Tag Archives: psi

Inquiry into Improving Access to Victorian Public Sector Information and Data – report released

[Cross posted from auPSI.org]

On Wedneday 24 June 2009, the Victorian Government released the Report of the Economic Development and Infrastructure Committee on the Inquiry into Improving Access to Victorian Public Sector Information and Data.

The Economic Development and Infrastructure Committee (‘the Committee’) was tasked with inquiring into, considering and reporting to the Victorian Parliament on the potential application of open content and open source licensing models, including Creative Commons, to Victorian Government Information.

The Committee made three key recommendations for access to and reuse of PSI:

1) That the Victorian Government develop an Information Management Framework for the purpose of facilitating access to and reuse of Victorian Government information by government, citizens and businessess. The default position of the Framework should be that all PSI produced by Victorian Government departments from now on be made available at no or marginal cost.

2) That the Victorian Government make use of the Creative Commons licensing model for the release of PSI. The Committee was told that Creative Commons licences can be appropriately used for up to 85% of government information and data.

3) That the Victorian Government establish an online directory where the public can search for and obtain information about PSI held by the Victorian Government. Depending on the access conditions the Government has attached to specific PSI, people will be able to download information and data directly, or make contact with people in the Victorian Government to discuss access conditions.

This is an immensely significant report, which has been noted internationally including on the ePSIplatform. In particular, the recommendation that the Victorian Government use CC licensing is very encouraging.


In summary:

Key Recommendations of the Report –

Recommendation 1: That the Victorian Government release a public statement indicating that it endorses open access as the default position for the management of its public sector information.

Recommendation 2: That the Victorian Government develop a whole-of-government Information Management Framework (IMF).

Recommendation 8: That the Victorian Government encourage as part of its funding agreements with research agencies and higher education institutions that research results be deposited in open access journals or repositories.

Recommendation 11: That the Victorian Government develop a consistent copyright licensing system for use across all government departments.

Recommendation 13: That exclusive arrangements not be entered into for licensing Victorian Government public sector information, excepting exclusive rights necessary to protect the public interest.

Recommendation 14: That the Victorian Government adopt the Creative Commons licensing model as the default licensing system for the Information Management Framework.

Recommendation 15: That the Victorian Government adopt a hybrid public sector information licensing model comprising Creative Commons and a tailored suite of licences for restricted materials.

Recommendation 16: That the Victorian Government develop specific guidelines for the pricing of public sector information (PSI), emphasising the provision of PSI at no cost or marginal cost.

Recommendation 21: That the Victorian Government require wherever possible that its information and data be stored in open standard formats.


Key Findings of the Committee –

Finding 1: Quantitative data about economic benefits arising from increased commercial exploitation of public sector information (PSI) does not currently provide clear guidance for policy. There is a growing view, however, that new commercial enterprises will emerge as access to PSI is improved.

Finding 2: Improved access to and utilisation of public sector information may result in economic benefits for the Victorian Government through greater efficiency in the allocation of resources and more informed decision-making and policy development processes.

Finding 5: There is substantial potential for spatial data held by the public sector to contribute to new commercial and public services and research. There are also significant opportunities for access to spatial data held as public sector information to be improved.

Finding 6: The proliferation and interdependence of patents can act as a barrier to innovation and the delivery of new products to the market.

Finding 7: The existence of copyright in government-owned materials does not necessarily limit the extent to which they can be made publicly available. Copyright and in particular Crown copyright may, however, limit opportunities for re-use of those materials.

Finding 8: A lack of standardised licensing practices between and within governments can act as a barrier to public sector information access.

Finding 9: The removal of copyright from Victorian Government public sector information (PSI) is unlikely to simplify access to and re-use of PSI. Access to and re-use of PSI will be best facilitated by issuing licences in accordance with existing copyright provisions.

Finding 10: Open content licences provide governments with a simple and effective mechanism to facilitate enhanced access to and re-use of copyright protected public sector information in a digital, online environment.

Finding 11: Creative Commons is a comprehensive licensing system that can be applied to both online and offline materials.

Finding 13: It is likely that Creative Commons licences can be appropriately applied to around 85 per cent of government public sector information.

Finding 14: The application of geographical restrictions to public sector information (PSI) licences will be difficult to enforce and may compromise the re-use value of government PSI.

Finding 15: Issuing attribution-only Creative Commons licences will assist to maintain the integrity of Victorian Government public sector information while ensuring access and re-use opportunities are maximised.

Finding 19: There is an emerging view that the application of no cost or marginal cost pricing to public sector information will increase access to and re-use of such information, with the potential to stimulate productivity and economic growth.

Finding 20: There is growing recognition that government should have a limited role in adding value to public sector information (PSI) for commercial purposes. The value of PSI should be enhanced through private sector activity for the creation of new products and services.

Finding 21: The provision of public sector information in open standard formats is a key component of open access.

Government 2.0 Taskforce

On Monday 22 June 2009, the new Government 2.0 Taskforce was announced. The Terms of Reference for the Taskforce are that the Taskforce will advise and assist the Australian Government to:

  • make government information more accessible and usable — to establish a pro-disclosure culture around non-sensitive public sector information;
  • make government more consultative, participatory and transparent — to maximise the extent to which government utilises the views, knowledge and resources of the general community;
  • build a culture of online innovation within Government — to ensure that government is receptive to the possibilities created by new collaborative technologies and uses them to advance its ambition to continually improve the way it operates;
  • promote collaboration across agencies with respect to online and information initiatives — to ensure that efficiencies, innovations, knowledge and enthusiasm are shared on a platform of open standards; and
  • identify and/or trial initiatives that may achieve or demonstrate how to accomplish the above objectives.

If the Taskforce follows through on its Terms of Reference, I think it will do great things. Read more on the Government 2.0 Taskforce blog. The website is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Australian licence.

My boss, Professor Brian Fitzgerald, is one of the members appointed to the Taskforce, along with Dr Nicolas Gruen, Mia Garlick and others. Brian’s is an excellent appointment – he is an internationally recognised IP and technology law expert, whom I’m confident will contribute much to the Taskforce.

The Taskforce is also running a competition to design the Taskforce website’s banner. All entries will be licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 2.5 Australian licence.

Google and Victorian Government work together on a Victorian Bushfires Events map

The Victorian Government and Google Australia have come together to develop the Victorian Bushfires Events map. This is not a map tracking the actual bushfires (see my previous post), but rather to give Victorian citizens information about where they can find events and fundraisers supporting victims of the fires. The map was announced yesterday on the Google Australia blog and on Wednesday by the Victorian Premier. From the Victorian Premier’s annoucement:

People wanting to organise or find bushfire community events in their local area will now be able to do so easily thanks to a new online map developed by Google Australia’s engineers for the Victorian Government.

Premier John Brumby said the Victorian Bushfire Events map would be a wonderful way for people to find local events where they would be able to watch Sunday’s Together for Victoria service in Melbourne but also a useful tool for future local bushfire community events.

“People unable to make it to Melbourne on Sunday will now be able to find or host an event where they can be a part of the Together for Victoria memorial service in or near their local area,” Mr Brumby said.

“The generosity of Victorians and Australians has never been more evident in the aftermath of the devastating bushfires and going forward this online tool will assist people in promoting their local fundraisers.

“It will also assist in the organisation and staging of these events – events that are humbling in their generosity and community spirit, and very much appreciated by all Victorians.”

The Victorian Bushfire Events map will allow local community groups to advertise events and fundraisers, and people to find events in their local area, not only in Victoria but across Australia and the world.

It is encouraging to see Google and the Victorian Government working together on this, but disappointing that it didnt happen sooner when locational information about the actual fires was vital.

Access to Victorian fire data

Yesterday afternoon an interesting story appeared on ZDNet Australia: “Vic Govt limited Google’s bushfire map”. I encourage you to read the full post on ZDNet Australia, but in summary, the post documents Google’s trouble in gaining access to Victorian Government data about the movement of bushfires in Victoria.

According to the post, Google has been working with the Commonwealth Fire Authority, which manages fires on private lands, to overlay the Authority’s data onto Google Maps to produce a real-time map of the locations of the fires. The map also uses a colour scheme to convey the seriousness of the fires: green (safe), yellow (controlled), orange (contained) and red (ongoing).

Naturally, this map is immensely beneficial to those in Victoria and elsewhere who are attempting to track the bushfires.

However, Google has run into some problems gaining access to data to plot fires on public lands. This data is owned and controlled by the Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment, and is covered by Crown copyright. As such, permission is required from the government before the data can be used, and for Google this permission has not been forthcoming. The result is that Google has been unable to plot this data onto their map.

As noted in the ZDNet Australia post, this is not the first time Google has had trouble accessing and using Australian government data. They were expressly denied permission from the Commonwealth Department of Health and Aging to overlay data from the National Public Toilet Map onto a Google Map.

Why is the government so unwilling to share its data? My guess is that there are two possible reasons. The first is that in some cases, the government has a misguided idea that data can be used to build online systems or services (usually these will be geospatial systems or services) which can be used to generate revenue by charging for access. The other is that the government is naturally risk-averse and would prefer to control their data as tightly as possible.

What the government is forgetting is that it is a representative of the people and the government-owned data has been collected using public funds. We, the Australian public, have paid for that data through our taxes and as such, we should have the benefit of that data. Surely it is most beneficial for the public if we can have ready access to that data in the most efficient and convenient way possible. And if that is through a Google Map, then the government should enable this. There can be no argument that in the face of tragedy such as the Victorian bushfires, the government should not hinder our ability to access as much information as possible about that tragedy. This includes the ability to easily track those bushfires via a Google Map.

Arguments have been made that as the access and use issue can be traced back to Crown copyright, then Crown copyright should be removed, as is the case in the United States where government data and publications are held to be in the public domain. I do not believe that this is the answer. Rather than remove Crown copyright completely, the government should be encouraged to release their material where possible under open licences such as the Creative Commons Attribution licence. This should be the default position, unless access to the material must be restricted due to privacy or national security concerns. The government must engage in a “push” model – where it systematically “pushes” its material out to the community – rather than a “pull” model – where members of the public must seek permission or lodge a Freedom Of Information request to access that material. Crown copyright can serve an important purpose, if only through the operation of the requirement of attribution (a requirement imposed through the Creative Commons licence, similar to moral rights), which requires that the author of a material (in this case, the government) to be attributed wherever the material is reproduced. The requirement of attribution for government copyright material can serve a two-fold purpose – (1) it allows the government to retain some control over the material it produces; and (2) it verifies to the public that the material has come from a reliable source.

Our research group at QUT has done some work on this area. See the auPSI website for more information.

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.

New: literature review and website on access to public sector information

Professor Anne Fitzgerald of the QUT Law Faculty is currently undertaking the massive task of reviewing the literature around policies and principles on access to and reuse of public sector information in Australia and worldwide.

The literature review is divided into chapters according to jurisdiction. This is an ongoing project and Professor Fitzgerald will be releasing the literature review in installments as each chapter is completed.

She has just released Chapter 1: Australia and Chapter 2: New Zealand. Currently, these chapters appear together in PDF form, but I believe they will appear separately later. The literature review so far is extremely comprehensive – chapters 1 and 2 alone comprise 268 pages!

Forthcoming are the remaining chapters – Chapter 3: International; Chapter 4: Europe, UK and Ireland; Chapter 5: United States and Canada; and Chapter 5: Asia.

Currently, the literature review is available in the QUT ePrints Repository (here), but it will soon appear on the new website: http://www.aupsi.org.

http://www.aupsi.org is the website of a new research group with which I am involved – Access to and Use of Public Sector Information (auPSI). auPSI’s mission is to provide a comprehensive web portal that:

  • promotes debate and discussion about the re-use of PSI in Australia and more broadly throughout the world;
  • focuses on developing and implementing an open content licensing model to promote access to and re-use of government information;
  • develops information policy products about delivering access to and encouraging the re-use of PSI;
  • keeps users informed about international developments in this area; and
  • assists governments and policy makers on the development of appropriate policy about the creation, collection, development and dissemination of public sector information.

This mission is built on achieving the following three objectives:

  1. greater efficiency in the reuse of PSI throughout the world;
  2. leading to better quality of outcomes;
  3. for greater impact of publicly funded knowledge within our society.

The literature review will be released in full on this website, as will a forthcoming article by Neale Hooper, Timothy Beale, Professor Anne Fitzgerald and Professor Brian Fitzgerald entitled, “The use of Creative Commons licensing to enable open access to public sector information and publicly funded research results – an overview of recent Australian developments”. Keep your eyes peeled.