Document dump: online annual reports good, open data better


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Government annual reports are becoming much easier to find, easier to read and easier to share with digital technology. But open data is changing the game entirely.

This year’s barrage of public sector annual reports is at an end. Hundreds of mainly unread hard copies sit on shelves in offices and libraries, an enduring historical record produced through countless hours of work by a small army of public servants, from a small forest of trees.

They range in size from the tiny four-page booklet that is the Office of the Aged Care Pricing Commissioner’s first effort, to the mighty tome that details a year in the life of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. Scott Morrison’s department is defending its title — a gold in the 2012-13 IPAA Annual Report Awards.

Those awards illustrate the growing divergence between paper and online versions. While the DIBP book took out last year’s hard copy award, its online version shared silver with Foreign Affairs and Trade; its hard copy didn’t even rate a “highly commended”. The judges felt no large or medium non-corporate federal agency’s online report met the gold standard. Among the smaller non-corporate agencies, the Air Transport Safety Bureau was highly commended for its online effort, but no bronze, silver or gold was given out.

The advantages of digital reports are obvious to all, and with initiatives like the transition to digital record-keeping, the shift to an increasingly pro-disclosure culture and the advance of open data, the printed annual report is surely not long for this world.

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  • Susannah S

    What happens if reports are born digital and department changes its name, where is the report now? There are so many instances already of reports no longer being available from previously published URLs. Where is the governments digital archive of all published (online) materials?