Digital Strategy revisions put economic success first

Greater access to digital resources identified as top priority

Access to documents that could help New Zealand succeed economically should be given top priority, according to a revised digital content strategy.

A document summarising revisions to the government’s digital strategy says software to access documents of value to business should be given a higher priority than software to improve business efficiency.

Easy accessibility of digital resources, including the results of publicly funded research, would offer greater advantages to commerce and the economy than mere tinkering with business processes, say those making submissions on the issue.

The revised version of the Digital Content Strategy, which was issued this month, follows in the wake of a draft “discussion document” published last year. This formed the basis for an extensive public consultation process.

The resulting wealth of comment resulted in big changes to the strategy document. Critics of the draft document said too much attention was being paid to documents enshrining heritage and history. At the same time, too little attention was being paid to making information available digitally that could help the country succeed economically.

Critics also said reform of government processes, by making information available digitally — to aid the development of e-democracy — was not being emphasised enough, despite the huge efforts being made in regards to e-government strategy.

“Many submitters made reference to the need for adequate resourcing and funding for the initiatives proposed by the strategy,” says the summary document.

“Priorities for resources need to be set out in the strategy. There was concern that some agencies could be left out of the funding equation, including medium-sized institutions that may find it harder to access resources than large and small organisations.”

One critic suggested a “New Zealand On Line” body being created — similar to New Zealand On Air — which would have funds to award to projects on merit, regardless of who was behind any given project. However, this suggestion was not taken up as an explicit proposal in the document.

The revised strategy sees collaboration of organisations within particular sectors as being important in ensuring the use of funding to create new digital content.

Both the submissions and the final version of the strategy reveal much conflict between the desire to create new products by reusing existing content and the need to protect intellectual property, so its original creators receive sufficient reward for their efforts.

A New Zealand version of the Creative Commons licence, allowing more flexible terms for re-use of content, is being devised “by Te Whäinga Aronui, The Council for the Humanities, on behalf of a coalition of grassroots organisations, creative industries, media, the arts and the humanities research communities,” says the strategy document.

“Government agencies including the National Library are being consulted. A private sector legal team is assisting [in drafting] the licences,” it says.

The National Library, the leading government agency behind the strategy, has already been granted $4.4 million over the next five years to develop a “People’s Network”, based on “free internet access via libraries… on-site support and skill building; tools to encourage users to create, access, share and preserve content; and community repositories for citizen-created content.”

However, some of those submitting to the document said this was too narrow a base and other institutions, beyond just libraries, particularly those supporting Maori and Pacific Island communities, and people with disabilities should also be included.

Although the current version of the new strategy is “final”, it nevertheless marks just the “first steps” in an implementation process, say the ministers responsible, David Cunliffe and Judith Tizard. The first major step will be the Digital Future summit, to be held in Auckland in November.

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