This site was developed to support the Government 2.0 Taskforce, which operated from June to December 2009. The Government responded to the Government 2.0 Taskforce's report on 3 May 2010. As such, comments are now closed but you are encouraged to continue the conversation at agimo.govspace.gov.au.

Data.gov

2009 June 28
by Brian Fitzgerald

Data.gov

In giving evidence before the - Victorian Parliament - Economic Development and Infrastructure Committee’s  Inquiry into Improving Access to Victorian Public Sector Information and Data my sister Professor Anne Fitzgerald quoted a passage from an article published in the Yale Journal of Law and Technology which addressed the role that the US federal government should have in modernising its internet infrastructure:

In order for public data to benefit from the same innovation and dynamism that characterize private parties’ use of the Internet, the federal government must reimagine its role as an information provider. Rather than struggling, as it currently does, to design sites that meet each enduser need, it should focus on creating a simple, reliable and publicly accessible infrastructure that “exposes” the underlying data. Private actors, either nonprofit or commercial, are better suited to deliver government information to citizens and can constantly create and reshape the tools individuals use to find and leverage public data. The best way to ensure that the government allows private parties to compete on equal terms in the provision of government data is to require that federal websites themselves use the same open systems for accessing the underlying data as they make available to the public at large. 328 (David Robinson, Harlan Yu, William Zeller, Edward Felten, ‘Government data and the invisible hand’, Yale Journal of Law and Technology, vol. 11, no. Fall 2008).

The Economic Development and Infrastructure Committee’s report quoted this evidence (at page 109)

The establishment of the Data.gov website in the US embodies this philosophy. (See as background President Obama’s Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies : Transparency and Open Government (January 2009))

The Data.gov website explains its role as follows:

About

The purpose of Data.gov is to increase public access to high value, machine readable datasets generated by the Executive Branch of the Federal Government.

As a priority Open Government Initiative for President Obama’s administration, Data.gov increases the ability of the public to easily find, download, and use datasets that are generated and held by the Federal Government. Data.gov provides descriptions of the Federal datasets (metadata), information about how to access the datasets, and tools that leverage government datasets. The data catalogs will continue to grow as datasets are added. Federal, Executive Branch data are included in the first version of Data.gov.

Participatory Democracy

Public participation and collaboration will be one of the keys to the success of Data.gov. Data.gov enables the public to participate in government by providing downloadable Federal datasets to build applications, conduct analyses, and perform research. Data.gov will continue to improve based on feedback, comments, and recommendations from the public and therefore we encourage individuals to suggest datasets they’d like to see, rate and comment on current datasets, and suggest ways to improve the site.

Goal

A primary goal of Data.gov is to improve access to Federal data and expand creative use of those data beyond the walls of government by encouraging innovative ideas (e.g., web applications). Data.gov strives to make government more transparent and is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government. The openness derived from Data.gov will strengthen our Nation’s democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.

For some interesting examples of what can be done see Rewired State (UK)

 

 

6 Responses
  1. 2009 June 29

    Hi Brian,

    excellent post – I’m so glad you’re giving http://data.gov the attention it deserves. Nice quotes too btw 8)
    I’ve been trying to build a collection of known gov APIs and have been encouraging people to tweet using the #datagovau tag. I’ll continue this as time permits.

    @gordongrace and @adampiro have also been kind enough to join in so far.

    I’ve created http://wthashtag.com/Datagovau and hopefully other people will contribute to this ongoing discussion as I think this is a key place to start the whole ball moving.

    We’ve also started work on a common Open Data Model discussion over on the Open Australia wiki (see http://wiki.openaustralia.org/index.php/Open_Data_Model) and @cathstyles excellent suggestion about visualising the Australian Gov. structure could build upon and utilise these APIs and Open Data Model (see http://catherinestyles.com/2009/06/28/a-government-2-0-idea/).

    #datagovau
    #opendata
    #publicsphere

  2. 2009 June 29

    The concept of an Australian equivalent of the USA Government’s data.gov is exciting and has considerable potential to assist Australian innovation. However, there are many processes and structures required to be put in place before such a capability can be effectively established. Many of these requirements relate to standards that are necessary to ensure maximum value is provided to the user community. In simple terms this relates to the description of the data sets in a standard manner that enables structures searches, and helps the user to understand what the data set can be used for. The Australian spatial community has been working on this approach for a number of years and has been very successful in developing this type of capability.

    A model for how Public Sector Information (PSI) can successfully be made available to the broad community is the Australian Government Spatial Data Pricing and Access Policy that was established in 2001. This policy provides a governance structure, administrative infrastructure and a range of tools and mechanisms to facilitate access to spatial information held by government. Since its establishment many millions of downloads of Australian Government spatial information have been made, which is a reflection of the demand for this information and the success of the policy.

    Any new approach to facilitate access to government information should build on these existing capabilities and leverage the knowledge and experience that has been developed since 2001.

  3. 2009 June 29
    westciv permalink

    Professor,

    in the same vein as data.gov, newspaper like the New York Times, and Guardian are turing themselves into web based platforms and services. These would be interesting models to also investigate.

  4. 2009 July 1

    The Yale article that contains the quotation, “Private actors, either nonprofit or commercial, are better suited to deliver government information to citizens”, makes some good points about separation of data from presentation – and making data available in standard formats – but I don’t think much of what it discusses is relevant to Australia; and I don’t think this particular quotation is useful or applicable in helping set Australian government policy.

    The Yale article mentions “advanced” web features such as ‘search’ and ‘RSS feeds’ that the US government has been unable to set up, while private individuals in their “spare time” have produced better results. This seems to be an indictment of some of the US government’s web publishing efforts but isn’t relevant to Australia where governments have led in many areas: providing clean accessible web sites, leading-the-charge on accessibility and access, and producing advanced visualisations of data.

    The Yale article talks about the “minefield of federal rules” that inhibit effective government web publishing. I don’t think this is the situation in Australia, but if it is then such rules need to be streamlined, rather than accepting excessive and unhelpful regulation as an essential ‘feature’ of government – that can only be solved by handing over to the private sector. Most of the rules Australian government operates under seem useful in supporting accessibility, privacy and accountability.

    I’m concerned about commercial considerations (including the pseudo-commercial operation of government) distorting access to information due to the need to profit from the supply of that information. We must never require that people endure advertisements in order to access well-presented government information.

    When government directly supplies information to the public, then it can benefit directly from public feedback and by examining the usage patterns of web sites. Government has been using “web 2.0″ technology since before this phrase was invented – and if properly organised, can continue to keep keep up as technology changes.

  5. 2009 July 4

    Brian, great to see this initiative and that you are on it. There is still someway to go in ensuring Open Access to Australian research and thus potential for innovation. The piece below from the UK Higher Education Supplement is relevant.

    Access all areas
    2 July 2009

    By Zoë Corbyn thesful

    Joined-up public sector data should be on offer in the information age and Nigel Shadbolt plans to show the way

    The public sector is awash with information that could and should be accessible to a much wider audience than it is today. In the internet age, we need the tools to open these data up to the public, with huge potential benefits in a variety of unexpected areas.

    The Government has asked two academics at the University of Southampton to investigate ways of making it happen. The better known of the pair, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, is one of the founders of the world wide web, and his six- month appointment was announced by the Prime Minister in Parliament earlier this month.

    However, his long-term collaborator, Nigel Shadbolt, professor of artificial intelligence in Southampton’s School of Electronics and Computer Science, is an equal partner in the project.

    “The principal invitation was for Tim to do this and he asked that I should help,” he explained.

    The Government’s desire to tap into the professors’ expertise parallels the interest shown in the notion of e-government by the Obama Administration in the US.

    It is also driven by a 2003 European directive on the “re-use of public sector information”, which pushes governments to make the most of the data they hold for the public good.

    Although the project is still in the planning stage, Professor Shadbolt explained that a vast amount of the information that is collected by local and national government, from data about accidents to food safety to schools, can be “quite hard for the public to get at” as it tends to get “buried” in various websites. The idea is to provide a single point of access online to integrate this information.

    “If you knew where particular accident blackspots for cyclists were and you could intersect that with favourite routes of travel or public rights of way, then you could have a service that says ‘notice this is a problematic area’ or ‘notice you can avoid it by going this way’,” Professor Shadbolt explained.

    He said that the idea is not to move the information from departmental websites but to build a “very powerful directory” that would then make it “extremely easy to repurpose” the data.

    “With the web you click a link and don’t worry about where a document is living or who is hosting it,” he added.

    Professor Shadbolt is an expert in the ecology of the web and previously worked with the Office of Public Sector Information, work that laid the foundations for this latest initiative.

    zoe.corbyn@tsleducation.com

    ————————————————————–
    Colin Steele
    Emeritus Fellow

  6. 2009 July 7
    Andrew Clark permalink

    There used to be a saying more than a decade ago at the predawn of the internet as we know it “let the Information Run Free”. This was and is a useful saying and has seen the growth of open source software etc and the moves to make government data more accessible particularly in the USA.

    However with out the capacity for the community and others to properly analyze, manage, share the information and knowledge they gain from newly available data, the process risks becoming hollow and meaningless. The task force and ultimately the government must give some consideration to how information can be used within the social democratic state to enhance accountability and transparency of government processes, including adapting or changing policies.

    Within the context of e -government and e – democracy a serious debate needs to had on what constitute a true participatory democracy within the context of the rapidly changing web and information technologies and open government . In my humble opinion, its not choosing a banner nor the most up today twit.

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