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Chapter Five — Develop and implement information policy

Overview

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner’s (OAIC) information policy work is premised on a few key principles:

  • Government information, as declared in the objects clause of the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act), is a national resource that should be managed for public purposes
  • Open public sector information (PSI) enhances Australian democracy and stimulates economic and social innovation and community engagement with government
  • The quality of government policy formulation, decision making and service delivery hinges on the effective management of information.

In 2011–12 the OAIC continued to work with agencies and the community to embed those principles in government practice. A central goal is to build a government culture of proactive publication and community engagement. This requires that all agencies are committed to working in a consistent manner to make government information available as widely as possible while respecting privacy, security, and legal protections.

The OAIC consulted widely with Australian Government agencies in 2011–12 to further promote and facilitate agency cultural change from a ‘reactive’ or ‘pull’ model to a ‘proactive’ or ‘push’ model of government information disclosure. This remains a fundamental element of Australia’s commitment to open government, as discussed in Chapter 8. Proactive disclosure is reflected in the objects clause in the FOI Act and is given effect through the Information Publication Scheme (IPS) and disclosure log.

The OAIC continued to promote the Principles on open public sector information (Open PSI principles). They were promoted on the OAIC website, at Information Contact Officer Network (ICON) meetings, at the Information Policy Conference, in submissions to enquiries and via social media. The Open PSI principles underpin the OAIC’s work when examining public sector information management practices. Agencies have been encouraged to embed the principles in their internal information management policies.

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Information Policy Conference

On 15 November 2011, the OAIC hosted the inaugural Information Policy Conference at the National Convention Centre in Canberra. Under the banner of Public Sector Information: A National Resource, the conference was attended by over 270 delegates from Commonwealth and state agencies, academia, the media, industry and the community. The pre-conference dinner for delegates featured a keynote address delivered by Senator the Hon John Faulkner. Senator Faulkner set the tone of the conference by saying:

[T]he questions of how, and to who[m], and importantly why, information held by the Commonwealth Government is managed, used, and released, are not simple ones. They affect every area of government operation and in doing so touch every Australian’s life in one way or another.

The one day conference was officially opened by the Hon Brendan O’Connor, then Minister for Privacy and Freedom of Information. There was discussion throughout the day about a national approach to information policy, and the importance of developing whole-of-government approaches. Panel discussions were held on a variety of topics including improving accessibility to PSI, removing barriers to reuse of PSI, and information governance and asset management. The conference also explored international and Australian perspectives on information policy, and government information asset management. The next information policy conference will be held in 2013.

Photo of John Faulkner at the information policy conference.

Senator the Hon John Faulkner addresses the pre-conference dinner on 14 November 2011, at the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

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Issues Paper 2: Understanding the value of public sector information in Australia

It is now accepted internationally that open access to public sector information is central to open government. The business of government, policy development, decision making and service delivery, can be undertaken more successfully if there is greater sharing of information, together with community engagement. In addition, improving public access to PSI better enables government information assets to be exploited by business and the community, thereby maximising their value.

One of the recommendations of the 2009 Government 2.0 Taskforce report, Engage: Getting on with Government 2.0, was that the OAIC, in conjunction with the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO), should develop a methodology for reporting to government on the social and economic value generated from published PSI. The Government accepted this recommendation in principle, directing the OAIC ‘to identify options for implementation which will further the Australian Government’s information management policy and complement Australia’s new FOI framework’.

With a view to implementing that recommendation, the OAIC produced Issues Paper 2: Understanding the value of public sector information in Australia (Issues Paper 2) in November 2011. Issues Paper 2 built upon the OAIC’s previous information policy publications including Issues Paper 1: Towards an Australian Government Information Policy (November 2010) and the Open PSI principles (May 2011).

Issues Paper 2 discussed the challenges inherent in treating government information as a valuable national resource, and considered options for carrying out such a valuation. It drew on similar initiatives in other jurisdictions and built upon the OAIC’s earlier work in the information policy sphere. The major proposal of Issues Paper 2 was that the OAIC survey Australian Government agencies to gather consistent information across government about PSI management practices. Included with the paper was a draft proposed survey.

The OAIC consulted widely on Issues Paper 2, and conducted a series of roundtables with agencies in February 2012. The feedback from the roundtables was used to develop and improve the survey.

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Survey of public sector information management practices

In April 2012, the OAIC surveyed Australian Government agencies about their PSI management practices (PSI Survey). The survey sought information on the extent to which agencies had adopted and implemented the eight Open PSI principles. It also sought information about the challenges faced by agencies in implementing an open access culture.

The survey was run by a professional social research contractor — ORIMA Research Pty Ltd — together with a benchmarking process to assess agency compliance with the Information Publication Scheme (IPS). More information about agency compliance with the IPS can be found in Chapter 8.

There was a strong agency response to the PSI Survey —191 responded out of 245 agencies invited to take part, a response rate of 78 per cent (many of the agencies that did not participate were small boards or committees that are hosted by other agencies). The PSI Survey was supplemented by focus group meetings hosted by the OAIC in June 2012. Eighteen agencies of different sizes and functions participated in the focus groups.

The OAIC will publish some preliminary findings of the PSI Survey and focus groups in August 2012, and a comprehensive report in November 2012.

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Other information policy activities

Information Advisory Committee

The Information Commissioner chairs the Information Advisory Committee (IAC). The role of the IAC is to assist and advise the Information Commissioner in promoting sound information policy and practice in Australian Government. Further information about the IAC can be found in Chapter 4.

Government 2.0

In June 2009, the Government 2.0 Taskforce was established to examine how web 2.0 approaches could be harnessed by government to share information and engage with the community. The recommendations of the Taskforce’s 2009 report Engage: Getting on with Government 2.0 were generally agreed by Government.[1] The Information Commissioner was a member of the Gov 2.0 Steering Group which was established in July 2010 to oversee implementation of the Government’s response to the recommendations. The Steering Group’s Government 2.0 Work Plan concluded on 5 June 2012 when the Secretaries’ ICT Governance Board noted their concluding report.

Key initiatives delivered include:

  • the Declaration of Open Government by the Australian Government on 16 July 2010
  • establishment of the Creative Commons BY licence as the default licence for government information made public
  • establishment of data.gov.au as a central public dataset repository for government.

The OAIC and other agencies have embraced the use of web 2.0 technology for consultation and community engagement. In addition, it is clear that cultural change across government has occurred with agencies proactively providing access to more reusable government information.

Digital Transition Policy

The Government’s Digital Transition Policy aims to move Australian Government agencies to digital recordkeeping, to ensure that most information and records are created, stored and managed digitally. Making this shift will support better informed decision making, increased information sharing across government and cost-effective information management.

The National Archives of Australia (NAA) is leading the implementation of the Digital Transition Policy, in consultation with AGIMO and the OAIC. The OAIC engaged with the NAA during the development of the Policy to ensure a consistent approach across government to information policy and management.

The NAA, in consultation with AGIMO and the OAIC, is required to report annually for three years to the Minister, commencing in March 2012, on the status of agencies’ information and records management practices, and advise on opportunities and strategies to improve efficiency.

APS 200 location study

On 1 July 2011, the Office of Spatial Policy was established to coordinate and facilitate spatial data across Australian Government agencies. The office was established to provide leadership on whole-of-government spatial data in response to the APS 200 Location Project Report and other reviews. The Report was delivered to the Secretaries Committee on 6 July 2011 and recommended that a national framework for location information be established. The Freedom of Information Commissioner was a member of the APS 200 Location Study Project Steering Committee that provided project oversight. The Secretaries agreed that linking information to location enhances evidence-based decision making, and that a whole-of-government approach be taken.

AusGOAL

To facilitate open access to publicly funded information the Australian Governments Open Access and Licensing (AusGOAL) Framework was launched on 7 July 2011. The Freedom of Information Commissioner represented the Commonwealth from April 2012 on the Cross Jurisdictional Chief Information Officers Committee (CJCIOC) sub-committee. The CJCIOC directs the implementation of the AusGOAL program across Australia, which broadly supports the Open PSI Principles by providing a framework for open access and licensing.

Submissions and advice

During 2011–12, the OAIC continued to integrate information policy considerations into submissions made to parliamentary and other inquiries, and into the advice provided to Australian Government agencies.

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Footnotes

[1] Government response to the Report of the Government 2.0 Taskforce, May 2010, Department of Finance and Deregulation website www.finance.gov.au/publications/govresponse20report/index.html.

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