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EXCLUSIVE- High Value Open data in Australia - Quality, Availability and Use

On 22nd July 2016, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Australian government released the Public Sector Data Management Implementation Report. This was an update to the Public Sector Data Management Report published in December 2015, which studied how public sector data helps the government with better service delivery and efficiencies and laid out a roadmap for the project implementation.

Following up on a conversation in February 2016, OpenGov spoke again to Helen Owens, Principal Advisor Public Data Policy. She is responsible for providing whole of government policy advice on the Australian Government’s public data strategy, data infrastructure, data in the economy, and digital government strategy. 

The Public Sector Data Management Project Implementation Report was published this month. Several milestones have been passed and significant progress made on others. Going forward, which will be the highest priority areas in the short to medium term?

The upcoming six to twelve months look to be exciting as we finalise the recommendations of the Public Sector Data Management Report. My team, the Public Data Branch, within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) will be concentrating on the following key priorities:

  • Transforming data.gov.au – we are working with Data61 to expand the existing data.gov.au and NationalMap infrastructure to maximise the discoverability and reuse of high-value open data by streamlining the publishing of data, improving data quality and enabling better search and discovery mechanisms.
  • Supporting the release of more high-value data – we will collaborate with the private, academic, and research and community sectors to develop a High-Value Dataset Framework to assist entities and data custodians to identify high-value datasets for priority release in line with the Public Data Policy Statement.
  • Improving data skills and capability – we are also working towards releasing the Australian Public Service (APS) Data Skills and Capability Framework, designed to improve data literacy and analytics skills across the APS to facilitate smarter policy develop, better service delivery and more efficient programme management.

As the implementation moves ahead, is there any need for adjustments or tweaks to the original strategy? 

In the rapidly evolving environment of public data, we’re always looking at opportunities for improvement and willing to listen and adjust our approaches. For example, the release of the Public Data Policy Statement in December 2015 meant that my team increased engagement with Australian Government entities to assist them to meet their responsibilities under the Public Data Policy Statement.

There are a few significant bodies of work by other government entities in the public data space under way that will shape our path forward.

The Council of Australian Governments has agreed to pursue initiatives that will enhance transparency by providing Australian citizens with a greater level of real time data on how government money is spent and on the outcomes and performance of government initiatives. We’ll work with government entities to support this body of work by increasing the quality and quantity of public data to support transparency and accountability.

The Productivity Commission is currently undertaking an inquiry into Data Availability and Use, providing an opportunity to assess the impact of data policies and initiatives to date, and identify the barriers and challenges going forward. In response to the Productivity Commission’s issues paper, PM&C made a submission which is published on the Productivity Commission’s website. The Commission is scheduled to release its final report in March 2017 which will inform future priorities to progress further public data outcomes.

There is a lot of focus on inter-agency collaboration and projects, such as the seven high-value projects. Could you please give us a broad picture of how such collaboration is planned and executed? How are possible issues such as discrepancies in processes and conflicts with existing arrangements resolved and progress monitored?

As a central agency, PM&C has a whole-of-government view on the various data-related projects and initiatives across Commonwealth entities. My team works collaboratively with many entities to ensure processes and projects align broadly with the public data agenda and to avoid duplication of effort.

Seven inter-agency and cross-jurisdictional exemplar projects have been commissioned to demonstrate the value of public data, uncover barriers to use and enable better designed policies and services. They are designed to serve as proof-of-concept pilots to help build momentum and capability in the use of data. Lead entities have been nominated to drive each of the projects, reporting back to the Deputy Secretaries Data Group. Through these projects we are uncovering and addressing the barriers to greater use and re-use of our data. 

The streamlining of data-related APS committee structures has greatly benefited data governance and allowed for deeper inter-agency collaboration. The Secretaries Data Group and Deputy Secretaries Data Group provide governance for public data initiatives across Australian Government entities, including providing advice and resolving any issues in relation to the delivery of the cross-jurisdictional projects. 

In addition, the Data Champions network is a group of senior Commonwealth officials whose responsibility it is to promote the use, sharing and reuse of data across entities. They are a central contact point for data-related issues for their agency and further support close collaboration between entities.

A number of frameworks have been released or are going to be released at both the state and national levels, such as the Guide to big data and the Australian Privacy Principles, Charging for Data Services Information Sheet, Framework for High-Value Data, APS Data Skills and Capability Framework and many more. How will these frameworks be translated into specific policies and actionable guidelines? 

The frameworks coordinated by PM&C are the Framework for High-Value Data and the APS Data Skills and Capability Framework, which are both recommendations from the Public Sector Data Management Report. 

The Framework for High-Value Data will assist entities and data custodians to meet their responsibilities under the Public Data Policy Statement through collaboration with the private, research and academic sectors to extend the value of public data, and identifying high-value datasets for priority release.

We are working to prioritise the release of ‘high-value’ data due to the potential value and outcomes for the private and research sectors, as well as government. One example is the Geocoded National Address File (G-NAF). Since its release in February 2016, it has been downloaded over 1,500 times (as at 9 August 2016), and been used in innovative projects such as the NRMA Insurance Safer Homes initiative (provides risk levels associated with various threats to residential property at a specific address) and Mappify.io (Free geocoding, reverse geocoding and coordinate classification service). 

My team has also developed the APS Data Skills and Capability Framework through collaboration with the private and research sectors and other Australian Government entities such as the APSC. This holistic approach to improve overall data literacy and skills will facilitate smarter policy development, better service delivery, and more efficient programme management, which will have flow-on benefits for all Australians. 

My team also works closely with other Australian Government entities and provides input on relevant guidelines and frameworks that inform the public data agenda. The Charging for Data Services Information Sheet was released by the Department of Finance in December 2015, and outlines the Australian Government Charging Framework. This is designed to support data-driven innovation by improving data take-up rates and reducing price barriers that deter the wider use of data.

In addition, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner consulted us on the development of their draft Guide to Big Data and the Australian Privacy Principles.

As demonstrated by the Public Sector Data Management Implementation Report, we’re continually monitoring the progress and outcomes of these frameworks and guidelines. My team will continue to work with entities across Government to translate and integrate these frameworks and policy documents into entities’ best practices, policies and actionable guidelines. 

Can you share your thoughts on the role played by organisations such as Data61 and also by public-private partnerships in the Australian government’s ICT and public data strategy?

Public-private partnerships play a key role in the delivery of the public data strategy. Both sectors can share knowledge and facilitate innovation.

Our DataStart initiative is just one great example of the power of public-private partnerships. Delivered by my team in late 2015-early 2016, the pilot DataStart initiative aimed to give Australian startups new opportunities to develop sustainable businesses through access to public data. This was a great example of startups, incubators, the corporate sector and the government working together to deliver data-driven innovation.

Over 200 applications were received to the DataStart pilot, with cohortIQ announced as the winner in January 2016. cohortIQ is a health startup that uses hospital and open public data to reduce the estimated 235,000 avoidable hospital admissions each year. Other shortlisted teams also demonstrated fantastically innovative solutions to economic, social and environmental issues using public data, that they received prizes independently funded by the private sector.

Data61 has an important role in the Australian Government’s public data agenda. The Government is investing $75 million in Data61 to capitalise on the data revolution, and to ensure Australia maintains a world-leading data science capability. We work hand in hand with Data61 to deliver the public data policy agenda and the capability that they bring to the table is, in my view, world leading.

Data.gov.au is the whole-of-government data catalogue. There are several initiatives, such as Multi-Agency Data Integration Project, virtual DataLab and Data linkage projects. How do these all connect? And what is the timeline for getting the most valuable datasets onto Data.gov.au?

Data.gov.au provides an easy way for everyone to find and access public data, and allows for information to be use in a variety of ways. There are over 9,400 datasets available via data.gov.au, with over 4,900 API enabled resources (as of 8 August 2016). 

We’ve worked hard to make a number of high-value data sets already available on data.gov.au, including the:

  • Department of Health’s release of a linkable 10% de-identified sample of the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS)and Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS)
  • The Geocoded National Address File (G-NAF) - Australia’s authoritative address file compiled by PSMA Australia Limited
  • Intellectual Property Government Open Live Data - a weekly release of intellectual property information
  • Australian Securities and Investments Commission’s registers - auditors, financial services authorised representatives, financial services licensees, licensed liquidators, credit licensees and credit representatives
  • Australian Taxation Office’s corporate tax transparency data
  • Publicly funded research data created as a result of the Bioregional Assessments Programme

We’ll be continuing to work with all levels of Government to make appropriately anonymised, de-personalised high-value public data openly available via data.gov.au.

Where the data can be appropriately de-identified and anonymised, data generated from initiatives such as MADIP (a collaborative cross-portfolio partnership lead by the ABS to improve accessibility to, and maximise use of, public data), DataLab (A secure and safe (remote and onsite) computer environment in which researchers can analyse de-identified data using their choice of software package, e.g. SAS, SPSS, etc.)and other data linkage projects will be made openly available on data.gov.au to help deliver high-value social, environmental and economic outcomes for government, industry and community sectors.

In our work with Data61 to expand the existing data.gov.au and NationalMap infrastructure the technological outcomes and lessons learned from initiatives such as the MADIP will be incorporated into the transformation of the data.gov.au platform.

We read about a tiered program to build data and analytics capability. Can you tell us about the different approaches to and levels of training and developing data capability? 

This is something I’m really excited about. While there are pockets of excellence within the APS with the required level of data analytics skills, there has previously been a lack of an overarching strategy to drive the coordination of data skills. This isn’t an issue unique to the APS; there is a global undersupply of data analytics skills.

The APS Data Skills and Capability Framework has been designed to improve data literacy at all skill levels throughout the APS. The Framework consists of four key components that form a tiered approach to skills and capability development.

The base tier is an APS Data Literacy Programme, to provide ongoing learning and development resources to improve general data skills and literacy across the APS. This programme targets basic data literacy levels and is suitable for all non-specialist APS officers, as data literacy is increasingly being recognised as an essential core skill.

The middle tier of the Framework consists of tertiary level university degrees and short courses to target more specialised data literacy. These opportunities focus on technical skills for APS officers that are required to interrogate and manipulate data in their job roles.

The top tier is the Data Fellowship Programme, an exclusive and competitive Programme that provides advanced data training to data specialists. Participants will get the opportunity to complete a three month placement in an organisation such as Data61, that has world leading expertise in research, engineering and technology development.

We expect to launch the APS Data Skills and Capability Framework soon.

Privacy-by-design appears to be the accepted approach to balance the need for information sharing with protecting privacy. Could you help us understand what the approach entails in practice in view of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet? 

Privacy and security concerns are paramount as we work to further the public data agenda, and our privacy-by-design approach informs the initiatives under way across Government to enhance privacy and security protections: 

  • The Public Data Policy Statement requires Australian Government entities to “uphold the highest standards of security and privacy for the individual, national security and commercial confidentiality.
  • Through its inquiry on Data Availability and Use, the Productivity Commission is considering how to preserve individual privacy and control
  • The ABS is adopting international best practice and establishing a trusted-access model for sharing integrated data; and the OAIC has developed guidelines on sharing and integrating data to ensure the highest standards of security and privacy are met when data is made openly available

Technology also has a role in alleviating privacy and security concerns. Data61 is developing technological solutions that enable the effective use of data with appropriate privacy and confidentiality safeguards such as confidential computing (insights from data without seeing the data) and synthetic data generation (production data applicable to a situation that are not obtained by direct measurement). These technologies will add extra layers of protection for valuable personal data and assist in preserving confidentiality. 

Australian government’s public data strategy is forward-facing and ambitious in scope. What is your vision of the Australian public service and economy in 5-10 years in the future in terms of data usage and digital transformation? 

As we all know, the pace of technological advance is rapid, and the volume of data is increasing exponentially. In the next five to ten years, I hope that Australians are receiving the direct benefits of using data to inform better decision-making, improving efficiencies and driving innovation across all sectors in Australia.

My vision is for Australia to be realising as much value from data as possible - in 2014, PwC Australia estimated a $48 billion in potential value from data-driven innovation that was not yet realised. I would like to see new data-driven businesses such as CohortIQ and Mezo Research thriving as a result of initiatives like DataStart, and continuing to demonstrate the potential benefit of data-driven innovation to substantially impact economic growth.

For government and the APS, I hope that the government will be an exemplar in this space, and that data is being used to underpin all key government practices, whether in service delivery, policy development or programme evaluation. The Public Data Policy Statement will bring the long term transformational change in Commonwealth entities’ cultures and attitudes to the use and accessibility of public data, while improving the quality and quantity of public data available.

Over the next three years, it is the aim that all appropriately de-identified, anonymised public data is available through data.gov.au, and publishing public data is standard business practice within government. The development of the data.gov.au infrastructure to bring together open data from all jurisdictions, governments and entities, and to provide a seamless experience for search, discovery and analysis will be an important milestone in delivering the public data strategy.

We’re working hard to deliver these ambitious outcomes for the benefit of all Australians. Visit the PM&C website, www.dpmc.gov.au and data.gov.au for updates and more information as we continue to progress and achieve public data outcomes. 

Helen Owens will be speaking at the Australia OpenGov Leadership Forum in Canberra on September 15th, 2016. For more information, please contact leon.kantor@opengovasia.com.

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