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How to find local data

Discover resources to help community-led initiatives find and access data on their local community.

What are these resources?

The resources aim to help you find and access data to better understand and track work on key issues in a local community. They recognise that quantitative data is one important way that place-based initiatives can:

  • understand their local area
  • track their impact
  • make evidence-based decisions.

Who are they for?

These resources are for community-led initiatives who want to access government-held data to drive their decision-making.

Requesting data from government

  • The appetite for data to enable evidence informed decision making is increasing rapidly and as a result the services of teams who respond to data requests often in high demand. Data requests can also be quite technical and there are several things you can do to prepare a data request so that it is easily interpreted and translated.

    1. Know what questions you are seeking data to answer

    This will help a data custodian or subject matter expert (SME) identify the right data to help you, and may also mean they can recommend additional sources or relevant fields.

    2. Where possible know the name of the data set

    This can often be found by searching for [subject] data Vic Gov (for example community health data Vic Gov to find the name of the Community Health Minimum Dataset). This will make it clear to data custodians what data you are seeking.

    3. Be specific about what fields you are seeking

    In some cases, a data dictionary (a list of all the data contained in the dataset with a plain English definition) will be available. For example the Crime Statistics Agency Glossary and Dictionary. This should help you identify which parts are relevant to the questions you are seeking data to answer.

    4. Include as much specific information as you can with respect to:

    • Demographics - are you seeking to understand the data grouped into certain cohorts, for example, age groups? If so what are the age groups?
    • Time - if you are seeking annual data, for which years? Would this be for calendar or financial years. If data is recorded over time periods (for example length of employment), how should the date be calculated?
    • Location - what area are you seeking data for? Should data be reported for the whole state, for a specific Local Government Area? Are you seeking data at the postcode level for a specific group of postcodes

    5. Format

    Specify how you are anticipating receiving the data this can mean what type of file format, how a table is organised or the structure of the data. Would values be totals? Percentages?

    6. Be prepared to explain how you will use the data, and its relationship to your work

    While data custodians cannot restrict data sharing for the reason that it does not align to your work (see the Datavic access policy for restriction reasons), it can be helpful for data custodians and SMEs to understand the fields which may best support your work, and what other potential sources may be of help.

    7. Access and security

    • Be prepared to document who will have access to the data, how it will be stored and what security and information management practices are in place to protect the data.
    • Custodians may also require you to sign data release agreements, conflict of interest declarations or other privacy agreements prior to sharing data.

    8. Timeframe

    Be specific about an ideal time frame for you to receive the data, noting that these can take some time due to the volume of requests and the need to discuss the request with you.

    9. Follow up

    Due to volume, things can be missed, and it is helpful to send reminders every so often and be able to point regular email reminders or escalate where requests have not been responded to.

  • The Victorian Government has made a commitment to increasing public access to government datasets available and ensuring they are easy to find and use, through DataVic. The full policy and supporting guidance, including identifying data sets to be made available and those which must not be made available can be found at DataVic access policy guidelinesExternal Link .

    Making datasets freely available to the public is the Victorian Government’s default position. Where possible agencies, are required to make datasets available with minimum restrictions, including the proactive removal of cost barriers.

    Victorian Government data will be made available unless access is restricted for reasons of privacy, public safety, security and law enforcement, public health, and compliance with the law.

    Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner (OVIC): position on proactive and informal release

    OVIC recognises the importance of providing access to as much public sector information as possible. This includes through proactive and informal release, which enables greater access to government information more frequently, and with less formality and expense. The full discussion paper can be found hereExternal Link .

    Challenges with place-based data requests

    Making data available is the default position of the State, however sufficiently detailed data at the community level is often difficult to find and may not be in existence or collected regularly by any organisation.

    Additionally, in order to mitigate the re-identification risk and protect the privacy of community members, data may be suppressed. This means that values less than a certain threshold will not be provided and may be represented as “less than five”.

    Thresholds are determined based on the volume and sensitivity of the data, and may be up to 60. Data requests for specific geographies, timeframes and community cohorts may be unable to be provided due to low numbers. More information can be found through the Australian Bureau of Statistics: Understanding re-identification | Australian Bureau of StatisticsExternal Link .

    What legislation and compliance are data custodians bound by?

    It may be helpful for place-based initiatives to understand the legislation which government agencies are bound by, and any compliance and risk management processes they go through prior to data sharing. A more comprehensive list can be found below in the list of additional resources. Key points include:

    Agencies must ensure that steps are taken to protect the security of the information: The Victorian Protective Data Security Standards (VPDSS) establish 12 high level mandatory requirements to protect public sector information across all security areas including governance, information, personnel, Information Communications Technology (ICT) and physical security.

    Agencies cannot release personal information

    The 2014 Privacy and Data Protection Act legislates the responsible collection and handling of personal information in the Victorian public sector.

    Health information has additional sensitivities

    The Health Records Act protects the privacy of an individual's health information that is held in the public and private sectors.

    Please note that this only covers the main pieces of legislation and requirements. There may be specific legislation that apply to certain agencies or in specific settings that restrict the way that the data can be used.

    What guidance are data custodians likely to draw on when sharing data?

    In addition to data sharing legislation, the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner (OVIC) also provides a helpful high-level overview of information sharing including some of the potential risks, as well as why protecting data is so important.

    Freedom of Information

    Under the Victorian Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act), you have the right to request access to documents held by Victorian public sector agencies. This right of access is subject to limited exceptions and exemptions.

    The FOI Act applies to:

    • government departments and Ministers
    • local councils
    • public hospitals
    • public schools, universities and TAFEs
    • statutory authorities.

    More information is available through the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner: Make a freedom of information requestExternal Link .

    Additional resources


    Legislation and compliance


    Legislation and compliance

Finding publicly available data on your local area

A list of publicly available data that you can access and analyse by geographical area.

Reviewed 16 March 2023

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