In July 2010 the Australian Government made a declaration of ‘Open Government’ that committed to “strengthening citizens’ rights of access to information, establishing a pro-disclosure culture across Australian Government agencies including through online innovation, and making government information more accessible and usable”.
As part of this declaration, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner released a policy containing 8 principles in terms of open access to information.
The first principle relates to making data available and accessible, because “the information held by Australian Government agencies is a valuable national resource which should be open for public access”
The data should also be:
While making data more easily accessible has not always been a simple process, today it is easier than ever with the help of technology designed for that very purpose.
Here are our top tips for achieving your data publishing goals:
1. Publish Unit Record data rather than Aggregated data
The quickest and easiest way to make public data available on the Internet is to publish the data in its raw form (such as an XML file of polling data from past elections). Unit Record Data is usually the most difficult data for anyone to gain access to due to privacy and security issues. But there are new software tools available that completely remove these issues.
There are two good reasons why you should publish unit records over aggregates:
(1) Aggregated data initially collected at the institutional level cannot be used for lower levels of aggregation.
(2) Aggregated data lacks the flexibility to examine relationships among variables and to re-aggregate data, should reporting needs change.
Unit record data on the other hand allows for a multitude of variables to be reported on. But remember, it must be well-structured in order for users to make automated use of the data. It should be saved in common formats such as XML, RDF and CSV and above all, it should be confidentialised. Be sure the software tool you choose to host unit record data has exceptional confidentiality routines built into it.
2. Automate the Cataloguing process
The tool used to publish the data should be able to automate the catalogue for you. Once your administrator creates the catalogue subjects, individual datasets can be stored under the appropriate category. New tools such as SuperDataHub will automatically catalogue the datasets when data is added to the application. Your users simply select the subject category pertaining to the topic they are interested in to see all the available data. This improves the organisation of your datasets and ensures good data management.
This form of cataloguing is the easiest way for users to quickly find the dataset they are interested in by selecting the subject that interests them.
3. Make use of the Cloud!
Current web technology allows governments to share with the public a variety of information in unlimited quantities on demand. The use of cloud infrastructure is becoming more widely accepted because outsourcing digital data storage can relieve pressure on storage capacity and ICT resources while reducing costs. As a way of releasing publicly available data, the cloud is a valuable resource that should not be overlooked. There is concern about the ‘risk’ factor of putting government data in the cloud, but if it is for the purpose of storing publicly free and available data, there is no risk because the data itself is not sensitive, nor is it private.
The SuperDataHub application sends a query to the data aggregation server which in turn shoots back a response. The user never actually directly accesses the unit records, rather the application receives the data and returns it to the user as a result. This ensures that the unit record data is secure and the results are based on accurate and reliable data.
SuperDataHub Infrastructure designed to protect unit records and only make ‘results’ available in the cloud.
4. Allow Ad-hoc Analysis
There are many initiatives going forward with regard to making data available to the public, however, much of it is in report form (PDF). The public may like PDF reports, but what if you are a researcher looking for a particular detail? A pre-defined PDF may not contain the specific detail required for your purposes.
Using tools that allow a user to perform their own queries is of far greater benefit to the end user than if they had to search through 100 well written PDF published reports. Ad hoc reporting generates reports that meet individual information requirements. Provided the tool is user-friendly, the process can be quick and easy.
SuperDataHub is one of the few tools which allow users to perform queries in a simple drag and drop interface that does not require any specialised programming knowledge or expertise! For this reason it is the right choice for public users.
There are three basic steps to using SuperDataHub:
Browse the available databases or use the search feature to find the data you want to work with:
Drag and drop fields onto the rows, columns, wafers and measures.
SuperDataHub creates your table automatically.
Click the buttons to create charts.
SuperDataHub automatically creates your visualisation:
The ability to perform such analysis gives users the power to get to the information they need to see rather than a pre-defined report, which may not be applicable to them.
5. Visualisation Options
Interactive visualisations can be shared online with SuperDataHub.
As countries around the world begin to take seriously their obligation to make public data more freely available, they are looking at tools such as SuperDataHub and SuperWEB2 to help them accomplish their goals. These online tools are designed with stringent confidentiality and privacy routines built into the framework so agencies don’t have to employ additional resources to ensure their data is secure. These online tools are easily accessible to the public via the internet or cloud based platforms which can greatly reduce the cost to government.
Such tools, which are already at work in organisations such as the Australian Bureau of Statistics (see Table Builder) allow departments to maximise the amount of information available to the public thereby reducing the need for the public to make specific requests under the FOI Act. They also allow departments to apply a presumption of openness when deciding whether and how to publish public sector information.
Talk to Space-Time Research today about your data publication requirements and get on the right path to the best Open Data tools available.
Declaration of Open Government:
Unit Record data verses Aggregated data: nces.ed.gov/pubs98/98280.pdf
Confidentialisation in use by the Australian Bureau of Statistics:
Why do we visualise quantitative data?
Principles on Open Public Sector: