Government data is valuable, but it needs to be managed effectively to realise its value. While some agencies are more advanced in their management and use of data, others are still developing their capability.
Improving data capability can be a daunting task, with a range of risks and costs to consider. Without simple advice, it can be difficult knowing where to begin.
Better data management is not an end in itself, but is needed to meet the government’s policy and service delivery ambitions. These goals have been articulated in a number of policy statements and reports, including:
- The Productivity Commission’s Data Availability and Use Inquiry
- The Public Data Policy Statement
- The Data Availability and Transparency legislation
- The Digital Continuity 2020 Policy
- The Open Government National Action Plan
- Delivering for Australians. A world-class Australian Public Service: The Government’s APS reform agenda
These reviews and policy statements all recognise that the APS needs to shift its culture and build data capability. Culture is an outcome of organisational settings, behaviours and activities. Each of the Foundational Four have an important role in improving data capability and through that, shifting culture. Though it will require a contribution from APS-level staff, champions for change are needed at the Senior Executive Level together with leadership from more experienced APS agencies.
The Foundational Four are:
- Leadership: A senior leader is responsible and accountable for data across the agency
- Strategy: An agency has a clear vision and plan for using data to achieve objectives
- Governance: Mechanisms exist to oversee data management
- Asset Discovery: Data assets have been identified and recorded
The APS has been investing in strengthening its data leadership strategies to better use and manage data. Agencies with more mature practices recommend that priority be given to investing in data governance. If effective data governance mechanisms are not place, the remaining elements of the Foundational Four will have little or no impact.
How well the interests of all Australians are served through delivery of government programs and policy, easy to access services, and an innovative and strong research and development sector, is ultimately dependant on the public service meeting the challenge of effectively managing data.
We ask agencies to test themselves against the Foundational Four. For those who have some or all of the elements in place, it is a good opportunity to reflect on how effective they are and whether there are opportunities for improvement. If you don’t have all of the elements in place, then action is needed.
Why is public sector data important?
Government agencies are custodians of a great deal of data that reflects life in Australia: from people to animals, plants and fungi; from schools to businesses to hospitals; from weather patterns to Australia’s location on planet Earth.
Data held by government agencies is important. It shapes the lives of Australians through:
- enabling everyday business and service operations of agencies
- shaping policy and program development
- assisting policy and program evaluation
- improving service delivery
- delivering insight to Australian people, businesses, environments and culture
- facilitating research and development, and
- providing transparency of government activities
Government decisions must be based on the best evidence available and good quality data is critical to good quality evidence. It is important agencies that are the custodians of data manage it well so it can help deliver the best outcomes for Australia. It will also help build public confidence and trust in government’s ability to hold, handle and use data, as well as meeting community expectations that data assets are managed professionally, securely and effectively.
To help achieve this, the Office of the National Data Commissioner has developed the Foundational Four.
Most agencies are aware of the importance of data, and many are already taking steps to improve their data practices. What can be difficult is knowing where to start, particularly if there are multiple issues within an agency that need addressing.
The Foundational Four provides a clear starting point and some simple, useful steps to take towards managing data more effectively. They have been chosen based on their importance as foundational first steps, so that future initiatives can build upon them. The Foundational Four complement existing advice and experience from across the Australian Public Service and draw on international best practice approaches.
Figure 1 - The ‘Foundational Four’
The aim of the Foundational Four is, primarily, to provide agencies who are beginning their data journey with a starting place to improve their data practice. They can also be used as a reminder for agencies looking to refresh their practices. For agencies that have already implemented the Foundational Four, these guidelines can serve as a positive reminder of progress.
It is important that agencies adapt the practices described in this guide to their own context, culture and business/policy drivers. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to the Foundational Four and there is no set order in which you need to implement the Foundational Four.
Cultural change is an ongoing journey and the Foundational Four are not an end point. They are the foundations for agencies to start moving in the right direction. Once the Foundational Four are implemented agencies can continue to improve their data culture and capability through other activities.