The World Wide Web has provided unprecedented access to information; as humans and machines increasingly interact with it they provide more and more data. The challenge is how to analyse and interpret this data within the context that it was created, and to present it in a way that both researchers and practitioners can more easily make sense of.
The first step is to have access to open and interoperable data sets, which Governments around the world are increasingly subscribing to. But having ‘open’ data is just the beginning and does not necessarily lead to better decision making or policy development. This is because data do not provide the answers – they need to be analysed, interpreted and understood within the context of their creation, and the business imperative of the organisation using them. The major corporate entities, such as Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple and Facebook, have the capabilities to do this, but are driven by their own commercial imperatives, and their data are largely siloed and held within ‘walled gardens’ of information. All too often governments and non-profit groups lack these capabilities, and are driven by very different mandates. In addition they have far more complex community relationships, and must abide by regulatory constraints which dictate how they can use the data they hold. As such they struggle to maximise the value of this emerging ‘digital currency’ and are therefore largely beholden to commercial vendors. What has emerged is a public-private data ecosystem that has huge policy implications (including the twin challenges of privacy and security). Many within the public sector lack the skills to address these challenges because they lack the literacy required within the digital context.
This project seeks to address some of these problems by bringing together a safe and secure Australian-based data platform (facilitating the sharing of data, analytics and visualisation) with policy analysis and governance expertise in order to create a collaborative working model of a ‘Government Web Observatory’. This neutral space, hosted by an Australian university, can serve as a powerful complement to existing Open Data initiatives in Australia, and enable research and education to combine to support the development of a more digitally literate public service.
The project aims to explore where, and in which contexts, people, things, data and the Internet meet and result in evolving observable phenomena which can inform better government policy development and service delivery.