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Background to the open data action plan

Updated 23 November 2018 

The value of open government data

Open government data is non-personal, unclassified, and non-confidential government-held data. This data is an immensely valuable asset that, when safely made open, can multiply in value for New Zealand many times over. It can inform evidence-based policy, service design, and delivery. Its use can lead to innovative solutions to social or environmental problems, grow employment through new commercial ventures, and empower New Zealanders to better understand the world they live in.

Open government data is also a fundamental enabler of an open and transparent government. It supports better accountability and informed participation by all sectors of society in the important decisions affecting us all. This in turn leads to stronger trust and confidence in government and the public service. 

New Zealand is currently ranked seventh in the world on the Open Data Barometer, behind Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, France, and Korea. The barometer is a global measure of how governments are publishing and using open data for accountability, innovation, and social impact.

A coordinated, government-wide response

Providing a coordinated and joined-up approach to releasing open government data requires a government-wide response – the New Zealand open data action plan. Systemic change is required to ensure clear roles and responsibilities, common rules, consistent approaches and standards, and, where appropriate, centralised and shared solutions.

Only by working together in partnership will government agencies be able to overcome challenges and move at pace, seizing the growing opportunities to generate greater value from open data.

The open data action plan took effect on 1 July 2017, following public consultation, and sets out goals and initiatives to 30 June 2020. The action plan has been updated to include initiatives for implementing the principles of the Open Data Charter adopted in August 2017. The action plan is accompanied by an implementation plan that includes time-bound activities and milestones, and describes how the action plan will be delivered.

The aim of the open data action plan is to develop an enabling open data environment and accelerate the release and reuse of open government data so that New Zealand is maximising the value of open government data. As the value of data is only realised through its use, maximising the value is enabled by: 

  • increasing access to government-held data through understanding what data government agencies hold, and enabling agencies to release data
  • increasing use of data by improving the discoverability and usability of data, and improving skills and knowledge 
  • building an open by design culture that sustains the value of increased access to data through expanding and deepening open data practice in government agencies, and continued engagement with data users.

Stats NZ is the agency responsible for the open data action plan. 

Short to medium term goals for opening up government data 

The open data action plan has set a number of goals to be achieved by 2020. 

In relation to government agencies, the goals are:

  • Data champions and chief executives advocate for working towards an open by design approach, and releasing open government data. They actively measure their progress in improving their open data maturity and overcoming key capability gaps and barriers to data release.
  • The government workforce understands the data needs of users, the value and potential benefits of open data, and is actively building their data capability.
  • The proactive release of high value, in-demand government data has been accelerated, and the data is regularly updated (or available real-time where possible).

In relation to data users, citizens, and stakeholder groups, the goals are that they:

  • can easily discover and access usable open data of known coverage and quality, and access training, tools and resources to improve their data use capability.
  • can more effectively judge the performance of government agencies and programmes and hold them to account.
  • are working with government agencies to identify the most pressing societal priorities and the data needs linked to these. 

Challenges 

There are a number of challenges we have to address to meet the above goals and to ensure that all government agencies routinely release open government data. Capability is a problem for agencies and users. Many agencies lack the data expertise and literacy needed to open up and use data. Some users are unable to find the data they need, or use the data they do find. Another problem for data users is the lack of standardisation of data which makes it difficult to bring together data from different sources.

For many agencies, an open data culture is lacking. Some agencies don’t fully understand their obligation to release data under the open data mandate and related principles. Open data release is often a secondary priority behind agencies’ primary statutory roles and responsibilities. Concerns about data quality, misinterpretation, and unforeseen negative consequences also contribute to a reluctance to release open data. This is at odds with an open by design approach.

Agencies that are willing and able to open up their data can be hindered by commercial business models that restrict release of open, freely available data.  

Read the NZ open data action plan and implementation plan

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