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From Health in the UK to Education in Nigeria – Stop Secret Contracts

Theodora Middleton - March 24, 2014 in Campaigning, Featured, Open Government Data, Public Money, Stop Secret Contracts

Today it was announced that fraud and error in the UK National Health Service are leading to the loss of around £7 billion each year. This could pay for about 250,000 new nurses, and comes at a time when the service is struggling more than ever under the pressures of austerity.

One of the main ways that money is lost is overcharging and underdelivery by contractors. Outsourcing of health provision to unaccountable contractors is becoming increasingly popular in the UK, and it provides fertile ground for fraud and corruption. And the public has no effective means of redress when things go wrong.

In Nigeria, civil society groups are being denied access to crucial contracts being drawn up to bring about educational reforms. Nigeria has been found to be the country with the highest number of out-of-school children in the world, and educational reform is undoubtedly needed.

But information about the contracts involved is being masked by “commercial sensitivity.” The lack of transparency stifles participation, reducing the likelihood of genuine innovation. An inclusive education system which meets the needs of all Nigerians will not be achieved when the process is shrouded in secrecy.

Across the world, contracting is the aspect of government which is most open to abuse. Governments hide behind claims of commercial sensitivity or national security to avoid exposing their contracts to public scrutiny.

stopsecretcontracts logo

This month we launched our Stop Secret Contracts campaign, calling on world leaders to open up the procurements process. At the most basic level, the contracting data must be made available to the public. This includes:

  1. The full text of contracts;
  2. Key documents such as pre-studies, bid documents, performance evaluations, guarantees, and auditing reports;
  3. Information about contract formation, such as planning process, procurement method, and evaluation criteria;
  4. Information about performance and completion, such as delivery schedules, status of implementation, payments and risk assessments.

But we also want to see stronger commitments towards participation and accountability, as laid out in the Open Government Guide. As contractors play a growing role in the delivery of public services everywhere, we must ensure that we do not lose democratic control over vital aspects of our societies.

We need YOU to help us spread the word. We need you to sign the petition so that this issue is taken seriously by the G20 and OGP. Organisations who are working on this crucial problem need to be able to show that many voices are united behind them.

Once you’ve signed, there’s more you can do to help. You could write a blog post – like our Bangladesh and Sweden Local Groups have done. You could follow @StopSecretContracts, and retweet interesting and relevant things using #SecretContracts. You could join the Open Contracting Partnership’s community of practice to get more involved with policy conversations. You could start contributing to the C20 Conversations, the civil society engagement process around this year’s G20 in Australia – especially in the governance group. You could check out the list of supporting organisations: if any of them are local to you, why not get in touch and see if you can help them push forward?

There’s a whole load of resources available if you’d like to learn more about open contracting and why it matters. The Open Contracting Partnership have produced these Global Principles for Open Contracting, and the Sunlight Foundation has these complementary guidelines for open data in procurements. This report, Publish What You Buy makes the case for openness, and this entry in the Open Government Guide is a great starting point for understanding the issues and the kinds of political commitments we need to see.

From next Monday we will be publishing a series of blog posts from different organisations who are supporting the Stop Secret Contracts campaign. If you have stories to share about the problems of secrecy in contracting, get in touch with contact@stopsecretcontracts.org

Open Data 1-day training on 28 March

Mark Wainwright - February 25, 2014 in Open Data, Open Government Data, Training

The Open Knowledge Foundation will be re-running its one-day Introduction to Open Data on Friday 28 March.

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’s vision of a world where open data improves lives means its job is to help get data released and used. For example, it built the software that powers the UK government’s widely-copied data portal and many others. Its School of Data works to empower civil society organisations, journalists and citizens with the skills they need to use data effectively in their efforts to create more equitable and effective societies.

The Introduction to Open Data aims to demystify the subject and give participants an understanding of the whats, whys and hows of the subject. 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.

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 could also be useful for organisations planning to work with or campaign for Open Data. 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 and Open Data project as well as staff who will be using or maintaing it, and anyone else interested in learning more about Open Data.

What do people say about it?

Feedback from the last session in December (above) include:

  • “A great introduction to the world of open data that’s left me keen to find out even more” Saira, ONE)
  • “Excellent overview of the key concepts regarding open data” (Jon Hill, London Borough of Barnet)
  • “Good introduction to the most important aspects of Open Data” (Laura Meggiolaro, International Land Coalition)

Other feedback included “A good overview that contained something for everyone in a diverse audience”; “Great session, great location, great participants!”; “A great introduction to the issue. Engaging delivery, more interesting than I expected!”

What do I need?

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

Registration and cost

The price for the day is £250, and an early-bird price of £200 will apply to registrations by 7 March. To register, visit the signup page. If you can’t make the date, the course will be running again on 20 May.

If you have any questions about the course, please contact training@okfn.org.

More training opportunities

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Gauging the needs and challenges of the global open data community

Guest - February 21, 2014 in Global Open Data Initiative, Open Government Data

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This is a guest blog post by Julia Keserü, International Policy Manager at the Sunlight Foundation, which partners alongside ao. the Open Knowledge Foundation in the Global Open Data Initiative. Originally featured on the blog of the initiative.

A few months back, the Global Open Data Initiative (GODI) sought input from the transparency community to learn more about the needs and challenges associated with open data. We wanted to know what definitions, guidelines and resources the community relies on, what is missing to improve the work of our fellow practitioners and how a global initiative might be helpful to boost reform.

Through a survey and a series of interviews, we gathered anecdotes, lessons and inspiration from about 80 individuals in 32 different countries with diverse professional backgrounds – research/education, business/consulting, advocacy. What follows is a summary of our most interesting findings. For more, take a look at the full report here.

Open data – standards, guides and definitions

Most interviewees agreed that the basic definition of open data is government proactively publishing data online. However, in many countries, data is frequently perceived as a product of civil society organizations’ efforts – through freedom of information requests or website scraping – rather than a timely and trustable resource provided by governments. Practical openness is also seen as being contingent on the usability of data to those who are seeking to create change with it.

Despite widespread agreement that standards are important, in practice, the interviewees did not seem to be overly focused on them. In some regions, such as Latin America, practitioners are often unaware that open data standards and guidelines existed, due in part to the limited availability of Spanish language resources. Many noted that the term open data is too dry and technical, which might impede evangelizing efforts.

The community

Global networks seem to play an extremely important role in sharing knowledge and learning from each others’ experiences. Many are eager for GODI to help connect the different strands of the open data movement and provide a place for people to come and find potential partners and collaborators. A few mentioned a need to connect those working on open data at the national level to the international conversation and spread the word beyond the existing transparency community.

Interacting with governments

As expected, knowledge of open data is typically isolated within relevant departments and branches of government. Opening up data for ensuring transparency and accountability is still too often met with resistance and suspicion. Several organizations and individuals noted that their ability to interact and engage with public officials diminishes notably when they are seeking politically sensitive datasets — like company registers, budgets, or campaign finance information. There was widespread agreement that achieving data disclosure policies required a combination of both legislative and persuasive tactics.

Challenges

Unsurprisingly, the challenges faced by the majority of people we heard from could be boiled down to politics, access to data, data quality, and engagement. Many faced political resistance from governments unwilling to release data in the first place and the lack of good freedom of information laws in many countries is still inhibiting the development of open data.

On top of these, there is a certain confusion around open data and big data, and the community is in desperate need of credible impact studies that can provide a strong theory of change. Some regions, such as the African continent, are historically known to be burdened by issues of poor infrastructure and connectivity – data needs to be presented in more innovative ways there.

Opportunities for the open data community

There was a general consensus that a better networked global open data community could improve the way organizations collaborate, find partners, and prevent duplicating efforts. Many agreed that a large civil society alliance could offer the clout necessary to push for national agendas around open government. It could also help the reform agenda by articulating an open data solution that fits into the domain of transparency and create a feedback loop for accountability.

And lastly: the open data community would benefit immensely from a more clearly defined evidence base and theory of change associated with open data. We need proof that open data can be valuable in a variety of country contexts and for a variety of reasons such as economic development, accountable government or more effective public sector management.

River level data must be open

Nick Barnes - February 13, 2014 in Open Geodata, Open Government Data

My home – as you can see – is flooded, for the second time in a month. The mighty Thames is reclaiming its flood-plains, and making humans – especially the UK government’s Environment Agency – look puny and irrelevant. As I wade to and fro, putting sandbags around the doors, carrying valuables upstairs, and adding bricks to the stacks that prop up the heirloom piano, I occasionally check the river level data at the Agency website, and try to estimate how high the water will rise, and when.

[IMG: Flooded front door]

There are thousands of river monitoring stations across the UK, recording water levels every few minutes. The Agency publishes the resulting data on its website, in pages like this. For each station it shows a graph of the level over the last 24 hours (actually, the 24 hours up to the last reported data: my local station stopped reporting three days ago, presumably overwhelmed by the water), and has some running text giving the current level in metres above a local datum. There’s a small amount of station metadata, and that’s all. No older data, and no tabular data. I can’t:

  • See the levels over the course of a previous flood;
  • Measure how quickly the river typically rises, or how long it typically takes to go down;
  • Compare today’s flood to that four weeks ago (or those in 2011 or 2003);
  • Easily navigate to the data for neighbouring stations up and down river;
  • Get a chart showing the river level, or river level anomalies, along the length of the Thames;
  • Get a chart comparing that longitudinal view of the flood with the situation at any previous time;
  • Make a maps mash-up showing river level anomalies across the Thames catchment;
  • Make a personalised chart by adding my own observations, or critical values (‘electrics cut out’, ‘front garden floods’, ‘water comes into house’, …);
  • Make a crowd-sourced flooding community site combining river level data, maps, pictures, observations, and advice (‘sandbags are now available at the village hall’);
  • Make a mash-up combining river level data with precipitation records;
  • Make a flood forecasting tool by combining historical river level, ground-water, and precipitation records with precipitation forecasts.

Most of these things (not the last!) would be a small matter of programming, if the data were available. The Thames Valley is teeming with programmers who would be interested in bashing together a quick web app; or taking part in a larger open-source project to deliver more detailed, more accessible, and more useful flood data. But if we want to do any of those things, we have to pay a licence fee to access the data, and the licence would apparently then require us to get pre-approval from the Environment Agency before releasing any ‘product’. All this for data which is gathered, curated, and managed by a part of the UK government, nominally for the benefit of all.

Admittedly I couldn’t do any of those things this week anyway – too many boxes to carry, too much furniture to prop up. But surely this is a prime example of the need for open data.

Britain ‘shines light of transparency’ on secret lobbying. Just kidding.

Jonathan Gray - January 28, 2014 in Campaigning, Featured, Open Government Data, Policy, Transparency

The following article is cross-posted from OpenDemocracy.

David Cameron’s lobbying bill exposes the hollowness of his muscular claims about cracking down on crony capitalism. Britain’s democracy remains under corporate capture.

influenceindustry Image: Government wants to register Lobbying Agencies alone (Alliance for Lobbying Transparency)

Today the government’s proposed Lobbying Bill will go into parliamentary ping-pong between the House of Commons and the House of Lords. If this Bill passes without significant amendments it will do nothing to stop secret corporate lobbying, making a mockery of the coalition’s open government aspirations.

Every year an estimated £2 billion is spent attempting to influence decisions in Westminster, an amount that is topped only by spending in Washington and Brussels. Even more than its counterparts across the channel and across the pond, London’s lobbying industry has been able to operate in the dark, free from scrutiny and interference: unregulated, unrecorded and unimpeded.

Four years ago next month, just before the 2010 general election, David Cameron announced his intention, if elected, to tackle the “unhealthy influence” of “secret corporate lobbying”. He pledged to “sort out” what he called “crony capitalism”, to shine the “light of transparency” on lobbying, and to force our political system to “come clean about who is buying power and influence”.

The theme of his speech was “rebuilding trust in politics”. He attacked then Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s “secretive, power-hoarding, controlling” government, and its handling of the 2009 parliamentary expenses scandal.

Transparency has since become a major theme of the coalition government under Cameron, who has claimed repeatedly that he wants to “fix our broken politics” and make the UK “the most open and transparent government in the world”.

Fast forward to the government’s proposed lobbying bill, tabled for discussion in parliament today. The second part of the bill has been widely criticised for gagging charities during election periods. The first part, which outlines plans for the lobbying registry, has received less public attention.

Far from shining a light on the activities of the influence industry, the proposed registry would exclude the vast majority of commercial lobbyists, covering as little as 5 per cent of all lobbying activity. Among the excluded, all ‘in-house’ lobbyists — those based at major corporations, banks, consultancies, law firms, accountancy firms. Even the registered lobbyists would not be required to give the public information about what they are asking for, who they are meeting with, or how much they are spending.

How do the government’s proposals compare with a real statutory register of lobbyists? Here’s an illustration from The Alliance for Lobbying Transparency:

registerproposals

Unless it is scrapped and rewritten or major amendments are made – both exceedingly unlikely – the lobbying bill will make a mockery of the UK’s open government purported aspirations. It will leave the British public none the wiser as to how big money and big business are distorting the fabric of public political discourse and decision-making, and to what end. It will do nothing to shed light on how powerful corporate interests are exerting their influence to shape what is politically possible and politically likely – from inaction on climate change and corporate tax avoidance, to fracking, energy prices and the privatisation of public services.

Even a decent registry of lobbyists would give us just a faint sketch of the impact of corporate lobbying on our democracy. The fight for transparency is just a first step that must not distract us from the bigger and more important fight to push back against the malign, distorting, anti-democratic influence of big money and big business on politics.

The passage of the proposed lobbying bill into law would represent a manifest failure of the current government to take even the most elementary of steps to live up to its pre-election promises to tackle secret corporate influence. It will no doubt be remembered as an historic missed opportunity and an astonishing defeat at the first hurdle – making the UK’s claims to global leadership in government openness and accountability look like a joke.

The Open Knowledge Foundation and the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency have launched a petition asking the UK government to scrap and rewrite the lobbying bill. You can sign here. It is endorsed by Access Info, the Campaign for Freedom of Information, Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom, Corporate Europe Observatory, Corporate Watch, Greenpeace, Integrity Action, Involve, the Open Rights Group, Spinwatch, the Sunlight Foundation, Unlock Democracy, War on Want and the World Development Movement.

The best data opens itself on UK Gov’s Performance Platform

Francis Irving - January 20, 2014 in Open Government Data

This is a guest post by Francis Irving (@frabcus), CEO of ScraperWiki, who has made several of the world’s first civic websites such as TheyWorkForYou and WhatDoTheyKnow.

This is the third in a series of posts about the UK Government’s Performance Platform. Part 1 introduced why the platform is exciting, and part 2 described how it worked inside.

The best data opens itself. No need to make Freedom of Information requests to pry the information out of the state. No need to build massive directories as checklists for civil servants to track what they’re releasing. Instead, the data is just there. The code just opens it up naturally as part of what it does. One of the unspoken exciting things about the UK Government’s Performance Platform is that it is releasing a whole bunch of open data.

Here are two examples.

Pet shop licences

1. Licensing performance

This is a graph (with data underneath, of course!) of pet shop licenses applied for over time in various counties. It’s part of a larger system which will eventually have all different types of licenses all over the country. You can already find alcohol, food, busking… Lots of topics.

As always with open data, there’ll be many unpredictable uses. Most users will do so quietly, you will never know they did. Perhaps a manager at Pets at Home can spot changing pet shop market conditions, or a musician carefully examine the busking license data…

2. Tax disc for vehicles

Tax disc applications

Basic data about transactional services can potentially tell you a lot about the economy. For example, the graph on the right of vehicle tax disc applications. This could tell an auto dealer – or a hedge fund! – information about car ownership.

It is constantly updated, you’re getting much fresher data than any current national statistics. If you need it, the current number of users online is updated in real time. As the performance platform expands, I’d expect it to offer breakdowns by location and type of vehicle.

A charity can learn about digital inclusion from this open data. How many people are applying online as opposed to at a post office?

The future

Already, with the performance platform only in its alpha phase, numerous datasets are being released as a side effect. This will grow for several reasons:

  • GDS aspire to have hundreds of services covered, across the whole range of Government.
  • Service managers in departments can get extra visualisations they need, extending the diversity of data.
  • At some point politicians will start asking for more things to be measured.
  • Maybe in the end activists will make pull requests to improve the data released.

This is great for businesses, charities, citizens, and the Government itself. A fundamentally new kind of open data – that which transactional services can spit out automatically. Making things open makes things better.

What data are you looking forward to the performance platform accidentally releasing for you?

“Share, improve and reuse public sector data” – French Government unveils new CKAN-based data.gouv.fr

Guest - December 26, 2013 in CKAN, OKF France, Open Data, Open Government Data

This is a guest post from Rayna Stamboliyska and Pierre Chrzanowski of the Open Knowledge Foundation France

Etalab, the Prime Minister’s task force for Open Government Data, unveiled on December 18 the new version of the data.gouv.fr platform (1). OKF France salutes the work the Etalab team has accomplished, and welcomes the new features and the spirit of the new portal, rightly summed up in the website’s baseline, “share, improve and reuse public sector data”.

OKF France was represented by Samuel Goëta at the data.gouv.fr launch event OKF France was represented at the data.gouv.fr launch event by Samuel Goëta in the presence of Jean-Marc Ayrault, Prime Minister of France, Fleur Pellerin, Minister Delegate for Small and Medium Enterprises, Innovation, and the Digital Economy and Marylise Lebranchu, Minister of the Reform of the State. Photo credit: Yves Malenfer/Matignon

Etalab has indeed chosen to offer a platform resolutely turned towards collaboration between data producers and re-users. The website now enables everyone not only to improve and enhance the data published by the government, but also to share their own data; to our knowledge, a world first for a governmental open data portal. In addition to “certified” data (i.e., released by departments and public authorities), data.gouv.fr also hosts data published by local authorities, delegated public services and NGOs. Last but not least, the platform also identifies and highlights other, pre-existing, Open Data portals such as nosdonnees.fr (2). A range of content publishing features, a wiki and the possibility of associating reuses such as visualizations should also allow for a better understanding of the available data and facilitate outreach efforts to the general public.

We at OKF France also welcome the technological choices Etalab made. The new data.gouv.fr is built around CKAN, the open source software whose development is coordinated by the Open Knowledge Foundation. All features developed by the Etalab team will be available for other CKAN-based portals (e.g., data.gov or data.gov.uk). In turn, Etalab may more easily master innovations implemented by others.

The new version of the platform clearly highlights the quality rather than quantity of datasets. This paradigm shift was expected by re-users. On one hand, datasets with local coverage have been pooled thus providing nation-wide coverage. On the other hand, the rating system values datasets with the widest geographical and temporal coverage as well as the highest granularity.

Screenshot from data.gouv.fr home page

The platform will continue to evolve and we hope that other features will soon complete this new version, for example:

  • the ability to browse data by facets (data producers, geographical coverage or license, etc.);
  • a management system for “certified” (clearly labelled institutional producer) and “non-certified” (data modified, produced, added by citizens) versions of a dataset;
  • a tool for previewing data, as natively proposed by CKAN;
  • the ability to comment on the datasets;
  • a tool that would allow to enquire about a dataset directly at the respective public administration.

Given this new version of data.gouv.fr, it is now up to the producers and re-users of public sector data to demonstrate the potential of Open Data. This potential can only be fully met with the release of fundamental public sector data as a founding principle for our society. Thus, we are still awaiting for the opening of business registers, detailed expenditures as well as non-personal data on prescriptions issued by healthcare providers.

Lastly, through the new data.gouv.fr, administrations are no longer solely responsible for the common good that is public sector data. Now this responsibility is shared with all stakeholders. It is thus up to all of us to demonstrate that this is the right choice.


(1) This new version of data.gouv.fr is the result of codesign efforts that the Open Knowledge Foundation France participated in.

(2) Nosdonnees.fr is co-managed by Regards Citoyens and OKF France.

Read Etalab’s press release online here

The Open Knowledge Foundation urges the UK Government to stop secret corporate lobbying

Jonathan Gray - December 13, 2013 in Business, Campaigning, Featured, Legal, Open Government Data, Policy

The Open Knowledge Foundation has joined the members of the UK OGP civil society network in signing an open letter which calls on the Government to put an end to secret corporate lobbying.

In its current form the government’s proposed lobbying bill (which is currently going through parliament) will let the vast majority of corporate lobbyists off the hook from being obliged to say who they’re meeting, what decisions they are seeking to influence and how much they are spending. Here are our five reasons why we think this needs to change. If you agree with us, then please sign and share the petition!.

The letter urges Ministers to redraft the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trades Union Administration Bill in order to enable proper public scrutiny of lobbying activity in the UK. Please share this letter (copied below) widely and sign the petition to call on the Government to put a stop to secret lobbying.

The Rt Hon Francis Maude MP
The Rt Hon Andrew Lansley MP
Cabinet Office
70 Whitehall
London
SW1A 2AS

Cc: Deputy Prime Minister
12 December 2013

Dear Mr Maude and Mr Lansley,

Response to Mr Maude’s letter of 1 November 2013 to the UK OGP civil society network re the Government’s commitment to lobbying transparency

As campaigners for greater openness in decision making, we applauded the Coalition commitment in May 2010 to ‘regulate lobbying through introducing a statutory register of lobbyists and ensuring greater transparency’. However, we are extremely concerned that the current plans, in Part 1 of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trades Union Administration Bill, will fail to deliver the transparency promised. The proposed register is not fit-for-purpose. In the short time the Government has allowed for debate on the bill, it has been heavily criticised by the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee and Members of Parliament, as well as representatives of the consultancy industry and a wide range of civil society groups.

We urge you to redraft Part 1 of the Bill to:

  • broaden the definition of lobbyist to include all third party consultants and in-house lobbyists, whether corporate, union or charity;
  • extend the definition to include lobbying of mid-ranking civil servants and special advisors; and
  • introduce fuller disclosure requirements to include the target, topic and estimated cost of lobbying activity.

Central to our concerns is the narrow definition of lobbyist. As drafted, the Bill excludes at least eighty per cent of the industry, notably in-house lobbyists. It will also exclude most key consultant lobbyists through a significant loophole: those who in the course of their lobbying do not make contact with Ministers and Permanent Secretaries will not be required to register. This, as lobbyists and the lobbied well know, is the majority of lobbying activity. The justification for such a narrow definition does not stand up to scrutiny. The Government has defined the problem as a lack of transparency about who an agency is representing when it meets with a Minister. Official meeting lists reveal that this would apply to only a handful of meetings. As many in Parliament have pointed out, if this is a genuine problem, it would be better solved with improved disclosure from Ministers.

Of equal concern to us is the lack of any meaningful information on lobbying activity to be included in the proposed register. It would require lobbyists merely to register their clients, but reveal nothing of their interaction with government (i.e. whom they are lobbying, and what they are seeking to influence). This information is essential if the government is to realise its laudable aim through the register of ‘increasing public accountability and public trust in the UK system of government and improving the efficiency of government policy outcomes’. Fuller disclosure would also bring the UK in line with international standards.

The fundamental purpose of introducing a register of lobbyists is to allow the public to examine and understand the activities of lobbyists, to improve government accountability and ultimately to rebuild public trust. It is imperative to have in mind the widely held public perception of how decisions are taken by government, a view summed up by David Cameron as ‘a cosy club at the top making decisions in its own interest’. This lack of trust must be of serious concern to Government. Proper disclosure rules for lobbyists would go a long way to dispel this perception. The reality of lobbying in the UK, which would be revealed in a robust register of lobbyists, would be far more mundane than is popularly imagined. A refusal to introduce genuine transparency, however, would only reinforce the perception that public scrutiny is something politicians would rather avoid.

The shortcomings of the current Bill are all the more surprising considering the leadership you have shown through the Open Government Partnership and your vocal support for greater transparency. The current proposals threaten to undermine not only your ambition to be ‘the most open and transparent government in the world’, but also detract from the OGP initiative. Civil society groups long ago identified a robust register as a key priority for the Partnership, yet we encountered a surprising reluctance from some Cabinet Office officials to engage with us during the development of the proposals. The result is a register that is wholly inadequate.

The Coalition rightly identified ‘secret’ lobbying as an issue of public concern, one which ‘goes to the heart of why people are so fed up with politics’. ‘We can’t go on like this,’ said David Cameron. We urge you to now fulfil your commitment with a proper register which will allow public scrutiny of lobbying activity in the UK.

Yours sincerely,

Alexandra Runswick, Director, Unlock Democracy
Dr Andy Williamson FRSA, Founder, FutureDigital & Chair, Ivo.org
Anne Thurston, Director, International Records Management Trust
Anthony Zacharzewski, democracy campaigner
Gavin Hayman, Director of Campaigns, Global Witness
Graham Gordon, Head of Public Policy, CAFOD
Jonathan Gray, Director of Policy, The Open Knowledge Foundation
Maurice Frankel, Director, Campaign for Freedom of Information
Miles Litvinoff, Coordinator, Publish What You Pay UK
Simon Burall, Director, Involve
Tamasin Cave, Director, Spinwatch
Thomas Hughes, Executive Director, ARTICLE 19

Signing on to civil society request to make public government data “license free” in the U.S.

Christian Villum - December 12, 2013 in Open Government Data

Public data generated or commissioned by government bodies is becoming an increasingly important part of the public sphere — from new forms of civic participation, journalism, transparency and accountability to new opportunities for innovation and growth. The Open Knowledge Foundation is joining a band of civil society organizations – including Sunlight Foundation, Joshua Tauberer/GovTrack.us, Public Knowledge and Electronic Frontier Foundation, to name a few – as signees of a request to making public government data “license free” in the United States.

As open data guidelines evolve to meet current practices, including new goals from the White House and the increasing role of government contractors in the production of public government data, it is essential that U.S. federal government agencies have the tools to preserve the United States’ long legal tradition of ensuring that public information created by the federal government is exempt from U.S. copyright and remains free for everyone to use without restriction.

Leading open data standards and principles, such as the 8 Principles of Open Government Data, have established that the absence of restrictions on the reuse of government information is a core part of promoting good government and entrepreneurial innovation. When there are no restrictions on the reuse of government data, the data is said to be “license-free”. To the greatest extent possible, we strongly believe U.S. public government data should be “license-free”.

The document containing the request provides language to affix to data publications so that they may meet, and/or make it clear that they meet, the criteria of the “license-free” principle. The language is intended for U.S. federal government agencies, and you can read the request here.

(Note: This post has been updated with links to similar statements of support.)

Open Knowledge recognised as key to democracy in the digital age

Christian Villum - December 10, 2013 in Featured, Open Government Data, Our Work, Transparency

Tonight the Open Knowledge Foundation will be honoured as a leading civic innovator at the National Democratic Institute’s thirtieth birthday celebrations (see the press release here). Other honourees will include Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the president of Estonia, Beth Noveck, founder of the Governance Lab in the U.S., and Jack Dorsey, the founder of Twitter. The National Democratic Institute (NDI) works to strengthen democratic institutions worldwide, and it’s really exciting to see Open Knowledge recognised as a key part of achieving that mission in the digital age.

Madeleine Albright, former secretary of state for the US government and now chair of the NDI, has said: “The contributions of this group of individuals, as well as other civic innovators around the world, to promote citizen participation and government transparency and accountability are immeasurable. Innovation is an integral part of supporting both established and nascent democracies, especially as technology continues to shape and deepen the relationship between governments and their citizens.”

Democracy is entering a new era: one permeated by technology. The values of transparency and accountability in government are fundamental to the democratic ideal, but it is only with recent technological revolutions that their potential has really begun to be tapped. For the first time, citizens can access the transcripts of parliament, the details of government budgets, and the texts of the laws that govern them – at the click of a button.

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This has profound implications for the relationship between governments and their citizens. For the first time we can start to build societies where the many – not just the few – have access to the knowledge they need to understand and effect change. Equality of knowledge is essential for a deep democracy.

Through open government data, people can begin to answer the questions that matter to them, like which school is best for their children or where their taxes are going. They can gain a voice with their leaders like never before, helping them to build the world in which they want to live. And they can expose and prevent the corruption, both financial and electoral, which can fundamentally undermine democratic institutions.

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The Open Knowledge Foundation has been at the forefront of this movement over the past decade. In 2010 we held the world’s first Open Government Data Camp in London, one of the earliest events to bring together government officials, hackers and citizen activists to share their visions and plans for opening up government data. Our CKAN software powers many of the world’s open government data portals, including those of the US government, the UK government, and the Brazilian government. And this year we released the first Open Data Index, which based on global community efforts ranks the world’s governments according to the openness of ten key datasets like emissions data and election data. The Index will be an important tool in holding governments to account over the coming years.

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We have come a long way since the Open Government Data Camp in 2010, as today’s recognition by the NDI goes to show. It has been amazing to see the growth in support for the Open Government Partnership over the two years since it was launched, and many governments around the world have made commitments to increasing openness. But promises are not enough, and success is by no means guaranteed. We need to make sure that civil society is equipped with the tools and skills that they need to hold their governments to these promises.

We want a world in which government data is open by default. We want to connect those who face the biggest challenges – a healthcare worker in Zambia or an education campaigner in Pakistan – with the information they need to approach those. We want to see democracy become a deep social reality, powered by openness, transparency and accountability.

Follow events at the Democracy Dinner on #ndi30

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