Open Data Policy refresh could see WA’s data science sector surge: report

Data Scientists WA

Beset by talent shortages, Western Australia is nevertheless “uniquely positioned” to capitalise on the opportunities created by data scientists – yet to do so will require policy change, including a refresh of the Government’s Open Data Policy, a new report commissioned by the state’s Data Science Innovation Hub (WADSIH) has revealed.

Co-created with the WA Government and Curtin University, the Data Science in Western Australia report posits that the state’s data science industry could, with due investment, “flourish” over the next decade, generating up to 3,000 new jobs in WA and creating new opportunities to leverage data within the public sector.

WA Government agencies possess a “wealth” of sharable data, the report noted. Adapting and updating the Open Data Policy would further enable this treasure trove to be utilised and shared more widely by agencies, and also with the broader Western Australian community, it added.

WA’s Open Data Policy, released by the state’s DPC in 2015, defines best-practice guidelines for data sharing between agencies, with a provision to make high-value data “easily discoverable and usable” by the public.

“It is intended that opening access to public sector data will increase productivity and improve service delivery by supporting innovation, research and education, and by facilitating collaboration and evidence-based decision making,” the Policy document states.

WA Innovation and ICT Minister Dave Kelly extolled data scientists for adding “tremendous benefit” to the state, “whether predicting the spread of disease, distilling insights from the enormous quantities of space data coming from radio astronomy projects in the Mid-West, or the ongoing technological advancements in our thriving mining industry”.

Addressing potential hurdles faced by government data scientists, the report said certain specialist data science teams may suffer from a lack of organisational structure.

In some cases, there was ambiguity about where a data scientist’s role should sit within a wider agency or department. For instance, for data scientists working within public healthcare space, there was confusion around “whether [they] worked at a hospital, health service provider or [at] Department of Health level”.

One stakeholder quoted within the report insisted that if data scientists are placed in teams “too far away from day-to-day business operations” their teams risk higher failure rates.

The report instead suggests a more centralised structure that could provide access to “technical collaboration opportunities” for data scientists.

The state government was also advised to continue building “innovative partnership models with academic institutions and industry”.

In order for the state to “accelerate the uptake of data science” however, government investment remains crucial, including initiatives to grow STEM skills as well as collaboration with industry stakeholders, the report states.

Opportunities for data scientists were abundant, the report noted, however WA organisations remained beset by a lack of available talent.

It also noted that “improving data linkage” would be critical to driving organisational value, “especially across scientific and government services”.

Data science, it was reckoned, could provide significant value to governments, enabling public agencies to predict “demand for and long-term cost of government services”. The report emphasised the need for government to devise a coordinated data science strategy to continue to provide these valuable insights.

Inadequate data sharing was identified as one of the key barriers to developing the data science industry within the state.

In a statement, Innovation and ICT Minister Dave Kelly said the report reinforces the need to maintain investments in data science skills and “continue working collaboratively with industry and academia to build data literacy”.

While data science supports the government in “[making] data-led decisions and [developing] innovative solutions to wicked policy problems”, the report said, there is still room for progress.

The WA Government has committed $1 million over the next four years to the WA Data Science Innovation Hub. However, the proposed refresh of the Open Data Policy recommended in the report will be a crucial step to promoting data sharing and enabling continued growth of the industry.

If the Western Australian Government can sharpen its focus on facilitating “continued and new collaborations”, it will assist the sourcing of data science talent roles “into the future,” the report added.

Moreover, collaboration between industry and government will prove crucial in “building the data science ecosystem of tomorrow”.