NSW Premier Nathan Rees this morning reinforced the state’s commitment to “open government” with the apps4nsw program — a public competition with prizes of $100,000 for the development of innovative digital applications and web services using public and government data.

“This is all about making government data easy for everyone to use to solve everyday problems,” said Rees.

According to the announcement on the new NSW Government Information website: “This competition will foster collaboration between NSW citizens and the Government as well as promote and highlight innovation in the digital media sector.”

The competition will be run for three months, with entries in two categories:

  • ideas for applications or services based around public or government data, and
  • prototype software applications that demonstrate the idea in action.

Entries may be websites or web based services, mobile applications or stand-alone PC based or kiosk-based applications.

“The prizes will be judged by an expert panel — which doesn’t include me — and there will also be a People’s Choice Award and the opportunity for the best entry to go to a prototyping phase”, said Rees.

“Anything we develop as a result of the competition will be licensed as open source and freely available to government and the public. These will be public apps for the common good.”

The competition is based on the Applications for Democracy Model developed in Washington DC.

This open access to state government data is in stark contrast with just six months ago.

In March this year, NSW RailCorp threatened legal action against iPhone developer Alvin Singh for using timetable data, citing copyright issues. Singh complained to Rees, and Crikey understands that the Premier was personally instrumental in resolving the situation.

“I spoke to the Transport Minister and we couldn’t find any reason to withhold the  data, especially given that RailCorp doesn’t offer an equivalent service and this information actually belongs to the people of NSW,” Rees said this morning.

After technical and legal work, a trial timetable data feed started last Monday, with a full feed to start 21 September.

Rees made his announcement during a surprise visit to today’s NSW Sphere forum, an event organised by Labor MLC Penny Sharpe along the lines of Senator Kate Lundy’s series of Public Sphere events.

In a speech which received several rounds of applause from the gov-geeks in attendance, Rees stressed that the digital revolution means government can never be the same again.

The only question is whether political leaders will work with the technology, or fight against it. For us in Australia, there can only be one answer. We must enlist these Web 2.0 technologies in the cause of democracy and freedom. And that means changing the way we do business.

First, it means greater openness. And that in turn means governments have to overcome old habits of secrecy and control. That’s a huge cultural change – something that will take years to accomplish. But we’ve got to begin the journey now.

Second, we’ve got to be interactive. The old one-way street style of politics has to go. Government in the Web 2.0 era is about listening and responding. It’s a dialogue, not a monologue. And I’m determined that the NSW Government will embrace Web 2.0 technologies in everything we do.

Rees says today’s NSW Sphere will be a precursor to a larger, whole-of- government forum to drive these ideas through the NSW Government.