Category Archives: Australian Data

Has it been two months and I’ve missed an election?

What a busy two months it has been, an election, almost a result, the launch of new and exciting products, location based marketing making it to the main stream (see Gruen Transfer Season 3 Episode 8: http://www.abc.net.au/tv/gruentransfer/watch.htm)

As I missed updating throughout the 2010 election (although who knows, another might be coming up?) I wondered where all the election promises and spend would be most affected. An interesting mashup indeed but alas I could not find one. The best use of spatial data covering the election that I could find came from our good friends at the ABC with a little help of Google Maps. The ABC Interactive Map (http://www.abc.net.au/elections/federal/2010/map/) really made it easy to keep track of how each electoral seat is currently fairing. It is a fantastic mix of AEC data, address verification, modelling and presentation.

Other interesting sites were the Tally Room (http://www.tallyroom.com.au/election-2010) and of course our good friends at NuMaps (http://demos.numaps.com.au/myElectorate.html). These sites have done a good job of linking to one another and while on the Tally Room I got stuck on opening up many KML links to Google Earth for Australia and other countries. Who would have thought politics was so interesting?

NuMaps is increasingly becoming the source of truth for heaps of demographic information (that just happens to be location aware). So successful has been the Google/NuMaps integration that it recently won the Apps4NSW mash-up competition.

Yet, with these useful and insightful mashups I yet to find one that pinpoints exactly where each election promise will be affected and where the money is going. I’m sure a powerful map highlighting this information would be a powerful tool indeed.

Still, while the election draws out I can only wonder how the next generation of politicians will be interacting with their constituents. Surely with the rise of popular social mediums and interactivity what will our expectations be? Log an issue online, pinpoint it to a map (location) and wait for the politician to respond? I’ve seen more targeted pitches to win voters and so is the next step personalised pitches based on location? Time will only tell.

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Moving Away from Gov Silos

A few days ago the Rudd government posted it’s response to the Gov 2.0 taskforce report on Engage: Getting on with Government 2.0. The responce, hosted on the Department of Finance and Deregulation (DFD) website can be found here.

Reading through the response I am pleased in most aspects of the Government wanting to take action in the area of making more data available to the public and generating tools that will help inform and direct new policy. The steering committee that will be setup to help direct the DFD is for the better part entirely made up of federal government agencies. This is my first bane of contention but more on that in a sec.

Some things to note coming out of the report included:
– Defining what Public Sector Information should be
o free
o based on open standards
o easily discoverable
o understandable
o machine-readable
o freely reusable and transformable.

– Establishment of metadata standards to improve sharing, reuse and discoverability of PSI. All well and good and there are standards that can be adopted although a focus on how custodians can easily manage metadata and update it needs to be high on the agenda.
– The creation of an ‘Gov 2.0 Awards’ that will recognise outstanding practice in the use and impact of Gov 2.0 tool to improve agency and program performance. Nice idea although will this lose focus on the bigger picture of interagency collaboration and the overall reduction of duplication across government? I hope the awards will take into account those agencies who without producing a big wondrous application get into the nitty gritty of creating a more efficient government.

In addition the adoption of creative commons should greatly increase participation and use of the data. I will say that while using creative commons is great though needs to go into how a custodian can still assure correctness where required.

There are two area’s that I am a little disappointed in:

1. The Gov 2.0 response to the report (and even the original report itself) gave little recognition to state level data and local government level data. Much community interaction happens at this level, more so at the local government level and so I feel more thought and support has to be focused in this area.

2. The steering group for Gov 2.0 looks to be entirely formed out of federal government agencies giving no thought to private industry (who will be supplying and even building the web2.0 tool to support government), academia and the citizens who will be the beneficiaries of the openness of Gov data.

If Government is really going to get on with Gov 2.0 then we need to realise that the world extends beyond government and so to be proactive around the use of PSI data then we need to engage with those who might get best use out of access.

With more and more governments pushing towards open access to data such as the UK data.gov.uk and the US data.gov portals we need to take our lead from these portals and look at what we can implement to ensure a Data.Gov.Au portal becomes a success. Catalogs, Web Services, Download realms are a good start but let fully embrace what the term “2.0” is supposed to represent and ensure that a good user interface sits with the portal that makes access data easy and useful.

App My State: Victoria

It is no surprise to see that more and more application creation competitions are popping up all over Australia in response to the global push to release and access more public sector information (PSI). Victoria is the latest state to launch a competition for innovative application that showcase the best use of PSI data.

Map My State (http://www.premier.vic.gov.au/app-my-state.html) launched by the Premier of Victoria in late February is designed to run for 8 weeks and award prizes based on youth, sustainability, popular choice and an open category.

The Mashup Australia and Apps4NSW competitions proved to be quite popular (Apps4NSW is still open for those interested:
http://www.information.nsw.gov.au/apps4nsw) although one component that sets the App My State competition apart from the rest is hidden in the terms and conditions where only Victorians can enter. Still that hasn’t deterred me from trying (being from Western Australia) and one can only hope that the organisers of this competition realise that idea’s can spring up from anywhere and still benefit Victoria.

Personally I like the idea of open innovation and how these ideas to be tested amongst the public in an open forum. Mobile applications, the web, interaction and social networking are the mediums where new information is quickly released and facilitates a very smart path to reaching critical mass. These competitions have even pathed the way for new innovative businesses to take advantage of this push for open data. Kaggle.com.au is an example of an innovaive business structured around this style of competition. Data has to go somewhere doesn’t it?

The change we have seen in this industry over the last 2 years has heightened the core element of “location” and its importance to how information can be accessed and integrated creating a common understanding. Visual interpretation of information via maps has allowed a large audience to grasp the understanding and meaning of data and how it relates to the day to day life of you and me.

Let’s face it; the public are the ones who would get the most use out of information so it will be interesting to see what this competition brings us.

The Age of Social Media: A Look at Emergency Management

Happy New year to you all. It has been a while since my last update on Project Spatial and in that time quite a bit has happened within Australia and the Spatial industry. As with each new year in Australia, extreme weather conditions seem to be a norm and bushfires are ever prevelant.

Recently in Western Australia, bushfires have ravaged the town of Toodyay, multiple fires are burning all over Australia which makes me think of a round table discssion i participated near the end of 2009. Under the Gov 2.0 taskforce a project emerged on how the government could use Web 2.0 technologies within the social media sphere to help the management of incidents such as bushfire, flood and alike. http://gov2em.net.au/

The project which only ran for a little over a month has delivered its report on how government can use social media tools to help premare and manage emergency situations. The key to it’s findings is that government needs to be able to convey trust, transparency and timeliness. In some situations, accuracy and reliability can be traded off against timeliness of information. Getting a message out there stating the threat can be more important than knowing exactly where the threat is. Of course you don’t want to instigate panic. J

I’ve talked about mashups in previous posts and the abilty to provide timely information can easily be mapped. Take the Landgate Firewatch service coming out of Western Australia, this data feed can be combined with othe feeds to create a ‘mashup’ of incidents happening around Australia. http://www.aus-emaps.com/fires.php is a good example of this where RSS feeds from NSW and Victoria are combined with Firewatch, BOM Weather and other data into a simple map.

Further out from Australia we are even seening new and exciting uses of social media for EM. For example, in San Francisco there is a twitter account setup for the earthquake prone area that people can subscribe to.  http://twitter.com/earthquakesLA. Combine this with TwitPics (see: http://mashable.com/2010/01/09/eureka-earthquake/) and you have a detailed account of an Earthquake, providing more timely information and shared accross many users faster than traditional media sources.

What is needed in Australia is a coordinated approach to 2.0 technologies in areas such as Emergency Management. Setting standards and policies will help ensure that information is not abused or worse becomes mis-trusted.

The key really is to keep it low tech (another finding of the Em 2.0 report) although as technology evolves very quickly and newer generations are turning away from normal media channels (radio, TV) any impementation of 2.0 technologies needs to stay consistent, reach a broad range of users and be simple. Technology isn’t a barrier although controling how much technology is used will remain a factor. Remember they say you only have 8 seconds to capture someones attention through the Internet so information related to EM incidents needs to stay clearly articulated and remain accessible.

Interesting Case Study on the Victorian Black Saturday Fires: http://gov2em.net.au/twittersocial-media-during-the-victorian-bushfires-february-20009-a-case-study/

Simple Interface + Rich Content

The Government 2.0 Taskforce “Mashup Australia” Competition closed some time ago and roughly 2 weeks ago the winners were announced. I have held off commenting on the winning applications due to work and a little bit of gloominess in that my help in a submission only rated 3 stars. (http://mashupaustralia.org/mashups/locate-me/)

The number of entries to the Mashup Australia competition attracted 82 entries ranging from web page mashups to mobile applications. Some were complicated and others were simple to use. A favourite of mine was the ‘Meat in the Park’ (http://meatinapark.appspot.com/) application which quite simply allowed you to find a public BBQ and invite friend so you can have a picnic. Very simple interface, rich content and specific outcome.

The winning application, the Suburban Trends mapper http://www.suburbantrends.com.au/ showed that with a little bit of effort and a focus on user design that a complicated application could be quite simple to use. This application, like so many others combined Australian Bureau of Statistics data, location services and other datasets and presented this in map form. The application took the mashup approach one step further and applied dashboard style indicators to give the user a quick overview of their desired area. Not unique in the approach although commendable in the layout, colours and use. Certainly something for all of us is to think about is the intended audience and their technology prowess (or potentially lack of). They say you only have 8 seconds to grab someone’s attention on a website so the aim is to get it right and this application gets it right and better yet it was developed by a student!

With the push to open data policies and location aware data, a very significant mashup utilised typically non spatial data and combined this with location to produce ‘In Their Honour’. This mashup is dedicated to the service men and women who fought and died for Australia by allowing the user to search for their final resting place. http://mashupaustralia.org/mashups/in-their-honour/

A very powerful mashup that is easy to see why it won the peoples award.

I commend all entries to the Mashup Australia competition and with the Apps4Gov awards in NSW and other competitions that are springing up all over the place 2010 seems to be moving towards to social mapping/media space. With data access on the increase, content and rich content is at the fingertips for anyone who wants it. The challenge moving forward is to utilise the data in such a way that makes it easy to find, use and interpret!

Engage!

Attrib: Government 2.0 Taskforce Draft Report 2009. http://gov2.net.au/

It was with great excitement that I downloaded the preliminary draft report on the Australian Government 2.0 Taskforce a couple of days ago and yet it is with some sadness that I write this post. ‘Engage – Getting on with Government 2.0’ report details the taskforces findings on where Australia should be moving in the area of open access to public sector information (PSI). The document is a long read even only if you skim through or read the executive summary which in my opinion is one of the biggest pitfalls in government where great work gets lost in translation. Web 2.0 and Government 2.0 is about interaction, engagement and fostering cultural change through collaboration, open access to data and the crowd-sourcing interaction with data. So why is it that the community we are trying to engage with gets lost along the ride through these large cumbersome documents? If anything Web 2.0 is about simplicity and interaction, certainly not segregating your audience to those who have the patience to read through an engagement plan and those who do not.

  1. This report is a step in the right direction and I do not want to tarnish the effort the taskforce in writing this although I feel that there are lacking components: Where is WA in the scheme of things? Ok as a sandgroper I take this one to heart although it must be noted that as this report details the undertakings of stage government initiatives, WA is no where to be seen. Poor form if the Shared Land Information Platform (SLIP http://www.landgate.wa.gov.au/slip/) doesn’t get a mentioned through a report detailing and promoting open access to public sector data. To that, one might even say where is LIST in Tasmania? (http://www.thelist.tas.gov.au/)
  2. Integration methods. Knowing; through experience how long it can take to successfully integrate data together before it becomes usable it was with a heavy sigh that I could not find reference to having the designated “lead agency”, lead in a common integration framework. The report details interoperability between differences systems and data that is used in these systems yet what I have found key to interoperability is the integration of data. For a very long time governments and the private sector have had interoperability through sharing data manually and transforming the data to meet systems, yet ease of integration especially through a web 2.0 framework must have its place in the sun. Surely this is where location system and spatial data should have been referenced (and included as terms in the glossary!)
  3. Governance. A lead agency concept is recommended through the report and I’m sure governance will be a requirement. If this is the case, I would like to see governance by government meeting community and business needs be a driving factor. Opening access to data invites scrutiny and misinterpretation. Governance on how data should and could be used and importantly fed back will be a success factor going forward.

And finally: ‘Information’. Data sharing and opening access through creative common frameworks is a great step although if we cannot capture data through governance frameworks, if it cannot easily be integrated then it is difficult to derive information from the data that will inform government, inform policy and inform the community. Information that is easily understood and acted upon will drive a proactive, engaged Australian information economy. To this I recommend reading the report and providing feedback into the future directions.

NeoGeography and Opening Access to Australian Data

Neogeography. What is it, where did this term come from and how does it affect me? I was readying an article by Michael Goodchild that was published in a recent edition of the Journal of Location Based Services (http://tiny.cc/eE6s7) which talked about how volunteered geographic information and the technologies that support this is blurring the lines between academic/professional spatial scientist and keen amateur. Neogeography is the buzz word that caters to the rise of new geography technologies used by non experts in the area of collecting and sharing information that is spatially referenced.

Reference how many mash-ups are now available with API’s such as Google Maps and Bing Maps. These mash-ups are now common place and contain information that was collected, published and referenced by those who might not have a GIS degree but are quite into new technologies and social media interaction. Apps for Democracy (http://www.appsfordemocracy.org/), Geovation (http://www.geovation.org.uk/), Gov2.0 Mashup Australia (http://mashupaustralia.org/) are examples of Neogeographers who have innovative idea’s making it known to the wider audience.

This explosion of new ideas and use of spatial data is leaving government and private organisations behind in how a neogeographer can be a critical link in how data is collected and disseminated to the wider community.

This got me thinking about how we manage government data and make this accessible to the community. Working in a leading state land agency within Australia the use of data is something that crosses my desk day to day. Time and time again, data becomes outdated, un-trusted and eventually cost prohibitive to bring back up to speed.

Web 2.0; if anything has opened the possibility for government to take a lead role in engagement with the community to leverage the local knowledge of individuals to deliver data that is accurate, stays accurate and becomes trusted. The Open Street Map initiative is a prime example of the community leveraging Web 2.0 technologies to produce a product that is greater than any one government agency could produce. (http://www.openstreetmap.org/)

Government is good at governance and this is the strength government can bring to the table in engaging with neogeographers. There is no value for government to continue to try and absorb with all components of a data value chain. Focus attention and developed the process for neogeographers to access, use and most importantly feed back data changes will ultimately lead to a greater benefit for those in government, thos in the private sector and those who are taking neogeography to the next level.

We are all observers in our local environments. Lets open access to data and ensure that if I make an update to some data that it is easily recorded, absorbed, processed and fed back out into the community.

Power of Local Knowledge
Image Source (http://conferences.oreillynet.com/where2007/)