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What is open data

Data is information. In this case, it’s computer-based information that has been collected together for reference or analysis. Examples of data in federal government include the location and quality of broadband connections, the number of people receiving different types of support from Centrelink, or the boundaries for federal elections. Data.gov.au has thousands of data sets from hundreds of government agencies. Open data is, at its best, data that is freely available, easily discoverable, accessible and published in ways and under licences that allow reuse. As a default, government data should be:

  • on or linked through data.gov.au for discoverability;
  • in a machine-readable, spatially-enabled format;
  • with descriptive metadata;
  • for free to the end user;
  • using agreed open standards;
  • kept up to date where appropriate in an automated way;
  • under a Creative Commons By Attribution licence unless a clear case is made for another open licence.

Open data may be available in other forms that do not meet those standards. For example, data published in a PDF file with all rights reserved is less open than data in a spread sheet file published under a Creative Commons BY licence, but both are forms of open data. See publishing your data for examples of how open data can be made and displayed, and why open data is important for more information on the case for open government data.

Why data is important

Government agencies collect significant amounts of data in the course of their activities. This data has intrinsic economic and social value, often in ways not foreseen by those that collect it. With appropriate consideration of commercial, privacy and security sensitivities, there is mounting evidence indicating that the public release of government-held data, in easily shared and readable formats, can fuel business activity, increase public sector efficiency, and provide better support for evidence-based policy development.

See our case studies for examples in Australia of how open data has contributed to public and private sector benefits.

In addition, improved use of administrative data across government agencies, can achieve efficiencies and provide better analytical insights for more informed policy development and decision making. Agencies can publicly publish administrative data in aggregate but unit record access is generally accessible only through appropriate secure mechanisms.

Opportunities from shared data

Lateral Economics’ report, Open for Business: How Open Data Can Help Achieve the G20 Growth Target (PDF), suggests that more vigorous open data policies could add around AU$16 billion per annum to the Australian economy and increase output across the G20 economies by around US$13 trillion over the next five years. However, the report notes that while some of this value is already being obtained, the open data agenda needs to be prioritised so that the benefits can be fully realised.

As the Open Knowledge Foundation says in their Open Data Handbook,

"We don’t yet know what new things will become possible. New combinations of data can create new knowledge and insights, which can lead to whole new fields of application... This untapped potential can be unleashed if we turn public government data into open data."

International examples of the benefits of open data demonstrate the efficiencies and increased economic benefit and activity generated from open data. A United Kingdom 2011 Deloitte Analytics report outlines that, in addition to substantially increased engagement with open data sites since 2010, high-value datasets that drive economic benefit are increasingly becoming sought after. It states that the average number of page views per dataset on data.gov.uk increased by 285 between January 2010 and September 2012.


data.gov.au is an Australian Government initiative to support the discovery and publishing of public sector information for public access, better reuse across the whole of government, and to support openness, transparency and economic development in the Australian community. This aim is supported by the policies below, which encourage agencies to publish government datasets on or linked through data.gov.au.


The following recent reports on data give context and metrics for the government’s support of open data, and may be useful for developing open data business cases.

  • 2014 - Lateral Economics’ Open for Business report (Commissioned by Omidyar Network) is the first study to quantify and illustrate the potential of open data to help the G20 achieve its 2% economic growth target.
  • 2014 - The National Commission of Audit identified data management, use, sharing and value adding as a priority for government action and made recommendations for rapid government action to use data for developing policy, delivering services and reducing fraud.
  • 2014 - Deciding with data: How data-driven innovation is fuelling Australia’s economic growth by Pricewaterhouse Coopers includes a range of case studies of how data is driving innovation to solve problems, create efficiencies and invent new products.
  • 2013 – The Productivity Commission devoted the theme chapter of their 2012-13 Annual Report (Productivity Commission) to the ways that administrative data can be used to improve policy outcomes.

ANZLIC - The Spatial Information Council

ANZLIC is the peak government body in Australia and New Zealand responsible for spatial information. Its role is to develop policies and strategies to promote accessibility and usability of spatial information. ANZLIC is an advocate for the resolution of national level spatial information issues, providing links between government and industry, academia and the general public. ANZLIC’s vision is that: The economic growth, social and environmental interests of Australia and New Zealand are underpinned by spatially referenced information that is current, complete, accurate, affordable and accessible; and is integrated in critical decision making. To achieve that vision, ANZLIC champions initiatives that promote comprehensive spatial information, including the Foundation Spatial Data Framework and the ANZLIC metadata profile.

The Foundation Spatial Data Framework

The Foundation Spatial Data Framework provides a common reference for the assembly and maintenance of Australian and New Zealand foundation level spatial data in order to serve the widest possible variety of users. It will deliver a national coverage of the best available, most current, authoritative source of foundation spatial data which is standardised and quality controlled. See the ANZLIC website for more information on the Foundation Spatial Data Framework, or the spatial data page of this toolkit for more information on spatial data in general.

ANZLIC metadata profile

The ANZLIC Metadata Profile adopts established Australian / New Zealand and International Standards. Widespread adoption of the Profile will facilitate interoperability within and between agencies and jurisdictions, both within the region and internationally, by providing a consistent basis for communicating information about resources. This document provides the technical definition of the ANZLIC Metadata Profile. It is intended to provide technical experts with detailed information for software development and other technical purposes. See the ANZLIC website for more information on the ANZLIC metadata profile, or the standards and metadata pages of this toolkit for more information on standards and metadata in general.