20 April 2018
Salsa Digital

About open data

Open data (and open anything) lends itself to sharing, and to building a community. One of the most important open data sources is government, with government open data playing a key role in the open government movement.

Salsa Digital, as part of our commitment to all things open (open government, open source content management systems (CMS), open platform, open design), embraces the significant potential and benefits of open data. Open data has only just begun to realise its potential through new applications and websites built using open datasets. As data is further offered as authoritative and open, and greater access to this data is delivered to citizens via co-produced applications and websites, the open data concept builds in its reach and benefit.

Open data and open government

Open data has become an important part of the open government movement informing policy, providing greater transparency and encouraging co-production with citizens. In fact, government policy is that data should be ‘open by default’.

Open data is a key part of one of the government’s 15 commitments in the Open Government National Plan (2.1 ‘Release high-value datasets and enable data driven innovation’).

A report on open data was released in May 2017 by the Productivity Commission. The report is a major piece of research into open data in Australia — the overview provides detailed information on where we are now, and how we can make the most out of data in Australia.

The bottom line: Australia needs to embrace open data to unlock the positive economic and social outcomes it can deliver.

Why open data?

Government departments are opening up their datasets to deliver value to industry and citizens.

At a functional level, open data enables co-production between government and citizens/industry, with data that’s available and free being used to create websites and apps. It’s also about data visualisation, with open-source tools like CKAN turning raw data into graphs and charts that help us interpret data and reveal patterns and meaning. Open data is being used to solve problems, and to deliver economic and social benefits.

Who’s opening their data?

There are already many government agencies (at local, state and federal levels) that have opened their data. (federal repository) currently has nearly 29,000 discoverable datasets and each state also has its own data repository:

Who uses government open data?

Below are a handful of case studies:

  • SA’s Addinsight — Built by South Australia's Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure (DPTI), this app alerts drivers in Adelaide of road hazards using two real-time datasets opened by the DPTI.
  • SA’s Crime Mapping Tool — Built by the SA Police using their own crime statistics, this website-based tool shows suburbs’ break-in data from the past five years.
  • QLD’s Breathe Easy — Built by Remark (a group of Brisbane-based hackers) for GovHack 2016, this air and water pollution app uses data opened by QLD’s Department of Environment and Science. 
  • Live Traffic NSW — Built by Transport for NSW, this real-time traffic information app uses data from the Transport Management Centre. 
  • TAS’s RoadCrash data — Built by Peclet using data opened by the Tasmanian Police, this map shows accident hotspots in urban and rural Tasmanian areas.
  • WA’s MyFireWatch — Built from a collaboration between Landgate and Edith Cowan University, using data opened by WA’s Landgate, MyFireWatch is a map showing bushfires in WA.

The CSIRO is also part of the open data charge, with Data 61’s Platform for Open Data project. Through this project, Data61 is working with government to open and use high-value datasets. The National Map is a key Data61 project.

Another big player in government open data in Australia is GovHack. GovHack is a yearly ‘hack-a-thon’ that’s gained a lot of traction since it started in 2009. GovHack creates awareness of the power of open data and provides a platform for ‘hacker groups’ to get creative with government open data.

Past winners provide an insight into the projects born from government open data. The 2017 winners included a mobile app that allows people to log issues to their local council (by the group Here for Bread) and an emergency department load forecaster (like a weather forecast but a patient forecast) (by the group Beast Mode).

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