One of the functions of the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) is responsibility for local government policy. In this role it responds to queries from the media and the public from a central government perspective.
DIA has set up the localcouncils.govt.nz website to make information available about local authorities. The site aims to promote civic engagement, participation and improve local decision-making.
The website brings together information from a number of sources, including two downloadable datasets: dog control statistics and long term financial plans.
By offering these datasets for re-use, the Department is contributing to the principles of open government.
Dog Control Statistics
Whenever a dog-related incident results in injury to a member of the public there is great public interest for information on dog numbers, breeds, locations, injuries and prosecutions.
In response to this interest, DIA released its first annual dataset of dog control statistics on localcouncils.govt.nz on 18 October 2013, covering:
- Dog, owner, registration and infringement information from DIA’s National Dog Database, established under a 2004 amendment to the Dog Control Act 1996
- Dog bite related claims and their costs from ACC
- Prosecutions and dog destruction orders under the Dog Control Act 1996 from the Ministry of Justice.
The information can also be displayed graphically by each council (under Profiles), with an accompanying HTML table of the supporting data.
For privacy reasons, data is not included for councils where there are fewer than 3 ACC claims.
The database, which is managed by an external provider, contains personal information about owners, but DIA only sees statistical data in its monthly snapshot report. All personal information that would identify individual owners is excluded.
Long term financial plans
Councils’ long term plans and the supporting financial data are substantial documents required under the Local Government Act 2002. These are complex documents that many find difficult to understand and compare across councils. Putting the data into a format where one council can be fairly compared with another requires a rigorous collection framework.
DIA collates this data for its own requirements. Since 2006 it has prepared a decade of data (2006-2016, 2009-2019 and 2012-2022) by individual council and with national, regional, metropolitan and rural breakdowns. Since 2010 it has made the data available for download and re-use by other users.
Excel format downloads are available for:
- Balance sheet data (assets and liabilities)
- Funding impact statement data
- Income and expenditure data
- Cash flow data
- Funding impact statement: 5 activities: flood protection and control, roads and footpaths, sewage treatment and disposal, stormwater drainage, and water supply.
The data can also be displayed graphically by each council (under Profiles), with an accompanying HTML table of the supporting data.
It took three months to set up the processes for the first collation of the dog control statistics. In the future, annual updates will only take about a day.
The long term financial plan data takes a bit longer. Every three years, two staff work over a six month period to collate the information into a standard format. This time is well justified by the re-use of the data. The latest data (2012-2022) is still in the top 5 downloads (behind the Local Government Info Sheet, the Info Sheet for Youth, FY 2010/11 Local Authority CE Remuneration (latest data available), and the Local councils image (high resolution poster).
Future plans for more information
The Department is currently investigating other data sources relevant to local authorities, such as gambling statistics, which it intends to publish on the council profile pages.
With the 18 October 2013 update to the website, the Department also implemented a visitor survey to gain more feedback about what users want to see on the site.
DIA staff use the website to quickly view consistent information about councils to support policy development.
Brings together separate, but related, authoritative datasets that have high external interest, use and analysis.
Transparency & democratic impacts
Website visitors use the data to compare councils against one another.
Individuals have access to data about local government and the communities in which they reside.
National and international organisations and researchers use the data for a sector-wide understanding of local government in New Zealand.
Re-use of this case study is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 New Zealand License.