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.