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Issue One 2013 - Issue #18

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Thought leaders

Story by Virginia Millen

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A huge wealth of information is produced by academics, government agencies, NGOs, think tanks and other similar bodies, but these reports and papers are often difficult to trace because they are not published commercially.

Based at the Swinburne Institute for Social Research, Australian Policy Online (APO) is a research database that provides free access to this material, known as grey literature, which can be an important source of information for researchers.

“The key aim is to bring together high-quality research, which is otherwise uncollected, and make it widely available to people to help make public policy a more informed place,” says Amanda Lawrence, who until late last year was the site’s managing editor and is now APO’s research manager.

Informing the debate

Lawrence and her small team actively monitor more than 500 organisations, and source from about 1500 in total. Research is published based on its relevance to the Australian public policy landscape, and made available to the public online.

Although much of what APO collects is available on the web, it is often very difficult to find, making the database a valuable resource.

“We’re told all the time by people in government, NGOs, academia and the media that Policy Online is an absolutely essential service, which alerts them to what sort of research is going on, and allows them to access it. It really is one of the key bridges between policy and research,” says Lawrence.

Now Lawrence is looking at how she can take the information published and catalogued on APO in another direction to make it more accessible to the public. In November last year a team from the Swinburne Institute for Social Research led by Professor Julian Thomas, Professor Sandy Gifford and Amanda Lawrence were awarded a grant from the Australian Research Council to develop APO’s capacity as a linked database that can connect with other systems. The project is titled Linked Data Policy Hub: Connected Resources for Social Research.

Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the worldwide web, has pioneered linked data. The idea behind it is to create a richer network of information by linking raw open data with other digital resources including reports, articles and data.

“The project will connect APO’s collection of grey literature resources with other major research databases, including RMIT Publishing’s Informit database of journal articles and the National Library of Australia’s Trove catalogue,” says Lawrence. “I’m really interested in looking at what we can do with our database of publications and what can we do with the technology to bring related content together in more useful ways.”

The linked data project will see Policy Online enter a new frontier of online research. “It’s an exciting time,” says Lawrence. “We’ve had a long period where we can get a flow of catalogue information and centralise that, but the new area of linked data offers a lot of potential for being able to pull together related resources from a lot of different places on different topics. We’re looking to be part of that new world.” Visit the APO website for more information.

Bridging the gap

Also based at the Swinburne Institute for Social Research, Inside Story is dedicated to publishing long-form, high-quality analysis and reportage by university researchers and journalists. Peter Browne, one of the founders of Australian Policy Online, launched Inside Story four years ago and has been editing the site ever since. “The concept was to run longer pieces than the newspapers, while trying to bridge the gap between academia and journalism,” he says.

The site publishes pieces on Australian politics, society and culture as well as world news, drawing on articles filed by correspondents from around the world and averages around 65,000 page views per month. Visit the Inside website for more information.

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