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The power of open data

A recent draft report on data makes recommendations that will revolutionise the way Australia uses data.

Salsa Digital 21 November 2016

The report

On 3 November the Productivity Commission released a draft report titled Data Availability and Use. The draft report examines the rise of data over the years, its future growth, the lost opportunities in Australia to date, and the need to make changes — ASAP.

The key takeaways from the comprehensive report (the Overview is 49 pages and the full draft report is 652 pages) are probably the draft recommendations. These address major changes Australia needs to make to take advantage of the open data movement and use it to drive digital transformation.

Draft recommendations

The report contains 27 key draft recommendations. Below is a condensed version of some of these recommendations:

  • Australian Government agencies should create data registers (for all data) that can be easily accessed at data.gov.au by 1 October 2017. State and territories should also create data registers, linked to data.gov.au.

  • “Publicly funded entities…should publish up-to-date registers of data holdings, including metadata, that they fund or hold.”

  • Government agencies entering into contracts with the private sector that involve the creation of datasets need to assess the datasets’ value and ensure they retain the right to access or purchase the data in machine-readable form.

  • Guidelines for best practice when it comes to de-identification processes should be developed and published.

  • Exceptions under the Privacy Act 1988 to access identifiable information “should be expanded to apply to all research that is determined to be in the public interest.” (Currently the exception only applies to medical research.)

  • The requirement to destroy linked datasets should be abolished.

  • Data management standards should support data availability.

  • A central government agency needs to maintain a register for government agencies, researchers and private sector organisations to nominate datasets for public release.

  • “Minimally processed public sector datasets should be made freely available or priced at marginal cost of release.”

  • Individuals should have the right to access digital data about themselves.

  • A process should be established to nominate and designate public and private datasets as National Interest Datasets (NIDs). These NIDs “would satisfy an underlying public interest test and their release would be likely to generate significant community-wide net benefits.”

  • “Trusted users should be accredited by the National Data Custodian for access to those National Interest Datasets (NIDs) that are not publicly released.” These trusted users may include government departments, universities and other entities.

The recommendations are comprehensive and related to the Productivity Commission’s key findings. If you’d like to read the full list of recommendations (and key findings), we recommend you check out the draft report.

How the recommendations will drive change

Many of the key recommendations will fundamentally change the way data is used and accessed in Australia. Undoubtedly some people will be concerned about privacy, but the draft report recommends ways to protect citizen privacy, such as the de-identification process and only giving ‘trusted users’ access to NIDs that are not publicly released. For some, this may not be enough. However, the benefits of open data are numerous, with many innovative and life-changing (transformational) apps based on open data. In fact, we’ve blogged about a couple of open data initiatives recently, such as Apps4NSW and GovHack.

GovHack (and similar schemes) highlight the importance and fundamental usefulness of many data sets — and the draft report has identified Australia as falling behind in both policy and the use of open data compared to countries such as the US and the UK. Following the draft recommendations will help us catch up.

Salsa Digital’s take

An article in The Age addressed the revolutionary aspects of these recommendations: “It’s a revolution we ought to embrace and direct, rather than sit back and watch.” Certainly here at Salsa Digital we’re keen to embrace and be involved in the open data revolution. That’s why we took part in GovHack, the 46-hour tech heaven (which may have felt a little hellish towards the end due to sleep deprivation!). By the end we’d built Find my Future, a website that uses four open datasets and matches job seekers to roles around Australia in their industry, or to jobs in their region.

We were extremely proud (and thrilled) to receive a national award for our efforts — equal second place in the Future Australia Hack Award. We look forward to playing a continuing role in the open data revolution.

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