Beverley Head
December 15, 2015

Public data drives economic growth

Public data drives economic growth

Pia Waugh: You can’t make confident changes to policy and be adaptive without the data.

Providing open access to government data can impact national economies to the tune of 2 per cent of GDP, and providing data access should be viewed not as a revenue raiser but as a contribution to the economy.

According to the Department of Communications chief economist and head of the Bureau of Communications Research, Dr Paul Paterson, who has been working with Deloitte Access Economics on a project exploring the economics of open government data; “Government should look to price that (data) as close to zero as possible and … leave the private sector to add value to that market.”

It should also prioritise access to critical high value data, notably spatial data, transport and health, he said.

It’s music to the ears of Pia Waugh, an open government and open data aficionado working with the Federal Government.

However Ms Waugh warned that; “We need to be careful to implement the right tools to support the national agenda.  It’s also about how to bring citizens along because there’s at present a small elite bunch of people, who are geeks, in charge of this… people are being shaped by the environment rather than being shapers.”

There is however a growing cohort of private enterprises using open data and APIs to create mashups with real value.

Melbourne based Grindstone has developed EmergencyAus, a free app that integrates 36 different data sources to alert citizens to emergencies in their area, and also provides a platform for citizens to share their own emergency data, and set up geofenced alert zones . It claims 250,000 users a day.

Motorola which works closely with police and emergency services across Australia has developed a service called Command Central Analytics that overlays three algorithms it has developed, on large banks of open data to predict time, location and types of crime.

Trialed in the US it has a 25-30 per cent accuracy rate, giving police officers, for example, the opportunity to position themselves at the rear of shopping malls at certain times of day knowing that is where thieves generally make their exit.

The economic value of data was evidenced when Monsanto paid $US930 million for Climate Corp, in the process collecting 30 years of weather data and 60 years of crop data, that then allowed it to use that data to analyse and sell crop planting advice to farmers.

Speaking at InnovationAus.com’s Open Opportunity forum, ATO data scientist Audrey Lobo-Pulo described the opportunity for Australia to create a “data driven democracy based on predictive analytics,” where access to better government information could lift both productivity and economic growth.

“If data is the new currency, understanding what it means profoundly affects its value,” she said, adding that “Open data is free public data…and creates an opportunity to build or enrich business models.”

Pia Waugh agrees, noting that open data is critical for evidence based decision making and iterative policy development.

“You can’t make confident changes to policy and be adaptive without the data.”

Data.gov.au started in 2010, but it is only recently that the movement has reached a tipping point according to Ms Waugh, by focusing on the benefit of open data to the public sector in terms of efficiencies and improved service delivery.

“If you want to build a mobile service and you have machine readable data then people in the general public can develop that. You create an ecosystem of service delivery – and agencies have come to realise that this has value for them,” she said.

Datagov.au now provides access to 7,000 data sets – up from 500 two and a half years ago. It has five state and territory portals, a couple of local government portals and a federal portal, and is in the process of adding Victoria, WA and Queensland.

Ms Waugh, who works in the department of Prime Minister and Cabinet on data policy, is leading the charge to enhance the quality of Australian data with a framework that will encourage agencies to lift their quality and provide a quality rating for existing data sets.

Access to such rich data and open APIs could also open the doors for cost effective cross delivery of Government services. This could ultimately mean that the States, for example, would be able to deliver Federal services – should that ever become politically palatable.

Extending data access internationally is also on the agenda and in November the Government signalled that it would pursue membership of the Open Government Partnership.

The devil related to that will be in the yet-to-be-revealed detail, but the OGP has as its central tenets concepts of transparency and open data.

For this to be any more than window dressing the Government will need to properly address the issue of infrastructure to support the data, the metadata and visualisation tools needed to make sense of the raw data.

To be truly effective Government will also have to lift the data literacy of public servants and agencies so that they can make use of the data available to them through the OGP.

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