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In the spirit of sharing, the Service Integration team at the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) brought together a group of people from different government agencies to make connections across policy, regulation, legislation and service innovation.

We shared what we're all working on, explored where our work is mutually supportive and identified some joint opportunities to better understand the possibilities of new approaches to legislation, rules and policy. This included the potential to improve service delivery if the operating rules of government (policy, legislation, service/ entitlement conditions) were programmatically accessible.

Digital rules - the next frontier for digital government

We recognised that the traditional methods of creating, managing, using and improving the 'rules' of government potentially hamper the new paradigms of customer- or user-centred service delivery and open, transparent and responsive government. The traditional model doesn't scale when dealing with the increasing complexity of our world. Many of us are already experimenting to solve this problem, using new approaches and mental models. These approaches also open up possibilities for new and unimagined modes of government and service delivery.

New Zealand is already world leading in its approach to legislative openness. The Parliamentary Counsel Office (PCO) provides all primary legislation as both human and machine readable (XML, or Extensible Markup Language) on PCO is extending what's available on this site under an Open Government Partnership commitment.

Beyond this there are opportunities if we consider how we might make legislation, policy, and the business rules of government not just machine consumable, but machine understandable. This could mean turning the logic of of these rules into mathematical or programmatic logic and breaking them down into reusable 'chunks'. This opens up opportunities for how government manages the linkages and builds consistency across its rules, through creating ontologies (the words used, their context and how the words relate to each other), and how government and third parties could build from these rules – building-in compliance and the ability for people to have their questions answered so they can get on with their day.

We've previously talked about how Service Integration team has experimented with this kind of approach by codifying business rules to explore and identify relevant entitlements, services, taxation and obligations based on a person's (or business) context. (For more information see the 'help me plan' concept demonstration in our post on potential future states for government service delivery.) Inland Revenue and the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment’s Better for Business programme have also experimented with machine-consumable business rules to enable third parties to deliver value added services.

Some key questions remain

  • What does this approach mean for the way we develop policy and law itself?
  • How do we ensure we have consistency across both plain language, human-readable rules and their machine consumable equivalent?
  • How do we develop legislation and policy in a user context centred way - one that takes into consideration that people often need to interact with multiple rules at once especially when these rules have been developed in isolation from each other?
  • How do we effectively and genuinely enable interested and affected people to help shape these rules?
  • What would a set of principles for digital drafting look like?

Changing the model and lifting capability

The Policy Project is working to lift the quality of policy advice across government through design thinking and by applying the Stanford Collective Impact Model, which looks at problems from a cross sectoral viewpoint. Part of this work is also an Open Government Partnership commitment. A policy methods toolbox was published in August 2017, covering design thinking, behavioural insights, public participation and policy commissioning (Start Right), and workshops have been run on citizen-centered policy, and using open data for policy design.

Another way to approach policy development is taking a lean approach. Dave Moskovitz, a Wellington entrepreneur who is working with the Service Integration team, will be presenting his draft Public Policy Lean Canvas at the upcoming Startup Nations Summit in Estonia.

The DIA's Government Information Services has been piloting digital approaches for improving the public engagement with government decision-making processes through the Government Online Engagement Service pilot (also part of an Open Government Partnership commitment). Lessons learned from this pilot will inform the next phase to discover how best to enable participatory government.

What's next

The group agreed that we valued the opportunity to share what we're all doing and thinking about in this space and saw value in continuing the conversation. We identified opportunities to collaboratively experiment with some of these concepts further to understand what’s possible and develop use cases that create awareness, capability uplift and influence the policy design culture.

If you’re interested in this work or know of related work in this space please let us know in the comments below. Join our mailing list if you want to keep an eye on developments as they happen.

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