Open Data and Leadership: New Zealand’s approach

  • Louise Upston
Land Information

I am delighted to be here today talking about New Zealand’s approach to open data and leadership.

New Zealand has a strong and internationally recognised history of open and transparent government.  And as I’m sure those of you here know well, one of the pillars of open and transparent government is open government data and information.

The 2014/15 Open Data Barometer Global Report, released in January this year, shows that we continue to be one of the best countries in the world in opening up government data.  We rank fourth internationally, and that’s something we are proud of.

In 2013 the New Zealand Cabinet directed all Public Service departments to release high value public data actively for re-use, under the terms of the Declaration on Open and Transparent Government, the NZ Data and Information Management Principles, and Creative Commons licensing requirements.

We clearly set out our expectations for central government around management and release of data – particularly our desire to create market opportunities and services through the reuse of government data and information.

Our core learning has been that opening up data is more than simply a technology shift. It requires a full culture change across government, and this has been our main challenge.  Our journey has not been without challenges, but today I’d like to focus on the tools that have worked to get us where we are today.

While full culture change is yet to be achieved, you can see a transformative process occurring.  Agencies are beginning to view data and information as key public assets – the release of which can play a significant role in driving innovation through better decision making and the creation of new services, tools, and knowledge.

However, a lot of work has gone into getting us to this point.

In 2008 we launched the New Zealand Open Government Data and Information programme, and in 2011 we released the ‘Declaration on Open and Transparent Government’.  The Declaration is about making publicly-funded, high value data available to the public to enable economic growth, better social outcomes, efficiencies, transparency and democracy.

There has been strong progress.  All central government agencies have appointed an executive or senior manager who understands customer and stakeholder demand for open data to act as data champion.  We encourage local government to do the same.

These data champions are drivers for culture change within their individual agencies.  In effect, they are like the fertiliser in the soil before we plant the seeds.

This approach has worked well and enabled key agencies to begin embedding an ‘open data by design’ approach to their business planning and internal processes.

We find in many agencies that while the technology required to open data exists, it is not fully utilised for open data and open access purposes.  So our Open Data and Information Programme provides technical assistance to agencies including explaining open formats and licensing, and mechanisms for publishing open data.

Significant support has also been provided to data champions to help agencies navigate through their real or perceived barriers.  This support has included one-on-one meetings, training, guidance documentation, and case studies of success.

As our Programme shifts to a more advanced phase, the data champions are now being connected with other agencies who are either facing the same challenges, or who can help provide assistance from their own open data learnings.

We are seeing amazing innovation and creativity with our data champions.  I am encouraging them to get credit for this, give it away and share with others so the impact of their innovation is much greater.

Government agencies have been encouraged to talk to their stakeholders to identify high-value data for release, and to help them track the impacts of data re-use. There is however still some work to be done to help some understand the value of an outside perspective.

Our engagement with civil society is driven by our Programme’s long relationship with open government advocates. The Programme has shifted the relationship from one of public criticism and frustration from the advocates, to one of mutual respect.

These open government supporters now actively work with government agencies providing technical advice, promoting the value of open data, and providing comment on government policy.

We have recently begun holding public forums using non-government speakers from business and civil society to talk about what open government data is and how it can be used, and presenting key re-use examples that have driven business growth and civic engagement.

These sessions are introducing new audiences to the value of open data, and encouraging people to seek out and re-use data in their everyday lives.

We believe the way to sustain the release of open government data is to ensure it is embedded into what we call the ‘new business as usual’.  This ensures open data is woven into the everyday planning, delivery and processes of government agencies.

Thank you.