"Its gunna cost ya" – who pays?
Hi I’m Seb Chan.
I’m simplifying things a bit for brevity here but one of the big issues around access to government data is that of cost.
Creating, collecting, and preserving data costs. Whilst your taxes are paying for this, many government agencies have also been asked, over the years, to generate revenue from selling data and/or access to it.
This revenue sometimes generates a profit, but other times it doesn’t even remotely get near covering the cost of selling it. The business units that sell this data rely upon clarity in terms of intellectual property in order to develop their business models and thus they’ve been encouraged to operate to protect their own interests and data (even when they might now run counter to those of the community).
Add to this the complexity of government IT systems and where there are legacy systems involved, getting the data out can incur substantial costs. At the very least there are time and resource costs. And because of prior policy decisions around outsourcing there are also now often third party fees payable to outsourced IT service providers.
So this is a tricky area to venture into and there need to be some clear ways of addressing questions around these matters.
With my team I’ve done a fair bit at the Museum around the Creative Commons licensing of all our text-based research content on our website as well as the release of a whole lot of historical images to Flickr with ‘no known Copyright restrictions’. Now we do run a business unit selling images, and we sell our text-based research through the exhibitions and publications we produce.
So how can we justify “giving it away”? Well, our mission is closely aligned with education and to better serve citizens, students and the community it makes sense to. Perhaps surprisingly, it also makes good business sense in the digital age.
One of my team at the Powerhouse, Paula Bray, recently published a paper looking at the cost implications of making these historical images available for free via Flickr. As it turns out, we are selling more now than ever before – even though ‘customers’ can get them from Flickr for free! (In fact our referrals from Flickr which result in sales are up too!)
Similarly the ABS is finding out that since they’ve made their data freely available the online usage of their data has shot up. This results in new business opportunities just as others evaporate.
The Inquiry Into Improving Access To Victorian Public Sector Information & Data covers these issues in some detail in Chapters 7 (Pricing) and 8 (Technical Infrastructure).
However all this extra usage also ends up generating additional costs. Think of all the extra enquiries, the extra requests that this extra usage and access generates. At the Powerhouse making our collection research more accessible, more usable, and more ‘open’ we have seen the volume of public enquiries more than triple and we struggle with answering all the enquiries we now get from all over the world. For us, this is an exciting opportunity – but it is also a huge challenge.
So how are we, as a society, going to pay for all this data – not just the collection and storage, but access and increased usage?