Seminar: Towards a National Information Strategy

“Australia is behind many other advanced countries in establishing institutional frameworks to maximise the flow of government generated information and content” – Venturous Australia: Building Strength in Innovation.

On 19 November 2008, I participated in a free public seminar about the Review of the National Innovation System: Towards a National Information Strategy. The half-day seminar was held in the Hyatt Hotel in Canberra and was hosted by the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research and the QUT Law School.

The speakers at the seminar included Professor Brian Fitzgerald and Professor Anne Fitzgerald, both IP professors in the QUT Law School, and Dr Nicholas Gruen of Lateral Economics. You can view the seminar agenda and speaker bios here.

Professor Brian Fitzgerald spoke about innovation as a force that results from the exchange of ideas. He said that collaboration was a key methodology for innovation. Professor Fitzgerald referred to statements made earlier this month by Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner when he said, “The rise of internet-enabled peer production as a social force necessitates a rethink about how policy and politics is done in Australia”. (Reported in the IT section of The Australian). Professor Fitzgerald spoke about how we need to move from a “gated” model of information distribution and knowledge creation to an access based model. He said, “By sharing IP we can harness a powerful new force – mass collaboration”. He also noted Barack Obama’s technology policy, which promotes openness of the internet and openness in government and research.

Dr Nicholas Gruen gave a compelling talk, very similar to his talk given at the CRC-SI Conference this year (see my earlier post). I like the way he defined innovation as “fragility in the face of serial veto” or “fragility amongst robust hazards”. He also gave his own interpretation of the current financial crisis – “The world has created the perfect storm designed to show us the importance of managing information.” One of Dr Gruen’s examples (there were many) of how small amounts of data or information could be used to vastly improve the lives of Australian citizens was what he called the “windows on workplaces” scheme. The idea is this: increasingly, it is becoming important to Australians to have a work/life balance. There are many workplaces that claim to offer a work/life balance, but in reality many do not. And currently there is no way for people to find out the true state of affairs until they actually start working for the company in question – and usually end up working long hours and missing social/family engagements. Wouldn’t it be easy, Dr Gruen says, to ask people to answer a few simple questions – this could be done when ABS is collecting census data – about whether or not their workplace actually delivers on their work/life balance promises? Then workplaces could be ranked according to what they actually provide – not just what they claim to provide – which would create proper accountability and incentives for workplaces to deliver on their promises. The scheme is simple and cheap, but if successful it could have an enormous impact on the lives of working Australians.

Professor Anne Fitzgerald spoke about policy developments in Australia and around the world on access to and reuse of government data and information. These policy developments are charted in a literature review that Professor Anne Fitzgerald is currently undertaking, entitled, Policies and Principles on Access To and Reuse of Public Sector Information: a review of the literature in Australia and selected jurisdictions. (See my earlier post on this).

I gave a brief overview of the research we have conducted in the area in the QUT Law Faculty. I also spoke about Professor Anne Fitzgerald’s literature review, and our new website about access to and use of public sector information (see my earlier post). My powerpoint presentation can be accessed here.

Overall, it was a very successful and informative seminar.

It was also great to hold the seminar in Canberra. Not only did it enable us to engage with many federal politicians, but we also had the afternoon to look around this lovely city. I visited the National Gallery of Australia, the High Court of Australia and old Parliament House, and had a grand old time before my flight back to Brisbane.