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EXCLUSIVE - Addressing the open data imperative through sound information management

EXCLUSIVE – Addressing the open data imperative through sound information management

Today governments around the world today
are seeking to unleash the power of open government data. They are increasingly
aware of the value of the massive volumes of data they hold and continue to add
to at a rising pace and they are coming to a common understanding that to
unlock the potential of this data, it has to be made open, accessible and usable.

OpenGov had the opportunity to speak to Elizabeth
Tydd, Information Commissioner and CEO of the Information and Privacy
Commission (IPC), New South Wales
(NSW) about the role played by open data in improving government service
delivery and building trust in institutions. Commissioner Tydd also explains
how information release can benefit from process automation and initiatives
taken by IPC NSW towards promoting open data and open government.

Benefits
of proactively releasing non-sensitive government information

Delivering
better services

In our contemporary environment, governments
are challenged in meeting service delivery demands – it needs to do things
faster; more responsively and in a more tailored way to achieve better outcomes
in a range of services transport and infrastructure; education and health.

By releasing non-sensitive data, Commissioner
Tydd explained, the government can partner with the community and private
sector business to harness the communities’ ideas for innovation and new
service delivery models.

She talked about the TripView app as an example, which creates trip plans for train,
bus, ferry, light rail and coach services. It uses open data from Transport for NSW, which leads the
development of safe, integrated and efficient transport systems for the people
of NSW. The app helps ease congestion and enables people to make informed
decisions about transport.

Another example is the FuelCheck
app, which uses information from cellular, Wi-Fi, and Global Positioning System
(GPS) networks to determine a person’s approximate location and provides
real-time information about fuel prices at service stations across NSW. It
helps ensure that consumers make an informed choice regarding fuel pricing and
also contributes to efficient market behaviour resulting in better outcomes for
citizens.

There are also significant efficiencies
that can be delivered partnerships between citizens and government, so that
service delivery can be more focused and targeted. This facilitates the delivery
of services to citizens where they need those services, and in a way that they
can most effectively access.

Citizens can better engage with government
and hold government accountable – so that government is more efficient and
service delivery is more effective.

Building
trust

Another key role of open data is to help
build trust in government, and institutions generally.

Commissioner Tydd highlighted building
public trust and ensuring the provision of good quality public services as
contemporary challenges facing governments. In NSW there is an increase in the
number of applications in which citizens are asking for non-personal
information – they are interested in understanding how government works.

To have a well-functioning democracy in
which citizens actively participate and governments are accountable, there is a
need to promote openness and transparency.

“We need to consciously and consistently
work to elevate trust in Australia. The Edelman
Trust Barometer
reveals that over the last 3 years Australia is increasing
becoming a nation of distrusters. In 2018 our results place us at 40 and Russia
at 36. We declined 2 percentage points (the US declined by 9 percentage points),”
Commissioner Tydd said.

Rising
acknowledgement across the public sector

But there are positive developments. Australia
joined the Open Government
Partnership
in 2016 and signed up to deliver on 15 ambitious commitments to
build openness under the inaugural national
action plan
.  Commissioner Tydd has led
the work to develop metrics
and report on the use of information access laws in each of Australia’s states
and territories. She said that NSW’s results are pleasing but there is still
work to be done on release rates.

In general, there is improved awareness of
the value of data in the public sector in Australia. It recognises that it is the
custodian of a wealth of data and information and that this asset must be
harnessed – managed respectfully and applied effectively.

The Data Analytics Centre (DAC) in NSW
and recent legislation in South Australia; and Victoria follows the benefits
recognition of sound information management and application.  These analytics centres seek to utilise the
most recent technical developments to:

  • Manage the large volumes of
    data including messy data
  • Better manage scalability
    variables
  • Ensure better accuracy of data
  • Harness better predictive
    capabilities to deliver better outcomes

Commissioner Tydd also brought up
developments at the Commonwealth level, “Likewise, developments in precision
medicine at the Commonwealth level seeking to customise health care and at the
same time preserve privacy and anonymity will deliver better services to
citizens.”

In NSW there is a real commitment to more
effective information management. However, Commissioner Tydd added that there are
challenges to be overcome. They include outdated technology and legacy
information management systems, the tyranny of paper, outdated regulation and
inadequate metadata capture and limited search capacity.

“We also need to build the capability to better
manage information and a culture of openness – these are increasingly the
essential capabilities for public sector employees,” said Commissioner Tydd.

In addition, there is scope for improvement
in information management processes through harnessing technological solutions
and through the digitisation of suitable processes to better capture; store and
access information. 

Facilitating
information release through process automation

The modes of information release fall under
four categories:

  1. Mandatory release (i.e. release of info under regulatory requirement, e.g. directory
    info, annual report)
  2. Proactive release (i.e. voluntary release of info that has no reason to be withheld)
  3. Informal release (i.e. release of info in response to a request made without
    resorting to formal channels)   
  4. Formal release (i.e. release of info in response to a formal application, e.g. Freedom
    of Information request)    

We asked Commissioner Tydd which of these
would benefit most from process automation.

She replied, “All of the information access
pathways would benefit from process automation but your question restricts me
to one.”

“However, I’d like to nominate 2 as they
are so closely linked – Mandatory release and proactive release. In NSW
compliance with mandatory release is declining – this is information that is
mandated for release and accordingly it lends itself to automation.”

Manual upload or release may not receive
priority with scarce resources in both large and small agencies. So, automation
serves the dual purposes of open government and efficient application of government
resources.

Commissioner Tydd explained that additionally,
proactive release provides a real opportunity to build systems that by design
release information that can safely and securely be released and do so without
again the legacy of unnecessary application of resources at a later stage in
the process of managing information and responsibilities generally.

Steps
taken by IPC NSW to promote Open Data and apply technology to better Open Government

“In NSW we are fortunate enough to have a
tranche two or more contemporary legislative model that seeks to push
information out to citizens and we should maximise that opportunity to open
government; build trust; harness ideas and deliver better government services,”
Commissioner Tydd said.

When asked about the agency’s initiatives
in the area of open data, she replied, “The agency dashboard represents the
IPC’s commitment to Open Data and is part of the IPC’s proactive release
program.”

The Government Information (Public Access)
Act 2009 (GIPA
Act
) was established to provide an open and transparent process for giving
the public access to information held by NSW public sector agencies and to
encourage the proactive release of government information.

The GIPA dashboard provides accessible data
for the public, individual agencies and for all sectors. By making this data
more accessible, the public and agencies can see how the GIPA Act is working
for them against the eight key performance measures reported upon each year
since 2014.

Prior to the publication of the dashboard,
agency-level GIPA data was publicly available through the annual Report on the
operation of the GIPA Act, each agency’s annual report, on the IPC’s website
and via the NSW government’s data website data.nsw.gov.au.

The data is drawn from the GIPA Tool developed
by the IPC as a cloud-based case management tool for agencies and available
free of charge. It is used by agencies to report their GIPA Act activities and
comprises reports submissions from over 230 agencies across NSW.

The dashboard, which incorporates
contemporary data visualisation tools, will go live in March 2018. It will be
available on the IPC website ipc.nsw.gov.au.

Commissioner Tydd listed several benefits
on this approach including a greater understanding by agencies and the
community of the GIPA operations of agencies and improved visibility and
self-assessment of performance and therefore, increasing compliance by agencies
with their GIPA Act obligations.

It would also lead to improved efficiency
through agencies comparing their performance and seeking performance
improvement strategies from peers, greater collaboration between agencies on
areas of common interest, such as timeliness, and improved transparency to the
community and stakeholders, including Parliament.

Finally, this approach leads to improved
and streamlined ability for agencies to report to their stakeholders and
demonstrate compliance and performance outcomes and it also enhances engagement
opportunities for the community.

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