Freedom of information (FoI) requests to the Federal government could soon be streamlined when Gov 2.0 lead agency, the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO), releases the final version of its data.australia.gov.au dataset repository in December.
The new repository will replace the beta version first released by the Gov 2.0 Taskforce in September 2009 to centrally host datasets from federal, state and territory governments where applicable. Assistant Secretary of AGIMO’s online services branch, Peter Alexander, told Computerworld Australia that most of the 210 datasets currently hosted on the repository will be shifted across to the final release - which will run on open source archiving software, Dspace, rather than WordPress - and updated as necessary.
However, one of the most significant changes to the data repository, which Alexander admitted had languished in the recent past, would be a public consultation feature allowing users and potential mashup developers to request specific datasets from AGIMO to source from the relevant agencies, at all levels of government.
“Not only can we go out and pursue agencies to say ‘get your data on here’, but we can do it in a targeted way,” he said.
Alexander couldn’t confirm whether AGIMO would make freedom of information requests available on behalf of the user requesting the dataset, but said the new feature would provide greater transparency as to what data would be made available, freely accessible and under open license.
A similar feature is already available on the NSW Government’s own data repository, but has since been used as a reactive gauge of what data should be released, largely from the Roads and Traffic Authority, NSW Health and RailCorp.
The release of the final central data repository coincides with the opening of the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, currently held by John McMillan AO, and the enactment of new FoI laws last week that enforce agencies to either publicly release the requested data, or publicise the release of that data to the request. The new data repository will also eventually encompass the whole-of-government Information Publication Scheme, a Gov 2.0 Taskforce recommendation that will see agencies publish standard information sets, when launched in May next year.
“The view is that it’s very clear what agencies should publish and what their reasons for exception are, and that will make it harder for them to defend not releasing data that they should release,” he said. “The stance of what we do is reversed - we’ve really moved into a position where the default is to release the data under an open license unless there’s a reason not to.”
Though individual state data repositories in NSW and Victoria are likely to remain open, AGIMO is in negotiations with state governments to either see the data centrally hosted, or a metadata search engine put in place to discover sets across repositories, meeting recent calls from Apps4NSW mashup winner, Brad Spencer, for easier access to data. The AGLS metadata standard currently used to specify datasets will likely be replaced by a new standard to encompass work from AGIMO, the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian Tax Office and National Archives of Australia.
"We’re working with them to make sure those things happen well and ensure we don’t have lots of the same datasets hosted in lots of different places where it might not be kept up to date as it should be," he said.
While Alexander said cultural change would remain an obstacle to Gov 2.0 changes within government agencies in the foreseeable future, he said agencies were positive to the forthcoming changes in both freedom of information and the data repository, led largely by members of the recently launched Gov 2.0 Steering Group. Alexander also pointed to the forthcoming addition of public consultations from the likes of Centrelink, the Department of Health and Ageing and at least three other various high profile Federal government agencies to AGIMO’s WordPress-based Govspace platform by the end of the year, for a total of 11 blogs opened in the past year.