APIs enabling better government interactions and data sharing

We’re making it easier to connect and share data with government by standardising how government Application Program Interfaces (APIs) are built and discovered.

A group of people stand in front of a board with sticky notes on it.
Caption: Working together to make machine-to-machine services easier across government

Last year we shared our Digital Service Platforms Strategy and our vision for how federated, reusable components could work together to deliver government services.

We tested the idea of a data exchange as a platform, but it became clear early on it wouldn’t deliver the benefits or scale to meet the needs of users now or in the future. Based on this Discovery, we pivoted our approach and instead focused on figuring out how APIs could be best used to deliver better government interactions and data sharing.

Standardising how we make reusable government services available

Recently the Australian Data and Digital Council agreed to endorse a National API Design Standard (NAPIDS). The development of the NAPIDS, co-led by the Victorian Government and DTA, was an open collaboration involving all states and territories. The NAPIDS are built on an open-source co-development model that allows contributions from external API development communities, vendors, intermediaries and industry experts. The intent of the standard is to invite the wider API ecosystem to comment, raise issues and continuously iterate the NAPIDS.

Having a National API Standard doesn’t mean all government systems have to connect using a one-size-fits-all approach. It recognises some problems are better solved in other ways, but when a problem should use an API, everyone benefits if we all do it consistently.

You can find the National API Design Standards on GitHub. It's a living document and everyone should feel empowered to contribute to making it better.

How we are making it easier for you to discover and consume APIs.

Most agencies we’ve spoken to are thinking about how they promote their services and how they better integrate with others, but nobody in any agency has the complete picture.

We’re trying to do something about that. We have developed a single, central, location, where agencies can advertise their machine-to-machine services. It’s called api.gov.au and it’s for anyone wanting to build or consume a service that uses a government API, even if you’re not inside government.

There are a few important things we need to make clear:

  • It’s a listing site, not a gateway. We’re trying to centralise how people discover services, not the execution and operation of the services themselves.
  • It’s not only for APIs. The site lists any machine-to-machine service.
  • Not everyone will have access to all the services. This is because security, privacy and access controls apply to some services.
  • There are some services agencies may decide are best managed internally and this isn’t an attempt to disrupt that. There are still lots of services that can, and should, be publicly documented, so that’s where we’re starting.
  • And most importantly — it’s never going to be complete. We want to drive a capability uplift and support increased API use. We think it’s important and will help improve interactions with government, and data sharing.

If you look today, you will see we’ve catalogued an initial set of services. We are keen to help this grow and are looking for your support in driving API uptake.

What next?

We're started on this important journey and we know there are still things we need to discover.

In this coming year, we will be focusing on on-boarding services and users, developing workflows and improving the key features of api.gov.au with your support. If you have ideas about the API Design Standard or would like to be involved in the journey of api.gov.au, we'd love to hear from you.

Jeff Moss is Platform Manager, Platforms Branch at the DTA