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Government open data comes to life

Government agencies who have worked hard to free up their data will see that data being put to good use this weekend. That’s step one towards realising its potential, writes GovHack’s Julian Singh.

This weekend, thousands of Australians will put their creativity, problem solving, and technology skills to the test at GovHack – Australia’s largest open data ‘hacking’ competition.

This free event, will highlight the value of government open data, and its potential to help drive innovation, economic growth and education. In the ACT we are expecting close to 150 competitors, who will be supported by a team of enthusiastic volunteers and mentors.

Competitors will have 46 hours starting Friday evening, to come up with new innovative ideas and practical solutions using government open data. Winners from GovHack will receive cash prizes and recognition at a national awards night and find themselves highly sought after by many employers, or creating their own start ups.

Untapped potential of government open data

In Australia, and around the world, many studies highlight the potential benefits of government open data. For example:

Decision makers in the Australian government have recognised this potential value and made moves to understand and unlock it. In late 2015, then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull mandated that: “At a minimum, Australian Government entities will publish appropriately anonymised government data by default” – bringing Australia into line with leading countries around the world.

“It is not enough to simply put data onto a data portal, pat yourself on the back and call it a day”

Since then all layers of government have established programs to spur the supply and demand of public data, and improved coordination across the data ecosystem. For example Data61 was established, and as several projects on government open data, Australia has signed onto the international Open Governments Partnership, there has been a focus on data sharing within government with projects such as Data Integration Partnership for Australia (DIPA). Most recently new National Data Commissioner has been appointed, and moves are underway to improve data sharing legislation.

These are all promising moves that are to be applauded. However, there still is more work do to for the positive outcomes with data to be achieved.

Real impact requires a healthy data ‘ecosystem’ both in within and outside of government

It is encouraging that within Australia we are seeing more and more datasets being made open, and data custodians maturing their understanding and handling of some of the internal challenges of opening up data.  However, for the value of open data to be achieved it is not enough to simply put data onto a data portal, pat yourself on the back and call it a day.

To unlock the greatest potential value, sustained effort is required to make sure data is findable, accessible, relevant, and timely. In addition, and perhaps most importantly – there needs to be effective engagement with end users of the data.

This is where GovHack (and events like it) come in…

Engagement, innovation and connections

GovHack is an example of what can happen when passionate individuals from outside government, can work with government, and with key sponsors – can work together to build something positive. It is a win-win-win situation for all involved. Here are a few reasons why events such as GovHack are so compelling:

  • Firstly, for the competitors involved, it is a great and fun way for citizens of many walks of life to come together, build something positive for the greater good of society – and pickup valuable skills and friendships along the way.

  • Secondly, our government agencies, and their staff who have toiled away at opening up this data, get the chance to see the fruits of their labours. It also enables them to build an understanding of types of data that are most useful externally and why, as well as enable valuable feedback.
  • Thirdly, the broader economy benefits from GovHack through new innovations, and ensuing economic growth. This is achieved in a way that the value of the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts. In The parts here include the networking between participants, connection and coordination between government agencies, improved awareness around the what, why and how of government open data, positive nudging of government data custodians towards safe and impactful open data, and the upskilling of both demanders and suppliers of data.
  • Finally, we will benefit from Government Open Data even though many of us may not realise it. For example every time you check the weather forecast, use google maps, or go searching for property – you are benefiting from Government Open Data.  There are undoubtedly other common good data uses out that that have not yet been unlocked – perhaps some of these will be uncovered this weekend?

The thing I really love about events like GovHack is that they make the positive possibilities of open data real, accessible, local and now. Combined with the safe and impactful release of open data, they have the possibility to make our society a better place.

I hope you can make it to the event this weekend, or at the least take a look at some of the great things that will be generated from the event.

READ MORE: Making GovHack (and open government) more impactful

Julian Singh is the ACT Director of GovHack in 2018. He is an Open Data Evangelist and Author who has authored a book on the topic, contributed to leading international publications, and is a regular speaker on the topic in Canberra (including earlier this week at the Annual ACS Conference in Canberra). He will be chairing a workshop at the International Open Data Research Symposium in Buenos Aires in September 2018.  He recently returned back to Canberra from NYC where he worked for a govtech startup and he was inspired by the BetaNYC meetup group and the BigApps competition (the New York equivalent of GovHack).

Top photo: Flickr/superroach (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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