Increasing ‘respect’ for data in Govt as critical asset

With the growing prevalence of shared, “multi-agency” services, government agencies are increasingly recognising the value of data as an “asset” that must be better understood, respected and protected in order to directly benefit citizens, say panellists on the featured FST Government Queensland 2023 Data Panel.

Panellist Robert Kilbride, senior director, audit analytics at the Queensland Audit Office, was quick to recognise the value of current technologies in enabling “unparalleled opportunities” to collect, access and utilise data.

This, he added, has forced agencies to consider a “collective understanding of how that data can be combined across agencies”, enabling public sector workforces to develop and deliver better services for citizens.

“I think it is 100 per cent not about technology, [and] it is not about the tools that we are using. It is about how we can collectively get our heads around and understand the data we have, how we need to protect it, and how we need to respect it, but also how we can utilise it.

“The way I like to look at it is from different perspectives, and for me, as a public servant, the key perspective is the citizen.”

Kilbride also stressed the need to help citizens understand why they should share their data with government agencies and to set an expectation that agencies will actively share and work together with this data.

“I am seeing agencies looking at the data and starting to treat it as an asset,” said fellow panellist Steven Jacoby, executive director – spatial information at the Department of Resources.

“We are starting to see agencies becoming far more interested and savvy in data and valuing it. I think we will talk a little bit more about what needs to be done to accelerate that and bring that forward, but it is a good first step.”

This, he added, would not have been a case five or 10 years ago.

According to Jacoby, the recent surge in cybersecurity incidents plaguing Australian organisations has proved a major catalyst in accelerating the understanding of data as a resource.

“In our agency, we traditionally look at [data] as ‘geo resources’ that is, looking at land and also talking about data [as being] potentially equal to those other large portfolios, which is a fantastic opportunity.”

Speaking about the opportunity to leverage data and analytics across agencies, fellow panellist, Paxton Booth, privacy commissioner at the Office of the Information Commissioner, stressed the need to embed ‘privacy by design’ principles.

“Privacy by design is a key element. Fundamentally, it is about building in privacy discussions at the very start of a new project or the development of new architecture, rather than leaving it towards the end.

“[It is] about having this discussion upfront about what we are collecting, why we are collecting it, and how we are going to use it.”

Booth stressed that, as part of this process, it is particularly important to instil trust in any services that the public sector provides to the community. Establishing that level of trust is critical for services to be actively embraced by the community.

“When we talk about data and analytics, in my mind there are two sides to this. There is the business and technology side behind [the scenes], with people who can technically analyse and draw insight intelligence from it. And then there’s the underlining data that makes up that patterns.”