Government agencies urged to adopt SEO

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Government agencies urged to adopt SEO

In effort to make public information more accessible.

Australia's first Information Commissioner, Professor John McMillan, has recommended Federal agencies consider the use of search engine optimisation (SEO) to ensure public data is more accessible to citizens.

This among a raft of recommendations launched yesterday in the form of 10 draft principles to guide Federal Government agencies in promoting public sector information.

The draft principles are set out in Chapter 8 of the Office of the Information Commissioner's first issues paper: Towards and Australian Government Information Policy [PDF].

The principles are intended to complement changes that come into force with the amended Freedom of Information Act and the operation of the Australian Information Commissioner Act 2010 from November 1.

Highlights from the draft principles include #2 which propose agency "information champions" such as Government CIOs to be responsible for ensuring adherance to open access principles and the routine and proactive disclosure of information.

Of equal interest to IT is principle #4 on "findable information". The Information Commissioner suggests potential users should be readily able to discover the information an agency has published, and identify assets the agency holds but has not published. 

It recommends applying search engine optimisation strategies to ensure that all published information can be indexed by search engines. It also suggests the publishing of an agency's information asset register, to enable both internal and external users of information to identify available data from a single source.

Principle #8 - "Appropriate charging for access" - discourages Government agencies from restricting access to information through implicit price gouging practices of the past. Agencies are asked not to charge more than the additional marginal cost of providing access to published information, and in particular dropping the cost associated with producing the information.

It urges using online channels to reduce the cost of providing access to the information.

The vexed issue of rights to re-publish Government information is highlighted rather than resolved in Principle #9, "Clear reuse rights." 

While it opts for so-called "open licensing terms", it appears to qualify this when it adds "The Statement of Intellectual Property Principles for Australian Government Agencies" requires government agencies subject to the Financial and Management Accountability Act 1997 only to "consider" licensing public sector information, upon release, under an open access licence.

In an extensive interview with iTnews, Information Commissioner John McMillan said that this uncertainty comes down to the OIC's deference to the Attorney General's office on such matters.

Comments on the issues paper and particularly its draft principles are invited by March 1, 2011 via  issuespaper1@oaic.gov.au.

Draft Principles at a glance:

1.    Open access to information by default
2.    Effective Information Governance
3.    Robust information asset management frameworks
4.    Findable Information
5.    Sound decision-making processes
6.    Transparent complaints processes
7.    Open and accessible formats online
8.    Appropriate charging for access
9.    Clear reuse rights
10.   Engaging the community.

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