Sunday, February 20, 2011

Principles for Open Public Sector Information

The Australian Information Commission proposed ten Draft Principles on Open Public Sector Information. Comments are invited via a blog by 1 March 2011:

1. Open access to information - a default position

Information held by the Australian Government is a valuable national resource. As recommended by the Government 2.0 Taskforce, unless there are compelling reasons to the contrary, access to that information should be open, that is:

  • free
  • based on open standards
  • easily discoverable
  • understandable
  • machine-readable, and
  • freely reusable and transformable.

This places a proactive and pro-disclosure obligation on agencies to:

  • use information technology to disseminate public sector information, particularly by publishing information online
  • maximise the amount of information that is published voluntarily, rather than waiting for specific requests under the FOI Act, and
  • apply a presumption of openness when deciding whether and how to publish public sector information.

2. Effective information governance

Information held by Australian Government agencies is a core strategic asset that should be managed effectively by:

  • a senior executive information champion, such as a Chief Information Officer within the agency, who is responsible for agency information, management and governance, and
  • an information governance body with responsibility for:
    • maximising the integrity, security and availability of the agency's information
    • establishing and maintaining strategic planning processes for information resources management
    • providing leadership and direction in the preparation of the agency's plan for complying with Part II of the FOI Act under s 8(1)
    • ensuring the agency's information management policies incorporate open access principles and authorise the routine and proactive disclosure of information, and
    • ensuring that the agency engages appropriately with stakeholders about access to information.

3. Robust information asset management frameworks

Effective management of information throughout its life cycle can be achieved by:

  • developing and maintaining inventories or registers of an agency's key information assets
  • identifying the custodians of those assets and defining the custodians' responsibilities
  • adequately describing information assets using appropriate metadata
  • documenting known limitations on data quality and caveats on data use
  • deciding in advance whether information is suitable for publication
  • preserving the agency's information assets for appropriate periods of time
  • training staff in information management, and
  • protecting information commensurate with the risk of harm that could result from the loss, misuse, or unauthorised access to or modification of such information.

4. Findable information

In keeping with the principle that public sector information is a valuable national resource, potential users should be readily able to discover the information an agency has published, and identify assets the agency holds but has not published. This can be achieved by:

  • ensuring that published information has high quality metadata through implementation of the Australian Government Locator Service (AGLS) Metadata Standard
  • applying search engine optimisation strategies to ensure that all published information can be indexed by search engines, and
  • publishing the agency's information asset register to enable both internal and external users of information to identify the available information resources from a single source.

5. Sound decision-making processes

Sound agency decision-making in relation to open access to public sector information can be achieved by:

  • ensuring clear lines of authority to make information publication decisions
  • establishing mechanisms for potential users of information to apply for release of unpublished information outside of the FOI Act
  • making timely decisions
  • embedding the presumption that agency information should be published free, on open licensing terms, unless there are compelling reasons to the contrary
  • identifying where relevant appropriate alternatives to not publishing information, such as publishing subject to caveats or disclaimers, and
  • imposing controls to avoid personal information being published inappropriately or inadvertently in a data set.

6. Transparent complaints processes

Agency decision making about information publication should be transparent. This can be supported, within the agency's information governance framework, by an internal complaints procedure to handle complaints from the public about agency publication decisions outside the requirements of the FOI Act. A transparent complaints procedure will:

  • be published
  • explain how complaints will be handled
  • set timeframes for resolving complaints
  • identify possible remedies and outcomes of complaints, and
  • require decision makers to provide written reasons for all decisions.

7. Open and accessible formats online

The economic and social value of public sector information is enhanced when it is published online in formats that are human-readable and compatible with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines endorsed by the Australian Government in February 2010. Information should so far as possible be published in a format that is:

  • open
  • machine-readable, and
  • searchable and indexable by commonly used web search applications.

8. Appropriate charging for access

The principle of open access to public sector information requires that the cost of access to individuals is not unreasonably restrictive. Appropriate charging for access to information can be achieved by:

  • not charging more than the additional marginal cost of providing access to published information, and in particular excluding from calculation cost associated with producing the information
  • using methods of publication, particularly online publication, that minimise the cost to the agency of providing individual access to the information
  • not imposing charges except as authorised by law, including the FOI Act, and
  • supporting any charges that are imposed for agency publications or information in an agency policy that explains the basis for charges and is published and regularly reviewed.

9. Clear reuse rights

The economic and social value of public sector information is enhanced when it is made available for reuse on open licensing terms. The Statement of Intellectual Property Principles for Australian Government Agencies requires government agencies subject to the Financial and Management Accountability Act 1997 to consider licensing public sector information, upon release, under an open access licence.

10. Engaging the community

In keeping with Australian Government policy that agencies embrace online engagement in policy design and service delivery, the community can participate in agency decision making in relation to publication of public sector information. This can be done by:

  • consulting with the community in deciding which information an agency will
  • prioritise for publication
  • encouraging the community to identify errors in published information, to give feedback to the agency about the quality, completeness and usefulness of published information, and to tell the agency about productive reuse of the information, and
  • responding, either individually or in a public statement, to any comment received from the community.

From: Towards an Australian Government Information Policy, Australian Information Commissioner, November 2010.

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