Read about the new open dataset created as part of the progress made to deliver on Commitment 11 of the Open Government Partnership’s third National Action Plan.
In 2018, New Zealand developed its third National Action Plan with 12 commitments, or ways, that government agencies would work to promote transparency, accountability, and public participation.
Since the plan was agreed for the work period 2018–2020, a group of public servants and civil society representatives have been working together on Commitment 11: an authoritative dataset of government organisations as open data for greater transparency.
We’ve made some good progress and learned a lot in the process, and we’re keen to share what we’ve been up to!
What is Commitment 11 all about?
Commitment 11 (C11) seems simple on the surface: build a dataset of government organisations, publish it as open data, and ensure there is a governance structure for its ongoing maintenance.
It may even surprise you that there isn’t such a dataset already, but that’s because departments have built their own datasets for use in their own tools, whether it be The Treasury for allocating spending voted for in the budget, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC) for managing ministerial portfolios, and so on.
These datasets are sources of information for what C11 seeks to create, but none contains all the data, and they’re not in a format for open publishing or re-use. It’s also important to recognise the commitment says we will create an ‘authoritative’ dataset. A key attribute of the dataset being authoritative is that government agencies themselves will rely upon and use the dataset when building or revising their tools for performing their own functions. This increases the importance of the dataset being well maintained in the future.
Our ambition for future users
In the longer term, our ambition for C11 is to go beyond simply publishing a dataset of government agencies, and enable New Zealanders and others to have access to authoritative open data about government agencies and their roles, learn more about how government is structured, what agencies do, and be able to reuse the open data in new and innovative ways. But before that additional functionality can be added, the core dataset needs to be built, and maintenance arrangements established.
The benefits of a Commitment 11 database
The dataset is also really important as a foundation for both digital services and finding out information about government, as we discussed in Building blocks of digital transformation.
Here’s an example of how the C11 dataset might be used to benefit New Zealanders.
New Zealand’s Directory of Official information is maintained by the Ministry of Justice. The purpose of the Directory is to help members of the public to effectively exercise their rights under the Official Information Act 1982. The directory helps people in 2 ways:
- by giving a detailed picture of the structure of central government departments and organisations, and
- enabling people to find out where their requests for information should be made.
There is an opportunity to support government moves for greater proactive disclosure of official information by considering how this Directory of Official Information may supplement the Government A–Z dataset by linking to agencies’ Official Information Act (OIA) disclosure logs and publication of Cabinet papers under Cabinet Office Circular (18) 4 Proactive Release of Cabinet Material: Updated Requirements.
What did we achieve?
We made some good progress towards our goals. We:
- identified which agencies have data to contribute
- agreed on a linked data approach so different data sets can be integrated together, and
- investigated appropriate open data standards.
The dataset of central government agencies published by Te Kawa Mataaho Public Service Commission gives current and historical details of agencies, their establishment (and disestablishment) dates, name changes, type of agency and more. The main limitation of this dataset is that it doesn’t span all government agencies and bodies.
We made less progress than we wanted on 2 aspects of our work programme, largely because there isn’t a ready-made home for the dataset in the public service. The dataset itself has not yet been constructed, and we have paused the work to design maintenance and development processes. This is because building the dataset and related publishing infrastructure may have been a wasted effort while we need to explore possible options for ownership and governance of the dataset.
We did identify potential owners and have tested with Archives New Zealand the possibility of the Chief Archivist taking on the system ownership role for the C11 dataset. Decisions about ownership still need to be made.
What we have learned
Here are some of the things we learned while working on C11.
- Because data management is a specialised technical discipline, the concepts and vocabulary can be challenging for people to understand who don’t come from this discipline or who haven’t been involved with data management work before. For people to engage with and support our work, we needed to describe the potential value of the C11 dataset by developing a clear narrative, examples of how and when it might be used, as well as a demonstrator for people to see how it might work in action.
- There is no ready-made home for the dataset. To ensure things like governance arrangements, maintenance processes, and decisions on classification, structure and open standards are effective into the future, we need to find an owner before finalising many aspects.
- We need to consider and set up the right conditions so the dataset becomes used and continues to be developed as a system asset for the public service. We will need the support of decision makers to do this, particularly where it comes to ownership and governance of the dataset.
By working together, public servants and civil society representatives see and appreciate each other’s efforts. The Open Government Partnership’s ethos of co-design and coproduction really does work!
So what’s next for our open dataset of government organisations and structures?
Our top priority is to confirm an owner for the dataset. Once this is agreed, we can set up governance and maintenance for the dataset, and move from modelling and planning to building and publishing the dataset for use.
In the meantime, Te Kawa Mataaho Public Service Commission’s Machinery of Government dataset is available for use if you are looking for data about government organisations.
If you have any questions about the Commitment 11 work, email Michelle Edgerley.