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What is a DEDIMAG anyway?

Victoria Maclennan, Guest post. 07 September 2018, 6:00 am
What is a DEDIMAG anyway?

One big difference with the new Labour / NZFirst Government has been the increase in Ministerial advisory groups. I am very honoured to have been selected for the Digital Economy and Digital Inclusion - known now by its acrynom DEDIMAG.

We are primarily focusing on two of Labour's aspirational goals - Closing the Digital Divide and ICT as the 2nd largest contributor to GDP by 2025 - while also providing the Ministers with advice on a diverse range of initiatives before them. 

People most often ask me how does it work? so in this post I will focus on the workings of a Ministerial Advisory Group and my experience - while promising to write a followup post on the issue where I am most focused, ICT as 2nd largest contributor to GDP. 

DEDIMAG operates under a Terms of Reference and is supported by officials from both DIA and MBIE, these details along with our meeting minutes are all available on MBIE's website here.

As a digital technology focused group we have certainly embraced technology, exposing the officials to a slightly different way of working in the process. We conduct the majority of our conversations online, meetings online and share files (from a drive) instead of emailing them as attachments. The benefits of online collaboration with a geographically diverse bunch of busy business people, it also means we can invite guests for short conversations as input into our thinking easily.  We do hold the occasional in person half day meeting which has been invaluable for getting to know the 14 others in our group. 

The biggest surprise for me has been working alongside the government machine - as a business owner I am used to just doing things! so am learning the art of consultation (extremely widely) to ensure our advice, while grounded in our research and experience, also reflects everything Government is already doing in a given space. Dave Moskovitz has a beautiful phrase for describing the last few months - we are "learning how to dance together" which sums the scenario up pretty well well. 

I thoroughly enjoy working with this diverse group of minds who challenge my thinking and assumptions. Personally I have to moderate my years of frustration wading through issues with government, such as Procurement Policy, when bringing DEDIMAG members who are completely new to these longstanding challenging issues up to speed - and I am afforded the same patience by those who have had years of experience in other domains. 

We are very focused as a group on being Open and Transparent so in the future plan a website where we can share our work, thinking and provide opportunities for anyone who is interested in these visionary changes for New Zealand to engage. 

Our biggest challenge as a group however is time. We are paid for 2 days per month of reading time plus meetings at pre-published Ministerial advisory rates of $414/day or $51.75/hour. The reality is all of us donate far more time than billed and as busy business people we all face very real time constraints wanting to contribute more, consult more widely and dig deeper. To compensate for this we have split the group into 5 focus groups - Digital Technology Industry, Adaptation, Digital Inclusion, Small and Medium Enterprise, and Digital Connectivity. This enables greater throughput of activity while creating continuity of those involved in a given topic. 

How digital technology can contribute towards transformation of New Zealand's economy is certainly a fascinating challenge to be involved with and has enabled me to interact with some impressive economists, educators, future thinkers, passionate government employees and committed peers in the private sector. I'll tell you more about our approach to this in the next instalment. 

Finally, it is worthy noting I have not covered in this instalment recent political challenges, this has been written from my perspective as a DEDIMAG member to share how it works only. While our Chair, Frances, is aware I am writing this post she hasn't seen it prior to publication - it is important to us that we maintain our independence as an advisory group.


Victoria Maclennan is the Managing Director of OptimalBI, Chair of the Digital Skills Forum, member of Digital Economy and Digital Inclusion Ministerial Advisory Group, Chair of Code Club Aotearoa, Director and Investor.


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