning, adaptable ways of working, and public engagement, all of which contribute to a much richer and healthier ecosystem over time.

As an analogy, we like to think of an orchard. To get the best fruit year after year, the orchardists must do more than just wait for the fruit to grow. They need to tend the soil, trim branches, plant seeds and nurture the new growth, ensure there is enough water, prepare for unexpected weather, and attend to any bugs or infections that might get to the leaves, bark, or fruit.

Tackling the ‘orchard-level’ problems

In Aotearoa’s current digital and data ecosystem, the government has put a lot of focus on coming up with specific interventions and services without looking at the bigger picture. The harder, more systemic issues like addressing the root causes of digital inclusion or increasing diversity in the tech workforce — the ‘orchard-level’ problems — are often put into the too-hard basket or kicked down the road. While the current approach will provide some wins in the short-term, the overall harvest will continue to suffer.

Four areas to nurture today

We’ve identified four areas for the government to nurture today, and into the future. This will ensure there is a thriving, connected, equitable digital ecosystem for current and future generations.

  1. Ensuring everyone is included.
    All individuals, whānau, communities, businesses and other organisations should be able to participate in, benefit from, feel safe in, and contribute to our increasingly digital world.
  2. Understanding the emergent picture.
    We think that a digital strategy for Aoteraroa will help to bring together work on all of the systems issues, as well as opportunities, in one place.
  3. Building government for the digital age.
    To embrace the opportunities and mitigate the risks of digital and data driven technologies, government digital policy, regulatory and service delivery functions need to be fit for our digital present and future. Digital transformation requires iterative and innovative ways of working that centre the needs of people, while ensuring that accountability practices required of government are kept in place. To do this properly, culture, leadership and organisational change is required.
  4. Enabling a thriving tech sector.
    There is room to grow our third biggest export sector, and contribute even more to the social, cultural, economic and environmental wellbeing of Aotearoa. To do this, we need to make sure there are the right skills pipeline, trade agreements, incentives and culture in place.

The pathway forward

There’s plenty of good news. All the public service officials and leaders we’ve spoken with throughout the year have shown passion, interest and a desire to learn and do their best for Aotearoa. The Public Service Act 2020, Strategy for a Digital Public Service and the Algorithm Charter all show forward momentum is there.

The Strategy for a Digital Public Service acknowledges that new ways of doing things are needed: “Digital is about more than new technologies and improving IT systems. It also means doing things differently using new mindsets, skills, data and technologies to overcome barriers and better meet New Zealand’s needs.”

The Digital Council wants to stand beside the folks working in digital across government to bolster their efforts and accelerate progress, bringing with us the knowledge and input from the wide range of communities we work alongside.

There’s a huge opportunity to test out new ways of doing things to reflect the speed and complexity of digital.

What kind of things could make a difference?

  • Moving fast and learning things: Embracing experimentation and iteration and allowing for failure at a small, controlled level.
  • Working in the open: Communicating about projects as they develop — not just when things are ‘perfect’.
  • Joining up, thinking proactively: Identifying systemic digital risks and opportunities as they develop and working across agencies to address them.
  • Focusing on implementation: Making sure agencies have the resources and incentives needed to implement standards and charters related to the equitable and responsible use of digital technologies.
  • Working closely together with industry and community when developing digital policy and services.
  • Strengthening digital leadership.

A tree planted today will take time to bear fruit, and if tended properly will benefit many future generations.

Mitchell Pham (right) and Hon Dr David Clark (left) hold a small white 3D printed tree between then. NZ flag sits in the background..
Mitchell Pham (right) presents Hon Dr David Clark (left) with a 3D printed tree

To remind the Minister of the vital work to be done to nurture and tend the orchard, our Chair, Mitchell Pham presented the Minister with a 3D-printed tree. The tree represents Aotearoa New Zealand’s digital orchard (our economy and society), and the vital work to be done to nurture the orchard, nourish the soil, and ensure many good harvests into the future.

 

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ACTIVITY SUMMARY

  • We’re extremely proud of our Council member, Kendall Flutey, who last week won the 2020 Impact Award for Enterprise. The Impact Awards celebrate Aotearoa’s emerging leaders. As founder of Banqer, a platform to improve the financial literacy and capability for students in schools, Kendall won the award for harnessing the power of purpose-driven business and social enterprise for impact.
  • Our draft research report on trust in automated decision-making has been sent to some key groups that we have worked with along the way for their thoughts and feedback.
  • Last week our Chair, Mitchell Pham presented at the launch of the Asia New Zealand Foundation Te Whītau Tūhono’s research report: Viet Nam & New Zealand — Let’s go! Viet Nam is the fastest growing digital economy in Southeast Asia. New Zealand and Viet Nam’s strategic partnership presents an opportunity beyond trade — to collaborate and co-create new value for the global market as well as both countries’ economic recovery and societal advancement.
  • This week we held a town hall with representatives of the tourism sector to discuss opportunities to help realise the innovation potential within the tourism sector. We’ll report back on this in next week’s update.