Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Which license should government open data be released under? (CC0 vs CCBY)

An interesting article was brought to my attention by John Sheridan as below, on the use of CC0 licensing of government data.
The article, Advocates Release Best Practices for Making Open Government Data “License-Free”, recommends CC0 as the default license for a range of reasons. I've responded with my views on why CC BY is a better choice and there's been a subsequent thread of comments.

I'm not going to spread the discussion to my blog, as it is easier to follow while contained in one place, so please follow the discussion at E Pluribus Unum and contribute as you see fit.

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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

How do we avoid the chicken & egg of open data (and the failure of the opendata movement)?

Open data drives economic value - there's been no dispute on this score after a range of reports have indicated the massive value that open data can unlock for an economy.

Cap Gemini estimates that open data was worth 32 billion euros in 2010 to Europe, growing at 7% per year, while McKinsey estimates the global value at US$3 trillion per year and the UK estimated earlier this year (PDF) that the value of releasing their geospatial data alone as open data would be 13 million pounds per year by 2016.

There's been a range of similar reports across the world (as aggregated by the Open Data Institute) - all of which point to a similar conclusion.

However realising this economic value, in productivity, efficiencies and direct revenue, is dependent on governments doing one thing that they've so far failed to do - releasing open data in a planned, consistent and managed way.

Thus far most governments have followed a haphazard route to open data, releasing the 'low hanging fruit' first (data already in releasable form, with few privacy concerns and considered 'low risk' as it doesn't call into question government decisions), and then progressively releasing esoteric and almost random data sets at inconsistent intervals.

Many governments have clear processes for individuals and organisations to request the release of specific data sets - however a clear process which doesn't support the goal is of little value.

These requests have little influence on agency decisions on releasing data and I have yet to see any government mandate that these requests need to be officially considered and actioned or responded to within a set timeframe.

Without any real weight or structure, processes for requesting data sets can't be relied on by people seeking to build a business on open data.

Data consistency is an even bigger issue. In nations like Australia the federal and state governments each have their own open data sites. However there's no agreed national strategy on data release. Every jurisdiction releases different sets of data, with few attempts to aggregate state-level data into national datasets covering all jurisdictions.

Even when similar data sets are released by different states this is complicated at the back-end by different laws, different collection techniques and frequencies and differences in analysis and measurement approaches - not to mention differences in formats and naming conventions. This can make it costly, if not impossible, for businesses or individuals to aggregate data from different states and use it for a national goal.

On top of this, many agencies still resist calls to release data. Some due to a closed culture or a hope that 'open data' is a passing fad, others due to the costs of reviewing and releasing data (without any ability to offset them in fees or additional funding) and some due to concerns around data quality, political impact or reputational damage to the agencies themselves.

My fear is that we're reaching a chicken and egg impasse - agencies and governments are reluctant to do the work and spend the money required to develop consistent data release approaches and mandates without seeing some the economic value from open data realised. Meanwhile individuals and organisations are reluctant to build business models on a resource that is not reliably available or of a consistent quality.

There's no commercial model for open data if governments can turn off specific data, or entire open data initiatives on at a whim (as we saw data.gov shut down recently in the US Government shutdown). Businesses need to be able to count on regular publication of the data they use to build and inform their enterprise.

There's also a lot less value for governments in releasing their data if companies are reluctant to use it (due to a concern over the above situation).

So how should countries avoid the chicken and egg issue in open data?

There's two approaches that I have considered that are likely to work, if used in tandem.

Firstly, governments must mandate open data release and take appropriate steps to develop ongoing data release approaches, which clearly and publicly state what data will be released, at what frequency and quality level. This should include a data audit establishing what an agency owns (and may release) and what it doesn't own, as well as the collection costs and frequency of specific datasets.

To maximise the value of this approach for states within a nation there needs to be a national accord on data, with states (or as many as possible) developing and agreeing on a consistent framework for data release which works towards normalising the collection, analysis and release of data so that it can be aggregated into national datasets.

Secondly there needs to be thought put into the difference between open and free data. Individuals and organisations who use government open data for personal, educational or not-for-profit use should be able to access and reuse the data for free. However where they are using open data for profit (at an appropriate threshold level), there should be the scope for financial contracts to be put in place, just as there is for most other resources used to generate profits.

This approach would provide a revenue stream to the government agencies releasing the data, helping offset the collection and publication costs. Contracts should also be structured to provide insurance for the data users that the data will be released on a set timetable and to a defined quality level throughout the life of the contract.

There would need to be significant thought into how these financial contracts would be structured with significant flexibility built in - for example allowing cost-recovery for developers, who may spend many hours developing and maintaining the services they build with government open data and avoiding the upfront fee model which becomes a barrier to new entrants to make profitable use of open data. There would also need to be consistency in these contracts nationally for state data - potentially a major challenge in Australia.

However if implemented thoughtfully and with significant consultation and ongoing review, a combination of rigour in data release and cost-recovery for profitable use of government open data would avoid the emerging chicken and egg issue and provide a solid and sustainable foundation for realising economic value from open data - value that would help support Australia's economy, social equity, education and scientific research into the future.

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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The great Gov 2.0 'sporting' contest between Australia and Britain

Not this urn...
It's December, and Brits and Aussies alike have turned their thoughts to Christmas, family, parties, holidays and travel.

There's also a very special content underway down-under between Britain and Australia, consuming the thoughts of millions.

It all revolves around a very particular type of urn...

An urn containing the ashes of Australian cricket?

No, the urn that we all visit every day, our toilet.

That's right - it's time for the Great Gov 2.0 Toilet Map face-off!

Let me introduce the two contenders:

Australia: 
The National Public Toilet Map (https://toiletmap.gov.au)

Operated by the Department of Social Services as part of the National Continence Program, the National Public Toilet Map features information 16,000 public and private toilets across Australia and is available as a website and as both iOS and Android apps.

Originally developed in 2001, the Map is a Gov 2.0 style service which pre-dates Gov 2.0.  It has been progressively redeveloped and improved over the last twelve years to keep it current, usable and accessible.

The National Public Toilet Map includes information on toilet location, accessibility, baby change facilities, sharps disposal, sanitary disposal and much more, allowing users to identify the toilets that are appropriate to their needs.

Besides being able to search for toilets by location and needed features, the trip planner allows people to map their route and find appropriately located toilets along the route. You can even favourite or print details for specific toilets and download GPS data to your car's GPS system.

This might sound a little naff to some, however if you're a parent with young kids, a tourist, or one of the estimated 3.8 million Australians suffering from incontinence, a toilet map that's available on the road is vital for travel plans.

The service is hosted on Telstra's cloud and built on Google Maps - meaning it's unlikely to go offline in the case of high demand (such as after Christmas lunch).

As a bonus, data for the map is available in data.gov.au for people to mashup and reuse, and apps have been independently developed for Android and Windows mobile devices.


Britain: 
The Great British Public Toilet Map (http://greatbritishpublictoiletmap.rca.ac.uk/)

The Great British Public Toilet Map isn't a government-run service, however was developed in 2012 using open data released by councils as part of the Tackling Ageing Continence through Theory Tools and Technology TACT3 research project.

The Map is actually not even of all of Britain - being limited to London and a few other cities, where councils and other government authorities release data on toilets.

The Great British Public Toilet Map only features a basic search feature and zoom, with none of the trip, sharing or favouriting features in Australia's service. Information on individual toilets is limited - with some toilets having opening times, details on accessibility and baby change facilities, but most being limited to only the location.

There is some open data on toilets available from the UK's data.gov.uk - but only for one London council. This means that developers in the UK don't really have much ability to create sites or apps that help people locate toilets when they need them.

Given it is estimated that there's up to 6 million people in the UK suffering some form of urinary incontinence, plus millions of tourists and business travellers visiting the UK each year, it's disappointing to see the lack of a true national British Public Toilet Map, whether provided publicly or privately using open data.

The winner:
It's pretty clear the British are not performing to expectations, and Australia's commitment and experience is paying off, allowing them to dominate the field with their coverage, flexibility and scope, and knock the ball for six with features.


It's also for providing relevant and timely information on public toilets, helping citizens and tourists alike.

Australia has a much stronger National Toilet Map - with national coverage, excellent features and the open data required for developers to incorporate a national map of toilets into their own online services.

There's only one consolation for the British. 

While their 'Balmy Army' is flocking to Australia to watch the cricket (and take in the Australian sun and surf), at least they'll have no problems finding a toilet after a long hot day at the game.

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Friday, December 06, 2013

Australia beyond Gov 2.0 - Gov 2.0 Radio broadcast from the Govinnovate forum

Gov 2.0 Radio has released the live broadcast of the final panel from the Govinnovate conference, 'Australia beyond Gov 2.0', one of the panels I participated in.

Find out more about the broadcast, panel and Gov 2.0 radio at gov20radio.com/2013/12/beyondgov20/

Or listen to the panel below.



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Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Partial participation for partial residents?

A challenge for governments today (particularly local ones) is how to consider the views of non-residents, people who travel into their jurisdictions for work, entertainment or other reasons.

While consulting them within formal processes is possible, it can be hard to engage them beyond the most cursory involvent in local issues, even when many of the decisions in a town, city or state significantly affect their livelihood or welfare.

This is already a topic amongst many of the local governments I speak to, who must weigh the interests of people who travel from nearby council areas to work in their jurisdictions. These people may be spending from a quarter to half their time within the jurisdiction they work in, accessing local services such as roads and parking, libraries, public toilets, parks and civic offices.

Equally local residents may do nothing more than physically live in a jurisdiction - accessing many or most of the services they need from a neighboring jurisdiction. With border towns in Victoria, New South Wales ACT and Queensland residents may be accessing most services from another state.

Society has evolved methods for accounting for the cost of these services, through user-pays schemes and border agreements, however methods for recognising a non-resident, or rather a partial-resident's stake in decision making processes are still limited, possibly because it required significant technology to accurately estimate how much time a person spent within a jurisdiction and account for this in decision making.

So as society moves towards a 24/7 awareness of where individuals spend their time, via GPS in mobile devices, should governments reconsider the basis of the decision on who gets a say in elections,? Considering time spent in a jurisdiction rather than, or in addition to, land-ownership, residency or citizenship.

Let's consider how this might work.

If a resident of one jurisdiction works in another, they could use their mobile device to record their location over a period of time like a log book or diary - which many drivers keep for tax purposes.

After a significant time period (mayb a month or two) they would register their location with the councils where they spent most of their time, so they can be assessed as a  'partial-resident, entitled to vote in council elections with a fractional vote representing the time they spend in the region.

With the right ICT systems this would not be excessively hard to track - perhaps to offset costs people who wish to be considered partial residents would be required to cross a time spent threshold (maybe 10%) and be charged a fee based on this percentage, which offsets the cost of the services they use (unless they can prove they should get a waiver based on appropriate grounds).

On being registered, partial-residents would be entitled to vote in local elections, however their vote will only count proportionate to the registered amount of time they spend in the jurisdiction.

Full-time residents will get full votes, meaning that an issue would need to be particularly large for partial-residents to change the outcome of an election.

This might be an unworkable system - I can think of several ways it could be gamed that would need careful thought. However the question is a valid one - with people increasingly travelling to work and play, how do governments ensure they have an appropriate say in local decisions?

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