The Open Government Data Conference and Data Camp on Friday 23 September 2011 were truly inspiring and thought provoking events, bringing both Australian and international perspectives to bear on open data and governments.

We extend our most genuine thanks to all speakers, participants and attendees – every component was integral to its success.

The conference was chaired by Professor Brian Fitzgerald, Professor of Intellectual Property and Innovation at QUT Law Faculty.

Early in the day, we had policy and practice guidance from those working within government.

The Hon Simon Finn, Minister for Government Services, Building Industry and ICT, outlined the importance of open data to governments. He discussed the various possibilities of engagement with the public, especially with the increasing number of citizens having the capacity to deal with government online.

Senator Kate Lundy, Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration and Multicultural affairs, highlighted the various opportunities for government in the path to towards a stronger, more open government in her keynote address. Among them was the need for a culture of collaboration, citizen-centric services, the use of open standards by government, and the geocoding of data to increase functionality. Senator Lundy’s pre-recorded presentation was briefly introduced in person by Pia Waugh, who took the opportunity to announce the digital culture public sphere consultation.

Professor Anne Fitzgerald, Professor in Law Research at QUT Law Faculty, brought a strategic legal perspective to the central issues. In her talk, Anne set out the series of significant historical events, leading up to and including the present scene on open access in Australia, and the further action needed to build bridges amongst different sectors for greater socio-economic benefits to be realised. Anne’s presentation slides are available here.

Dr Terry Cutler, prominent industry consultant, strategy advisor and Principal of Cutler & Co, spoke on the topic of innovation, openness and its dividends. He described innovation as ‘a means to an end’, i.e. a sustainable and ongoing process of maintaining and improving the quality of life in Australia. Dr Cutler also highlighted the fundamental importance of openness to innovation, and drew interesting parallels between open data today and the acceleration of innovation in the Age of Enlightenment of 18th century Europe e.g. the codification of vernacular languages to facilitate information exchange and collaboration.

Andrew Stott, former Director for Transparency and Digital Engagement for the UK Government, provided invaluable insight into the UK’s open government data experience. He explained how release of open data has increased UK government accountability and encouraged a culture change towards openness. From an economic perspective, he showcased practical Gov 2.0 examples, including new business models and the sale of value-added government data back to local governments. Andrew’s simple but powerful message is: “overcome obstacles by doing, not debating”. You can read more about the UK’s initiatives such as its Public Data Principles and Open Government Licence, and see the UK Prime Minister’s letter of 2011. Andrew’s presentation slides are available here.

Our Kiwi government colleagues Richard Best and Keitha Booth shared with us their experiences in New Zealand. Richard Best, legal counsel with the Knowledge, Information, Research & Technology branch of NZ’s Department of Internal Affairs, delivered a pre-recorded presentation which included a Creative Commons AotearoaNZ’s instructional CC video. In his presentation, Richard explained the use of CC licences under the New Zealand Government Open Access Licensing (NZGOAL) Framework. Keitha Booth, Programme Leader of the NZ Open Government Data & Information Programme, spoke on the innovation opportunities in an open and transparent NZ. Keitha demonstrated that (similar to the outcomes in UK), the implementation of open government data policy enabled follow-on innovation and increased government accountability. You can read more about NZ’s ICT policies on Open and Transparent Government at ict.got.nz. Keitha’s presentation slides are available here.

Claire Driscoll, Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute’s Technology Transfer Office in the United States, took us through the very real biomedical health benefits achieved through the open access policies and practices of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Examples of these were high value NIH-created and -funded databases (e.g. Database of Genotypes and Phenotypes (dbGap)) and policies requiring that grants/cooperative agreements contain IP, data sharing and/or material sharing plans (e.g. Data Sharing Policy (2003)). Importantly, Claire emphasised the need for governments to lead the way in open data policy, because universities and companies have little incentive to release potentially valuable data on open terms. Claire’s presentation slides are available here.

Dr Graham Vickery, former head of the OECD’s Information Economy Group, outlined his review of recent studies on PSI re-use and related markets in the European Union in the form of presentation slides (as he was unable to join us in person). Neale Hooper took us through Dr Vickery’s slides, which estimated the market value of PSI to be around EUR 32 billion in 2010. Examples of direct (and indirect) benefits from open access to PSI cited were the lowered costs of obligatory national environmental impact assessments resulting in a saving of EUR 2 billion per year, and gains of EUR 6 billion per year from open access to research and development results. Dr Vickery’s presentation slides are available here.

Following the accounts of our overseas colleagues, Neale Hooper, specialist government IP and ICT lawyer currently on secondment to Creative Commons Australia, returned our focus Down Under and spoke about the CC licences as a driver of open access policy in Australia. Neale explained the CC licences and the operational benefits, both generally and for government, in using this standardised suite of licences. He also highlighted the various Australian CC licence users, including Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), Queensland’s Reef and Rainforest Research Centre, ABC Pool, the Federal Parliament’s website, and the Federal Government in its budget papers of 2010 and 2011 (just to name a few). Neale’s presentation slides are available here.

The role of social media in emergency response situations was a vital and strategic topic, with perspectives from Google Australia and the Queensland Police Service.

Anthony Baxter from Google.org’s Crisis Response team took us through the initiatives undertaken throughout the major disasters of 2011, including the January floods in Australia, the Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, and the Christchurch Earthquakes. The positive impacts of these initiatives were undeniable and compelling. For instance, the availability of crowd-sourced data inevitably replaced official local government sources which were incapacitated during the tsunami in Japan, and shouldered part of the Christchurch police’s role of keeping the public informed. Anthony also emphasised the importance of data currency, and the use of open formats and open licensing terms, particularly the CC BY (Attribution) licence, in facilitating Google’s initiatives.

James Kliemt, from the Queensland Police Service’s Social Media and Emergency Response team, explained how QPS’s engagement with the public and more importantly, and its ability to keep the public informed in emergency situations, has exponentially increased with the use of social media. Using a timeline, James illustrated the striking increase in numbers of QPS Facebook page likes & followers when matched against the occurrence of recent disasters in Queensland such as the 2010-2011 floods and Tropical Cyclone Yasi. QPS’s Facebook page, as an official source, was able to post “mythbusters” on pressing issues in real time (for e.g. quashing rumours on whether water was drinkable during the floods). You can read more about QPS’s impressively effective efforts in their report, Disaster Management and Social Media – a case study, available under a CC BY licence.

Mark Elliott from Collabforge led us on to another strongly positive message, speaking about ‘Collaborating with the Crowd’ and showcasing online case studies for OpenGov. In looking at three main themes: collaboration, innovation and communications, Mark gave numerous examples on how governments were using social media and Web 2.0 technology to build and interact with online communities. The included the world’s first collaborative city plan – futuremelbourne.com, the Victorian Country Fire Authority’s FireReady free iPhone app, and Victoria’s Emergency Services Volunteers facebook page. Mark’s presentation slides are available here.

The high calibre of speakers and presentations captured the imagination of those attending, and effectively addressed the various facets of open access and governments.

Data Camp

Mark Elliott of Collabforge also exercised his skills in acting as the facilitator for the Data Camp, which followed the conference. The high levels of enthusiasm and commitment evident during the Data Camp resulted in it continuing well past its scheduled 6pm close.

The aim of discussions was to create a list of challenges and opportunities in making open data practices “business-as-usual” in Australian government. The result, from around 30 Data Camp participants, was the following (also available here):

ODG Brisbane DataCamp 23 Sept 2011 Outcomes

Thank you

Again, we thank all speakers and participants, whether in actual or virtual attendance at the QUT venue. Discussions extended beyond the room and into the ‘Twittersphere’, with #OGDBris11. We extend our appreciation to the many tweeters who contributed from the conference room, and those who shared thoughts from their offices or homes.

For more information about the conference or similar future events, please contact Cheryl Foong at cheryl.foong@qut.edu.au.

P.S. We hope to have the audio/visual recording uploaded shortly. Watch this space!

Credits—Photo:’World Airline Routes‘ by josullivan.59 licensed under CC BY 2.0 Generic.