Monday, June 29, 2009

Victorian Government Inquiry recommends that Vic Gov opens most data for free public reuse

The Victorian Government's Economic Development and Infrastructure Committee recently released the final report (PDF) for its Inquiry into Improving Access to Victorian Public Sector Information and Data.

The Inquiry was designed to look at and report back to the Victorian Parliament on the potential application of open content and open source licensing to Victorian Government information, particularly considering the economic benefits, improvements to discovery and use of data, the ICT requirements and potential risks, impediments and restrictions.

With 46 recommendations, the report is quite a hefty read (238 pages) - however there are three key recommendations the report highlights, which I hope are both adopted by the Victorian Government and considered by other governments across Australia.

These were,
  • develop a framework for free or low cost access to all possible public sector information,
  • that the government use the Creative Commons licensing model for most (around 85%) of public sector information, tapping into a simple to understand and widely used system - with the remaining 15% subject to appropriate licensing based on the need for restricted access, and
  • that the Victorian government develop a central directory enabling easier discovery of public sector information and the access conditions attached to it.
These three recommendations alone have the prospect of creating a sea change in the Victorian government's approach to the management, licensing and access to public sector data. They shift the playing field shifting from a pro-secrecy towards a pro-disclosure model allowing (most) public information to be reused by individuals, not-for-profits and the private sector to generate economic benefits for the state and drive innovation.

A fourth recommendation is also worth noting, to quote,
The Committee also considers the use of open source software (OSS) within and by the Victorian Government. One of the Committee’s recommendations is that the Government ensure tendering for software is neither licence specific nor has proprietary software-specific requirements, and that it meet the given objectives of Government.
This recommendation will help level the playing field for open source software in government. While open source is already widely used in the public sector, the lack of a responsible single vendor has sometimes raised the perceived risk of open source. Also often software has been selected on the basis of initial purchase/implementation costs rather than on the total cost of ownership, which can be manipulated by vendors of proprietary software to encourage very low-cost take-up of products but with expensive ongoing maintenance and development.

The next step is for the Victorian government to consider and adopt some, all or none of the 46 recommendations - the first of which is,
Recommendation 1: That the Victorian Government release a public statement indicating that it endorses open access as the default position for the management of its public sector information.
Recommendation 39 is also very interesting from a national perspective,
Recommendation 39: That the Victorian Government work with other jurisdictions towards national harmonisation in enhancing access to and reuse of PSI.

Many in the government 2.0 community will be waiting with bated breath.


  1. I agree, its a "hefty read". I hope that it doesn't mean Victorian government agencies find it simply too hard to implement. Less might have been more, perhaps?
    Re: Open Source - In Australia, I think part of the challenge for Open Source is finding vendors who are big enough to get over the hurdles of the government tending process. It takes a lot of effort to even respond and someone has to pay for that work eventually. There are also examples of government agencies getting locked in with a vendor using open source through the support arrangements, so you end up in the same position anyway because of the practical considerations. So I think there is more to it than simply just adopting open source. The model of government IT needs to change too.

  2. James,

    I had a similar conversation to that effect today.



  3. This is great news and look forward to seeing more open source projects in the future. Other governments around the world are doing this so why not us!


  4. As someone working in this area in the Vic Govt I don't think open source is really the issue. The real issue is data neutrality by which I mean it doesn't matter what system you are using (proprietary, open source, etc) the information made, operated on, stored, viewed by those systems should not require those systems in order to be re-used both now and into the future. All systems die. Data should live longer than systems. Open source frequently does this better than proprietary but not always.