The data sharing wheels of government turn slowly. But they’re turning

Canberra based Senior Consultant Paul Priestly talks about his takeaways from the recent ‘Data Management and Sharing in Government’ conference.

Recently, I attended this conference in Canberra. It was with some anticipation that I looked forward to this given 

I had also attended a previous conference on a similar topic  2 years ago and was very interested to see and hear from speakers and delegates about the progress since then. 

Recapping my observations in 2014 I indicated that: 
1. Data sharing and collaboration requires a cultural shift. 
2. Data is a means-to-an-ends and not an end in itself. That end in my view is in bringing about behavioural change from all parties.
3. Maturity of purpose in sharing data is evolving slowly.

Sub points included:

  • The data is not ‘the governments to own’.

  • Data privacy is not intended to deny its availability and/or accessibility.

  • Government has a key role in enhancing captured data.

  • Policy = Data = Policy.

  • Data sharing as a capability is delaying true openness.

With this in mind I compared today with yesterday and it feels to me that there is much similarity. However, there has been some movement forward in this initiative, albeit prioritising the ‘low hanging fruit’ areas where most effort has been directed which I’ll come to.

In the preceding 2 years, the issues around privacy have gained prominent media (and political) attention through aspects and events such as innovation, cyber-security, data-breaches and data-misuse.  This hasn’t scared off the sharing of data by government rather that processes to ensure exposure risks are managed effectively requires an integrated approach.  

What is this integrated approach? There is no smoke and mirrors to this. It is simply following and assiduously applying asset management techniques via the Data/Information Management Lifecycle Model. 

Put another way, it is taking into account all the why, when, where, who, what and how’s of data existence. Multiple speakers raised the effect of this not occurring as the basis for a number of policy fails of various governments (recent and historical) and one proposal that in future there be certified Information Management practitioners. These professionals may then take their true place alongside finance and HR practitioners in critical supporting and enabling roles.

Most, if not all, of the way data was being used was presented by speakers in tactical terms against open-data. This was the ‘low hanging fruit’ area with its ease of preparation and delivery plus its immediate impact, for instance transport timetables and near-real-time data of trains and buses enroute that apps developers have taken to. Geo-data is another dataset with significant appeal where the resources of government have enabled industry and/or the community to run with the data and develop economically opportunistic capability. Conversely, the tactical sharing of data – or more correctly the non-sharing of data, particularly the not-so-open data in law-enforcement and intelligence was made very clear through examples of recent-history criminal and security events with their extreme outcomes. Go back to the data privacy principles and you will see that there is nothing that stops the appropriate and authorised sharing of data – so why have these arguably preventable events occurred? It certainly isn’t a technological issue. The answer may lie within culture – and as proffered by one of the speakers, in leadership.
Surprisingly, there was no presentation on how any of the data being provided had led to, or was provided with the strategic intent for, determining program policy or improving policy. Maybe this will come as agencies mature their data sharing. At Altis we believe this is fundamental to achieve innovation which is more than just putting data up and letting the ‘techies’ have at it.

On that note, there is some good news as maturity hand-holding is available via government (PM&C, AG, National Archives have support functions setup) and industry (Open Data Institute – Queensland, Altis) which have taken up key roles in assisting agencies that are required to and/or are looking at sharing data. 

Overall, it seems clear that agencies:

Have a way to go although some as pioneers are establishing great reputational advantage. 
Need more strategic intent as to maturity capability (with some visual stimuli of what the strategic landscape might look like).
Leadership now more than ever needs to emerge

At Altis we know that data sharing leadership is a challenging area, that it requires having expert Information Management advisors, constructors and operatives on hand to propose, enable and support, and that it is not that well-resourced in any organisation. If this sounds familiar then make the key strategic decision to reach out to Altis as your font, change agent or problem solver.

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