Report paints encouraging picture of govt data opening

Government agencies plan shared API and data repository for 'high value' data

The 2012 report on adoption of the Declaration on Open and Transparent Government – the first of a planned annual series - reveals a number of government agencies are already releasing “high-value” data for reuse in the open market and many more are planning to do so.

Agencies are also making plans for a shared service to facilitate the release of data for reuse. “Suggestions included a shared application programming interface (API) service and a data repository for releasing data, which may be more efficient than everyone building their own,” the report says. Web-enabled tools that support data releases were also suggested.

“This feedback suggests that the availability of shared services could remove technology as a barrier to releasing data and information and could avoid agencies investing in point-to-point solutions that are unhelpful for end users and that duplicate investment across government as a whole,” the report says.

A business case for such a shared service will be investigated.

Colin MacDonald, chair of government’s Data and Information Re-use Chief Executives Steering Group, released the report at the GOVIS 2012 (Government Information Services) conference in Wellington on Monday.

MacDonald is chief executive of the Department of Internal Affairs and also government CIO.

Computerworld gave a foretaste of the report in its Wellington supplement in the May 20 print issue, but Cabinet approval had not at that stage been given for full release.

Of the 36 public-service departments that replied to the survey which is the basis of the report, 27 said they have already released some data for reuse and 20 said they have plans for future releases.

However, the focus in many departments is still on “publication or dissemination” rather than enabling reuse.

The two agencies in the lead with releasing data to the public are, not surprisingly, Statistics NZ and Land Information NZ.

Some reuse is emerging, such as a service informing contractors about to dig up the road where cables and pipes are located. The Ministry of Fisheries has partnered with a private web developer Mogeo.co.nz to develop smartphone-based applications “to make recreational fishing easier for the general public”, with information on catch limits and permissible sizes for various fish species

However, some reuse may still be under the radar. “At this stage it appears that departments are still developing mechanisms for identifying how the high-value public data they have released for reuse has been reused and what impact this may have had,” the report says. “An obvious exception is the wide use of official statistics.”

The Declaration, approved by Cabinet in August 2011, requires that data be released in machine-readable format and according to the liberal licensing conditions enshrined in the NZGOAL (NZ Government Open Access and Licensing) framework.

Among obstacles reported by responding departments are:

“low awareness of:

• NZGOAL and what it means;

• how to actually release data;

• what “open” and “machine readable” mean;

• the difference between data dissemination and making data available for re-use;

• the value of making data machine readable; and

• how their data could be utilised.

However no department has said that these obstacles are insurmountable.

The chief executives steering group will oversee exercises in communicating with departments and potential private-sector parties to ease the reuse of data.

Priorities for assistance include NZGOAL training and guidance on how to release data for re-use, “covering process, open formats, technical methods, and including georeferencing where appropriate.”

Guidance will also be given on handling the release notification and request process set up on the website data.govt.nz

The steering group will also “accelerate” the preparation of case studies illustrating good data reuse.

The full report can be read at: http://ict.govt.nz/programme/opening-government-data-and-information/2012-report-adoption-declaration

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