No one can be smarter than everyone
According to World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee and Professor Nigel Shadbolt (PDF), “data is the new raw material of the 21st century”.
Open data itself is not a new concept. According to Berners-Lee and Shadbolt, “open data helped Florence Nightingale to revolutionise nursing in 1856 when she showed that most soldiers in the Crimean War died of disease rather than from their wounds”.
The quest to expand and improve access to information is as old as human history. The first book with an alphabetical index, published by two German printers in 1467, was one game-changing innovation in a long and honourable tradition.
What has changed now is not the value of open data but the technology we have to put it to good use.
Around the world, the removal of barriers to information coupled with advances in information and communications technology is driving progress.
For example, New York City has released some 900 data sets through the NYC Open Data platform. Through the NYC BigApps contest, app designers have harnessed city data to do everything from helping apartment hunters with building maintenance reports to crowdsourcing good places to work to finding a place to park.
Apple’s App Store provides a platform and quality control for developers who have created hundreds of thousands of apps, with many apps built on data made publicly available by governments.
A 2011 study by the Centre for Strategic Economic Studies at Victoria University, Costs and Benefits of Data Provision, found that making data “freely available” is actually likely to reduce the costs to agencies of disseminating data by reducing or eliminating transaction costs. The study found that open data would benefit users not just by providing free access, but also by encouraging more people to use and reuse the data.
Significantly, the Centre for Strategic Economic Studies found that the early benefits of making data available “tend to understate the longer-term advantages”, because of the potential of wider data use to generate “new products, services and processes that, in turn, generate new economic activity, new business opportunities, better informed and potentially better government and business decisions”.
The mounting case for open data poses a new challenge to government and, with it, the need for fresh thinking.
The world is moving on from the 20th century model of government knows best. When it comes to putting our community’s data to good use, the new organising principle must be that “nobody is as smart as everybody”.
In practice, this means combining the considerable resource of government-held data with an even greater resource: the talent and creativity of our community and industries.
The Coalition Government believes in the talent of Victorians. We recognise that innovation and creativity cannot be decreed by government but emerge from a complex and dynamic society.
Each year the Victorian Government invests millions of dollars in producing and acquiring high-quality data about our state as part of government’s usual functions, towards the development of policy, regulatory and administrative purposes. Recurrent and reliable access to this data will be a long-overdue economic stimulus. Victorian businesses, organisations and individuals will be able to build innovative applications on the platform of our community’s data, creating new services or improving existing ones.
Under the Victorian Coalition Government’s DataVic Access and Intellectual Property Policies, it will be significantly easier to identify Victorian Government data and to access it, in most cases, at no cost.
As a default position, data from all Victorian government agencies will now be made available under flexible licensing arrangements in a machine-readable format that will minimise costs to business and maximise use and reuse.
The gateway to government datasets is online at http://www.data.vic.gov.au/, where users can download raw data, use a range of data tools and suggest new datasets.
In the last month the datasets available through this portal have already doubled. As the DataVic Access policy is implemented over the course of 2013 across all government departments, we expect to see a vast array of new datasets being made available in the public domain.
In driving the release of useable, high-quality data, these new policies will stimulate significant innovation and economic activity, creating a platform on which to create new technologies, new services and, ultimately, new jobs.
The spatial technology industry will play a key role in making the most of the opportunities which opening up access to government data will provide as it develops ever more sophisticated mashups of mapping, satellite and surveillance data with rich data sources covering demographic, environmental, financial, education, health information and more.
The applications enabled by geospatial technology are at the forefront of new digital services, and providing open access to the government’s spatial data will play a key role in realising the full potential of these policies. These varied applications can be as significant as tracking the impacts of natural disasters and providing highly accurate public transport data or as incidental as finding the nearest quality coffee.
The Government’s DataVic Access policy places Victoria at the head of the pack in Australia on mandating access to state government data.
The Victorian Government sees data and access to data as key drivers of innovation. Increasingly, the community itself will be the innovator, and we will all benefit from that data being made available.
Gordon Rich-Phillips is Minister for Technology in the Victorian Coalition Government
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