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What’s happening with open data in Australia?

Suneel Jethani’s paper “Open data in practice: a study for Australian government workers’ attitudes towards data sharing and release” provides some insights into the current open data environment.

Salsa Digital 5 April 2020

The study

Suneel Jethani is the Stakeholder Engagement Manager at Victoria’s Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC). He’s also currently studying his PhD at the University of Melbourne. Suneel and Dale Leorke from Tampere University recently published their joint study “Open data in practice: a study for Australian government workers’ attitudes towards data sharing and release”.

The study interviewed open data publishers, data custodians, peripheral government workers and external users/stakeholders. The interviews were specifically conducted with people who wereformer open data workers, in the hope that they’d talk more openly and candidly.

Survey results

The paper summarises eight main findings:

  1. While interviewees were enthusiastic about open data, there were discrepancies around the definition of open data and many were frustrated by the lack of champions at the leadership level.

  2. Literacy around open data is not clearly articulated or presented and there is a gap in resources for government workers.

  3. While ministers want to improve data literacy and advocacy, there is uncertainty around definitions at the conceptual and operational levels and a variety of meanings to ‘data literacy’.

  4. While open data is considered to be a high-value asset, interviewees differed in their opinions of ‘high value’ and how open data could be leveraged.

  5. Open data workers feel organisational silos are negative, but also felt that the management of open data portals and policies should be separated from other areas. Open data workers were focused on openness at a day-to-day level.

  6. Open data programs need the support of tech vendors and a developer community to design, build and contribute to open data platforms.

  7. Interviewees were aware of the need to safeguard citizen privacy while also driving open data forward.

  8. Interviewees felt that perhaps the ‘open by default’ mandate needed to be revised given privacy concerns and the potential for social harm.

Where to next?

Open data has come a long way in a short time, but it’s clear from this study that there’s still a lot more that needs to be done. Even at a foundational level, we should be ensuring that open data is clearly defined across Australian government organisations and that workers have open data literacy and professional development available to them. They need more buy-in from leadership and clearer ways to leverage the value of open data while safeguarding privacy.

We also noted the need for partnerships for open data platforms — something that we’re part of through our work on both Victoria’s and Queensland’s open data platforms. We’re strong open data advocates and will continue to do our part and drive open data for open government. That’s also part of the driving force behind our new open data series, Open Data Insights. This new blog series explores and briefly analyses an open government dataset and is part of our commitment to open data in Australia.

Victoria also opened up its open data policy to public consultation in December 2019 and January 2020. The 100+ responses will be used to shapethe new open data policy for the Victorian Government, due for release in June.

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