Australian government agencies rewarding staff for finding value in data

By addressing culture and removing the stigma attached to sharing data, the federal government is attempting to maximise the value of the data it has spread across various agencies and departments.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) has embarked on a project alongside CSIRO's Data61 and the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) that is aiming to maximise the use and value of the government's data assets.

Announced in May, the AU$130.8 million Data Integration Partnership for Australia (DIPA) is attempting to identify existing data assets and prepare, combine, and integrate them, with the Australian Bureau of Statistics and Australian Institute of Health and Welfare then conducting analytical work to draw insights to form government policy and better inform ministers.

Touching on the status of DIPA on Tuesday at the 4th Australian Government Data Summit in Canberra, PM&C Data and Digital Branch assistant secretary Duncan McIntyre revealed the approach the government is taking to getting the most out of its data, starting not with the data itself, but the stigma attached to sharing and probing existing datasets.

"It's like what they say in property, there's only three things that matter: Location, location, location -- there's only three things that matter in data: Culture, culture, culture," McIntyre said.

He said historically, agencies would talk about data in that it was their responsibility to ensure the data is safe and secure, with the easiest way to do that being minimising the number of people that have access to it.

"That's often the framework which we work with in agencies -- and we're encouraged to work in that framework -- but in order to take advantage of the power of data, we have to move to a different framework, which is about how can I share data safely," McIntyre explained.

"The safe part is still important ... but the question is, my primary responsibility is to maximise the value my data has for society and if we own the data, we should be thinking about how can we maximise the value of that."

Pointing to the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, McIntyre said the department is one of many that are putting in place internal plans and structures around access to data.

"They've developed internal frameworks to help staff and reward staff for finding ways to make the best value of their data and in that way the department is doing some quite exciting things with data that other agencies would find too scary to attempt," he said.

"But they're not scary anymore because they've thought through what can go wrong and how it can be managed. There are a lot of other departments that are starting to do work in that way."

DIPA has been running for six months, with 18 projects under the program so far completed, including one that looked into the way the Medicare Benefits Schedule affects different socioeconomic groups.

With another 22 projects in progress, McIntrye hopes to have them completed by this time next year, with more projects added thereafter.

"We're trying with DIPA to work in a way we haven't worked before across agencies, which is very difficult because everyone has their own objectives and their own money and it can often be very hard to find ways to work together across those boundaries," he said.

At the heart of the project is the development of a series of hubs that analyse data across agencies.

With that element running for only six months, McIntrye said three of five are already up and running.

"The three we have focus on business, people, and location and there will also be one set up in the middle of this year on the way the government does its work, and a central hub that seeks to pull data together across the whole economy and use data that spans the work of many of these hubs," he added.

"The big challenge for government is work together and cross agency borders and this is something that has been a big challenge for the way the public service is organised.

"Very much the future is working together across boundaries to share data and use it for insights that haven't been available to us before."

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