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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

National Information Policy Conference

The National Information Policy Conference in Canberra last week drew a sell out crowd of 270 and had an interesting vibe as well as some interesting presentations. Overall the tone of discussion about  access to information issues, the duty to treat information as a national resource and examples of some government agencies being responsive in a variety of ways, with Freedom of Information just part of the bigger picture, was a far cry from the FOI-secrecy battleground of just a few years ago. Not that that battle is entirely a thing of the past.

Some of the papers and presentations have been posted on the Australian Information Commissioner's website. One of those, Senator Faulkner's reflections on the Freedom of Information reforms had some listeners hearing what they thought was a little stepping back from the open government gusto of 2008-2009. In fact his remarks then and now simply reflect the inherent tensions in balancing openness and other public interests. Another of interest was the presentation by David Glynne Jones of DJG Consulting on Information Governance-an idea whose time in the public sector has surely arrived. 

At the same session and right in this groove Tony Corcoran Asssistant Secretary Freedom of Information and Information Management gave a  terrific run down (not yet posted) on (relatively) new thinking in Defence that brings together various information management and disclosure threads including FOI in a service context. In answer to a question about the result of this branch assuming responsibility for FOI from a legal area, Corcoran said compliance with statutory time frames had gone from 12% previously to 100% currently, reinforcing my view that Legal should provide advice when required, not control and manage the FOI function these days.

Ann Steward Australian Government Chief Information Officer, AGIMO  gave a positive and  encouraging account of progress on Gov 2.0 implementation (not yet posted). The best practice examples (ditto) from the Australian National Data Service (until now not known to me) and others in the final session were also eye openers.

The lack of time for questions and discussion at several sessions was disappointing. Tom Burton of the Australian Media and Communications Authority, poacher turned gamekeeper, on Engaging the Public gave a spinner's razamataz version, rather than what  engagement really should involve (link to presentation). And surprisingly Senator Kate Lundy's presentation on Public Sphere which should have been a good story had just a touch of cruel and unusual punishment for this listener at least.

The only oversell was that the conference "would be an opportunity to contribute to... the development of a National Information Policy for Australia", which it wasn't. But on all other fronts an enjoyable and interesting first for what is likely to be an annual event.

A last minor gripe - the name tag with name only. In the absence of detail whence we came and an attendance list the scope for instant recognition or passing interest was limited. If it reflected concern about privacy it was a step too far, and easily addressed by ticking a box on the registration form.

I attended at the invitation of the Office of Australian Information Commissioner and was grateful for that opportunity. And got out of town just ahead of President Obama's caravan-he still doesn't know what he missed.

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