Graeme Philipson
May 8, 2017

Economy needs better data sharing

Policy

Economy needs better data sharing

Peter Harris: The economy would benefit significantly from better data share arrangements

The Productivity Commission (PC) has released its report on ‘Data Availability and its Use’. It recommends a new Data Sharing and Release Act, and the creation of the position of Data Custodian to guide and monitor the Government’s use of and access to data.

The report is the response to the Government’s request that the PC look at the benefits and costs of making public and private datasets more available, and at ‘how consumers can use and benefit from access to data, particularly data about themselves.’

“There is no template for good data policy, and no country would claim to be on top of the data revolution,” PC chairman Peter Harris told InnovationAus.com.

“Data is increasingly important stuff and we need to get it right. The data explosion is causing the biggest structural shift in the economy in a generation. It is our future national welfare. Most service industries depend on data to forecast, to invest and to respond to customer needs.”

The report recommends:

  • that the new Act should replace all restrictions to access and use contained in existing Federal and State legislation, and the identification of ‘National Interest Datasets’ that would be resourced by the Federal Government Commonwealth as national assets.
  • a data sharing and release structure that “indicates to all data custodians a strong and clear cultural shift towards better data use that can be dialled up for the sharing or release of higher-risk datasets.”
  • a suite of ‘Accredited Release Authorities’, which it describes as sectoral hubs of expertise to enable the ongoing maintenance of, and streamlined access to, National Interest Datasets and other datasets.
  • a streamlining of ethics committee approval processes, which would “provide more timely access to identifiable data for research and policy development purposes.”

It’s been a busy week for government and data. Just last week Assistant Minister for Cities and Digital Transformation Angus Taylor issued a statement welcoming Australia being ranked equal first on the 2016-17 Global Open Data Index (GODI).

The GODI is published by The Open Knowledge Institute, and is an annual global benchmark that ranks how well nations publish open government data against 14 categories. Australia finished equal first alongside Taiwan on the index, which assessed 94 countries.

“Data was one of the earliest success stories of this Government as we increased the 500 datasets available in 2013 to more than 20,000 datasets currently – and this has delivered real benefits in innovation,” said Mr Taylor.

But the PC report is extremely critical of the limited sharing of data in Australia’s health sector. It says that Australia lags far behind many other countries and has missed out on many of the potential benefits of the better use of data.

It gives many example of the way that health data is underutilised, such as performance data from public hospitals, which could be used to better gauge the effectiveness of different types of treatment for various diseases.

“Data that allows performance monitoring and comparison of government activities is a fundamental starting point for improving the delivery of those activities to the community,” says the report.

It says that too much public health data is highly aggregated, which limits its use by governments, businesses and the community.

The report generated more than 300-submissions, and involved over a hundred consultations and meetings. PC Chairman Peter Harris had become well known for his interest in the more efficient use of data, and in particular data generated from public sources, as a driver for improved productivity.

In March he gave a speech to the Committee for the Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) on ‘Data – the thing that ties it all together’, in which he spoke of the work the PC was doing for the report.

“When we started working on the report, we quite quickly discovered under strong advice from firms most active in seeking to use data that there is another, even larger unaddressed need in Australian public policy – consumer access to data that they create is incredibly poor.

“This is despite the near-universal acceptance today that data is an asset, not a liability. Somewhat ironically, these same consumers supply pretty much all of it, outside machine-to-machine exchanges and the pure sciences.

“I hadn’t really considered that imbalance of incentives – consumers give and give, but share so little in the opportunities – until this Inquiry.”

The report stresses the benefits of open data. “[There are] incremental costs of more open data access and use, including those associated with better risk management and alterations to business data systems … but [they] should be substantially outweighed by the opportunities.”

The report is strong on ensuring consumer rights are protected. “Governments that ignore potential gains through consumer data rights will make the task of garnering social licence needed for other data reforms more difficult. Decoupling elements of this Framework runs the risk of limiting benefits to, and support from, the wider public.”

It is a very good report. The Productivity Commission has done an outstanding job. It is even possible the Government may have got more than it bargained for. The report’s release comes at a time when the value of data, and the problems associated with its misuse, have a higher profile than ever before.

The report can be found here.

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