News 4th September 2017

re-blogging: Open Government Partnership (OGP) and the Productivity Commission on Data Availability and Use (PCDAU)

by James Horton

Following the publishing of our earlier blog on our call with the PM&C Task Force reviewing the recommendations of the PCDAU, we were pleased to receive feedback from Gemma Van Halderen, PM&C’s Task Force leader. While we have posted them in the comments to our original blog, we felt that reblogging an updated version incorporating Gemma’s suggested amendments would make for more informed reading.

Introducing the “social licence”.

In addition, we taken to the opportunity to expand a on the importance of “growing the social licence for data to empower citizens and increase transparency over government activities” (ref Productivity Commission Report into Data Availability and Use, 2017), as this is singularly the most critical factor for governments (at all levels) in the development of an equitable and sustainable data economy.

PM&C’s PCDAU Taskforce amendments.

So first to Gemma’s amendments, and why we think they’re important.

Gemma pointed out to us that PM&C had already been delivering on some of the OGP commitments in relation to guidelines for “Data Skills and Capabilities”, and “Whole-of-Government De-identification Processes on Publishing Sensitive Data” – and, that PM&C envisage that these initiatives are consistent with the recommendations of the PCDAU.

This is important, because of the potential for overlapping commitments arising from PM&C’s various Data Initiatives in play.There is a risk that uncoordinated efforts miss the opportunities to properly leverage the efforts of the various stakeholder groups seeking to deliver on our national data priorities.    

To help people understand that this is part of an ongoing Open Government agenda publications issued by PM&C that support OGP commitments would be to include information to the OGP agenda, and/or OGP branding. This would help provide context, draw attention to, and raise awareness of, the efforts being made the government.

Another example, mentioned in our earlier blog post, is to recognise the value and role that the new Open Government Forum (OGF) might play in informing and supporting relevant Productivity Commission recommendations, should they be adopted. While the OGP commitments extend beyond data issues, data sharing and openness are fundamental to all of its 5 areas of focus.

So, thanks again for Gemma’s (and PM&C’s Taskforce) for your enthusiastic and active engagement.

Read on for the revised blog post:

Australia’s first Open Government National Action Plan (2016-18) is a series of reforms that include some ambitious commitments, that set the stage for potentially transformative outcomes for citizens. These include “transforming our information access laws, policies and practices are modern and appropriate for the digital information age”, “building public trust around data sharing and release”, and fundamentally changing how we deal with government by ‘“digitally transforming government services”.

In parallel with the development and release of the Open Government National Action Plan, the Government also tasked the Productivity Commission (“the Commission”) to undertake an inquiry into the benefits and costs of options for increasing availability of, and improving the use of, public and private sector data by individuals and organisations.”

Specifically, the Commission was asked to:

  • look at the benefits and costs of making public and private datasets more available
  • examine options for collection, sharing and release of data
  • identify ways consumers can use and benefit from access to data, particularly data about themselves
  • consider how to preserve individual privacy and control over data use.

They started work in March when Scott Morrison sent them their Terms of Reference. In April 2016, the Commission published an issues paper, had a draft report out by 3 Nov 2016. Commissioners convened public hearings in Sydney and Melbourne in November. People interested to address the Commission were asked to provide a summary of what they intended to speak about beforehand. Industry groups and academic researchers presented their views, and Commissioners asked follow up questions. The Commission then handed over a final report back to Government 31 March, which was then published May 8, 2017. Phew!

Their report “offers guidance on where the benefits of greater data use may be most evident, and ways that governments might engage with the public to generate community understanding of the costs, risks, and benefits associated with data sharing and use.”

The full inquiry report comes in at just under 700 pages and an accompanying overview document of just 77 pages. Still, it’s a long read.

The Australian Government established a cross-portfolio task force within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) in response to the PCDAU report. This PM&C Data Availability and Use Taskforce will focus on preparing the Government’s response to the PCDAU report.

The Data Availability and Use Task Force then invited Civil Society members of the Open Government Interim Working Group to a roundtable “to assist in digesting the Final Report and start an open discussion on the Productivity Commissioner’s 41 recommendations”. The session, June 6, covered the inquiry into Data availability and use. We were encouraged to comment, based on reference to a 27 slide deck (marked ‘for official use only’), which we hope the contents of are translated to a PM&C micro site shortly. We understand the Commission is running up hundreds of hours in this broad consultation process.  We expect to learn who’s been consulted with when these sessions are completed.

It is clear there are significant areas of overlap between the Productivity Commission’s recommendations and Open Government National Action Plan, which have implications for the implementation of the Open Government agenda. There’s also room for Open Government National Action Plan framework to provide a platform, and guidance to build in better transparency, accountability and participation into implementing the Government’s response to the Commission’s recommendations.

Government & Civil Society members of the OGP Interim Working Group, together with Agencies responsible for delivering on the Open Government National Action Plan will find it useful assess how the recommendations of Productivity Commission’s report and the Open Government National Action Plan align. We’ll then be able to determine how the Open Government National Action Plan commitments might inform and/or assist the Taskforce response to the Commission, and vice versa.

Significantly, in the meeting we agreed that the OGP secretariat team within PM&C will undertake a high-level mapping exercise to identify the following:

  • Where the Commission work overlaps with the commitments in the national action plan
  • How the Commission’s recommendations potentially support or conflict with delivery of the Open Government National Action Plan commitments
  • How the Government’s OGP commitments could better inform and enhance the  Taskforce review of the Commission’s recommendations
  • See what transparency and participation and open government principles should apply to at least those sections of work, or if the scope or nature of the work has changed as a result.

It is immediately obvious that the following Open Government National Action Plan commitments have links with the Commission’s findings:

  • reform commitment 2.1 which aims to “continue to make more public data openly available and support its use to launch commercial and nonprofit ventures, conduct research, make data-driven decisions, and solve complex problems.As part of this, we will work with the research, not-for-profit and private sectors to identify the characteristics of high-value public datasets, and to promote innovative use of data to drive social and economic outcomes.”
  • reform commitment 2.2 to build public trust around data sharing and release. “We will do this by actively engaging with the public regarding how open data is being used to better communicate the benefits and understand public concerns, and we will improve privacy risk management capability across government.”
  • Reform commitment 3.1 to ensure our information access laws, policies and practices are modern and appropriate for the digital information age. As part of this, we will consider and consult on options to develop a simpler and more coherent framework for managing and accessing government information that better reflects the digital era.

For example, here’s one specific link: the Government committed to this milestone to be completed by September 2017 in Commitment 2.2 on building public trust around data sharing and release.

Respond to the Productivity Commission’s recommendations on consumer rights and safeguards for data.

Commitment 2.2  then outlines the following related work:

“Data literacy across the APS is also critical. In August 2016, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet released Data Skills and Capability in the Australian Public Service to help build skills and knowledge in publishing, linking and sharing public data. The Government will also improve whole-of-government de identification processes by releasing guidance on publishing sensitive data.”

The following clarification provided by from Gemma Van Halderen, PM&C Task Force leader:

The Government has actioned these two milestones.  In August 2016, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet released Data Skills and Capability in the Australian Public service to help build skills and knowledge in publishing, linking and sharing public data.  It can be found here.  In December 2016, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet improved whole-of-government de identification processes by issuing guidance on publishing sensitive data.  The guidance can be found on the blog here.   The Productivity Commission is, however, recommending an ongoing focus on improving whole-of-government de-identification processes and has made several specific recommendations that would, if accepted, help achieve this focus:

  • the proposed Office of the National Data Custodian (recommendation 6.6) should issue guidelines on de-identification best practices (recommendation 6.7);
  • accredit predominantly existing public sector or publicly-funded bodies, to be accredited release authorities authorised to publicly release or share data according to risks associated with the data, the use environment and users (recommendations 6.8 and 6.9).  This is called a trusted user framework.  A couple of references to the public release/share terminology can be found on the UK Open Data Institute website (see this video for instance).   The trusted user framework originated in the UK (e.g. see here) and there is a practical application of the framework in Australia that has been adopted by the ABS here;
  • that the proposed Office of the National Data Custodian audit a data custodians de-identification processes and issue assurance of de-identification practices used (recommendation 6.11); and
  • that the proposed Office of the National Data Custodian has the authority to issue guidance on how risks of all sharing of identifiable data between entities should be managed (recommendation 8.2).

The “Social Licence”.

Significantly, the Productivity Commission also calls out the need for the Government to work with the public to “grow the social licence for data to empower citizens and increase transparency over government activities.”  

This fundamental recognition of a “social licence” underpinning a national data economy is emphasized by Productivity Commission Chairperson, Peter Harris, in a refreshingly frank and candid speech titled, “Data – The Thing that Ties it All Together”, given in the week prior to submitting the report to the Government. In it, he explores the extent of missed social and economic opportunities that have resulted from the public (and private) sector’s inability to unlock the value of its data assets through sharing.

Peter Harris also discusses how, through the development of the report, the Commission came to an understanding that the ability to realise the value of data on a national economy scale requires that existing digital power and agency imbalances be addressed – imbalances that constrain how individuals (and small businesses) are able to equitably participate in the data economy.

In this context, trust is critical. Specifically, the ability to build trust on a “community-wide scale” in form of a “social licence”.

“And to get it (the social licence), and to keep it, government and private data holder alike will need to practice a common commitment to sharing back with consumers the data that was sourced from them, beyond simple mere compliance with data safety.”

If you’re interested in exploring the issue of social licence more, it’s worth checking out these two blog posts by Anna Johnston at Salinger Privacy:

A role for the Open Government Forum (OGF)

In this context, the OGF has an important role to play, not just in relation to the government’s OGP commitments, but by openly holding the government to account in relation any future adoption of the PCDAU recommendations relevant to OGP commitments and principles; and, providing a means to engage and inform civil society, and foster public awareness.

Confused? Intrigued? Got questions for the Taskforce? please contact

by Kat Szuminska & James Horton, who attended the roundtable via teleconference.

Got an hour to spare? Read Kat and James notes from that roundtable.