Data Availability and Transparency Act 2022: What's in it for the social sciences?
The Data Availability and Transparency Act 2022 establishes a scheme for sharing Australian Government data with researchers. This post explains what it means for the social sciences and how to get ready.
Advancing social science research
Historically, government agencies have restricted researcher access to data as a means to protect citizens’ privacy. These agencies, not in the business of data sharing, often lacked adequate resources, technologies and knowledge to ensure such data was shared safely and efficiently. And until the Data Availability and Transparency Act 2022 (the Act), they also lacked explicit legislative license and federal support to do so.
The Act is a significant step towards enabling broader use of data, along with the right technological supports, ethical principles and oversight. The Act will be implemented with support from initiatives and services to be rolled out in the coming years.
Greater access to government data will significantly improve the quality of research in Australia. Access to this data facilitates greater capacity to test hypotheses, identify drivers of social systems, understand relationships between social variables, analyse and predict policy outcomes, and undertake longitudinal analyses.
Read below to find out what to expect and how to get ready.
Long name: Data Availability and Transparency Act 2022
In effect since: 1 April 2022
Administered by: The National Data Commissioner
Advised by: National Data Advisory Council
- University accreditation: available from 1st August/22
- Data requests through Dataplace: available by end October/22
- Review of the Act: required to begin before 1 April 2025.
The Act establishes mechanisms for sharing federal government data with university researchers and other government agencies—for research that is demonstrably in the public interest, and where users can demonstrate they are adhering to mandated data sharing principles.
Which data are included?
All data lawfully collected, created or held by a Commonwealth body, or on its behalf (e.g., from data relating to the weather, freight and traffic movements, and agricultural yields, to personal and business data). Some data will remain out of bounds for security (e.g., data held by the Australian Federal Police or the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation).
Who can access the data?
Other government agencies and Australian universities. Foreign entities are excluded.
Australian Government data can only be shared if it is for one of the three permitted purposes:
- government service delivery
- informing government policies and programs
- research and development.
- Authorisation for sharing. The Act overcomes barriers to data sharing through an authorisation to override Commonwealth, State or Territory laws when appropriate safeguards are in place. Importantly, the Act does not override the Privacy Act 1988 and the sharing, collection and use of data under the scheme must be consistent with the Privacy Act (e.g., any data attributes that could reveal an individual’s identity need to be removed from the dataset). Data custodians have no duty to share, but must provide reasons to Accredited Users if refusing a data sharing request.
- Streamlined process to request data. As part of the Act’s deployment, the Office of the National Data Commissioner (ONDC) are developing Dataplace: a digital platform for scheme participants and others to manage data requests and support their administration.
- Safe data sharing standards. Implementation involves the establishment of clear, transparent, nationwide standards for safe data sharing which will be materialised into legislative instruments: the data sharing principles, and code of practice (currently under development). These are being developed by the ONDC, advised by the National Data Advisory Council. The Council advises the Data Commissioner on ethics, balancing data availability with privacy protections, trust and transparency, technical best practice, and industry and international developments.
- Accreditation to demonstrate adherence to data sharing standards. The rollout will establish transparent mechanisms for accreditation for users and data service providers. The ONDC will keep a register of accredited users and data service providers.
- Data discovery. To make it easier for users to find data, the ONDC is working with Australian Government agencies to develop their data inventories and create a searchable Australian Government Data Catalogue (currently under development).
- Accredited data service providers will be able to link datasets across agencies before data are de-identified to be safely used in research. Organisations such as the Australian Bureau of Statistics might be able to fulfil this role, but the Act also enables universities demonstrating appropriate capabilities to apply to become accredited Data Service Providers.
How to get ready
Enquire about your university’s accreditation process
Universities gain accreditation under the Act, not individual researchers, so get in touch with the team leading implementation in your university. The person managing accreditation will differ depending on where you are, but the Office of the DVC-Research (or equivalent) is a good place to start.
Familiarise yourself with the data sharing principles and requirements
While your university acquires user accreditation (see User Accreditation Application Checklist), individual researchers and their teams can prepare by becoming familiar with the data sharing principles and code of practice (currently under development), as well as with The Act itself, and The Privacy Act 1988.
Identify data which could boost your research project
Using data made available by the Act will not only benefit current research projects; it could also help build the case for continuity of the Act into the future. The Act will be reviewed in 2025, and renewed only if the ONDC can demonstrate it has made a significant, positive impact. Your next research project could be pivotal to strengthening the case for continued access by researchers to government-held big data.