Avoiding reinventing the wheel – an emerging case study

One of my pet hates is when government agencies re-invent the wheel.

It often starts when politicians announces they’re going to do or launch something and agencies are then tasked with making it actually happen.

If that agency isn’t already connected into what other agencies are doing, doesn’t conduct some research, or simply doesn’t play well with others, they often build a solution from scratch – ignoring the great work done elsewhere and potentially not learning from the challenges others have successfully (or not) overcome.

This leads to unnecessary waste. Extra costs, repeated mistakes and even community confusion when they could have delivered a better, faster and cheaper outcome by leveraging the work of others – standing on the shoulders of giants, so to speak.

A case in point that has just come to my attention is around the latest media announcement from the Australian Government regarding Implementation of a national foreign ownership register for agricultural land.

This register, as tweeted by the Prime Minister, is a useful and valuable development and will cut through the misinformation that is often spread by the media, lobbyists and involved parties about how Australia is ‘selling the farm’, when in reality (according to the release) only 5% of our agricultural land is majority owned by foreign interests and this has barely changed in thirty years.

At this stage the approach for providing this register is not yet decided, with stakeholder engagement to take place (some public engagement on what the community would like to see would be beneficial as well to ensure the register serves the purpose) and much planning and deciding around which data is available, how much is commercially sensitive or presents privacy challenges.

This is a great opportunity for the agencies involved to leverage off the great work already done in government to provide a platform for storing and reusing data and another platform for geographic data visualisation.

These sites are data.gov.au, the government’s central directory of open data; and myregion.gov.au, the government’s main site for presenting geographic data by Australian region (which I personally was involved in implementing).

Using these two sites the data from the registry can be made available to third parties to come up with their own visualisations and insights, mashing it with other data, as well as providing a standard visualisation using myregion’s maps for people without the skills to turn online data into visual information.

Wherever cost-effective, governments should seek to reuse and extend existing web platforms rather than build new ones

Of course there may be other considerations for this register that require an additional front-end or context. However I am hopeful that the agencies involved will collaborate to leverage existing investments rather than replicate them.

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