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New Zealand

ICT Strategy Action 13 – Open by Default: Active Re-use of Information Assets (NZ0002)

Overview

At-a-Glance

Action Plan: New Zealand, First Action Plan, 2014-16

Action Plan Cycle: 2014

Status: Inactive

Institutions

Lead Institution: Department of Internal Affairs, Land Information New Zealand

Support Institution(s): All government agencies that deal with data

Policy Areas

Capacity Building, Open Data, Public Participation

IRM Review

IRM Report: New Zealand End-of-Term Report 2014-2016

Starred: No

Early Results: Marginal

Design i

Verifiable: Yes

Relevant to OGP Values: Access to Information Technology

Potential Impact:

Implementation i

Completion:

Description

Action 13 of the ICT Strategy and Action Plan to 2017 is a further progression of the New Zealand Open Government Information and Data programme to assist agencies to implement the “Declaration on Open and Transparent Government” and the New Zealand Data and Information Management Principles which were approved by Government in 2011, and the New Zealand Government open Access and Licensing Framework approved by Government in 2010.
The programme is a cross-government initiative, led by a secretariat that works with civil society and the private sector.
The aims of this initiative are:
- increase economic and social value through government data re-use
- more efficient government through appropriate sharing and alignment of data
- increase transparency in government, and
- increase participation in policy development.
Following the Government‟s approval of the New Zealand Government Open Access and Licensing (NZGOAL) Framework and the Declaration on Open and Transparent Government, the Secretariat has developed and implemented a guidance and training programme to support public sector agencies adopting NZGOAL and the Declaration. For the first two years, the focus was on supporting New Zealand government departments to make the necessary process changes to enable regular supply of open data in re-usable formats to the public. This data supply, which uses the NZGOAL suite of Creative Commons licences, is now moving beyond central government, as agencies in the wider public sector begin to see the value of making their data available in re-usable formats in response to demand from civil society and the private sector.
In collaboration with its stakeholders, the secretariat has developed the New Zealand Data and Information Management Principles and actively participates in conferences and social media to promote and advance its work programme.
The secretariat is widening its engagement with civil society organisations and representative bodies in the business sector to increase the awareness of the availability of open data and to progress the release of data and information that is considered a priority by these groups. A strategy will be developed to identify actions that promote awareness of available data, resources, tools, and websites to help citizens identify, access, and engage with government data and information. This strategy will be implemented by June 2015.
The secretariat will also collaborate with other government initiatives that are engaging with civil society and business groups to align government activities and reduce duplication for all participants. This includes aligning how the secretariat measures the achievement of the expected Programme benefits alongside our selected OGP grand challenges and principles.

IRM End of Term Status Summary

2. ICT Strategy and Action Plan

Commitment Text:

Government ICT Strategy and Action Plan to 2017 - ICT Action plan to be refreshed by the end of 2014

Focus on Action 13 of the Government ICT Strategy: Open by default – to be implemented by June 2016

Editorial Note: This language was taken from the chart on page 5 of the national action plan.

The Action Plan section will be updated by the end of 2014 and the strategy section is due for a refresh in 2015. A strategy will be developed to identify actions that promote awareness of available data, resources, tools, and websites to help citizens identify, access, and engage with government data and information.

The strategy will be implemented by June 2015.

The secretariat will also collaborate with other government initiatives that are engaging with civil society and business groups to align government activities and reduce duplication for all participants. This includes aligning how the secretariat measures the achievement of the expected Programme benefits alongside our selected OGP grand challenges and principles.

Editorial note: This language was taken from page 9 of the national action plan.

Responsible institution: Department of Internal Affairs

Supporting institution(s): Land Information NZ, State Services Commission

Start date:1 July 2014       End date: 30 June 2016

Commitment Aim:

This commitment aims to make government data available for reuse and to use technology for the improvement of government service delivery.

At the time the commitment was adopted, the government had the Government ICT Strategy and Action Plan to 2017 (2013–2017) in place, which provided a general cross-government policy plan to transform and integrate government through the wider use of technology. The ICT action plan included a proposal to make government data open by default and a plan for the internal sharing of government data.[Note 13: Government ICT Strategy and Action Plan to 2017, https://www.ict.govt.nz/assets/Uploads/Government-ICT-Strategy-and-Action-Plan-to-2017.pdf, 39.] The ICT action plan was to be refreshed each year. When the government’s OGP action plan was released, the government was already operating a central government portal (www.govt.nz) for accessing a variety of government information and a government data portal (www.data.govt.nz) for accessing a limited range of government datasets. It had also created the Open Government Information and Data Programme to facilitate and encourage the release and use of government data.

The commitment undertook two main actions: to update the ICT action plan by 2014 and to focus on making government information “open by default” by June 2016. These measures sought to ensure that the ICT action plan maintained relevance and consistency with other government programmes and that government datasets previously not publicly available could be used for social and economic benefit. The government also aimed to conduct activities to help citizens understand and use government data.

The OGP action plan as written contained no benchmarks or criteria for assessing completion, which made it difficult to assess progress particularly as the general aims of transforming ICT infrastructure and releasing all government data are ambiguous without including parameters. Since these commitments reach across the whole of government, the IRM researcher sought to examine the extent to which useful government data had been made publicly available in the commitment period to assess completion, relying on a wide range of government, CSO, and publicly available sources.[Note 14: These included an examination of the government’s information and data portals, http://www.govt.nz and http://www.data.govt.nz; a report prepared by the Open Government Data Chief Executives’ Governance Group (https://www.ict.govt.nz/assets/Uploads/Documents/2015-Report-on-adoption-of-the-Declaration.pdf, para 8); information provided in the government’s end-of-term OGP self-assessment (http://www.ssc.govt.nz/sites/all/files/New%20Zealand%20OGP%20final%20self-assessment%20report.pdf); the government’s responses to a set of written questions from the IRM researcher; and interviews with officials and stakeholders.] The researcher also assessed whether the ICT action plan was refreshed by 2014 and the ICT strategy updated by 2015.

Status

Midterm: Substantial

As discussed in the IRM progress report,[Note 15: IRM: New Zealand Progress Report 2014–2015, http://www.opengovpartnership.org/sites/default/files/IRMReport_NEWZEALAND_ONLINE%C6%92.pdf. ] the government completed its commitment to refresh the ICT action plan on time in December 2014. The new ICT action plan consolidated and refined the range of cross-government ICT actions, increased the focus on interagency collaboration, and clarified the relationship of the ICT action plan with the Better Public Services programme.

Notably, the part of the original ICT action plan (Action 13) that focused on making public information assets “open by default” by June 2016 was changed to “accelerate the release of public information and data for reuse.” Government officials stated this did not change the substance of the commitment.[Note 16: Ibid., 27.] As discussed below, the researcher considered it possible that the change in fact weakened the commitment, but in the end the government discontinued the ICT action plan before any change could become evident.

The IRM progress report found this to be a very far-reaching commitment. It noted progress in a number of areas, in particular the release of new datasets, but concluded that it was impossible to say it was on course to be “implemented” by June 2016. The government did conduct some activities to raise public awareness of newly released data, though no formal strategy was implemented in the first year of the OGP action plan.

End of term: Substantial

This commitment was assessed against two milestones. The first, discussed above, was the refresh of the ICT action plan by 2014, which was completed on time. The government updated the ICT strategy by 2015 as outlined in the OGP action plan. [Note 17: Government ICT Strategy 2015, https://www.ict.govt.nz/strategy-and-action-plan/strategy/.%5D

The second milestone is making government data open by default by June 2016 and includes a promise to conduct activities to raise awareness of open data. The government’s end-of-term self-assessment report concludes that while progress has been made “a full culture change to achieve an ‘open by default’ approach across government has yet to be achieved.”[Note 18: Open Government Partnership New Zealand Final Self-assessment Report First National Action Plan 2014–16, September 2016, 20. http://www.ssc.govt.nz/sites/all/files/New%20Zealand%20OGP%20final%20self-assessment%20report.pdf.%5D Significant changes were made to the commitment as well, making it difficult to assess completion. The ICT action plan was narrowed during the refresh in 2014 and then subsequently cut back even further. In June 2016, the ICT action plan was abandoned and replaced by an “integrated programme of work,” which the government describes as “a more flexible and adaptive approach” in which the highest ICT priorities are managed through interagency collaboration under the Government Chief Information Officer’s Partnership Framework.[Note 19: Government ICT Strategy Implementation, https://www.ict.govt.nz/strategy-and-action-plan/government-ict-strategy-implementation/%5D It includes a working group aiming to “open data and sharing by default.”[Note 20: Government ICT Strategy 2015, https://www.ict.govt.nz/strategy-and-action-plan/strategy/.%5D

The Open Government Information and Data Programme has been assisting government agencies to make their data publicly available, including by running training programmes on open licensing,[Note 21: New Zealand Government Open Access and Licensing (NZGOAL) framework, https://www.ict.govt.nz/guidance-and-resources/open-government/new-zealand-government-open-access-and-licensing-nzgoal-framework/; NZGOAL Online Training Videos, https://www.ict.govt.nz/guidance-and-resources/open-government/new-zealand-government-open-access-and-licensing-nzgoal-framework/nzgoal-online-training-videos/.%5D and 1,860 new datasets were listed on data.govt.nz.[Note 22: Department of Internal Affairs, letter to IRM researcher, 29 July 2016, 8.] Most (including all 32 central government agencies) have appointed “data champions” to oversee reform. A beta.data.govt.nz site was launched in June 2016 to test an improved version of the government’s open data website.[Note 23: http://www.beta.data.govt.nz.] Although issues still remain, as discussed below, steady progress has been made towards an “open by default” standard.

The Open Government Information and Data Programme has also conducted a wide range of innovative activities to raise awareness of the available data, including using social media outreach, publishing case studies and guides, holding meetings with data champions, and publishing a crowd-sourced list of datasets that citizens wanted to see released.[Note 24: Top 10 Datasets Survey, https://www.ict.govt.nz/guidance-and-resources/open-government/engagement-activities/top-10-datasets-survey/.
Outreach activities include setting up a Twitter account and popular hashtags on open data, organising a data showcase at Parliament, publicising case studies on the use of government data, running lunchtime sessions to discuss open data, holding meetings with agencies’ data champions, hosting presentations by experts, launching an open data YouTube channel, publishing a newsletter, writing a blog, and providing extensive information, tools, and resources on its website. ]

Did it open government?

Access to information: Marginal

The focus on making government data open by default was highly relevant to increasing access to information, though it lacked any clear benchmarks or progress indicators. The refresh had the potential to revitalise the commitment by providing a detailed programme to significantly expand access to datasets collected by government agencies. In turn, this new data could be used for a variety of business and democratic purposes, including evaluating the performance of government and identifying social problems requiring action.

However, three main challenges prevented this commitment from opening government in a more significant way: the scale of the task, a lack of resources, and the low quality of the data released.

The sheer scale of a promise to open all government data within the commitment period was a big challenge, and it is now clear that the government did not devote sufficient resources to achieving it. The unit within the Department of Internal Affairs tasked with facilitating data release was understaffed, lacked sufficient budgeting for the OGP commitment, and had been given no formal powers to compel the release of data.

The government’s Open Government and Data Chief Executives’ Governance Group identified a number of problems and frustrations in making government data available. It found that most government agencies are not fully meeting their open data requirements under the 2011 Declaration on Open and Transparent Government, in which the government committed to actively release high-value public data.[Note 25: NZ Open Government Information and Data: 2015 Progress Report, August 2015, paragraphs 1, 3, 11, 12, 16, 26, 45, and 49, https://www.ict.govt.nz/assets/Uploads/Documents/2015-Report-on-adoption-of-the-Declaration.pdf. ] This overlaps with the OGP commitment and is mentioned as part of the context in New Zealand’s action plan. The Governance Group measured a series of criteria designed to rate agencies’ transitions to open data. It noted a range of problems:

“…Agencies having immature data management processes, open data formats that are not consistent, manual publishing processes, and some data still only released in proprietary formats such as Microsoft Excel. Agencies report challenges prioritising internal resourcing, understanding open and shared data, aggregating restricted data to allow its release as open data, and the long-term costs of sustaining public data release.”[Note 26: Ibid., paragraph 8.]

The Governance Group also found that there is also low public awareness of what data is available. In addition, many agencies are not working with users to identify high-value data, and many others had not released any data.[Note 27: Ibid., paragraphs 11, 12, 26, 27, 45, and 51.] It found that local councils were particularly behind.

Stakeholders and some officials interviewed by the IRM researcher also corroborated the Governance Group’s view. and said that there was little prioritisation of high-value data. Additionally, the government office charged with overseeing the transition to an open-by-default status had inadequate staffing, budget, or powers. Data transparency experts interviewed said that awareness raising was somewhat premature: the real focus needed to be on releasing useful data in usable formats.

In terms of concrete evidence of change that improved transparency, accountability, or public participation, the picture was mixed. More datasets were released via the government data portal (http://www.data.govt.nz), so access to information was improved. The central website providing information about the government was improved by adding information about current consultations, another improvement of access to information.[Note 28: https://www.govt.nz/browse/engaging-with-government/have-your-say/consultations/.%5D The government has also extended its licencing system to facilitate release and conducted a range of awareness-raising activities about open data. The government points to evidence that some of the released data was utilised in democratically useful ways; for example, The New Zealand Herald has utilised government data for reporting on election results and areas of deprivation.[Note 29: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11254032.%5D

Nevertheless, the IRM researcher concludes that the amount of “stretch” provided by this commitment—measured against 2014 baselines of transparency, accountability, and public participation—is very limited. Accordingly, while this programme is laudable and has clear relevance to the OGP value of access to information, the IRM researcher concludes that the gains attributable to the implementation of the OGP action plan are no more than marginal.

Carried forward?

It is not yet clear whether any aspects of this commitment were carried forward into the next action plan. It was among the themes discussed with the SAG before it disbanded. The IRM researcher recommends that the government focuses on commitments that provide specific and measurable benefits to release and utilise democratically useful data and information (for example, the government could follow through on its previous suggestion to prioritise health, education, and environment data[Note 30: Open Government Partnership Mid-term Self-assessment Report, January 2016, http://www.ssc.govt.nz/sites/all/files/OGP-NZ-Mid-term-Self-Assessment-Jan2016a.pdf, 42.]), rather than a nebulous commitment to making data open by default.


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