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NSW steps up open data drive

by Poppy Johnston •
Free resource

Establishing a user rating system for government open data sets, creating a data blog, and requiring agencies to publish the reasons for not publishing requested data on Data NSW, are among the 23 actions that form the 2016 NSW Open Data Action Plan.

Released alongside the 2016 Open Data Policy, the new proactive approach to open data in New South Wales is intended to “drive the release of more data, in better open formats, using automated processes for faster publication”.

At present, the NSW Open Data Portal is receiving between 3000 and 4000 visits a month. The challenge is converting these visits into the development of concrete solutions to government problems.

Drawing on experience and ideas from government, industry, research and the community, the NSW Government’s new suite of initiatives are intended to improve the end-user experience with government data. Under the new policy, users will have ready access to more relevant and important data, and find easy ways to link datasets from different agencies. Where possible, data is to be machine-readable to minimize manual manipulation of data by the user.

Since the release of the 2013 open data strategy, the NSW Government has built a “data request service”, so that users can submit requests for information and datasets they are interested in. This feedback is used in the rolling data release schedule, which is intended to keep agencies releasing high quality, relevant data within a targeted timeframe.

NSW’s dMarketplace, to be will be rolled out incrementally over the next 18 months, is one of the key initiatives announced under the 2016 action plan. The project will make it easier for citizens and industry to “locate and connect relevant data in different NSW government open data sets.” How exactly the government will achieve this objective is still uncertain, and according to the action plan is to be developed via an ‘innovation challenge’.

According to the Department of Finance, Services and Innovation’s website, the dMarketplace will be integrated into the NSW Open Data Portal and will operate “along the lines of ‘Trip Advisor’ or ‘Wotif’”. Much like these user-friendly travel websites, the dMarketplace will enable a user rating and comment function, so that citizens can choose datasets based on third-party reviews.

The development of a “charter of rights for open data users” (to be written by the NSW Information and Privacy Commission) is to be addressed before the dMarketplace is built, according to the action plan. By July 2017, the dMarketplace aims to launch a second ‘innovation challenge’ to develop a platform for industry to publish government-connected data.

The upgrades will bring the NSW Open Data Portal marginally closer to the United Kingdom’s— the archetype that most Australian government data portals seem to be modelled on. Features of the UK site, like the map search function, help users navigate and connect different government data sets (in this case, according to location). Such solutions may be considered as part of the 2016 action plan.

Successfully executed, open data in government drives the digital economy and spurs innovation.

“A smart government is transparent and accountable, and understands that solutions to policy challenges can come from outside government”, states the policy.

The new policy specifically aims to “derive new insights for better public services” and “inform the design of policy, programs and procurement”.

The policy sets out six open data principles, some of which remain virtually unchanged (notably the ‘open by default’ principle) since the 2013 edition. Agencies are required to manage data in accordance with these principles to meet the obligations of the policy:

  • Data must be “open by default”, unless there is a reason in the public interest that it should remain protected;
  • Data must be prioritised in accordance with public and industry demand;
  • Data must be collected at the source and not modified in any way;
  • Data must be “well managed, trusted and authoritative”; and
  • Data must be “free by default” to enhance transparency.

The NSW Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Tydd, will play a chief role in the implementation of the new policy as the new Open Data Advocate.

NSW’s 2013 open data policy was awarded full points on Intermedium’s Digital Readiness Indicator. The 2016 update is likely to entrench the NSW Government as a high performer on this category.

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