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Monday, February 15, 2016

Challenge for new minister: If open data is changing the world, what's holding things back here?

Following the ministerial reshuffle on Saturday, Angus Taylor is Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister for Cities and Digital Transition. On digital government, he replaces Communications Minister Mitch Fifield appointed last September. 

Mr Taylor's Twitter account states
"Rhodes scholar. Business consulting and agriculture background and Port Jackson Partners. Passionate about good government"

So roll out the red carpet as discussion gets underway about access to information, public data, public integrity, use of technology, better services and public resources, in the context of developing Australia's Open Government Partnership National Action Plan.

Lots of room for your thoughts, ideas, suggestions and observations. Join the Open Government Partnership Network, or tell the Prime Minister's department directly what you think.

On access to government data, below two reports about opportunities for giant steps forward and another close to home about how the Federal government's "capacity to fully derive value from public sector data is constrained by competing priorities and the lack of an overarching strategy" and a plan what to do about it.

The GovLab (@thegovlab), in collaboration with Omidyar Network (@OmidyarNetwork) has published detailed open data case studies that seek to provide understanding of the various processes and factors underlying the demand, supply, release, use and impact of open data. Conclusions:
  • Open data is improving government, primarily by helping tackle corruption, increasing transparency, and enhancing public services and resource allocation.
  • Open data is also empowering citizens to take control of their lives and demand change; this dimension of impact is primarily mediated by more informed decision making and new forms of social mobilization, both in turn facilitated by new ways of communicating and accessing information.
  • Open data is also creating new opportunities for citizens and organizations, by fostering innovation and promoting economic growth and job creation.
  • Open data is playing an increasingly important role in solving big public problems, primarily by allowing citizens and policymakers access to new forms of data-driven assessment of the problems at hand. It also enables data-driven engagement producing more targeted interventions and enhanced collaboration.
The Bureau of Communications Research report Open Government data and why it matters now on the impact of open government data tends to focus on economic impacts with not much attention to other positives that feature prominently in the GovLab report.

The Bureau reveals open government data has potential to generate up to $25 billion per year.or 1.5 per cent of Australia's GDP. Conclusion:
"Open government data invariably has a net economic benefit
While there is little consensus on the magnitude of the economic benefits of open government data sets, it is apparent that they provide substantial current and potential net benefits to the economy and society.
In Australia, the estimated economic value of open government data sets range from a lower boundary of $500 million to an upper boundary of $25 billion—per year. Globally, the potential value of open data (both public and private) could be up to $4 trillion per year. Significant benefits associated with open government data include improved government services, more efficient operations and business practices, better information exchange, and more engaged citizens, as shown by the sample projects and initiatives discussed in this report.

The maximum public benefit will accrue from free provision of raw government data, or at the most pricing data at the incremental cost of provision
Given that the government collects a significant amount of raw data in the course of its usual operations—for example the provision of broadband and public transport services —much of the fixed cost associated with data collection is already incurred. Net public benefits of open government data are likely to be maximised by pricing at zero or, at the most, the incremental cost of provision (short-run marginal cost), reflecting its public good characteristics of being non-rivalrous and non-excludable.

Value-adding in open government data is generally better left to the private sector   
The rationale for the Australian Government’s provision of open data is strongest for raw data. Raw government data is likely to exhibit the strongest public good characteristics, and hence the broadest benefits from its release. In general, net public benefits will be greater if significant value adding (beyond provision in machine-readable form) is left to the market, as the market sector will generally have more informed insights in identifying what value-add is of benefit to the users. The private sector, especially in developed industries such as ICT, generally have a more established capability and capacity in transforming raw data into products and services that could be introduced in the market. 

Certain government data sets that are likely to have more significant economic impacts
Some of the potential high-value data sets held by governments that have been identified to date are spatial data, health data, transport data, mining data, environmental data, demographic and social data, and real-time as well as past emergency (e.g. bushfire) data."

Then there's the report on Public Sector Data Management published by the Department of Prime Minister in December 2015. Conclusions:

"Data is under-utilised in the APS. 

Currently, the Commonwealth’s capacity to fully derive value from public sector data is constrained by competing priorities and the lack of an overarching strategy:
  • There is no clear mandate for the Commonwealth to use and release public sector data.
  • There are barriers (perceived and real) to sharing data within the Commonwealth and with jurisdictions to improve policy and service delivery.
  • The APS lacks sufficient incentives, skills and organisational arrangements to capitalise on its data.
  • The Commonwealth does not have a strong culture of publishing data to foster economic opportunities."
The recommendations in the report set out an 18 month timetable of actions to change the way government does business by setting up the right frameworks, systems and capability to use, share and value data.


Hmm, won't go into how opening government data and turning the culture around
gels with closing down the government watchdog charged with promoting that culture change and the oversight of our legislated right to access government information-  legislation oversighted by the Office of Australian Information Commissioner that includes an agency obligation to publish certain information....

And how we address two policy directions pulling against each other in the OGP National Action Plan

A challenge I expect even for a Rhodes scholar with McKinsey and Port Jackson experience. 

So far as I'm aware the words "Open Government Partnership" are yet to pass this Attorney General's lips.

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