On a mission to promote open data for public good and business innovation

On a mission to promote open data for public good and business innovation

Meet Paul Stone, the New Zealand Open Government Data Programme Leader

Get the data out there, so when it is needed to solve a problem, it is available.

Paul Stone, NZ Open Government Data Programme Leader

When Paul Stone talks to government agencies and private organisations about his work, he likes to tell them about the ANZ Truckometer.

The Truckometer, released every month by ANZ Bank, provides economic indicators derived using traffic volume data from around the country.

It takes road count data from the government and co-relates this with the GDP, predicting where the economy is heading.

“I love its unexpected use of data,” says Stone. “It reinforces the message [of] don’t try to predict what the data is going to be used for. Get it out there, so when it is needed to solve a problem, it is available.”

Stone is the New Zealand Open Government Data Programme Leader, a post he has held for the past three years following CIO roles in government.

The Open Government Data Programme sits under the Government’s Chief Data Steward and CEO of Stats NZ. It aims to proactively release all high-value public data as ‘business as usual’.

“The more that we use this public asset, the more that we start to treat it like a national infrastructure,” says Stone.

“One of the reasons we want the data out there is to help stimulate the economy through products and services.

“If you have got companies building their livelihood, relying on this data, there is huge economic impact. We will not only ensure data is out the door, but also done in a way that is sustainable and reliable.”

So the first thing is to make them aware they have a right to request the data through, says Stone, who will talk about his work at the first Chief Data & Analytics Officer (CDAO) conference in November in this country.

“The reality is what is on is only the tip of the iceberg, he says.

There are now more than 5300 datasets listed in This is a listing of data sources that comes from different government agencies, and it is growing, he says.

This asset is not as widely known about or being used by different groups that can benefit from it, he says.

If we can show clever ways of data being used to create a product or solve a problem, then it sparks more ideas.”

He says one such example is Campermate. The app helps tourists by displaying locations of amenities they may need, like petrol stations, free wifi and public toilets, when travelling in a campervan. All of these things are possible because they can access the data, he says.

He says government data on health inspections of restaurants across New Zealand is being used by a company that provides data to car navigation systems. The navigation systems share the data on the location of the restaurants to help drivers looking for places to buy meals.

Another example is that of data around speed limits across New Zealand. Information on where the speed zones start and finish will be useful for a company providing health and safety apps, or building the foundation for autonomous vehicles, he says.

This data, however, needs to be taken from different government agencies, including local governments.

“As far as the data goes, the public already owns it. They just can't get access to it. So our job is to get it out there.”

Indeed, in a recent report, Forrester describes some of the issues governments tackle in turning big data into insights and innovation.

“Governments already collect the data they need to make better decisions — then lock it away in organisational silos where it can’t achieve its potential,” note Forrester analysts  Rick Parrish, Jennifer Belissent, and Enza Iannopollo.

“Governments must extract and integrate their data and then enable decision-makers to derive insights and deliver value from it. When they do, they’ll become more responsive to the public’s needs, improve both short-term operations and long-term planning, and fuel public innovation.”

They are, essentially, describing the goals Stone and his team are working on.

Stone says his team, for instance, is involved as sponsor and mentor in GovHack, the hackathon using government data. “It gives us a real opportunity to help people trying to solve real problems with data.”

My ultimate goal is to become redundant

Paul Stone, NZ Open Government Data Programme Leader

From ICT to open data

Stone got into the ‘open data world’ when he was the CIO at Charities Commission. It was a role he held for five years, being responsible for implementing an open data web service for the New Zealand Charities Register in 2011.

It was among the first examples of open data API from government, he explains.

This led to his involvement in the New Zealand Open Government Information and Data Programme, which was then based at the Land Information New Zealand. He says the Charities Commission ‘donated’ one day a week of his time to the programme.

The Charities Commission merged with the Department of Internal Affairs. He then moved to the Ministry for Culture and Heritage as CIO, with the agreement for him to continue his day a week work in the open data programme.

This continued for another two years, when the programme got funding for up to three people.

“At that point, I came on full-time, it was very much a case of following my heart,” says Stone.

“I guess it was that experience at the Charities Commission that certainly opened my mind,” he says on what drew him to the open data programme. “I get satisfaction in being part of an organisation that is making a difference.”

Everything we do now has a data element to it

Paul Stone, NZ Open Government Data Programme Leader

He says having been a CIO in government is helping him in his current role.

“I can go into agencies and address their challenges with open data because I have been there,” he says.

“I know all of the challenges they face in terms of legacy systems, getting the rest of the organisation to value data and information, and also having that combination of technical understanding of what is required. But also working at business level, being able to persuade people essentially of the business benefits of open data.

“Data held in government is a public asset. Therefore it is there for everyone to use, but only if it is made public. It is a case of different messages for different sectors,” he says.

When he talks to government agencies, “I help them realise they are managing a public asset and safely able to release [it] for reuse.

“A key part of government strategy at the moment is to treat data and information as an asset and make it available for reuse so you increase the value of that asset. If it is open, there is unlimited potential for its reuse.”

Another message is for the ability for agencies to work more efficiently to make data more open.

When he meets with the private sector and community groups, “it is a case of raising their awareness that there is that growing public asset at their disposal to help inform their decisions."

“It will help provide evidence when they advocate change, but also in terms of opportunities to innovate and create new products and services.

“I explain to them the policies that are there, which helps to emphasise they have a right to ask for data.”

These include The Declaration on Open and Transparent Government that was approved by Cabinet in August, 2011. This declaration states: The [New Zealand] government commits to actively releasing high value public data.

There is also the NZGOAL (New Zealand Government Open Access and Licensing) framework, which provides a guidance for agencies to follow when releasing copyright works and non-copyright material for reuse by others. It aims to standardise the licensing of government copyright works for reuse using Creative Commons licences and recommends statements for non-copyright material.

“We have created a framework which makes it easy to apply for Creative Commons licenses by attribution, and that gives them explicit permission to reuse the data.” 

Stone stresses it is only through working with others that he can succeed in his job.

“My ultimate goal is to become redundant.” 

This means government is systematically releasing open data as a matter of business as usual, he states.

“I often talk about the process of open by design, and people will say we should have privacy by design,” he says. “I would say they are two sides of the same coin because good open data takes into consideration the privacy concern.”

“Open by design is getting the mindset and awareness that when done right, at the start of the life of any data set, you are thinking about how it can be open, making sure you can release it as open with minimal effort.

As a CIO based in Wellington, Stone used to attend the regular meetings organised by his colleagues in government agencies and in not for profits.

But since he moved to this role, he realised the lack of similar peer groups.

He has written about the nuances of working with a small team “trying to transform a whole government to operate and think differently”.

An encouraging development, he says, is the emergence of a new support system for open data leaders, with the creation of the Open Data Leaders Network by the Open Data Institute. He has attended one such meeting, as the New Zealand representative to the Open Data Leaders Network in London.

He looks forward to again meeting with data and analytics practitioners at the CDAO conference in November.

"One of the things I intend to talk about is how the private sector can use data for new products and services, but also how they might be able to release their own data, and add to the open data asset and why they might do that."

He does not expect the pace of his work to slow down, for as he points out: “Everything we do now has a data element to it.”

Paul Stone at the Open Data Leaders Network, July 2015, London
Paul Stone at the Open Data Leaders Network, July 2015, London

Paul Stone will deliver the keynote address What is Open Data? at the inaugural Chief Data & Analytics Officer New Zealand conference on November 28 and 29 at the Hilton in Auckland.

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