Review puts spotlight on First Nations data sovereignty

Brandon How

The federal government should set up a Bureau of Indigenous Data within two years and legislate it by 2028 to improve the quality of data collected about First Nations Australians, according to the Productivity Commission.

In its review of the Closing the Gap agreement released on Wednesday, the think tank urged the government to commit to the new body to support better policy decisions and business innovation.

The Closing the Gap agreement is a government commitment to collaborate with Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders to “overcome inequality…and achieve life outcomes equal to all Australians”.

The Productivity Commission (PC) said the new Bureau of Indigenous Data (BoID) could be stood up within an existing federal government agency as part of efforts to institute Indigenous Data Sovereignty.

Indigenous Data Sovereignty would help combat negative perceptions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people by giving them the “power to refute such narratives and to tell their own stories”, the report said.

“In turn, this would increase the relevance, quality and accuracy of data, and better inform policy and funding decisions and improve service delivery outcomes,” the review reads.

Primarily, the BoID should focus on helping governments embed Indigenous Data Governance in “data systems and practices and to invest in strengthening the data capability of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and communities”.

It should also “consolidate and oversee data development work” for the Closing the Gap agreement, the review said. Increasing investment in Indigenous data infrastructure to allow communities to “develop, manage and use their own data collections” is also recommended.

There are four areas of priority reform included in the agreement, including a commitment to ‘shared access to data and information at a regional level’.

Indigenous Data Sovereignty goes beyond making existing government-held indigenous data more accessible and requires First Nations involvement in determining what data is needed as well as how it should be collected, accessed and used.

“This would enable more effective partnerships, disrupt the deficit narratives that are dominating the interpretation of data, and help to build trust in data collections, leading to better information for policy design and delivery,” the report reads.

The PC advises the adoption of the Indigenous Data Sovereignty definition used by the Maiam Nayri Wingara Indigenous Data Sovereignty collective, which calls for “the right of Indigenous people to exercise ownership over Indigenous data.

Ownership can be expressed through creation, collection, access, analysis, interpretation, management, dissemination and reuse of Indigenous data”.

A new Bureau of Indigenous Data (BoID) would be charged with “promoting and building understanding of Indigenous Data Sovereignty and Indigenous Data Governance across all governments [and] stewarding the development of an intergovernmental plan for IDG”.

Within two years, it should be set up within an existing federal government agency, be led by a new Indigenous Data Board, and be co-funded by each of the Australian, state and territory governments.

“By no later than 2028, the BoID should be established under its own legislation as an independent cross-jurisdictional authority,” the review adds.

Exact functions should be determined by the Indigenous Data Board but could include the development of Indigenous data standards and/or protocols, managing national Indigenous surveys and datasets and establishing new collections, or investing in data infrastructure, such as warehouses for community-controlled data.

“High-quality data can support better policy decisions and more effective service delivery. More generally, it can enable the more efficient allocation of resources and facilitate innovation and the emergence of new service and business models,” the review reads.

“Because data is not ‘used up’, but rather can be used simultaneously by many people and for different purposes over time, increasing the accessibility of data can have large social and economic benefits.”

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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