September 14, 2010

Heaps of data from New South Wales

Posted by josediacono @ 2:33 pm under Uncategorized

GIPA is important for NSW mashups because it will lead to more data being released

The Australian Bureau of Statistics hosted a meeting for Statisticians in Sydney on Thursday 2nd September  about GIPA and Open Government. GIPA is the NSW Government Information Public Access which came into force on 1st July 2010. GIPA  replaces the Freedom of Information Act. It encourages and authorizes state and local government, ministers and their staff, state owned corporations (including utilities) and universities to pro-actively release data. Exceptions  “when there is overriding public interest against disclosure” are clearly specified.

Officials who release data are protected from civil suits.

GIPA  covers  all sorts of data, not just about documents. It can be emails, tables, transcripts, stats, reports or raw data.

The law doesn’t say anything about the format the data has to come in. It could be on paper, or a pdf which wouldn’t be too helpful for a masher. There may still be a lot of scraping and formatting.

Speakers from the ABS, Office of the Information Commissioner, Dept of Fair trading, police examined the implications, benefits and issues raised with great honesty.

Data could be misinterpreted, misused or abused if it was”just dumped out there”.

On the one side were the policy makers saying “data can then be used creatively in ways and combinations bureaucrats and lawyers have never thought about”, on the other were those who fear that is it precisely because data was collected for one particular purpose, that it could lead to dangerous or erroneous assumptions if it were used for another. For example, the police collect operational data about crime. But where drug dealers are found is not necessarily the same place they live or where the drugs are consumed.  Many crimes go unreported, so what if people in a particular suburb are more likely to report more crime than in another? Their suburb then looks more crime-ridden, businesses may not locate in the area, therefore disadvantaging the residents or property values go down.

But like it or not, data will be released and reused. So how do we enable meaningful interpretation and use, while at the same time not tying up public servants in reformatting or explaining data to the extent they can no longer do their regular jobs?

  1. Give an explanation. People won’t necessarily read it but at least the Minister can look at the explanation when questioned about it.
  2. Finding out what people are really asking will help you provide meaningful data and offer additional data if you think it will help.
  3. If you don’t have the information in the form they request, you don’t have to jump through hoops, just be helpful, offer them what you have and explain the limitations.
  4. If the data is incomplete or poor quality, just say so. Tell the story.
  5. Expect questions and criticisms when you release data.
  6. Put frequently requested data on a website. Making it understandable, easy to search and retrieve.
  7. Use the Data Quality Tool from the ABS to create a Quality statement.  This tool was demonstrated and helps both producers and users to assess and compare seemingly similar datasets.
  8. Embrace the opportunity to improve data you release from crowdsourcing.
  9. You can release secondary data (i.e.if you are the Dept of Planning and someone else has collected it) but if the requester would be better served by going to the original source you can refer them on. You can also release any data you hold that has come from outside NSW.
  10. Q What if a private consultant asks you for data they will make a profit from? A If this ties you up and thus impacts on your core business you do not have to release the data because if it stops you doing your job that is not in the public interest.

Good news for parents

Your child is going for their first job in a cafe. You want to make sure they will be fairly treated. In about 18 months you will be able to look at a NSW website to check whether they have any harassment claims against them, do they pay penalty rates on Saturdays or how many times they have been inspected.

Kate Harrington and Helen Palmer of the Government Chief Information Office run the NSW data portal used by the NSW app4state mashup competition.  The goal of is to be the single point for people to visit for data because it is very hard for outsiders to find what they are looking for. They took us behind the scenes of the portal “what happens when you click on the ‘Request for Data’ button”. (Basically a lot of running around by them to get the data from the custodian).

There is an international wave of improved public information access:  from the US where every government agency has to release at least 3 datasets (annually??) to the UK where the two most asked for datasets are public toilets and school catchment areas. Their apps4 prefix has spread around the world from Finland to Africa.

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