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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

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.

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!

Open government should be about accountability and social justice, not just the digital economy

Jonathan Gray - November 5, 2013 in Featured, Open Government Data, Policy

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An edited version of this article was featured in The Guardian on 4th November 2013.

“In all parts of the world, we see the promise of innovation to make government more open and accountable. And now, we must build on that progress.” Thus spoke President Obama at the UN General Assembly in September 2010.

This initial call to action gave rise to a new initiative called the Open Government Partnership (OGP). Last week senior government officials and campaigners from around 60 countries gathered in London for the OGP’s second annual summit to announce new voluntary commitments to open government, and for talks about freedom of information, civic participation, whistleblower protection, corporate accountability, and many other things.

Prime Minister David Cameron opened the event with the announcement that the UK would be cracking down on hidden company ownership – in a move which was widely celebrated by transparency, anti-corruption and tax justice campaigners. Elaborate networks of shell companies are often used for a range of illicit and unethical activities – from corruption to arms trafficking, terrorist financing to illegal tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance. Making the true owners of companies part of the public record will enable journalists, campaigners and others outside government to start to unpick and expose these dark networks and the money that flows through them.

Apart from this announcement, one of the focal points for Cameron’s talk was the importance of open government for economic growth and innovation. Alluding to the work of Amartya Sen, he contended that open governments are conducive to economic prosperity, whereas “closed governments breed poverty”. In the discussion following his speech he talked about the potential of digital data from governments as “an enormous wealth creator”.

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”.

What is open government really all about? What should it be about? Last year two researchers at Princeton wrote a paper about the increasing ambiguity of the phrase ‘open government’ in its contemporary usage – contending that while it used to carry a “hard political edge”, referring to “politically sensitive disclosures of government information” pushed for by transparency and accountability campaigners, it now increasingly refers to technologies for sharing information and “politically neutral” regimes of disclosure which allow even the most draconian and regressive of governments to self-describe as ‘open’.

In other words, they argued, open government advocates risk conflating technological openness with political openness – of associating the openness and usability of information, software, standards, and the digital architecture of government with the openness of official institutions and processes to the citizens they are supposed to serve. 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 in should not be distracted from its mission to enable citizens to hold power to account and to fight for social and environmental justice.

Perhaps part of the issue is the way in which open government is increasingly considered to be a tool for transforming inputs into the desired outputs, agnostic as to who is using it and for what purpose. To take a crass example: surely open government should not be about making public institutions even more permeable to the influence of big money – whether fossil fuel lobbyists or large companies seeking lucrative contracts. To take another example, the current government under Cameron’s leadership has also generally been very canny in steering the UK’s transparency agenda to support its politics of austerity, encouraging citizens to “join the hunt for government savings” and to “root out waste” – perhaps not a priority for local citizen groups fighting to protect frontline public services.

Surely what matters is not openness per se, but way in which this openness is used to improve the lives of citizens: to reduce inequality, to bring more people out of poverty, to tackle corruption and injustice, to increase access to education and healthcare, to mitigate the effects of catastrophic changes in the earth’s climate, and so on. In other words to ensure that states and public institutions are being used to promote the wellbeing of citizens, rather than the interests of wealthy and powerful elites. Perhaps open government talks might benefit from being less procedural and more substantive in their approach. For example, by foregrounding issues rather than instruments, values rather than processes, and through greater engagement with citizens and campaigners who usually have little to do with open government policy formation about the transparency and accountability challenges they face.

The Open Government Partnership has potential to be a hugely invaluable way for citizens and civil society groups to engage with the civil servants and state officials who represent them. It is an opportunity for them to have frank discussions about their aspirations and concerns in an impartial extra-national context. But for this to happen, the OGP must keep its focus firmly on how states can better serve and be more responsive to the needs of citizens, and should not be sidetracked by commercial opportunity or digital ephemera.

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

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

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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 role of data in European democracy

Jonathan Gray - October 29, 2013 in Open Government Data, Open Knowledge Foundation

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Cross-posted from the Digital Agenda for Europe Blog.

This week campaigners and officials from over 60 countries around the world are meeting in London for the Open Government Partnership Summit to discuss how to make governments more open. A major focus will be how to make official information available and accessible for all.

At the Open Knowledge Foundation we believe that the ability to access and reuse digital information is an increasingly important part of democracy in the 21st century.

Countries around the world are unlocking their data to enable new kinds of digital services and new ways for citizens to understand and participate in official decision-making processes – from e-democracy websites to data driven journalism and campaigning.

What role might better access to information play in democratising the EU?

The institutions, agencies and bodies of the European Union collect and hold all kinds of information about Europe – about everything from unemployment, crime, and quality of life to how EU funds are disbursed, who is lobbying, and progress on cutting carbon pollution.

Much of this information is essential to understanding the composition and functioning of the EU and its 28 member states, and necessary for evidence based advocacy, reportage and policy formation.

The European Union Open Data Portal is a laudable first step in giving European citizens, civil society organisations and the media access to this information in a single place, with an explicit green light to share and reuse it.

What now? There are two things that we’d like to see happening next.

Firstly we’d like to see more citizens, journalists and civil society groups engaging with the EU about what kinds of data they’d like to see released next, and ideas for how to improve the quality of the data that is currently available via the portal. There might be some requests that are very ambitious – such as information that would require new legislation or policy measures to collect. Other requests that might be relatively straightforward – such as releasing information which can easily be made available, but simply has not been published yet. In both cases, we’d like to see an ongoing conversation between EU institutions and European citizens that will help to inform priorities for release. If you have datasets you’d like to see released or improved, please let us know via the public EU Open Data mailing list. You can also use the suggest a dataset form on the European Union Open Data Portal to contact the EU open data team directly.

Secondly we’d like to see more people using EU data to improve public understanding, transparency and accountability of European institutions and processes. If you know of interesting journalistic, campaigning or educational projects which use EU data to improve awareness or provide context around an issue, we’d love to hear about them. Or if you have ideas about projects that you think would help citizens understand and engage with the EU – let us know. You can contact us via Twitter (on @OKFN) or via this online submission form.

We want to see European data being used to support greater participation, public understanding and openness around EU institutions and processes. If you share this hope, please let us and the EU open data team know about what information you think needs to be released next and how it should be put to work.

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