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Archive for the ‘OIA’ Category

The FYI FYI. Part One: Looking Back

from : http://www.flickr.com/photos/litherland/1058052964/

In August 2009 there was an open government barcamp in Wellington.

I had an interest from my previous work for the now sadly defunct theyworkforyou.co.nz; I had written a Questions for Written Answer parser for it. I ended up putting this on my own server as the idiosyncrasies of the Questions for Oral Answer  HTML consumed all of @twfynz‘s time. This provided stable URLs for written questions (they aren’t currently; this is due to the implementation of Parliament’s CMS) and was one day going to cross-link questions and drill into questioner and answerer stats. It was also faster loading and linked across where possible to theyworkforyou.

With that background, when the idea of porting WhatDoTheyKnow from a UK context to a New Zealand one came up at the barcamp, I was interested.  I was already familiar with Ruby on Rails and had experience with a port of MySociety code. As it turned out, getting the code proved somewhat difficult. At the time it was in CVS. That and bandwidth starvation meant that all we accomplished in terms of actual code that day was a “hello world” commit of a snapshot of the MySociety code into a git repository.

It was a week or so after I’d got back to Auckland that Nat Torkington got involved; he offered hosting and a domain name. The domain name was a bit of a head-scratcher:

“There are only two hard things in Computer Science: cache invalidation and naming things.”
Phil Karton

Going to whatdotheyknow.org.nz was a possibility, but the ambiguous emphasis made me hesitate. I fretted over it being read as: “Pfft. What do *they* know?” Ed Corkery came up with fyi.org.nz after we tossed around officialinfo.org.nz, wanttoknow.org.nz, wtk.org.nz, oia.org.nz as well as many other (far more improbable) options.

The code got disentangled from its UK context. Ways of allowing the UK to run the code in one mode and NZ to run it in another mode were put in. Yeow Kuah helpfully supplied some patches. MySociety moved to git which allowed me to get all of their history and their fixes after I’d made the original copy in August. A few performance bottlenecks got dealt with.

I’m doing this (however improbable it may sound) as my hobby; I didn’t keep a schedule. Ed kept me honest however, by adopting the position of assuming that I would do it and asking me every few days how it was going. With that there’s only a few times that you can claim that your dog ate your homework.

Rob Coup sprinkling enough magic dust to get the server working and even sending and accepting email helped change things from a few files sitting sadly on my laptop to a working site.

Nat pulled in Greer at about the same time that Ed pulled in Ludwig; after debating the merits of a designer demolition derby I instead ended up with two designers working together. That led to the current rough of their (more polished!) design being implemented.

So that’s how we got to here. Next time: where here is.

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A recipient of one of our earlier OIA requests told me last week that their team found it useful to run through the internal procedures necessary to supply geospatial data to an external recipient. Before the OIA request, their responses to geospatial data requests had been non-standardised.

Now they’re in a position to treat all requests for geospatial data as an OIA request and push them through a pre-planned response process involving appropriate management sign-off.

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We made a request of the Department of Internal Affairs for the “names and addresses of the pubs and clubs in New Zealand for which a class 4 venue licence has been issued (ie the pubs and clubs that host gaming machines).” They do have an online listing facility but it would be a lengthy exercise to extract the full data from here.

http://www.dia.govt.nz/diawebsite.nsf/wpg_URL/Services-Casino-and-Non-Casino-Gaming-Funding-For-Community-Groups?OpenDocument&ExpandView

The DIA replied within 2 days pointing me to a PDF on the website that contained that information.
http://www.dia.govt.nz/Pubforms.nsf/URL/ListofVenue_31%20March%202009.pdf/$file/ListofVenue_31%20March%202009.pdf 

The DIA website has massive amounts of content and I’m still not sure if or where that file is linked to on the site.  As anyone who has tried will know extracting tabular information from a PDF is an exercise in frustration so I asked if the data was available in a simple text, html or xml format.

The DIA promptly sent through an excel spreadsheet of the data which I have published online here. Gambling List of NZ Venues March 2009

Apparently that document is not available on the DIA website but I was told that it could be requested at any time.

So… 4 stars for the DIA.

They were extremely responsive and very open with their data, I can only wish that they shared friendly file formats and linked adequately from their website.

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The Office of the Ombudsmen has requested the Fire Service produce a report on their refusal of the OIA request for NZ suburb dataset.

The Ombudsman directed their request to the NZFS CEO, which is presumedly standard practice (anyone want to comment?).

The letter I received from the Office is embedded below, for those curious about procedures surrounding the OIA.

W2105091
Uploaded with plasq‘s Skitch!

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An interesting press release from the Office of the Ombudsmen, Dec 2008:

“While in some cases this was clearly a misunderstanding of their obligations, there is also a regrettable tendency to game the system and delay responses until the complainants’ interest in the matter had passed,” she says.

Must be a fairly common practice for the Office of the Ombudsmen to bother seek media coverage over it.

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DoC has come through with a DVD containing a shapefile of their track network for New Zealand: DoC Tracks (May 2009).

Via the grapevine, it seems DoC went above and beyond the call of duty to create a new shapefile to fulfil the OIA request. Strictly speaking, the OIA only covers information and data already in existence. Collating data into one file is more effort than expected, though they did give prior warning that fulfilment of the OIA request would be delayed a few weeks.

So thanks go to the Department of Conservation for their excellent service.

Of the four original OIA requests for geospatial data, only the NZ Fire Service refused. That matter is now in the hands of the Office of the Ombudsmen.

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Update on OIA results so far

Time for an update, now that the Ministry of Education and DoC* have accepted their respective OIA requests.

So of the four original OIA requests:

  • Ministry of Health – for District Health Boards. OIA request fulfilled. View District Health Boards boundaries.
  • Ministry of Education – for School Zones. OIA request fulfilled. View NZ School Zones.
  • Department of Conservation – for New Zealand walking tracks. OIA request accepted, but with a time extension; data to be delivered in May.
  • NZ Fire Service – for NZ Suburbs. OIA request denied. A complaint has been sent to the Office of the Ombudsmen. Read the official NZFS response.

* The Department of Conservation recently responded that it will take them longer than 20 working days to deliver their New Zealand walking tracks dataset, but they’re aiming for fulfilment by end May.

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