Report

Open public sector information: from principles to practice

22 Feb 2013
Description

Accessible information is the lifeblood of a robust democracy and a productive economy. As part of a worldwide movement, the Australian Government is fundamentally changing the way that information is valued, managed, used and shared with others.

The concept that best captures this trend, both in Australia and internationally, is the term 'public sector information' (PSI). This describes data, information or content that is generated, collected, or funded by or for the government or public institutions.

PSI is a valuable resource that underpins all the essential public functions that government discharges. It can be an equally valuable resource outside government. People and business can use PSI to evaluate, respond, research, plan, discover, invent, innovate and aspire.

The true value of information is realised only when others can use and build upon it to create new ideas, inventions and strategies. Open PSI is the necessary policy setting to make that happen. It requires, in essence, that government information and data is managed in a way that makes it readily discoverable, accessible and reusable by business and the community.

This report details the results of a survey conducted by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) on how 191 Australian Government agencies manage PSI. The survey was structured around the eight Principles on open public sector information (Open PSI principles) that were published by the OAIC in 2011.

The key finding of this report is that Australian Government agencies are actively embracing an open access and proactive disclosure culture. The high response rate to this survey confirms that finding. The widespread and growing use of digital and web technologies to support a PSI transformation is another sign.

There are nevertheless many policy challenges and practical obstacles that must be tackled. It is more a time of transition than fulfilment.

This transition – or cultural shift – is more successful when built on four elements: agency leadership, officer innovation, community engagement and investment in information infrastructure. Those four elements were identified by agencies themselves as key issues in developing national information policy.

Shortcomings in existing policies, structure and information management practices are highlighted by the survey responses:

  • Transitioning to open access and proactive publication requires cultural change, including more active sponsorship of this philosophy by agency leaders; this is particularly important to overcome resistance or disengagement within agencies.
  • Existing systems for record keeping, information governance, information release and user consultation are not suitably designed for the new era of open PSI, in which government information and data must be valued as a core agency asset and a national resource.
  • Information management systems do not always apply uniformly across agencies; from an open PSI perspective there can be indefensible differences in information management practices across agency branches and locations.
  • A great deal of valuable information is held by agencies in legacy documents that must be reformatted for digital publication; this can be a costly and technologically challenging process.
  • Not all agencies have the technical specialisation and capacity to implement open PSI, on issues such as attachment of metadata, conformance to WCAG 2.0 and data release in an open and standards-based format.
  • The default position of open access licensing is not clearly or robustly stated, nor properly reflected in the practice of government agencies.
  • Agencies have been successful in identifying information that is required to be published under the Information Publication Scheme, but have not been as successful in identifying or prioritising other information that can be published through the agency website or on open data portals.
  • Budgetary limitations hamper the capacity of agencies to be more dynamic in implementing an open PSI culture.

An open PSI access strategy is vital to enable Australia to fully enjoy the economic, regulatory and cultural benefits of an open government model. Great strides to unlock PSI assets have recently been taken through the combined impact of the Government's Gov 2.0 strategy, freedom of information changes, the innovation agenda, a shift in public service culture, and service delivery reform.

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2013
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