Australian government unveils open data framework for cities

The government has launched a database with innovation, digital opportunities, governance, infrastructure, investment, sustainability, jobs, skills, and housing information on the nation's most populous cities and regions.

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Sydney's 'innovation and digital opportunities' dataset

(Image: Screenshot by Corinne Reichert/ZDNet)

The Australian government has announced its National Cities Performance Framework, under which it will track the "progress" of major cities across the nation.

Unveiled by Assistant Minister for Cities and Digital Transformation Angus Taylor on Friday, the open online dashboard will initially use data collected during the 2016 Census and can be used by industry, governments, and the community to "target cities policy and investments".

"We've just got a really comprehensive dataset from the most recent Australian Census, which allows us to see the most updated picture of the economic and growth profile of these cities," Taylor said.

"And we're going to keep adding new data, because we know there's great information coming out of not just the public sector, but the private sector. The specific goals, to inform potential future City Deals, will come from these metrics. It's very obvious when you look at each of these cities what the challenges are that we have to address as a top priority, and our City Deals will do exactly that."

Cities being tracked on the dashboard are Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Adelaide, Brisbane, Perth, Darwin, Hobart, Albury-Wodonga, Ballarat, Bendigo, Cairns, Geelong, Gold Coast-Tweed, Launceston, Mackay, Newcastle-Maitland, Sunshine Coast, Toowoomba, Townsville, Western Sydney, and Wollongong.

The data available for each city falls under the banners of context; jobs and skills; housing; infrastructure and investment; liveability and sustainability; innovation and digital opportunities; and governance, planning, and regulation.

Under innovation and digital opportunities, information is provided about each city's patent and trademark applications per 100,000 people; the number of households with broadband; "workers in knowledge-intensive services" including professional, scientific, technical, information, media, telecommunications, financial, and insurance services; rate of business entry and exit; and LinkedIn contacts.

Other data provided on the dashboard includes the annual population growth rate; unemployment rate; employment growth; proportion completing year 12; proportion of journeys to work by public and active transport; peak travel delay; jobs accessible in 30 minutes; percentage of area that is greenspace; greenhouse gas emissions per person; proportion of people who volunteer; languages other than English spoken at home; adults who feel safe after dark in their local area; percentage of population able to get crisis support; proportion of adults who are obese; suicides per 100,000 people; local governments per 100,000 people; proportion of households under mortgage and rental stress; median house and unit prices; homeless per 100,000 people; and average persons per dwelling.

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Open data on Sydney

(Image: Screenshot by Corinne Reichert/ZDNet)

The data will be updated annually, and subject to three-yearly reviews, the government said.

"The creation of the National Cities Performance Framework has involved exhaustive exploration, research, and consultation to identify and secure the best city level data sets and indicators we could find," Taylor added.

"This framework reflects the Australian government's commitment to open and accessible data sharing."

The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet had tasked Data61 with building "world-leading" data infrastructure last year, with the organisation in March announcing that it was looking to make government data more accessible to all Australians including by revamping data.gov.au and nationalmap.gov.au, and working on the creation of government dashboards.

"Governments are releasing more and more data and it enables all sorts of great stuff -- mainly better transparency and accountability across government. It is a good thing, but it also enables new economic possibilities, new businesses -- stuff we haven't dreamed of yet," Cam Grant, Data61 senior user experience designer, said in March.

"Along with that, it creates a lot of interesting challenges, privacy being one of the biggest challenges, but also just the challenge of infrastructure, how are we going to get all this data out there. If there are endless streams of data, how do we find the right data?"

The federal government then used the Budget 2017-18 to reaffirm its commitment to such open data, with one of its projects to see it "transform the analysis of public data to improve policy and program implementation and expenditure" by providing access to open government data via a single entry point.

This will reduce duplication and increase efficiency in using such data, the government said in May.

"Through enhanced data analytics, the government will be able to design better-targeted and more effective services in education, social services, health, and aged care," the government said in the Budget.

The government had last year said open government data could generate up to AU$25 billion per year, with the research "a key focus" of the federal government's AU$1.1 billion National Innovation and Science Agenda announced by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull two years ago.

According to Taylor, Australia was ranked equal first in the Global Open Data Index as of April 2017.

"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," Taylor said at the time.

"For example, the Geo-coded National Address File, which was released by the government in February 2016, has been used for a wide range of business and operational purposes, such as infrastructure planning, business planning and analysis, logistics and service planning, emergency and disaster response.

"Another example is the National Map, which allows us to better understand datasets for creating new businesses and applications."

When announcing the innovation package, Turnbull committed to making all non-sensitive government data open by default.

Under the Australian Government Public Data Policy Statement [PDF], government entities are by default permitted to publish "appropriately anonymised" data. The criminalisation of those who re-identify such de-identified data was legislated earlier this year.

The government is also pushing innovation in cities across the nation, last month announcing the 52 projects around the nation that will be getting AU$28.5 million in funding under the first round of its AU$50 million Smart Cities and Suburbs Program announced over a year ago.

"Technology development is moving at a rapid pace in Australia, and harnessing the power of these innovations will set up the future success of our cities," Taylor said in November.

"Promoting clever home-grown digital and data solutions that can be replicated in other locations will move Australia into a leadership position, where we can take smart city technologies out to the world."

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