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Chapter Five — Develop and implement information policy

Contents

  1. Overview
  2. Open public sector information: government in transition
  3. Open public sector information: from principles to practice
  4. Other information policy activities
  5. Submissions and advice

 Overview

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner's (OAIC) information policy work is based on three 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 depends on effective information management.

In 2012–13, 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, open data and community engagement. This requires that all agencies are committed to working in a consistent manner to manage PSI in a way that makes it readily discoverable, accessible and reusable by business and the community, while ensuring compliance with privacy, security and secrecy obligations.

Proactive disclosure of government information remains a fundamental element of Australia's commitment to open government; this is reflected in the objects clause of the FOI Act and is given effect, in part, through the Information Publication Scheme (IPS) and agency disclosure logs. The OAIC undertook further work with Australian Government agencies in 2012–13 to promote and facilitate a transition to a culture of open access and proactive publication of PSI. Key aspects of the OAIC's information management activities are set out below.

 Open public sector information: government in transition

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 OAIC's Principles on Open Public Sector Information (Open PSI Principles), and the challenges faced by agencies in implementing an open access culture.

There was a strong agency response to the PSI Survey. Of 245 agencies invited to take part, 191 responded — a response rate of 78%. The PSI Survey was supplemented by focus groups hosted by the OAIC in June 2012. Eighteen agencies of different sizes and functions participated in the focus groups.

In August 2012, the OAIC published preliminary findings from the initial analysis of the PSI Survey results and feedback from the focus groups. The interim results centred on the finding that the Australian Government is in the process of transitioning to an open access and proactive disclosure culture. Specifically, the interim report provided an overview of the challenges reported by agencies, identified areas of open government practice in which agencies were experiencing success, and suggested areas in which agencies could benefit from assistance.

 Open public sector information: from principles to practice

In February 2013, the OAIC published its full report on the PSI Survey results and feedback from the focus groups — Open public sector information: from principles to practice (PSI Report).

The PSI Report:

  • summarises the main findings of the PSI Survey, and identifies the Open PSI Principles that agencies found most challenging, and the priority areas for action to address those challenges
  • presents the survey results for each of the eight Open PSI Principles, and examines the issues encountered by agencies in implementing each principle
  • analyses the contemporary challenges facing Australian Government agencies in implementing an open access agenda that is supported by robust information management and governance.

The key finding of the PSI Report is that Australian Government agencies are actively embracing an open access and proactive disclosure culture, but many policy challenges and practical obstacles remain. The challenges include making government information discoverable and useable, moving to a default position of open access to information, and allocating sufficient resources to robust information asset management.

The PSI Report identified five priority areas for action to meet those challenges:

  • greater agency awareness of government policies on open PSI
  • further development and refinement of those policies
  • better collaboration among agencies
  • more investment in data sharing infrastructure
  • further examination of the challenges and opportunities for the galleries, libraries, archives and museums sector.

The report also noted that a transition to a proactive disclosure culture is more successful when built on four elements: agency leadership, officer innovation, community engagement and investment in information infrastructure. Those four elements were identified by agencies themselves as key issues in developing national information policy.

 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.

Big Data Strategy Working Group

The OAIC is a member of the Big Data Strategy Working Group, convened by the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO). The Group is tasked with developing the Australian Government Big Data Strategy.

The Big Data Strategy will set out the actions that Government can and is taking to harness the opportunities afforded by big data analytic tools, while protecting personal privacy. During 2012–13, the OAIC worked with other group members to ensure that privacy and broader open government and information policy issues were appropriately considered in the development of the strategy. A consultation draft of the strategy was released for public comment in June 2013.

Open Government Partnership

The Open Government Partnership (OGP) is a multilateral initiative that aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency and open government. The OGP agenda is consistent with Australia's open government agenda as expressed in the report of the Government 2.0 Taskforce, Engage: Getting on With Government 2.0 (December 2009), and the Australian Government's Declaration of Open Government made in July 2010.

On 10 January 2013, the Information Commissioner wrote to the Attorney-General's Department (AGD) supporting Australia's participation in the OGP. The Information Commissioner's letter outlined the timetable for Australia's possible membership, the tasks to be undertaken (including the preparation of a country action plan), and the work that the OAIC could carry out subject to appropriate resourcing.

In May 2013, the Attorney-General announced Australia's commitment to join the OGP. During 2013–14, the OAIC will engage with relevant Government agencies to help advance the preparation of a national action plan. It is expected that an active consultation will be undertaken with state governments, industry and civil society groups, and the public generally.

Chief Scientist's breakthrough actions for innovation

A submission to the Prime Minister's Science Engineering and Innovation Council (PMSEIC) was made in response to their inquiry into the breakthrough actions necessary to drive innovation and productivity growth in Australia. The OAIC suggested that the PMSEIC consider open PSI and open publicly funded information as one of the breakthrough actions that should receive the explicit support of the Australian Government to drive innovation and productivity growth in Australia.

In February 2013, Chief Scientist Professor Ian Chubb released five breakthrough actions governments could take to make Australia a more innovative nation. One of the breakthrough actions (Number 2) is to 'strengthen business access to publicly-funded research expertise, infrastructure and data'.

Quebec research project

In 2012–13, the OAIC participated in an applied research project conducted by the Treasury Board of Quebec and the National School of Public Administration in Quebec. The research project explores the strategies adopted by governments that have been successful in opening PSI through an open government policy, and how those governments have measured and evaluated its impacts on three areas of open government: transparency, participation and collaboration. The OAIC agreed to participate in the study as it fitted within the OAIC strategic goals of measuring and improving Australia's performance against international information policy best practice.

 Submissions and advice

During 2012–13, 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 in relation to freedom of information and privacy.

The OAIC continued to promote the Open PSI Principles on the OAIC website, at Information Contact Officer Network (ICON) and agency meetings, in reports, advices, consultations and submissions, and via social media.

The Open PSI Principles underpin the OAIC's work when examining PSI management practices across Government. The OAIC has encouraged agencies to embed the Principles in their internal policies and procedures on information management.