Case Studies/Australian Bureau of Statistics
"We assist and encourage informed decision making, research and discussion within governments and the community, by leading a high quality, objective and responsive national statistical service" — ABS Mission Statement
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) is Australia’s central statistical authority and the agency responsible for the national census. As such, the ABS is the most comprehensive source of data on all aspects of Australian life, including population, economy, environment and industry. The ABS is committed to assisting and encouraging “informed decision making, research and discussion within governments and the community, by leading a high quality, objective and responsive national statistical service”. The ABS website is one of the most popular government sites in Australia, with many Australians from researchers and schools to businesses and artists seeking access to the data available.
On the 18th of December 2008, the ABS released its website content for re-use under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Australia licence. The change was achieved by releasing a new copyright statement and the addition of Creative Commons metadata to the footer of every page of the website. This has served to reduce the restrictions on the use of data from the website considerably. The licence means people are free to re-use, build upon and distribute the data, as long as they attribute the ABS as the source. People can re-use this data for any purpose – including commercial.
Prior to implementing the Creative Commons licence, people needed to enter into a licensing arrangement with the ABS to redistribute more than 500 cells of data or to enhance the data or information on the website. Licences were available free of charge which allowed broad use of the website’s content. However, the fact that people had to go through the process of attaining a licence puts in place a potential barrier for those seeking to re-use or re-mix the data. Making the wealth of information available under an Attribution Only licence means that it is readily available for any member of the public without the need for a lengthy copyright clearance process. The research and data collection conducted by the ABS is paid for by public funds and now the ABS is giving Australians their statistics back. Everyone is now able to re-use and build upon the data to the benefit of Australia’s knowledge and education. The ABS has not just released their material under the broadest possible Creative Commons licence, they have also used best practice implementation standards. On every page of the ABS website the Attribution licence button appears, which directs users to an easy to understand guide to what they can do with the information on the website. A link from this page in turn directs users to the ‘lawyer friendly’ legal code. The ABS has also put a full explanation of the Creative Commons licence on their copyright page (http://www.abs.gov.au/websitedbs/D3310114.nsf/Home/%C2%A9+Copyright?opendocument?utm_id=GB) and has a separate information page about Creative Commons and their decision to use it for their website (http://www.abs.gov.au/websitedbs/D3310114.nsf/4a256353001af3ed4b2562bb00121564/8b2bdbc1d45a10b1ca25751d000d9b03?opendocument?). In addition, they have provided attribution guidelines to make it easier for the public to use the material available (http://www.abs.gov.au/websitedbs/D3310114.nsf/89a5f3d8684682b6ca256de4002c809b/70353d5dd53b0e2dca257522001e996c!OpenDocument).
The only real restriction on the Creative Commons licence is that it does not apply to customized data provided by information consultancies. This data is covered by the ABS Conditions of Sale and a separate licence is needed from the ABS for secondary distribution.
The move by the ABS in making its material available through Creative Commons licensing comes as a response to a process of investigation and consultation with a number of stakeholders, including both Commonwealth Government Agencies and the Creative Commons community. In particular, it follows recommendation 7.8 of the Venturous Australia Review of the National Innovation System:
- “Australian governments should adopt international standards of open publishing as far as possible. Material released for public information by Australian governments should be released under a Creative Commons licence.”
The aim of this is to improve the flow of government generated information for the benefit of Australians. The ABS also states that by utilising Creative Commons licensing they are “facilitating innovative research and development projects based on quality statistics and promoting the wider use of statistics in the community”. This ultimately assists the ABS in achieving a key goal, namely, to maximise the use of statistics in business and research as well as the general community. The ABS has long been a leader in providing open access to public sector information, and now they have taken the extra step of using a Creative Commons licence to maximise access to their statistics.
The use of a Creative Commons licence also benefits the ABS more directly by improving the online visibility of ABS resources. Advanced options in search engines such as Google and Yahoo enable users to filter websites according to usage rights. This increases the use of ABS materials and so furthers the ABS’s mission.
Governments and public agencies are fundamentally involved in the provision of publicly-funded research. Open access requirements are increasingly being introduced in response to growing recognition of the need for users to access and re-use data. One such example is Barack Obama’s release of his campaign materials and change.gov transition website under a Creative Commons Attribution licence. The Australian Bureau of Statistics is the most comprehensive source of data on Australian life and opening up their data for public re-use provides essential resources for researchers through to educators. The decision reflects the importance of openness in government. Hopefully the move by the ABS to Creative Commons will provide an example for other Australian government bodies and mark the beginning of a new age of openness, transparency and innovation for the Australian public sector.