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Open Data Empowers Us to Answer Questions that Matter

Rufus Pollock - December 9, 2013 in Access to Information, Featured, Open Data, Open Knowledge Foundation

This article by Rufus Pollock, Founder and Director of the Open Knowledge Foundation, is cross-posted from “Telefonica Digital Hub” released on 5 December 2013.

Every day we face challenges – from the personal such as the quickest way to get to the work or what we should eat to global ones like climate change and how to sustainably feed and educate seven billion people. Here at the Open Knowledge Foundation we believe that opening up data – and turning that data into insight – can be crucial to addressing these challenges, and building a society in which is everyone – not just the few – are empowered with the knowledge they need to understand and effect change.

Neon sign Open 2005  Photographer User Justinc cc-by-sa

Open data and open knowledge are fundamentally about empowerment, about giving people – citizens, journalists, NGOs, companies and policy-makers – access to the information they need to understand and shape the world around them.

Through openness, we can ensure that technology and data improve science, governance, and society. Without it, we may see the increasing centralisation of knowledge – and therefore power – in the hands of the few, and a huge loss in our potential, individually and collectively, to innovate, understand, and improve the world around us.

Open Data is data that can be freely accessed, used, built upon and shared by anyone, for any purpose. With digital technology – from mobiles to the internet – increasingly everywhere, we’re seeing a data revolution. It’s a revolution both in the amount of data available and in our ability to use, and share, that data. And it’s changing everything we do – from how we travel home from work to how scientists do research, to how government set policy.

Now much of that data is personal, data about you and what you do – what you buy (your loyalty card, your bank statements), where you go (your mobile location or the apps you’ve installed) or who you interact with online (Facebook, Twitter etc). That data should never be “open”, freely accessible to anyone – its your data, and you should control who has access to it and how it is used.

But there’s a lot of data that isn’t personal. Data like the government’s budget, or road maps, or train times, or what’s in that candy bar, or where those jeans were made, or how much carbon dioxide was produced last year … Data like this could and should be open if the governments and corporations who control it can be persuaded to unlock it.

And that’s what we’ve been doing at the Open Knowledge Foundation for the last decade: working to get governments and corporations to unlock their data and make it open.

We’re doing this because of the power of open data to unleash innovation, creativity and insight. It has potential to empower anyone – whether it is an entrepreneur, an activist or a researcher – to get access to information and use it as they see fit. For example, citizens in Ghana using data on mining to ensure they get their fair share of tax revenues to pay for local schools and hospitals, or a startup like Open Healthcare UK using drug prescription data released by the UK government to identify hundreds of millions of pounds of savings for the health services.

It’s key to remember here that real impact doesn’t come directly from open data itself – no one’s life is immediately improved by a new open data initiative or an additional open dataset. Data has to be turned into knowledge, information into insight – and someone has to act on that knowledge.

To do that takes tools and skills – tools for processing, analysing and presenting data, and skills to do that. This is why this is another key area of the Open Knowledge Foundation’s work. With projects like SchoolofData we’re working to teach data skills to those who need them most, and in Open Knowledge Foundation Labs we’re creating lightweight tools to help people use data more easily and effectively.

Finally, it’s about people, the people who use data, and the people who use the insights from that data to drive change. We need to create a culture of “open data makers“, people able and ready to make apps and insights with open data. We need to connect open data with those who have the best questions and the biggest needs – a healthcare worker in Zambia, the London commuter travelling home – and go beyond the data geeks and the tech savvy.

Image “Neon Sign Open” by Justin Cormack, CC-BY

The DataTank 4.0

Guest - December 5, 2013 in OKF Belgium, Open Data, Technical

This post was written by Pieter Colpaert, a member of the Open Knowledge Foundation Belgium Chapter.

The DataTank is open source software, just like CKAN, Drupal or Elastic Search, which you can use to transform a dataset into an HTTP API. Today (the 5th of December 2014), we are proud to launch the 4.0 version on which professional support will be provided. The project was started in 2008 by one of the founders of Open Knowledge Foundation Belgium. Today it remains mainly developed by OKFN Belgium, but we are welcoming new contributors from all over the world.

To get an idea of what The DataTank can do, check http://thedatatank.com or our demo server: http://demo.thedatatank.com.

With this new version of The DataTank, we hope that hackathon developers will have a tool to set up an API for their developers in no time, that start-ups will be able to combine different Open Datasets from all over the world in one Web service without trouble, that Open Data Portal developers are going to integrate The DataTank with CKAN, and that data owners are going to see a faster return on investment from publishing their data.

The platform is written in PHP using the Laravel framework. If this is a language you speak, feel free to dig in and fork us on github: http://github.com/tdt/core

Oh, did we mention it also publishes RDF where suitable? http://demo.thedatatank.com/api/dcat

If you want to use The DataTank at your organisation but you’re not a technical person, we can help you! Contact our team at info@thedatatank.com

What needs to happen to enable citizens to Follow the Money around the world?

Jonathan Gray - November 22, 2013 in Campaigning, Featured, Open Data, Open Government Data, Public Money, Transparency

The following post is from Alan Hudson, Policy Director (Transparency & Accountability) at ONE and Jonathan Gray, Director of Policy and Ideas at the Open Knowledge Foundation.

A few weeks back, we launched a new global “Follow the Money” network of organisations pushing for the transparency needed to enable citizens to hold decision-makers to account for the use of public money. We hope that the network will help organisations working on this agenda to share information about what they’re doing, to develop a shared vision and principles around transparency and open data, and to spot opportunities to collaborate and gaps that need to be filled.

To share experience and inform the development of the network, we also organised a “Follow the Money” session at the Open Government Partnership Summit in London, particularly focusing on the needs of campaigners in developing countries.

Participants at “Follow the Money” session at the Open Government Partnership Summit 2013 in London.

After introductions from ONE, the Open Knowledge Foundation and the World Bank’s Robert Hunja (who chaired the session), Seember Nyager from the Public and Private Development Centre in Nigeria spoke about the centre’s work on procurement monitoring. She said while there are laws and tools in place to enable citizens to monitor and report problems with public procurement, these are currently underused and further work is needed to build the capacity of civil society to use them. She said the “Follow the Money” network could help to integrate transparency efforts around revenues, procurement and monitoring.

Justin Arenstein from the African Media Initiative presented a range of projects where citizens and journalists have followed the money to flag corruption and the misuse of public funds – from Azerbaijan to Ghana. He argued that transparency work in this area should be demand driven, outcomes based and citizen-focused, and that transparency campaigners should make sure to team up with, support and build on the work of investigative journalists.

Rocio Moreno from the Global Movement for Budget Transparency, Accountability and Participation spoke about how to make international work impactful at national level, and how to connect and build on national level work to create global momentum. She argued that the “Follow the Money” network needs to focus on how it can support civil society actors at national level.

Martin Tisne from the Omidyar Network responded to the talks arguing that the “Follow the Money” was a good opportunity to enable better cooperation between fiscal transparency advocates and open data advocates. He contended that the volume of information about public money that we potentially have available to us means that campaigners can no longer pore over contracts one at a time, and we need new tools and techniques to follow the money effectively. Also more technical work on standards is needed to enable linking and comparability between different types of data, so that citizens can follow the money from revenue to results.

Oluseun Onigbinde from BudgIT in Nigeria concurred that “Follow the Money” efforts should be driven by the needs of citizens, and should serve to amplify the voices and concerns of citizens so that governments listen and respond to them. He also suggested that “Follow the Money” network should have an institutional focus – working to identify, highlight and spread public policies which enable citizens to follow the money.

We also discussed possible next steps for the “Follow the Money” network with several of its members, which included: principles to ensure open data is a key requirement in fiscal transparency campaigning; work on data standards and interoperability; mapping activities to explain the different ways that public money flows from revenues to results; further work to highlight fiscal transparency needs of public interest campaigners; national and international campaigning and policy work; and investigations and projects to enable citizens to follow the money in different areas.

Overall our sessions and meetings at the Open Government Partnership confirmed that there was strong support and demand for the “Follow the Money” network as a way for advocates to share updates about what they are doing, and to work together more effectively around common goals. We hope that it will contribute towards building a stronger and better connected global fiscal transparency movement. If you’d like to join us, please do head on over to followthemoney.net.

New petition to fix the EU lobby register

Jonathan Gray - November 8, 2013 in Access to Information, Open Data, Policy

The Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU), a coalition of over 200 civil society groups concerned about the effects of corporate lobbying on the EU (including the Open Knowledge Foundation), have recently launched a petition to fix the EU’s official register of lobbyists.

The current register is voluntary, incomplete and unreliable – giving only a small glimpse of the picture about the activities of big lobbyists in Brussels. ALTER-EU produced a detailed report earlier this year looking at some of the things that are wrong with the current register, and how to fix them.

This is an excellent opportunity for the EU to demonstrate their commitment to the principle that official information can be used to strengthen the democracy and public accountability of European institutions (which I wrote about on the EU digital agenda blog a couple of weeks ago).

If you want to see the EU increasing lobbying transparency and fixing the register, we strongly encourage you to sign and share the petition!

If you’re interested in pushing for greater lobbying transparency in your country, you can also join our recently launched global working group on lobbying transparency, that we’re co-hosting with the Sunlight Foundation.

Open Data’s Business Value Isn’t That Important

Guest - November 8, 2013 in Network, Open Data, Open Government Data

This is a cross-post from the Sunlight Foundation blog, written by Director of Sunlight Labs, Tom Lee. See the original post here.

The recent Open Government Partnership meetings in London have provided a good opportunity to assess the direction of our community. The latest comes from Jonathan Gray, and the title — Open government should be about accountability and social justice, not the digital economy — more or less speaks for itself:

[Prime Minister David] Cameron’s speech typified a broader pivot in open government discourse in recent years from political accountability and social justice towards economic growth and digital innovation, from holding power to account to supporting startups. In recent years senior officials from the US and the UK have started alluding to a trinity of “open governments, open societies, and open economies” in high level transparency talks, as well as to the potential of digital technologies and digital information for innovative new businesses and growth. In addition to the kinds of panels you might expect at a transparency summit, there were also sessions on public-private partnerships, entrepreneurs in civic innovation, and smart cities. Web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee remarked in his closing talk, “for me always the most exciting piece of it at the end of the day is economic value”.

[...]

While sometimes it may be more more comfortable for governments to highlight their plans to ‘go digital’ or to enable new businesses by opening up official data, transparency advocates should not be distracted from [their] mission to enable citizens to hold power to account and to fight for social and environmental justice.

I agree with Jonathan’s diagnosis of distinct strains within the open government data community. But I don’t think they have to be in tension. I’ve argued before that a big tent is beneficial to us all — that blurring the lines between open data for accountability and open data for economic development can serve both constituencies’ needs. After all, the great thing about open information is that its supply is limitless.

But even if we don’t need to choose between these rationales, it is worth evaluating their relative importance. And through that lens, Jonathan’s point is well taken: the business rationale for opening data is receiving a tremendous amount of attention — arguably more than it merits, given that this business rationale represents a relatively small share of open data’s potential benefits.

The latest evidence for this arrived just last week in the form of a new McKinsey report on the economic value of open data. The resulting headlines and powerpoint slides are likely to focus on the three trillion dollar estimate that leads the report. I’ll be the first to admit that this enormous number from a respected consulting firm will be a useful tool for advocates.

But it’s worth digging in to exactly what the report says and what it means. I suspect we can all agree that open data is meaningful for our countries’ economies. But we need to asking not just how much but also how. From the report:

Much of this value will lead to greater consumer surplus from improved transparency into price and product information. Market share shifts could also occur across the industry, as companies gain competitive advantage by incorporating open data into their analytics.

Emphasis mine. “Improved price transparency and product information” means consumers driving a harder bargain. That means thinner profit margins and more value landing with consumers rather than producers. The report goes on:

Consumers stand to gain the most. Consumers are already beginning to benefit from open data through price transparency (for example, by using online shopping sites that offer price comparisons). Other information about products and services could be made available through open data (e.g., whether trains are running on time or the labor and environmental practices of manufacturers) and could be used by consumers to select the products and services that best match their preferences. Opening [personalized datasets] gives consumers better visibility into their own consumption, often revealing information that can lead to changes in behavior. Open data also gives individuals (as consumers and citizens) new channels to provide input to improve the quality of goods and services (including public services) and the quality of data. Together, more than 50 percent of the value potential we estimated is in consumer and customer surplus.

This is an incredibly important point: most of the benefits of open data will accrue to consumers and citizens, not to investors and firms.

That’s not to say that open data startups aren’t important or potentially lucrative. But the wealth they generate directly is likely to be relatively small compared to the more diffuse benefits that open data can confer: better governance, more efficient markets, and smarter business decisions.

I’ve argued before that there are structural reasons to expect that business can only capture a small portion of open data’s value. And I’ll repeat: this in no way invalidates the importance of those businesses or the usefulness of the services they will deliver to citizens, government and industry.

But it does help to set our priorities. Open data’s value will manifest relatively rarely in the form of dividends or paychecks. Often, its benefits will be difficult to quantify.

Consider the now-classic pro-transparency case of restaurant inspection scores. Studies have found that posting these scores reduces food-borne illness hospitalizations between 13 and 20 percent. That’s a real benefit to diners and to our health-care system. But it will, if anything, show up as a decrease in business activity. The cost of implementing the program is probably small; diners will probably still pay the same amount for their (now slightly-safer) meals; hospitals will be billing less. This is boring econ 101 stuff, but it’s important to understand that these benefits are real even if they are difficult to measure in dollars.

It’s also important to understand the political economy implications of this example. There might be no natural constituency that demands health inspection data. The restaurants and hospitals have little incentive to push for disclosure. The benefit to diners is real but too diffuse to mobilize many. It might not be practical to expect a popular outcry to spur reform.

That’s where our community comes in — the nonprofits, activists, foundations, political organizers, policy experts and civic hackers. Better services, more value, greater accountability: that’s where most of open data’s promise lies, and where the most important work remains to be done if we are to ensure that it is realized.

This is doubly true thanks to the magic of the profit motive. If there’s money to be made, smart entrepeneurs will find ways to unlock it. I hope and expect that they will — that’s the beauty of capitalism. But this calls into question the rationale for government and philanthropic efforts to emphasize and explicitly subsidize the economic development of open data relative to other uses.

As I’ve said, I don’t think we have to choose between those uses. I truly believe that a big tent benefits us all. But I’m with Jonathan: better businesses will be great to have, but better societies are even more exciting.

1-day Open Data training, London, 6 December

Mark Wainwright - November 6, 2013 in Events, Open Data, Open Government Data, Training

The Services team of the Open Knowledge Foundation will be running a public version of its one-day introductory training course on Open Data, on Friday, 6 December in central London. The course is open to anyone who has an interest in Open Data in a professional capacity, and wants an introduction from one of the leading organisations in the field. Places are limited, so to register your interest, please sign up here.

Note: If your organisation is interested in in-house training, we have a programme of courses we can offer, including this introductory course as well as a 5-day course for Open Data managers. Contact services@okfn.org for more information.

What will it cover?

The course will give an overview of the following: What is Open Data; kinds of data; Benefits of Open Data; regulatory requirements; data licensing; data quality and formats; an introduction to Linked Data; planning an Open Data project; data portals; publishing data; community engagement.

Who is it for?

The course is oriented towards organisations, such as local government councillors and officers, considering starting their own Open Data initiative. It will be useful for those for whom Open Data is a bit of a mystery wanting to get an overview; decision makers who are supportive of the idea of Open Data, but need to understand what it will involve in technical terms; people responsible for the successful implementation of the project as well as staff who will be using or maintaing it, and anyone else interested in learning more about Open Data. No technical background is

What do I need?

No technical or other background is needed – just an interest in learning more about Open Data.

Background

Local governments and other organisations are looking at how they can release data they hold – unleashing creativity from local entrepreneurs, researchers, journalists, third-sector organisations and citizens, and helping to build economic activity as well as accountability and trust. The Open Knowledge Foundation has unparalleled expertise in the area, having been active in Open Data since 2004. Among many other projects it built the original version of the UK government’s highly successful data portal data.gov.uk, and its School of Data runs courses to enable citizens and civil society organisations to make effective use of data.

Registration and cost

The price for the day is £250. To register your interest in attending, please sign up here. An early-bird price of £200 will apply to registrations by 17 November, and places are limited to 12, so get in touch!

The Open Knowledge Foundation’s hopes for the Open Government Partnership

Jonathan Gray - October 30, 2013 in Featured, Open Data, Open Government Data, Policy

SummitLogo1

Tomorrow campaigners and officials from over 60 countries will gather in London for the second annual summit of the Open Government Partnership, a voluntary multi-stakeholder initiative dedicated to strengthening the transparency and accountability commitments of its member states.

Over the past few months we’ve been involved in extensive consultations and talks to give input to the UK’s National Action Plan, hoping that the UK taking leadership in key areas will spur other countries to follow suit. We’re also organising and participating in numerous events and sessions at and around this week’s summit on topics that we think deserve attention.

What do we hope will happen this week? Following are some of the areas we’ll be particularly keeping an eye on over the coming days.

Ending secrecy around company ownership

We hope the UK and other governments commit to cracking down on phantom firms by creating open, public registers of who really owns and controls companies. This has been a major campaigning point for many of the civil society organisations involved in the process of developing the UK’s National Action Plan and we and many others will be watching keenly for announcements in this area tomorrow and Friday.

Enabling citizens to ‘Follow the Money’

We hope that the Open Government Partnership member countries will commit to opening up information about public money so that citizens can hold decision-makers to account. Crucially this should not just be spending and budgets, but also things like contracts and revenues from public assets like natural resources and land. We’ll be discussing this in our ‘Follow the Money’ session – in particular focusing on the needs of campaigners in developing countries. If you’re interested in this area, you can sign up on our recently launched Follow the Money site.

Putting carbon emissions transparency on the open government agenda

We’d like to see more OGP countries making carbon emissions transparency a key part of their open government commitments. In particular we’d like corporate carbon emissions reporting requirements to result in the publication of machine readable open databases. We’d also like to see more timely, granular, and accessible data from governments at both national and subnational levels, and more initiatives to engage citizens around progress on tracking carbon pollution reduction.

Who’s lobbying?

We think every country in the world should have a lobbyist register that shows who is lobbying whom for what, to help to safeguard against big money having an unfair influence in politics. And we think it is essential that lobbyist registers are published as open data. We hope to see announcements in this area from OGP countries, and discussion about how to improve transparency around who’s lobbying. If you’re interested in this area you can join the new working group that we recently launched with the Sunlight Foundation.

‘Follow the Money’ with ONE and the Open Knowledge Foundation at the Open Government Partnership

Jonathan Gray - October 30, 2013 in Campaigning, Featured, Open Data, Open Government Data, Public Money

As the Open Government Partnership summit kicks off, we’re pleased to launch a new website for the emerging ‘Follow the Money’ network, FollowTheMoney.net, supported by ONE and the Open Knowledge Foundation.

If you’re interested in using information about public money to hold decision-makers to account, then we hope you’ll join us. Fill in your details on the site and we’ll be in touch.

At our session at the Open Government Partnership Summit tomorrow we’ll be looking at what we might be able to do to support campaigners who want to ‘follow the money’ around the world – especially in developing countries. The session will be live-streamed (at 15.45 PM GMT, Thursday October 31st) and we’ll be posting further details shortly (for more information about Thursday’s session and the Follow the Money campaign download this fact sheet).

In the meantime you can also join the conversation on Twitter with the #followthemoney hashtag.

Detail from FollowTheMoney.net

The Open Definition in context: putting open into practice

Laura James - October 16, 2013 in Featured, Linked Open Data, Open Data, Open Definition, Open Knowledge Definition, Open Standards

We’ve seen how the Open Definition can apply to data and content of many types published by many different kinds of organisation. Here we set out how the Definition relates to specific principles of openness, and to definitions and guidelines for different kinds of open data.

Why we need more than a Definition

The Open Definition does only one thing: as clearly and concisely as possible it defines the conditions for a piece of information to be considered ‘open’.

The Definition is broad and universal: it is a key unifying concept which provides a common understanding across the diverse groups and projects in the open knowledge movement.

At the same time, the Open Definition doesn’t provide in-depth guidance for those publishing information in specific areas, so detailed advice and principles for opening specific types of information – from government data, to scientific research, to the digital holdings of cultural heritage institutions – is needed alongside it.

For example, the Open Definition doesn’t specify whether data should be timely; and yet this is a great idea for many data types. It doesn’t make sense to ask whether census data from a century ago is “timely” or not though!

Guidelines for how to open up information in one domain can’t always be straightforwardly reapplied in another, so principles and guidelines for openness targeted at particular kinds of data, written specifically for the types of organisation that might be publishing them, are important. These sit alongside the Open Definition and help people in all kinds of data fields to appreciate and share open information, and we explain some examples here.

Principles for Open Government Data

In 2007 a group of open government advocates met to develop a set of principles for open government data, which became the “8 Principles of Open Government Data”.

In 2010, the Sunlight Foundation revised and built upon this initial set with their Ten Principles for Opening up Government Information, which have set the standard for open government information around the world. These principles may apply to other kinds of data publisher too, but they are specifically designed for open government, and implementation guidance and support is focused on this domain. The principles share many of the key aspects of the Open Definition, but include additional requirements and guidance specific to government information and the ways it is published and used. The Sunlight principles cover the following areas: completeness, primacy, timeliness, ease of physical and electronic access, machine readability, non-discrimination, use of commonly owned standards, licensing, permanence, and usage costs.

Tim Berners-Lee’s 5 Stars for Linked Data

In 2010, Web Inventor Tim Berners-Lee created his 5 Stars for Linked Data, which aims to encourage more people to publish as Linked Data – that is using a particular set of technical standards and technologies for making information interoperable and interlinked.

The first three stars (legal openness, machine readability, and non-proprietary format) are covered by the Open Definition, and the two additional stars add the Linked Data components (in the form of RDF, a technical specification).

The 5 stars have been influential in various parts of the open data community, especially those interested in the semantic web and the vision of a web of data, although there are many other ways to connect data together.

Principles for specific kinds of information

At the Open Knowledge Foundation many of our Working Groups have been involved with others in creating principles for various types of open data and fields of work with an open element. Such principles frame the work of their communities, set out best practice as well as legal, regulatory and technical standards for openness and data, and have been endorsed by many leading people and organisations in each field.

These include:

The Open Definition: the key principle powering the Global Open Knowledge Movement

All kinds of individuals and organisations can open up information: government, public sector bodies, researchers, corporations, universities, NGOs, startups, charities, community groups, individuals and more. That information can be in many formats – it may be spreadsheets, databases, images, texts, linked data, and more; and it can be information from any field imaginable – such as transport, science, products, education, sustainability, maps, legislation, libraries, economics, culture, development, business, design, finance and more.

Each of these organisations, kinds of information, and the people who are involved in preparing and publishing the information, has its own unique requirements, challenges, and questions. Principles and guidelines (plus training materials, technical standards and so on!) to support open data activities in each area are essential, so those involved can understand and respond to the specific obstacles, challenges and opportunities for opening up information. Creating and maintaining these is a major activity for many of the Open Knowledge Foundation’s Working Groups as well as other groups and communities.

At the same time, those working on openness in many different areas – whether open government, open access, open science, open design, or open culture – have shared interests and goals, and the principles and guidelines for some different data types can and do share many common elements, whilst being tailored to the specific requirements of their communities. The Open Definition provides the key principle which connects all these groups in the global open knowledge movement.

More about openness coming soon

Don’t miss our other posts about Defining Open Data, and exploring the Open Definition, why having a shared and agreed definition of open data is so important, and how one can go about “doing open data”.

Dear Prime Minister, Please increase the ambition of the UK’s open government commitments

Jonathan Gray - October 8, 2013 in Open Data, Open Government Data

The Open Knowledge Foundation is part of a group of civil society organisations behind an open letter to the UK Prime Minister urging him to increase the ambition of the UK’s open government commitments in the run up to the Open Government Partnership Summit in London later this month.

This isn’t just about the UK. The UK has an opportunity to take leadership in a number of key areas – such as beneficial ownership and financial transparency – which will affect developments in many other countries around the world.

Our letter is reproduced in full below.

An open letter to the Prime Minister on the UK’s open government commitments

Rt Hon David Cameron MP
10 Downing Street
London
SW1A 2AA

Cc: The Rt Hon Nick Clegg MP (Deputy Prime Minister),
Rt Hon Francis Maude MP (Minister for the Cabinet Office),
Nick Hurd MP (Minister for Civil Society)

8 October 2013

Dear Prime Minister,

The end of October is a critical moment for open government in the UK and beyond. The UK will publish its second open government National Action Plan, host the Open Government Partnership Annual Summit, and hand over the baton of chairing the OGP. We hope that the Government will mark this important occasion by announcing a series of ambitious commitments towards greater openness, building on the leadership shown at the G8 Summit.

We welcome the emphasis that you have placed on the principles of open government both domestically and internationally and your ambition of becoming ‘the most open and transparent government in the world’. The true strength of your Government’s efforts will ultimately be judged by the level of new ambition in the commitments made and delivered through the action plan launched on 31 October at the Summit in London.

For the UK Plan, while progress has been made in finding common ground on a number of important issues, we are concerned by the absence of any truly ambitious new commitments. With three weeks to go, we call on you to take a lead in delivering such commitments:

  1. Make public who owns and controls companies and trusts, by publishing a beneficial ownership register that meets the standards set out in the Open Data Charter. A public register would support good corporate governance and a clean and respected business environment, as well as lift the veil of secrecy that the corrupt and the criminal use to hide their identity.

  2. Enable public scrutiny of all organisations in receipt of public money, by opening up public sector contracts and extending transparency standards and legislation. Endorse and implement a system of ‘Open Contracting’, ensuring public disclosure and monitoring of contracting from procurement to the close of projects, and amend the Freedom of Information Act so that all information held by a contractor in connection with a public service contract is brought within its scope.

  3. Bring lobbying out into the open in the UK, by developing a robust, compulsory register of lobbyists. An open and comprehensive register would allow public scrutiny of who is lobbying whom, what they are seeking to influence and how much is being spent in the process.

Ambitious commitments such as these will not only send a clear message about the UK’s commitment to open government at home, but will lead by example and demonstrate the level of ambition expected of other countries as they draft their own national action plans.

Yours sincerely,

Alexandra Runswick, Director, Unlock Democracy
Anne Thurston, Director, International Records Management Trust
Anthony Zacharzewski, Director, The Democratic Society
Cathy James, Chief Executive, Public Concern at Work
Chris Bain, Director, CAFOD
Chris Taggart, Co-founder & CEO, Open Corporates
Claire Schouten, Programme Director, Integrity Action
David Hall-Matthews, Managing Director, Publish What You Fund
Emily Gerrard, Director, Development Research and Training UK
Gavin Hayman, Director of Campaigns, Global Witness
Javier Ruiz, Campaigner, Open Rights Group
Dr Laura James, CEO, Open Knowledge Foundation
Maurice Frankel, Director, Campaign for Freedom of Information
Miles Litvinoff, Coordinator, Publish What You Pay UK
Richard Murphy, Director, Tax Research
Simon Burall, Director, Involve
Tamasin Cave, Director, Spinwatch
Tim Davies, Director, Practical Participation

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