Monday, November 30, 2015

Register now for an OGP Australia information session

The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet have just announced a series of information sessions regarding the Open Government Partnership and the process by which the Australian government is seeking to involve the community and civil organisations in the development of our first National Action Plan by the end of June 2016.

For information on these sessions, which will occur in the week of 14-18 December in Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne, visit the OGP Australia blog at:

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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Using open data for insights into Australian-registered charities

Rosie Williams of OpenAus recently released her latest open data project, Open Charities, to provide insight into the financials of Australian charities.

The service integrates the available open data from 53,000 registered Australian charities in a way never done before, allowing fast and simple analysis of charities by location, electorate and issue.

To fund this work on an ongoing basis Rosie has also introduced a subscriber-only feature at $50 per year which provides access to information on all of the government grants and tenders won by each charity - connecting together several different open datasets.

This information is useful not only for people considering donating to different Australian charities, but also for charities seeking to research their sector and those thinking about creating new charities.

It's important to note that all of the value unlocked by Open Charities and similar open sites would not be available if not for the hard work by volunteers such as Rosie.

There's still too few of these volunteers, meaning that there's potentially immense value left untapped across the tens of thousands of open datasets now released by Australian Government.

This means there's still enormous opportunities to identify and realise value for startups and social enterprises seeking new ways to repurpose data into useful knowledge.

If you've ever had an interest in finding solutions to social and economic problems, why not take a look at Rosie's work and think about the value you could add.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Presentation on digital citizenship, user experience & the emerging role of libraries

The other week I was in Wellington, New Zealand for the international Linked up, Loud and Literate: Libraries enabling digital citizenship conference.

Below is my presentation from the day, including the story of a recent customer experience with an Australian government agency.

For other presentations from the day visit

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Monday, November 23, 2015

Australian Government's decision to join the Open Government Partnership should help us come together to forge better outcomes

Last week the Australian Government announced that it was taking steps to join the global Open Government Partnership (OGP).

What's the OGP? it's a voluntary, multi-stakeholder international initiative supported by 69 national governments that was created out of the open government / Government 2.0 movement to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance.

This is a decision that has taken some time to make. While Australia was invited to join as a founding member of the OGP (with eight other nations) in August 2011, the then Labor government didn't make announce an intent to join until 2013.

After this, a change in government saw the decision revisited and ultimately put on hold, as the new Coalition government reduced the policy emphasis on government openness and transparency.

However, with the recent fresh wind blowing through government with a change in Prime Minister, openness and transparency has returned to the national Coalition policy agenda.

One outcome was the announcement of 17 November by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet that Australia was taking the necessary steps to become a full member of the OGP.

More information on this decision and what it involves in practice, both for government and for civil society, is available on the new website.

While overall there's been positive feedback from the 'insider' community that have been interested in this decision, there's also been some criticism of the process as it has been laid out.

Given this is the first time the Australian government has developed an OGP plan, I'm not that concerned about the process being perfect.The fact that it has started is the crucial point.

I expect the process will improve into future planning cycles as all participants - government, civil societies and the community - gain an appreciation of the most effective ways to work together in this type of endeavour.

We can learn from the experience of other countries, which is well summed up in this OGP report, however the Australian experience will be unique and hopefully all participants will approach this current process with good faith and a willingness to 'learn on the job'.

The most important outcome of this first OGP process isn't the first National Action Plan for Australia, it's the relationships and understandings forged between government and non-government open government players that will positively contribute to an evolving relationship.

While backbiting and criticising may get a good media run, it seldom builds strong workable relationships, if not framed within a context of identifying and implementing improvements.

OGP membership is an opportunity to build the transparency culture in Australia, bridge gaps and build a strong civil community. Let's maximise its value both for citizens and government.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Guest post: Moving things forward – addressing the information gaps

This is a guest post written by Rosie Williams, a leading Australian Open Data Developer and Citizen Journalist, who created and manages and writes for It's republished from OpenAus with her permission.

The Power to Persuade blog fosters new ways to collaborate across sectors for better social policy. Power to Persuade recently published a post of mine on open data in which I argued for the role of transparency in addressing social policy questions.
I recounted a recent attempt to discover the number of homeless shelters across Australia, only to be met with a quote for over $1,000 in consideration of it not being previously published and due to difficulties in extracting the information from the system. The most interesting thing bar the cost of the service is that the reason I was forced to seek this data directly from the AIHW in the first place was exactly because I had not found it in any of the reports published by government or community sector.
As a financial and political transparency activist I have been looking into how decisions regarding the funding of housing/homeless services flow through the policy process in order to understand why such a substantial unmet need for specialist homeless services is tolerated. Australian Institute of Health & Welfare figures show that nearly 60% of people making a request for accommodation on any given day are turned away. I want to understand what process leads to this outcome.
I have also heard privately from service providers, the very organisations required to report their own data to government that they do not have access to key metrics.
Open data is a fairly new concept for Australia.Open data is data that is made available free for re-use for commercial or non-commercial purposes. The government is yet to fulfil it’s obligations to the Open Government Partnership although there are rumours this is finally about to change. The OGP requires the Australian government to submit a National Action Plan detailing extensive consultation in the areas of fiscal transparency, access to information, income and asset disclosure, and citizen engagement, all areas which affect our power to make society answerable to our needs and the needs of the vulnerable.
The government has been opening data for the last few years but there are few instances of that data being re-used. My own projects in financial and political transparency are an exception. The Commonwealth government is now implementing new grants reporting requirements to provide consistency in reporting grant recipients and locations for every relevant agency. This data set is not yet complete or available in one spot but what is available is searchable at OpenAus.
It is only when data is put to use for a specific purpose that it becomes obvious where data sets are missing or data quality needs work. One of the biggest challenges to open data is where the need for data crosses jurisdictional boundaries as it does with many questions of social policy. Issues such as domestic violence or homelessness require data not just from federal services but also state agencies. With every state potentially doing it’s own thing with regard to data collection and publication, trying to find or use data covering multiple agencies or jurisdictions is a major hurdle in any attempt to make use of open data in Australia for improved transparency, policy or practice.
To address these issues, there needs to be engagement between jurisdictions and also between sectors. Government agencies responsible for gathering and publishing data need to engage with both end users of that data and contributors to that data in order to improve quality and foster awareness of the existence and uses for that data.
To provide a pathway forward I have set up a Slack community open to practitioners in social and data science, researchers and government. The goals of this community are as follows:
Community Goals
  • provide venue to engage end users of data, organisations contributing data to government and data custodians to better address social issues
  • lobby for improved data and transparency
  • provide answers on specific data questions eg where can I find information on x?
  • run events /produce materials in support of these goals
Community Participants
This community is for practitioners, researchers, policy makers and anyone who can provide assistance to these groups in terms of answering questions about where data can be found and what can be done with it.
My various networks cross the boundaries of journalism, technology, data science and politics. Providing a bridge between these groups paves the way for people with diverse skills and information to come together to help professional communities realise their aims. If you would like access to this community please email me from your work account for an invitation.
Slack is a platform that allows for chat between teams and private messaging and integrates with a host of other services. It is easy to join and use, taking the place of both email and forums for purposes of discussion and planning.
How to Participate
Email Rosie at admin @ from your work email to enable me to send you the invitation.

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