Open OEH – the Office of Environment and Heritage’s Open Government Program – Now Business as Usual
The Open OEH Program was developed by the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) in response to the NSW Government’s Open Government agenda in NSW 2021.
The NSW Government ICT Strategy promotes open government, using technology to engage the community, enhancing transparency and accountability, and deliver better services. The Open OEH program was a 3 year program that finished in June 2016, and now operates as Business as Usual.
What is the business need for the Open OEH Program?
Traditionally, our interaction with stakeholders and relationship with the community was mainly transactional in nature. The shortcomings of this approach were confirmed through survey findings which revealed we could do more to enhance community perceptions of customer service and level of engagement with stakeholders.
How does the Open OEH Program improve service delivery?
Under the Open OEH Program a new way of thinking has been fostered which elevates internal community perceptions from a transactional relationship to a partnership status. The guiding principle of the Program is for the OEH to think and work from the “outside-in", meaning a focus on the design and implementation of programs and policies that centre on outcomes for stakeholders. This approach is being applied to the delivery of any OEH service or information.
ICT service capabilities
Consistent with the NSW Government ICT Strategy, the use of technology is a key part in implementing the aims of the Open OEH Program. A few of the technology enabled achievements of the Program include:
- Open Data - the approach under the Program is to make data digital by default, and provide guidelines for staff to exercise more autonomy in publishing data on the internet.
- Treatment of datasets as corporate “assets” - development of an OEH Information Asset Register (IAR), where information resources can be registered as corporate assets with accompanying Metadata and Data Quality Statements, to facilitate data discovery, reuse and sharing.
- Information Governance – development of a Framework for OEH staff which sets out the roles and responsibilities for the management of individual information assets and their registration in the IAR.
- Equitable access of data – provision of OEH data to external stakeholders via the Open Data Portal and DataNSW.
- Use of technology – applications such as the Nature Near Me app have been developed to provide better and more available service and provision of information to the community.
What are the challenges to openness?
Finding the balance between protecting privacy, sensitivities of data and providing access to information is always a challenge. The Program addresses this through executive engagement and a targeted rollout of the IAR and Information Governance Framework, starting with more experienced data managers. Rollout training includes educating staff about the meaning of openness and addressing ingrained perceptions. The aim is to create a network of ‘influencers’ who can build capacity and champion Open Data. The OEH is aware of the potential that open government requirements may create a perception of additional work for staff. However, good governance and good information management coupled with the reduction in freedom of information requests will allow for an ease of release and an increased openness and availability of OEH data.
What are the lessons for other agencies in implementing open government?
Some of the key lessons arising from the program include:
- Progressing the aims of an open government program will be aided by clear mandates, strong leadership and clear examples.
- Monitoring the number of information resources registered in the IAR and made available to stakeholders via the Open Data Portal, will provide a measure of progress of the program. These metrics will be communicated to senior management as feedback to encourage ongoing adoption of Open Data practices by staff. The ultimate measure of success would be the eventual removal of the program after it becomes an integrated component of how the OEH operates and is accepted as part of people’s jobs.
- Establishing a champions network may aid in building capacity and awareness internally.