Open Data and Digital Services – Foundations for a New Information Economy

Open Data and Digital Services – Foundations for a New Information Economy

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Lately, I have been thinking more and more about how to better sell the value proposition of Open Data. In researching the topic, I came across an event organised by the Open Knowledge Foundation Australia entitled Open Data and Digital Services – Foundations for a New Information Economy.


The Open Knowledge Foundation Australia, a chapter of the global Open Knowledge network, brings together “people who believe the world is a better place when we share our data, information and knowledge in the open, making us all wiser in our everyday interaction as open communities.” (AU OKFN, 2015).

This particular event, held May 13, 2015 at the NICTA Canberra Research Laboratory, brought together a number of prominent leaders in the Australian open data space to share their experiences on the interconnections between open data and digital service delivery, particularly services providing public good. I was unfortunately unable to attend, but have been eagerly consuming the materials provided by Link Digital after the event.

Unfortunately, the audio quality of these videos can make the content itself a little difficult to follow, so I am posting my captured notes as an aid to others who are in the same situation. Hopefully, this will also help people find this content who otherwise might have missed it, as there was a lot of quality concepts presented at this event.

Mr Nicholas Gruen – Chair of Open Knowledge Australia

  • Traditional progress is driven by market factors
    • But always requires an evolution in public goods
    • Examples of public sanitation, central bank notes and infrastructure as drivers for progress
  • “Question of public goods goes back to the beginning of humanity”
    • First technologies were
      • Social capitol (allows us to understand our role in the process)
      • Language itself
    • Led to the creation of markets (driven by Adam Smith, economist and author)
  • Public goods of the 21st century – “stuff that we write and will do stuff for us until the end of time”:
    • Open source software (1991)
    • Google (1998)
    • Wikipedia (2001)
    • Blogs (early 2000s)
    • Facebook (2004)
    • Twitter (2006)
  • Public goods can be seen as both a problem or an opportunity
    • Problem – eg. a lighthouse – any ship can use whether they pay dues or not
    • Opportunity – public goods that are delivered as platforms, where the value is through collaboration by many
    • New type of opportunity for public good – open data
  • Mr Gruen was involved in the Government2.0 taskforce when “Australia was clearly one of the thought-leaders (or three leaders?) in the world”
    • But “we haven’t just stalled in terms of making progress on that vision from 2009, we’ve also stalled in the whole idea of open data and getting data to work for us than this idea that we’re simply… generating a whole lot of data… to use as a community resource”
  • The politics of open data
    • On one side, we have data activists, business (to some extent) and civil society wanting more access to Government data
    • On the other, we have inertia, through:
      • Bureaucratic inertia
      • Intellectual inertia
      • Political inertia
    • Economists who “rule the roost and are regarded as the most important parts of Government policy” haven’t really cottoned on
    • Friedrich Hayek – “The economic problem is not merely how to allocate “given” resources… it is a problem of the utilization of knowledge”
    • References the McKinsey Institute report – “made a whole bunch of heroic assumptions, but I think, assumptions work making”
      • More open data can generate between $3.2 and $5.8 trillion to world economy
    • Lateral Economics did a case study in the context of the G20 conference – found the McKinsey amount was likely an overestimate – but came to a fairly similar number using a different process – PDF link
  • Built on a number of case studies – such as Macro-economic management:

macro-economic management

  • Huge potential to use “real time private” data in this example – have we gone to ask Xero/MYOB/etc for (aggregate?) data from their cloud accounting platforms?
  • Huge potential for cost avoidance in costs associated with “the way the economy cycles”
  • Lot of data is published in the “State of the Service” report (Federal Australian Public Service Commission) – how do we get access to the data, rather than the report derived from it? All reported in PDF files currently
    • Uses the example of how service data is published in the US – led to results where FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) was able to be ranked near the bottom in service delivery right before Hurricane Katrina – political and PR issue
    • May be similar concerns holding back Australian publication of the raw data? Or may be other reasons entirely.
    • APSC does publish a lot of data on the careers of public servants – has resulted in a mash-up – (note – now seems to be an official service offered by Federal Government –
    • Also noted the UK “The Gazette” site – much greater openness and access to data
  • Need to go beyond Government data – “we are showing a lack of imagination” by only focusing on Government Open Data
    • Can have a big impact on how open a lot of other data is

“Government as Impresario”


  • For example – personal information management services
    • Eg – having to provide authorized forms of ID (license, passport) to validate identity – why isn’t the individual able to select where their data is shared?
      • Legislation is being put in place to enable – not there yet
      • Number of organisations listed, including Google, Lloyds Banking, MasterCard, Visa, Three, Information Commissioner’s Office, Office of Fair Trading, and so on – working on standards
      • Not close to an answer – space to get involved in the discussion
      • Some examples of organisations doing it well in specific areas – TripAdvisor, Yelp, Pandora, and so on
      • Why not work on:
        • Hospitals
        • Schools
        • Arts events
        • Private coaching colleges
        • Professional services providers
        • Investment advisors
        • Real estate agents
      • Should workplaces adopt this approach?
        • Lots of discussion about working agreements – why isn’t employee engagement data open?
        • Concerns about adverse consequences of underperforming workplaces were they to be more open – should better-performing workplaces be leading the way releasing data?
        • No standard to follow – released data is likely to be hand-picked to highlight positive aspects, rather than tell the full story
      • Government role could be in standard setting – challenge the business environment to start reporting
    • Traditionally has been limited by the “technology stack”
      • “Stacking one thing on another, and after a whole bunch of fiddling around, they just run together” and “run forever”.
      • On the back of the technology stack, can create “vortexes” – “something in which data goes, and we can get out something that makes sense”
      • Same concept as Government as a Platform, where the platform is public goods
    • Back to politics of open data – some things have to be funded by Governments – social goods that don’t have appropriate incentives for private investment
      • Example of Google – services would be extremely valuable on a subscription basis, but the public good is so much greater if they give it away (and recoup a small percentage of the value that is generated)
      • Example of 23andme – $95 service to map your genome – imagine it’s potential as a public good?
        • Medicare could bulk bill it
        • GP could administer it
        • Opt-in
        • 10,000,000 participants very quickly (in his opinion)
        • Australia would have access to a database 10x greater than the global leader
        • Medicare could use the data to better target screening
        • Anonymized data openly available for research
        • “If that’s not worth $95 capitol value per person, I don’t know what is”
        • Figure – this approach to mapping genomics is 10,000% more efficient than best practices used in Universities
      • Lots of other public-private partnerships that could be built
        • Eg- murmur – Government could negotiate a lump sum to make it free to all small businesses within jurisdiction
          • Leads to efficient pricing per user, but also the public good of a common standard being adopted and data being available
        • Opportunities for similar partnership in small business accounting
        • Sense-t – another example, focused on agricultural census in Tasmania

impresario slide

Ms Pia Waugh –  Director of Analytics and Discovery Layer, Digital Transformation Office

  • When thinking about open knowledge, we often think about open data
  • Passionate about open data, especially where it relates to data-driven decision-making; but we need to think bigger
  • In Australia:
    • 2 years ago, Open data was fighting to get on the agenda
    • Some data published by agencies, some published by organisations, pockets of great stuff – but lacking in connections
    • “Power is in a cross-disciplinary approach to knowledge and information” – bring together geeks, scientists, designers, games developers to look at problems in interesting way
    • Now at a tipping point – Open Data is generally agreed as a good idea, but…
    • When picked up, it had 1200 datasets – a third were broken, a third were duplicates, a third was useful data
    • Relaunched it, now has 6,600 useful dataset and better integration with state portals
    • Important point was in selling the value proposition to agencies – everyone agrees open data is a good idea, but “it’s hard to allocate resources when you’re also cutting the number of people and cutting the amount of budget”
      • When you can demonstrate savings through
        • Fewer data requests by putting out data that’s regularly asked for
        • Rise of apps and web tools to talk to data and share data more efficiently across agencies
        • Saving effort on the “highly bureaucratic process” of setting up MOUs
      • “The great public benefits will happen if open data is done properly, we ensure its done properly by helping people see it’s in their best interests to do”
    • Seeing more big, interesting and useful data being published now
  • What’s next?
    • Lots of people in Government pushing this – very exciting
    • “forming a small army of disruptors that are busily making Government a better place for everyone – usually for no thanks”
    • So many examples of knowledge being locked up – such as access to academic research
    • There are huge gates preventing access to critical pieces of human learning
    • Collective learning – two people sharing basic symbolic language to learn quickly and pass along to future generations – only accelerated by the internet
      • Information gathered over hundreds of millennia of evolution is being locked away
    • Open Knowledge
      • Had a project ” to unlock their copy of the magna carta” – gifted a copy, now one of the best-preserved copies in the world
      • Digitized it – asked for a high-rez copy under Creative Commons so it could be distributed
        • Offered a high-rez version under Crown copyright? No
        • Offered a low-rez version under CC? No
        • Finally won through – “don’t you want your beautiful copy of the magna carta to be the world’s authorative source?”
      • “We’ve created a culture of shutting down knowledge and instituted a system of rationalisations about why we do that – some people think it’s about protection, some think it’s about integrity”
        • “knowledge is critical to our evolution as a species” isn’t normally part of their thinking – we can do more to turn that around
      • Long involved in all things open – open data, open source, open knowledge (and open beer…)
        • Seen data and open source start to become better adopted and better understood in Government
        • Where do we need to go? “Government as an API”
          • Extends on Government as a Platform – interpreted as Government creating one platform for multiple agencies to use – save time, money, etc
            • Sometimes gets to talking standards, but mostly about shared platforms for a common goal (such as a report or a service or a website)
          • Government as an API – “everything a Government does, everything, unless there’s a legitimate reason otherwise, should be discoverable through an API, consumable through an API, and everything should be mashable”
            • People not locked in to the “platform”
          • What does it mean? Start with data about Government services – should be discoverable, consumable and mashable
            • Open services – don’t have to go through the official application or website, can talk directly to the back-end through an authenticated API
            • Better leverage data and services will avoid the situation we find today, where when we interact with Government, we are forced to interact with the complexity of how it’s administered – and we shouldn’t have to
              • If services and data could be mashed up, could obscure the complexities of Government – make it easier to interact
            • Open Community – How does Gov collaborate with community? How does Gov collaborate with business? How can this change if we provide access to what they need directly, rather than relying on the model of collaboration from a pre-internet age
          • GovHack has been successful – “people want to do cool stuff”, they just need “a place to play”
            • GovHack is a new model for how collaboration could be done
          • “Australia one of the best tech communities in the world” – attitude of getting stuff done, despite organisational boundaries – being told something can’t be done is incentive to do it – underdog mentality
            • Community of journalists, data people, scientists, civic people, spatial people growing on the Open Knowledge site

Ms Maree Adshead – CEO, Open Data Institute Queensland

  • ODIQ is here to collaborate, via
    • Connect and facilitate across multiple sectors to achieve tangible outcomes
    • Harness the collective and build a strong community around Open Data
    • Started in December 2014 – sharing space with the NICTA lab in Brisbane
    • Sponsored by academia, Telstra, Microsoft (expand on the board), industry associations, not-for-profits and lots of small businesses
    • Great work already done and underway
    • Not here to compete with other initiatives or groups – here to help and facilitate outcomes
    • Differentiator- strong connection with the business community – link to bring the business community along on the Open Data journey
  • Open data has a significant role to play in enabling prosperous small businesses in Australia – open data is “lowering the cost of knowledge”
    • Had conversations with the 25,000 small-business embers of the chamber of commerce in Queensland as the chair of the Technology Council over last 18 months – “they aren’t really interested in an open data conversation”
      • But getting access to data and knowledge that was beyond their technical capacity previously has their attention
    • Important to build evidence to support the conversation – overcome inertia and “hostage negotiation” mindset
  • Working to quantify case studies, especially in the small-business community
    • Largely not consumers of open data, but interested in consuming products and services built on open data
    • Interested in gathering their stories in how they are innovating or improving process as a result of working with data
    • Eg – working a project with newsagents in Brisbane – “demonstrate what’s possible when you combine public open data, private open data (such as Courier Mail sales figures) to discover patterns and opportunities they hadn’t seen before”
      • Also working with social media anaytics – looking at financial and social impacts on how news agencies see themselves and their business operations
      • Important to build examples for when you’re asked “show me the money”
    • Eg – another project on linking a directory of services together, across both public and commercial services
      • Looking for outcomes such as quantifying the social and financial impacts of using health services
    • “We’re here to help”

Provided a handout – ODI Knowledge for Everyone

Information on the Open Knowledge Foundation Australia is reproduced under a CC BY 4.0 license.

Images used in the body of this article have been taken from the video “Open Data and Digital Services: Nicholas Gruen, 13 May 2015, Open Knowledge Australia” uploaded by LinkDigitalTV, licensed under CC BY.

Title image “Data Visualization” by Cory M. Grenier is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

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