Pioneer Node ODI Queensland has secured $400k from the government to help enable open access to government data. Alex Leon shares how this new partnership could help bridge the gap between open data commitment and action in Australia
Our mission at the ODI is to connect, equip and inspire people around the world to innovate with data. Our network of ODI Nodes spans six continents and operates in over 10 languages, furthering our mission through storytelling, training and advocacy work.
This week, our Pioneer Node in Australia, ODI Queensland, entered a two-year funding programme with the state government, worth AU$400,000 (~£230,000), to enable open access to government data in order to drive innovation within the state.
This new partnership marks a turning point for ODI Queensland, who has consistently worked to bring together thought leaders within academia, government and industry to maximise open data’s potential for innovation in Australia. With the Queensland government offering its support to ODI Queensland, we thought it fitting to take a look back at the history of open data in Australia and reflect on the country’s position moving forward.
Open data in Australia: the story so far
The Australian government began to embrace open data within its policymaking as early as 2001, establishing the Spatial Data Access and Pricing Policy to pioneer the steer away from a paid data-sharing model through opening up federal spatial data. But national momentum didn’t pick up again for almost a decade. Fast-forward to 2009, when the Government 2.0 Taskforce was formed, chaired by economist and Lateral Economics CEO Dr Nicholas Gruen (with whom we’ve collaborated before, researching the economic value of open data). The taskforce’s remit was to explore the potential for Web 2.0 technologies to deliver better government services and increase citizen engagement. The taskforce report recommendations all called for strong leadership to spearhead transition towards and open, innovative government.
The taskforce’s call to arms was well received by the government, who issued a declaration of open government, promising ‘better access to and use of government held information […] sustained by the innovative use of technology’. From this came the creation of data.gov.au, Australia’s government data platform.
And more recently, a report by the Bureau of Communications Research has extrapolated that open government data could add AUD$25bn to the Australian economy. In line with this, current prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has called open data a ‘strategic national resource’, making it a central focus of the recently announced AUD$1.1bn National Innovation and Science Agenda. The Australian government has since gone further than most in making its open data commitments explicit, within a Public Data Policy statement.
Closing the gap between commitment and action
Despite this progress, in the 2015 iteration of the Open Data Barometer report – which measures the readiness, implementation and impact of national open data initiatives – Australia ranks 10th in the world, four below its perennial frenemies New Zealand. So why the gap? The scores show that ‘readiness’ figures, which measure government willingness, are high, while ‘impact’ figures, measuring positive impacts of government-released data, are low. Dramatically lower than the rest of the top 10, in fact.
What this suggests is that the government is committing to being more open, but hasn’t yet translated that into tangible, positive effects for the nation.
With the Australian government publishing its public sector data management implementation report this month, however, the nation seems to be working hard to close this gap between commitment and action. Events like GovHack – being held this month in hundreds of locations across Australia and New Zealand – aim to connect government data custodians with problem solvers and ensure tangible outcomes are reached.
The partnership that ODI Queensland has forged with the Queensland state government will also help further the positive impacts of open data initiatives across the nation. Government data is diverse and has enormous potential to solve a multitude of challenges facing Australians. With the help of ODI Queensland, the state government has already taken positive steps towards strengthening its data portal to ensure a clear line of communication between the parties publishing and consuming the data.
ODI Queensland’s unique position as an organisation that fosters engagement between government and these communities makes it crucial both to the success of Queensland’s open data initiative and the larger federal effort to bring open data’s social, environmental and economic benefits to everyone.