Quite simply, open data is information that anyone can find, explore and reuse.
A vast amount of this data is collected during the course of normal government activities, including service delivery, research or administration.
Open data, by definition, should be freely available, easily discoverable, anonymous, accessible and published in ways and with licences that allow reuse.
By releasing this information in a central location – on data.gov.au – it’s now easy to find, explore and reuse.
Examples of how open data is used include creating an app, doing research, in support of evidence-based decision making, developing a business plan for creating goods or services, or simply to improve knowledge and understanding of social, economic and environmental trends.
Government open data does not hold any private or sensitive information as the data is anonymised prior to release. This is done to ensure the highest privacy standards are met, and security is not breached.
Australia’s data volume is currently growing at an ever-increasing rate; so too is the potential value of this data.
Why public data matters
Making data open has economic and social benefits.
Some of the data sets of value include transport data, mapping (geospatial) data, health data, environmental data, demographic data and real-time emergency data.
Most often, the government agency publishing the data cannot foresee its future use, or how it might be combined with other data or displayed in a program, interface or tool.
Open data builds connections between government, private and research sectors, stimulating business activity, and developing knowledge that can benefit all Australians.
When government data is put online it also makes things more efficient. Government agencies can store, share and update data across normal department boundaries. Having a single source of truth reduces time and costs of doing regular government business.
There are even more uses – open data assists in the development of evidence-based decisions leading to better-informed policies, research and social outcomes.
What’s public data worth?
The value of public data is of great value to the Australian economy. In a 2014, a report by Nicholas Gruen of Lateral Economics, valued Australian government open data at $25 billion per annum (of the combined direct and indirect values).
Estimates of the value of open data may vary; not unlike estimating the value of an unexplored gold mine. But, unlike the analogy of the mine, the open data resource continues to grow at an increasing rate, rather than gradually diminishing over time.
Open data can be built upon and linked with other data, building value in its own right, and laying the groundwork for further activity. As the volume of open data increases so to does its value.
A simple data policy
The Australian Government policy on public data is simple: all government agencies should make non-sensitive data open by default, and it should be free, easy to use, and reliable.
According to the public data policy statement, agencies should publish anonymised data -
- on or linked through data.gov.au for discoverability and availability
- in a machine-readable, spatially-enabled format
- with high quality, easy to use and freely available API access
- with descriptive metadata
- using agreed open standards
- kept up to date in an automated way
- under a Creative Commons By Attribution licence unless a clear case is made to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet for another open licence.
The open data team at the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) helps government agency data custodians meet these requirements. The DTA has recently, in partnership with CSIROs data innovation group, Data61, enhanced the data.gov.au site to make it easier to find, explore and reuse Australia’s public data.