This week, the gov­ern­ment responded to the Gov­ern­ment 2.0 Task­force report. I wrote briefly about my thoughts to the response the same day.

Since then, I’ve been asked by sev­eral peo­ple what it would take for me to be more impressed with the response; what it would take to lift the C+ I gave it to an A. Given it’s no use point­ing out what I see as poten­tial risks with­out offer­ing pos­si­ble solu­tions, I’m start­ing with this post.

One mat­ter that con­cerns me is the sec­tion of the response that deals with licens­ing of PSI. While I am cer­tainly not a lawyer of any descrip­tion, my inter­pre­ta­tion of the response to Rec­om­men­da­tion 6, which is the rel­e­vant part of the doc­u­ment, is that while:

AGD is to ensure that the IP Guide­lines do not impede the default open licens­ing posi­tion proposed…

there are sev­eral other parts of the spe­cific response that caveat this in such a way that leaves it open to interpretation.

Those of us who are involved in Gov­ern­ment 2.0, from any of the polit­i­cal, agency or exter­nal (ser­vice providers and the pub­lic) aspects pretty much uni­ver­sally agree that open licens­ing of PSI is one of the crit­i­cal under­pin­nings of the entire move­ment. The avail­abil­ity of gov­ern­ment data in a con­sum­able, manip­u­la­ble form, accom­pa­nied by a license that explic­itly per­mits that con­sump­tion and manip­u­la­tion is an empow­er­ing tool for those of us who would cre­ate tools of change and soci­etal value with that data.

So, here’s how I inter­pret the response. I should note that my inter­pre­ta­tion is influ­enced by 12 years work­ing in the APS and sev­eral more since, often work­ing on projects with or for the pub­lic sec­tor. On more than one occa­sion dur­ing that time, I have been tasked with releas­ing, not releas­ing or inter­pret­ing FoI requests with respect to a range of dif­fer­ent information.

The gen­eral response to Rec­om­men­da­tion 6, cov­er­ing 6.1, 6.2, 6.3, 6.4, 6.5, 6.6, 6.8, 6.9, 6.11, 6.13, 6.14 and 6.15 is agreed in prin­ci­ple only. While the OIC and Steer­ing Group, who will be respon­si­ble for devel­op­ing the frame­work that the APS will oper­ate under seem likely, on read­ing, to sug­gest that open licens­ing and CC-​​BY are the right way to go, this could change at any time under a dif­fer­ent admin­is­tra­tion with a greater (wouldn’t that be great!) or lesser (not so great) com­mit­ment to open government.

Also, agen­cies are to be given the abil­ity to choose what infor­ma­tion they license openly. As the response is in prin­ci­ple, I expect that a great deal of inter­pre­ta­tion of the push to license openly will occur at the agency level. There is the risk (as yet unproven, so I may well be com­pletely wrong) that agen­cies will seek to pro­tect under FoI, Crown Copy­right, or some other frame­work, infor­ma­tion they would rather not release.

There is still mea­sur­able room for inter­pre­ta­tion on actual licenses, peri­ods of avail­abil­ity for open dis­cus­sion and the like.

The spe­cific response to Rec­om­men­da­tion 6.7 is agreed, with mod­i­fi­ca­tion and ensures that mate­r­ial released under the Archives Act 1983 will be:

…auto­mat­i­cally licensed under an appro­pri­ate open attri­bu­tion licence

On read­ing the response, this is likely to be CC-​​BY, it won’t nec­es­sar­ily be so as it is left up to indi­vid­ual agen­cies and directs then to nGILF for assis­tance. That’s a great idea. It will be inter­est­ing to see how this ends up being interpreted.

The spe­cific response to Rec­om­men­da­tion 6.10 com­mits the Depart­ment of Finance and Dereg­u­la­tion to devel­op­ing out its fledg­ling data por­tal. That’s an awe­some (and dif­fi­cult) com­mit­ment and makes me extremely happy. The risks asso­ci­ated with this will largely apply to data for­mats and their use­ful­ness, rather than avail­abil­ity. Over time, this issue will be mit­i­gated as agency skill sets make it eas­ier for them to pro­duce data that is:

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

as noted in Rec­om­men­da­tion 6.1. Also, with this item, no infor­ma­tion is given as to what sched­ule and for­mats agen­cies will be required to release. This needs clarification.

So, what would I have liked to see?

Let me start by say­ing that, as I said in my ini­tial response, I am largely happy with the entire thing and the spirit of this part of the response specif­i­cally. I do, how­ever, believe there is much room for inter­pre­ta­tion and that it could have gone further.

Given my druthers, here’s what I would have asked for, not­ing that the Depart­ment of Finance and Dereg­u­la­tion and oth­ers may already be work­ing on such things:

  1. With respect to Rec­om­men­da­tions 6.1, 6.2, 6.8, and 6.15, an agreed response accom­pa­nied by an interim Infor­ma­tion Pub­li­ca­tion Scheme com­mit­ting agen­cies to a shorter-​​term set of guide­lines for release of PSI cov­er­ing stan­dards, dis­cov­er­abil­ity, license applic­a­bil­ity and exemp­tions and FoI require­ments. Wait­ing for the appoint­ment of the yet-​​to-​​be-​​appointed Infor­ma­tion Com­mis­sioner is too long.
  2. With respect to Rec­om­men­da­tions 6.3, 6.4, 6.5 and 6.6, an agreed response and unqual­i­fied com­mit­ment to CC-​​BY (and other iden­ti­fied appro­pri­ate open licenses where CC-​​BY doesn’t fit) and an interim set of IP Guide­lines from AGD as to what con­di­tions will need to be met (national secu­rity, com­mer­cial con­fi­dence and sev­eral oth­ers come to mind) to apply a more restric­tive license.
  3. With respect to Rec­om­men­da­tions 6.11, 6.13 and 6.14, an agreed response accom­pa­nied by an interim guide as to report­ing on value of PSI and a much shorter time line for its imple­men­ta­tion, prefer­ably by mid-​​year and cer­tainly before the elec­tion. Again, wait­ing for the appoint­ment of the Infor­ma­tion Com­mis­sioner and the Steer­ing Group means we wait too long to do any­thing concrete.
  4. With respect to Rec­om­men­da­tion 6.7, an agreed response, com­mit­ting to CC-​​BY for mate­r­ial released under the Archives Act 1983, and an interim guide­line as to any con­di­tions under which CC-​​BY may not apply. There remains much room for inter­pre­ta­tion at the agency level in this matter.
  5. With respect to Rec­om­men­da­tion 6.10, clearer guid­ance in interim form, detail­ing expec­ta­tions as to data release time lines (I would sug­gest no more than three months from the cre­ation of the data) and a num­ber of sug­gested for­mats. For exam­ple, Excel spread­sheets aren’t ter­ri­bly use­ful and aren’t an open format.
  6. Any response at all to Rec­om­men­da­tions 6.9 and 6.12, which appear to have gone missing.

As I’ve said, these things may already be being worked on. I very much hope so, as wait­ing for the FoI reforms to pass through Par­lia­ment, the appoint­ment of the Infor­ma­tion Com­mis­sioner and the Steer­ing Group and then the ramp­ing up of their work and then the inter­rup­tion that will be caused by the elec­tion is likely to take 12 – 18 months at best. By that time, we’ll be well behind the 8-​​ball.

Interim, pos­i­tive actions can take place now and in the short term. I’d very much like to see that hap­pen, and where the government’s responses are unclear, some clar­ity provided.

All that said, we’ve come a very long way since June last year and the announce­ment of the Task­force. The government’s response is a very pos­i­tive step.

Now, let’s see some more steps.