Australian govt releases draft guide to responsible data analytics

The Australian government has released a draft guide to responsible data analytics for agencies and government analysts to help them operate within a safe and acceptable framework as they work to expand their big data capabilities.

A draft guide (PDF) to responsible data analytics within the Australian government has been released today by the Department of Finance, as part of its Australian Public Service (APS) Better Practice Guide for Big Data (PDF), which was published in April.

The five page document was drawn up as an appendix of the government's APS Better Practice Guide for Big Data, and addresses key considerations for government agencies as they build their capabilities in data analytics and big data.

The guide, published by the Department of Finance's Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO), aims to introduce the relevant existing administrative and ethical frameworks that support the use of responsible data analytics in government.

"Public sector agencies need to ensure that they maintain trust and operate within acceptable bounds as they increase their use of new technologies such as data analytics," the document said.

According to the document, data analytics in government is primarily undertaken in the context of administrative frameworks such as the Australian Public Service Act, along with its accompanying code of conduct, government regulations, and legislations.

The draft guide outlines specific principles and values that government agencies and officers with responsibilities in data analytics need to observe.

Among the responsibilities of government agencies outlined is the duty to ensure data analytics projects are in the general interest of the community, to identify and apply relevant ethical guidelines, to comply with the administrative law system, to make government information available for access and reuse where privacy concerns do not prevent release, and to investigate breaches and oversights to determine causes and corrective action.

The draft also recommends that government analytics practitioners follow a number of specific practices outlined in the Australian Public Service Values, including upholding intellectual honesty and integrity, applying scholarly and scientific rigour to achieve research objectives, maintaining adequate records of research objectives and methods, respecting research recipients and their information, and being open and transparent about what data is collected and hot it is used.

According to the draft guide, responsibilities for decision makers include the responsible and balanced reporting of research, the declaration of conflicts of interest, the maintenance of procedural fairness, and the compliance with administrative law disclosure requirements — such as Freedom of Information and Statements of Reasons.

In a post on the Department of Finance's website, the assistant secretary, digital government strategy for AGIMO, Marc Vickers, invited the community, industry, and other stakeholders to provide feedback and comments on the draft guide.

Stakeholders have until 11 July to submit their comments and feedback.

The draft guide comes just two months after the Australian National Commission of Audit recommended that the country’s public service make better use of the data the government collects with analytics in order to provide insights into the performance of government programs.