Chapter 12: Proactive release and publication

The trend towards proactive release and open data

Current practice

Although there is no legislative requirement to do so, in practice, public sector information is increasingly made available proactively in New Zealand. A wide range of reports, policies, strategies and other documents are available on the websites of central and local government agencies.557 Some of the advantages of proactive release as good administrative practice are outlined in an Ombudsmen editorial: reduction of the administrative effort to collate information for individual requests, and simplifying the review process for requested material which is protected by ensuring that material that can be released is publicly available.558

One respondent to our survey said:

Agencies already have strong incentives to publish certain types of information on the internet. A reason for this is that the internet has opened up many opportunities to communicate more effectively with stakeholders. Agencies publish documents on the internet that the public is interested in; it is a way of reducing the number of requests received.

These reasons may explain why it has become standard practice for departments to, for example, place discussion document submissions on their websites and usually seek Cabinet approval to place Cabinet papers on their websites. As the Commission notes, agencies are fast realising the enormous advantages of the internet.

As noted by this respondent, it is becoming more common for Cabinet papers and ministerial briefing papers to be published on departmental websites.559 The Cabinet Manual provides for proactive release of Cabinet material in accordance with key principles including:560

(a)the approval of Ministers;

(b)assessment of the material in light of the principles of the OIA, the Privacy Act 1993 and the Security in the Government Sector manual;

(c)publication of background papers and relevant minutes; and

(d)following the New Zealand Government Web Standards.

Other examples of agencies releasing information proactively include the following:561

(a)The online Charities Register provides information about over 25,000 registered charities including details about areas of operation, sector categories, activities, beneficiaries, financial position and performance, officers, and charities they are associated with.562

(b)The Ministry for the Environment has released the Land Cover Database, a digital map of the land surface of the country that can be used to make different maps.563

(c)Geospatial imagery was released by Land Information New Zealand and film footage was released by Civil Defence after the Christchurch earthquake.564

(d)Information about social services funded by the government (including data from the Ministries of Social Development, Justice, Health and Education and Te Puni Kōkiri) has been released showing where the money goes (by region), who gets the money and how it is spent.565

(e)The National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research (NIWA) makes access to the National Climate Database, and some other databases, available through its website.566

(f)The New Zealand Transport Agency releases real-time traffic data without cost to others so that they can create useful applications using that data.567

(g)All recent reports by the Education Review Office on individual schools and early childhood services can be found on the Office’s website.568

(h)Horizons Regional Council has launched a Water Quality Matters website that provides access to data on water quality in the region, and is also leading a project to develop a national database of water quality data from all regional councils and unitary authorities, to be presented on one website.569

Expansion of proactive release and open government data

While a significant amount of public sector information is being made available proactively, representatives of the mainstream media, and bloggers of both the left and the right, have called for more information to be routinely and proactively released by government.570 The issue also arises in reports to government on matters relating to the public sector.

Policy proposals

Report of Expenditure on Policy Advice

The committee reviewing public expenditure on policy advice has recommended greater proactive release of Cabinet and supporting material as follows:571

(a)Cabinet should direct agencies to publish background data, analysis, research findings and models routinely and under appropriate procedures, particularly on cross-portfolio and/or long term issues and big questions;572

(b)Cabinet should develop a policy that makes decisions about disclosure under the OIA routinely at the time that papers are prepared and reduces the costs of making disclosure decisions later, including:573

·a directive to agencies to routinely release to the public all material provided to requesters under the OIA;

·a directive to agencies to routinely release briefing papers and supporting documents under the OIA after a Cabinet decision has been made;574 and

·the routine release of Cabinet papers after a Cabinet decision has been made.

Better Public Services

The report of the Better Public Services Advisory Group noted that information on state services in New Zealand is not made available routinely, that citizens and businesses find government confusing and costly to deal with, and that a powerful driver to improve the quality and cost of public services is to make more information available to citizens.575 The report recommended that chief executives be required to proactively make plain English information available to citizens and businesses and actively seek feedback on services.576

The resulting Better Public Services programme has identified 10 result areas, the tenth being that “New Zealanders can complete their transactions with the Government easily in the digital environment.” To deliver on the Government’s expectations, the programme is seeking to implement a number of changes in the public sector including “greater responsiveness to the needs and expectations of New Zealanders, and a willingness to do things differently, including more open and transparent government through access to more information.”577

Open government data

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Hon Bill English has observed that:578

Government holds a wealth of information. Some of it – quite rightly – is sensitive and access should be strictly controlled – tax records for example. But in other areas, I see no reason why we can’t turn government inside out, so to speak, and make the same data and information available to those outside of government. Government can tap wider resources in the community to analyse and use government data to help solve problems and produce insights.

Significant work has been undertaken under the Open Government Information and Data Work Programme to open up government held data and information to the wider public including the business community.579 Completed projects include the release of the Declaration on Open and Transparent Government; the New Zealand Data and Information Management Principles; the website www.data.govt.nz; and the New Zealand Government Open Access and Licensing Framework (NZGOAL) (each described below). Current projects include the development of policy and guidance to bring into effect Direction Two of the “Directions and Priorities for Government ICT”: supporting open and transparent government.580 A key focus of the programme has been the opening up of geospatial data which is seen as contributing towards significant productivity gains for New Zealand.581

These developments have been welcomed by the open data movement in New Zealand which is represented by Open New Zealand, a group that has organised an Open Government Data Day in Wellington in June 2011 (attended by 150 people) and hosts open government tools on its website such as consultations.org.nz (to track and discuss council policies and consultation documents) and the open data catalogue (a directory of government and council data sources).582

In addition, there are a number of websites that act as directories of or portals to public sector information produced across a range of agencies. For example, Statisphere is a website that helps people to find New Zealand official statistics;583 open-access research documents produced in New Zealand universities, polytechnics and other research institutions can be accessed via the Kiwi Research Information Service.584

The www.data.govt.nz website launched in November 2009, and is a directory of New Zealand government datasets. Agencies provide listings of their publicly released datasets and people are invited to suggest unreleased government datasets that they would like to see made more available.585 This online data directory currently lists 1821 datasets from different government agencies across the public sector including geospatial and environmental, financial accountability, and demographic data.586

Demand is also growing for high value information held by local government. Many local authorities are considering business cases for developing information databases for public access on a user-pays basis, although some have decided to make information freely available where there is insufficient demand to make a user-pays approach financially viable.587

Cabinet Declaration on Open and Transparent Government

On 8 August 2011, the Cabinet released the Declaration on Open and Transparent Government.588 Nathan Guy as Minister of Internal Affairs said in a press release:589

These steps build on New Zealand’s long history of openness and recognise that this data effectively belongs to the public.

The first part of the Declaration reads:

Building on New Zealand’s democratic tradition, the government commits to actively releasing high value public data.590

The government holds data on behalf of the New Zealand public. We release it to enable the private and community sectors to use it to grow the economy, strengthen our social and cultural fabric, and sustain our environment. We release it to encourage business and community involvement in government decision-making.

Through this commitment New Zealand citizens and businesses can expect a more efficient and accountable public sector, more services tailored to their needs, and a greater level of participation in shaping government decisions.

Cabinet has directed all departments591 to commit to releasing high value public data actively for re-use, in accordance with the Declaration, the New Zealand Data and Information Management Principles, and the NZGOAL review and release process. The Cabinet paper notes that what is proposed is a culture shift within government: that agencies actively move towards making public data available for re-use, based on tests of high value592 and user demand.593

Fundamentally, agencies will be required to develop a methodology for incorporating regular releases of data into their core business planning and operations. While agencies will have to meet a timeline for committing to this and reporting on progress, they will have autonomy to decide how they incorporate data releases into their core business activities. The Cabinet paper recognises that some agencies will be able to undertake this work within baselines, while for others, additional funding may be needed.

The benefits of releasing high value public data are expected to include:594

(a)Stimulating economic growth and increasing the value of government data through the development of new products, services and businesses;

(b)Assisting educational, research and scientific communities to build on existing data to gain knowledge and expertise and use it for new purposes, and increase the value derived from publicly funded research data;

(c)Increasing the quality of government policy development through external insights on and expert analysis of supporting data;

(d)Better aligning central, regional and local government programmes and business initiatives through a coordinated national view of government data;

(e)Creating more effective government through more external engagement;

(f)Strengthening trust in government by increasing transparency and allowing external scrutiny; and

(g)Reducing OIA requests through active release of government data.

 

New Zealand Data and Information Management Principles (NZDIMP)

The Cabinet also approved the New Zealand Data and Information Management Principles.595 These principles replace the 1997 Policy Framework for Government held Information and provide that:

(a)Government data should be released in accessible formats and licensed for re-use unless there are good reasons not to;

(b)Released data should be readily available and accessible through online release;

(c)Information should be well managed, trusted and authoritative;

(d)Data should be free, or where fees are necessary, reasonably priced;

(e)Personal and classified data or information will remain protected.

    New Zealand Government Open Access and Licensing Framework (NZGOAL)

    Another key initiative has been the development of the New Zealand Government Open Access and Licensing framework (NZGOAL) released in August 2010.596 NZGOAL establishes a preferred framework for the public release of copyright and non-copyright information held by state services agencies.597 It advocates open licensing of copyright material under Creative Commons licences and the use of “no known rights” statements for non-copyright material, in order to make such material available for re-use.598 The purpose is to realise the potential for individuals and organisations of the wealth of information locked away in state agencies, including copyright works such as geospatial datasets and commissioned research reports, as well as non-copyright material.

    NZGOAL does not apply to personal information. Its open licensing and open access principles do not apply where the making available of information would conflict with good reasons for withholding under the OIA or LGOIMA. But the thrust is clear: increasing open access to government information.

    By providing a consistent approach to dealing with copyright issues, NZGOAL should play an important role in overcoming existing legal barriers to the re-use of public sector information. It is important to note that copyright issues arise regardless of whether information is made available proactively or is released in response to a request under official information legislation. Release of information under the OIA or the LGOIMA does not affect copyright and therefore does not constitute a licence to republish or re-use that information.599

     

    Other jurisdictions

    There has also been significant activity overseas in the area of proactive release of public sector information, both at international and domestic levels. We outlined these developments in some detail in the issues paper.600 These include the idea of publication schemes in the United Kingdom and Australia, where public authorities are required to adopt a scheme for the publication of information by that authority, as well as the concept of disclosure logs that provide online access to information released in response to specific requests, so that it can be made available to a wider audience. Disclosure logs and electronic reading rooms, now features of some overseas systems, contain information which has already been released on request; they are a bridge between a “pull” and “push” system, and indicators of the trend to openness.

    Like New Zealand, these countries have also embarked on open government initiatives such as initiatives to release more government data. There has also been activity in promoting open local government in overseas countries.601

    The trend from these overseas developments is clear: it is towards proactive release of information. Some of the mandatory requirements do not go much beyond descriptive information about an agency’s organisation, functions and processes and the kinds of information held by it. Some is not unlike the sets of information already required to be disclosed in New Zealand by local authorities in their governance statements and annual reports, and the information which must be included in the Directory of Official Information.602

    But some goes beyond this. It is not enough to look just at what appears on the face of the overseas Acts: some of the detail appears in rules and programmes made under the authority of those Acts. Nor should we underestimate the influence of government directions. The movement towards progressively making information available is undoubted. New Zealand must pay close attention otherwise we risk falling behind.

The websites of most large departments, such as the Ministry of Justice, the Treasury and the Ministry of Economic Development, contain a large number of policy and operational documents.

Office of the Ombudsmen “Proactive Release and Good Administration – Making the Task Easier” (editorial, March 2007) 13 OQR 1. The Office of the Ombudsmen’s Statement of Intent has identified the promotion of proactive release of official information as a strategic priority: Statement of Intent for the Period 1 July 2011 to 30 June 2014 (2011), at 14.

See for example the release of Cabinet papers on the Department of Internal Affairs website relating to the review of the local government system (February 2011) under the stamp “Proactively released by the Minister of Local Government.”

Cabinet Office Cabinet Manual (Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Wellington, 2008) at [8.4]. For further guidance see the CabGuide and Cabinet Office Notice “Publishing Cabinet Material on the Web: Approval Process and Publication Requirements” (7 August 2009) CO Notice (09) 5.

See further Open Data Stories (a repository of open data success stories built in New Zealand but with an international scope) and Dan Randow and Julian Carver “Open Data Mini Case Studies” (June 2011) prepared in support of the Declaration on Open and Transparent Government, above n 556, both at <www.open.org.nz>.

Charities Register <www.register.charities.govt.nz>.

The Land Cover Database is available through Koordinates.com and Terralink International.

"Post-quake Imagery of Christchurch Carries CC licence” <www.creativecommons.org.nz>.

Contract Mapping <www.contractmapping.govt.nz>.

The National Climate Database <www.cliflo.niwa.co.nz>. See also <www.niwa.co.nz/our-services/databases>.

Info Connect <https://infoconnect.highwayinfo.govt.nz >. For examples of projects developed using this information see ACIL Tasman Spatial Information in the New Zealand Economy: Realising Productivity Gains (report prepared for Land Information New Zealand, Department of Conservation and Ministry of Economic Development, 2009) at 32.

Education Review Office <www.ero.govt.nz>.

Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment How Clean is New Zealand? Measuring and Reporting on the Health of Our Environment (2010) at 29; Horizons Regional Council “Water Quality Matters” <www.horizons.govt.nz>.

Responses to the Law Commission’s official information review survey from Dominion Post, Media Freedom Committee of the Commonwealth Press Union (New Zealand section), Herald on Sunday and Fairfax; “An OIA Proposal” (16 March 2010) <www.kiwiblog.co.nz> (proposing that all papers and reports considered by Cabinet or Cabinet Committee be automatically placed on the internet within six months); “A Good Idea” (16 March 2010) and “Some Better Ideas” (17 March 2010) <http://norightturn.blogspot.com>.

Review of Expenditure on Policy Advice Findings of the Committee Appointed by the Government to Review Expenditure on Policy Advice (Wellington, 2010).

Recommendation 30.

Recommendation 31. The Cabinet Office is reviewing the benefits, costs and risks associated with the systematic, managed release of most routine Cabinet papers: see Treasury update (30 April 2012).

This would seem to anticipate provision being made in the OIA for proactive release, rather than expecting this information to be released in response to specific OIA requests.

Better Public Services Advisory Report (November 2011) at 7, 19. See also UK Government “Open Public Services” White Paper (2011) at 19, discussing the purpose of open data in public services to give people the information they need to make informed decisions and to drive up standards.

Better Public Services Advisory Report, at 11. A diagram at 54, summarising what better state services will look like includes more public reporting and information as a key element.

State Services Commission “Papers Released on Better Public Services Programme” (media release, 4 May 2012).

Hon Bill English “Public Policy Challenges Facing New Zealand” (speech to the Institute of Public Administration New Zealand, Wellington, 23 September 2009). The Deputy Prime Minister also spoke in favour of open data at the inaugural Nethui organised by InternetNZ held in Auckland on 29 June–1 July 2011, see Tim McNamara “Some Things I Learned at NetHui” (4 July 2011) <www.notebook.okfn.org>.

The Work Programme is led by the Data and Information Re-use Chief Executives Steering Group, supported by an officials working group. The Steering Group includes representatives from Land Information New Zealand, Science & Innovation, Statistics New Zealand, Parliamentary Counsel Office, Ministry for the Environment, Ministry of Education, Standards New Zealand, and the Department for Internal Affairs. For terms of reference see <www.ict.govt.nz>. See also Keitha Booth “New Zealand Moves to Embrace PSI Re-use and Open Data” (13 August 2010) European Public Sector Information Platform Topic Report No. 15.

The first two priorities for Direction 2 of the Directions and Priorities for Government ICT coincide with the purposes of the official information legislation: improve public access to government data and information; and support the public, communities and business to contribute to policy development and performance improvement. The third priority is to create market opportunities and services through the re-use of government data and information.

For an overview see European Public Sector Information Platform “Spatial Information Adds Hundreds of Millions to New Zealand’s Economy” (25 August 2009) <http://epsiplatform.eu>.

Open New Zealand <www.open.org.nz>.

Statisphere <www.statisphere.govt.nz>.

Kiwi Research Information Service <http://nzresearch.org.nz>.

Similar open data portals have been launched in the United States (<www.data.gov>), the United Kingdom (<www.data.gov.uk>), Australia (<www.data.gov.au>) and Canada (<www.data.gc.ca>). See also <http://openlylocal.com>, an open data portal specifically for British local authorities, including an open data scoreboard.

As at 6 June 2012. One dataset category is for local and regional government, and currently includes datasets from Statistics New Zealand, the Department for Internal Affairs, and Environment Canterbury.

Minister of Finance Cabinet Paper, Appendix One (8 August 2011) available at <www.ict.govt.nz>.

Cabinet Minute of Decision, above n 556. Compare Australian Government Declaration of Open Government (16 July 2010) <www.finance.gov.au>; Prime Minister (United Kingdom) Letter to Government Departments on Opening Up Data (31 May 2010); President of the United States Transparency and Open Government (memorandum for heads of executive departments and agencies, 21 January 2009), Director, United States Office of Management and Budget Open Government Directive (memorandum for the heads of executive departments and agencies, 8 December 2009); Open Government Partnership Open Government Declaration <www.opengovpartnership.org>.

Hon Bill English, Hon Nathan Guy “Open Data will Benefit Public, Economy” (media release 15 August 2011).

Public data refers to non-personal and unclassified data.

This applies to public service departments, as well as non-public service departments such as the Office of the Clerk of the House of Representatives, the New Zealand Police, the New Zealand Defence Force, the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service, Parliamentary Counsel Office and the Parliamentary Service. In addition, State Services agencies are encouraged and state sector agencies and local authorities are invited to commit to the proactive release of eligible data.

Data is considered to be of high value if it’s release for re-use has one or more economic and social, transparency and democratic or efficiency outcomes: Appendix 3 to letter dated 26 January 2012 from Data and Information Re-Use Chief Executives Steering Group Chair to Agency Data Champions.

Cabinet Paper, above n 587, at [5].

At [35].

New Zealand Data and Information Management Principles, see Appendix 2 to Cabinet Minute of Decision, above n 556. Compare Office of the Australian Information Commissioner “Principles on Open Public Sector Information: Report on Review and Development of Principles” (May 2011).

State Services Commission New Zealand Government Open Access and Licensing framework (NZGOAL) (August 2010).

The NZGOAL Cabinet Minute of Decision (5 July 2010) CAB Min (10) 24/5A, directs Departments, strongly encourages State Services agencies and invites the Police, the Defence Force, the Parliamentary Counsel Office and the Security Intelligence Service to take account of NZGOAL when releasing material to the public for re-use. The Minister of Education is also invited to invite school boards of trustees to do the same.

For more on Creative Commons licences see <www.creativecommons.org.nz>.

Geoff McLay Strategy and Intellectual Property: Scoping the Legal Issues: Research Report Commissioned to Inform the Development of the New Zealand Digital Content Strategy (National Library of New Zealand, Wellington, 2007) at 49–50.

Issues Paper at [12.23] – [12.49]. See also Rachel Spalding “Open Public Sector Information: the International Context” presentation to the Information Policy Conference, Canberra (November 2011).

See for example, Martin Ferguson “The Vital Role of Local Councils in Embracing Open Data” (The Guardian, 7 November 2011); Department for Communities and Local Government (UK) “Code of Recommended Practice for Local Authorities on Data Transparency” (February 2011).

OIA, s 20.