Open government data could add AU$25b to economy

The government has reported back on its open data policy, saying it could add between AU$500 million and AU$25 billion to the Australian economy.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

The Australian government has released a research paper on the economic impact of open government data, saying it could generate up to AU$25 billion per year, contributing approximately 1.5 percent of Australia's GDP.

The Bureau of Communications Research (BCR) report, Open government data and why it matters, called 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 in December last year.

When announcing the innovation package, Turnbull also committed to making all non-sensitive government data open by default, with the Australian Geocoded National Address File (G-NAF) and Administrative Boundaries datasets to be made available this month.

Open government data, which involves publishing government-owned data in order to make it freely available and reusable by all, will enhance innovation among industry, improve transparency in government spending, and promote choice for citizens, the government said.

"In Australia, users can already access and reuse more than 7,000 government datasets published on data.gov.au," Paul Paterson, chief economist and head of the Bureau of Communications Research, said on Monday.

"Some of the high-value datasets include geospatial/mapping data, health data, transport data, mining data, environmental data, demographics data, and real-time emergency data."

According to Paterson, employing open data initiatives will also "generate new careers, more efficient government revenues, improved business practices, and drive better public engagement".

The BCR report drew on several studies made into the value of open government data, with a report by the McKinsey Global Institute finding that it has the potential to translate into AU$4 trillion per annum added to the global economy, with United States open data contributing AU$1.5 trillion, and the European Union contributing AU$1.2 trillion.

A study was also undertaken by Nicholas Gruen, a policy economist and chairman of the Australian Centre for Social Innovation and the Open Knowledge Foundation, drawing on industry insights from Google, Lateral Economics, and SIRCA. This study found that the current value of open government data in Australia amounts to between AU$500 million and AU$25 billion.

Gruen added that if all data was open in Australia, it would contribute an additional AU$64 billion annually, while updating open data policies could ensure another AU$16 billion per annum.

"The greatest proportion of value to unlocking open data would come from the education, transport, and consumer product sectors, with AU$10 billion or more in value each," the BCR report explains.

"This is followed by the electricity, healthcare, oil and gas, and consumer finance sectors, with AU$7 billion or less in value each."

The BCR report also pointed towards examples provided across the globe.

"When weather data was made available by the US government to the public via free electronic download, entrepreneurs were quick to develop value-added services, which in turn fuelled business growth, created value, and generated more jobs," the report explains.

"The Climate Corporation uses weather data across major climate models to provide insurance to farmers, who can potentially protect themselves and their crops against adverse conditions. The creation of weather newscasts, websites, mobile applications, and insurance products generates billions of dollars per year in economic value."

The paper did acknowledge the need to address security, privacy, and intellectual property rights concerns, however.

"For some government data, legal, security, and privacy issues need to be considered. These include licensing conditions which act as a mechanism to balance access to government data and protect intellectual property rights, legislative requirements, accessibility support, and consideration of whether data contains sensitive information (e.g. national security)."

The government has not yet addressed the costs associated with these particular barriers to data reuse.

Data61, the agency formed as a result of a merger between the digital productivity arm of the CSIRO and National ICT Australia (NICTA), received AU$75 million under Turnbull's innovation fund to spend on improving cybersecurity and developing new architectures to protect datasets; data analytics to connect separate government datasets and publicly release them; establishing a Data Research Network to connect businesses with data researchers; and delivering training in data analytics to improve data literacy in Australian businesses.

Under the Australian Government Public Data Policy Statement [PDF], government agencies and departments must also, where possible, create "free, easy-to-use, high-quality, and reliable" application programming interfaces (APIs), ensure data is kept up to date, and only charge for specialised data services.

Examples of data that would be charged for by the government included Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) company documents; Bureau of Meteorology temperature observations at a minute frequency; and National Centre for Vocational Education Research unit record student outcomes data.

Such commercial data would be priced according to competitive neutrality principles, the government said.

In addition, government entities are by default permitted to publish "appropriately anonymised" data that is in a machine-readable, spatially-enabled format, and licensed under a "Creative Commons By Attribution" licence.

"Australia's economic potential in the global economy will be strongly affected by the data revolution that will occur over the next five to 20 years," Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science Christopher Pyne said in December.

"We have to respond to this. Our government departments and organisations hold an extraordinary amount of unique data; data that has great potential for the creation of new and innovative products and business models by the private sector."

The Australian government's open data policy followed that of the New South Wales government, which made its data open by default in 2013. Its policy, released in November that year, stipulated that government agencies must "start from a position of data openness", except for when there is an "overriding reason" for data not to be released.

In July 2014, the NSW government then launched its revamped Open Data Dashboard to provide information to the public on recently added and updated datasets and case studies on how data has been employed during the development of apps.

Western Australia, Queensland, Tasmania, Victoria, South Australia, and the Australian Capital Territory have also developed open government data policies and practices, with only the Northern Territory left to follow suit.

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