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Turnbull gives APS open data mandate

by Justin Hendry •
Free resource

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has today instructed Federal agencies to make non-sensitive data ‘open by default’, while committing the Government to $75 million in additional funding for the CSIRO’s data innovation group Data61. The announcements form part of the Government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda (the Agenda), which seeks to transform government into an exemplar of how to use data to deliver services.  

The Agenda follows the public release of a Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC) report last Thursday which found that data is underutilised in the Australian Public Sector, partially because agencies lack a clear mandate.

Today’s Public Data Policy Statement that “Australian Government entities will … make non-sensitive data open by default” clearly provides this mandate. Agencies are instructed to make data available with “free, easy to use, high quality and reliable Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) [where possible].” They are also encouraged to establish partnerships with industry and research institutions, and engage with other jurisdictions to “share and integrate data…”

DPMC’s Public Sector Data Management report, which was completed in July 2015 but only publicly released on 3 December 2015, found that many agencies have adopted ad-hoc approaches to using and publishing data, restricting their capacity to improve services, develop policy, and foster innovation within the private sector. The report recommends the Government adopt a data policy framework within 18 months, including a public policy statement, a governance model for data policy, and a requirement for evidence based policy. 

“It is recommended that a clear mandate and several policy projects be initiated to generate confidence in public sector data over the short term and structural changes be implemented over the longer term to transform the way the APS uses data.” Over the next six months, Secretaries are expected to commission projects that problem-solve key policy questions, prove the value of public sector data, and remove barriers.

The report also recommends the introduction of a searchable Whole-of-Government data catalogue on to improve distribution. These lists of government datasets are important for responding to data requests from the private sector and for delivering data in formats that abide by international standards. Similar lists are used by the US, UK and Canada.

A comprehensive study this year into government open data usage found that spatial, land, socio-economic, health, transport and environment datasets were considered to be the most important for the private and research sectors.

In addition to the ‘open by default’ mandate, the PM’s Innovation and Science Agenda involves investing $75 million into Data61. Named after Australia’s global call code, Data61 is a merger between the former National ICT Australia (NICTA) and CSIRO’s Digital Productivity and Service Flagship.

According to the Agenda, Data61 will:

  • Connect and publicly release government datasets on open data platforms;
  • Progress industry cyber security;
  • Establish a Data Research Network between researchers and business; and
  • Offer training to industry in data analytics.

The NSW Government has already moved towards a consolidated approach to open data and analytics, establishing a Data Analytics Centre (DAC) to investigate data, realise trends and deliver projects which until now have been impeded by agency silos. The DAC is expected to start using data to address acute social and economic issues in 2016.

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