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Evaluating Government Policies Using Open Source Models

“Bernard: But surely the citizens of a democracy have a right to know.
Sir Humphrey Appleby: No. They have a right to be ignorant. Knowledge only means complicity in guilt; ignorance has a certain dignity.”
- From “Yes Minister” written by Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn

We’ve come a long way with engaging citizens on government policy – the Australian Government’s declaration of open government and the community’s overwhelming interest in open data has paved the way for public debate on a whole new level. Enter the next phase of open government waiting to be unlocked – “Open Source Models”.

Government “open source models” refer to the idea that government developed models whose purpose is to design and evaluate policy, should be freely available to everyone to use and distribute without restrictions. These models may read in either open or closed data and would often consist of two main components – legislation implemented as code and user-defined economic parameters. The output would provide a quantitative measure of the effects of the policies modelled. Some interesting examples might be quantifying the changes in the labour force with increasing migration levels or changes in revenue by altering certain social security payments.

This presentation will put forward the radical idea that government open source models have the potential to play a pivotal role in informing public debate by opening the doors of policy evaluation to the community. Many other interesting issues such as whether these models are a public good, who has ‘ownership’ of taxpayer funded models, how security issues and privacy concerns may be dealt with and what’s the best licensing option for citizen collaboration will also be discussed.

Government open source models promise a future of greater involvement of the open source community in policy development and evaluation. The open source community would have more opportunities for innovation in designing or improving policy and therefore have a greater influence in public debate. An increased transparency through the provision of these models would also promote better accountability of our politicians and the media.

Disclaimer: The views presented belong to Audrey Lobo-Pulo and are not necessarily those of the Australian Government.

Audrey Lobo-Pulo

Dr. Audrey Lobo-Pulo is a passionate advocate of open government and the use of open source software in government modelling. Having started out as a physicist developing theoretical models in the field of high speed data transmission, she moved into the economic policy modelling sphere and worked at the Australian Treasury from 2005 till 2011.

Audrey has been involved in modelling a wide range of economic policy options in areas of personal taxation, housing, pensions, superannuation, population demographics and labour force participation. In 2006, she was selected as one of the nine members of the “International Comparison of Australia’s Taxes” secretariat.

Audrey strongly believes in informing public debate through the provision and distribution of “open source models” for the purpose of economic modelling and policy evaluation. She supports the view that government has a responsibility to adopt open source products wherever possible.

Currently working at the Australian Taxation Office in Sydney, Audrey enjoys discussions on modelling economic policy.