The following information addresses some of the most common questions and misconceptions about open data.

Will open data put councils at risk of breaching privacy?

Most open datasets do not have privacy considerations.

For datasets involving individuals, there are often ways to release relevant data without disclosing any personal information. However, this will require some additional planning and data preparation. For example, aggregating datasets (that is, averages or totals across a suburb) is one way to reduce risk. Another way is to remove all identifiable information from the dataset and round any numbers to reduce the potential for re-identification. In general, we recommend that councils do not publish this type of data until they have gained experience publishing other, less sensitive datasets.

There are a number of datasets councils can begin with, such as waste collection zones, dog walking zones and customer service centre locations, which do not involve personal information. A list of these has been included in the Toolkit.

What if the data is out of date, incomplete or contains errors?

Most open data has one shortcoming or another. If the data is useful to you, with its gaps, it is probably useful to someone else. The important thing is to be as specific as possible in the data quality statement. For example:

  • “This data was collected for an audit of street furniture likely to be replaced. It is not comprehensive across the council area.”
  • “This data was collected in 2009 and has not been updated since.”
  • “This dataset is known to be missing records during the 2012-13 financial year, and should not be relied on during that period.”

Good data is better than mediocre data, but mediocre data is better than nothing.

Sharing data with the community can also be a useful way to gain feedback on errors in data.

Doesn’t it take a lot of time and resources to set up an open data program?

An open data program can be started with only a small time investment. Several councils have reported that their first dataset only took a matter of hours to prepare and export. The open council data policy template and toolkit should further streamline this process.

More detail on councils’ reported time commitments is provided below.

Task Time commitment
Developing an open data policy 4-8 hours (before the Open Council Data policy template was available)
Locating and gaining approval to release a dataset 1 hour (for simple datasets)
Creating a complete dataset metadata record in data.gov.au 30 minutes
Developing a repeatable GIS export for a dataset conforming to Open Council Data standards 1-2 hours

Additional time and resources will allow for the establishment of a more comprehensive open data program, including:

  • Implementing an automatic publishing infrastructure.
  • Integrating open data with other strategies and policies such as communications strategies and digital asset management strategies.

Investing in open data can pay for itself in several ways:

  • Removing the need to directly service requests for high-use data such as property boundaries, drainpipes, planning overlays, LIDAR data.
  • Allowing staff in different departments to “self-service” by accessing open data directly.
  • Leveraging apps and tools that make use of correctly published open data, rather than directly commissioning those apps.
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