Can Open Data transform the fight against corruption?

Can Open Data transform the fight against corruption?

Yes, but several steps must be taken before this can be achieved

The complexity and levels of sophistication that corruption crimes have reached globally has been proven by the series of scandals taking place in numerous different countries and regions. These are seen not only through the Panama Papers but in thousands of cases, including the Petrobras scandal and FIFA case, and these cases illustrate how corruption works: through a series of complex agreements between individuals and organizations. Or in other words, corruption networks.

Understanding and fighting against these corruption networks is not an easy task. Even when legal anti-corruption instruments have improved to address this challenge, at both national and international levels, there has also been a reaction by these networks to develop new and alternative mechanisms to hide their actions. Transparency International UK’s report Corruption on your Doorstep clearly proves the sophisticated combination of offshore haven companies, real estate agencies, and individuals used as aliases, which together are used to hide the real owner and financial source for the transactions when buying properties in London or other cities around the world.

Understanding and managing these increasing levels of complexity is not easy. Preventing or identifying corruption schemes has become a harder task and requires more sophisticated and effective tools. One of these tools is open data. The potential of open data has already been acknowledged by a variety of actors and organizations, including governments and civil society organizations. However, we are unfortunately still behind in realizing the potential of open data. The number of examples and case studies that show to impact of using open data for anti-corruption is still relatively small compared to the amount of data that is being published everyday. To help address this situation & facilitate embracing open data the Open Data Charter Technical Working Group launched a global initiative to develop the ‘Anti-Corruption Sector Package’ (ACSP): a practical resource for using open data for preventing, detecting, investigating, and sanctioning corruption.

During the past weeks, a global team led by the Open Data Charter and Transparencia Mexicana, has been working to engage a variety of stakeholders in the development of this tool. We have reviewed experiences and interviewed various practitioners in order to understand what is key in the process of making open data a more effective tool for addressing anti-corruption. While the ACSP is a work in progress, including an open online consultation being conducted right now, we have been able to identify, based on initial findings, three key challenges to be addressed to fully realize the potentioal of open data’s in anti-corruption efforts:

  1. Governments must have a proactive agenda to identify and publish anticorruption data. After reviewing G-20 open data portals, on average less than 1% of the half million datasets available are tagged as “anti-corruption” and in a wider context, thousands of datasets have been released by governments without specifying their purposes or potential uses. Governments can implement strategies,  often jointly with civil society, to identify public datasets that could be relevant for preventing, detecting, investigating, and sanctioning corruption cases.
  2. Basic anti-corruption datasets must be published by every government. Despite the many different forms corruption can take, there is a basic group of datasets that is consistently raised by several anti-corruption practitioners as datasets that should be disclosed. These are:
    1. Data on government officials – Datasets that allow to monitor government officials and track their decisions. Among them are the politically exposed people lists, their assets and financial interests, and records of government officials involved in public procurement.
    2. Data on government finances – Datasets to monitor the use of public resources. Among them are: contracting data, political financing, budget and government expenditure.
    3. Data on government management and performance – Datasets to monitor decision making process in government as well as evaluation and auditing data. Among them are parliament’s voting records, auditing results and courts data.
    4. Data on related non-governmental actors – Datasets related to financial vehicles or agents potentially linked to corruption schemes. Among them are company ownership registers (including beneficial ownership), lobbying registers, and land or property registers.
  3. Review data standards and interoperability for anticorruption datasets. To be able to effectively connect different anti-corruption datasets, it is vital that data that is published is standardized. The use of identifiers is a key element of standards that are already available, for example the Open Contracting Data Standard. Additional data standards are required for the disclosure of interests by government officials or for datasets on government expenditure.

Making open data a more effective tool for anti-corruption efforts will definitely require a number of further actions. However, the initial steps discovered so far can ensure that a minimum set of information is available to enable more strategic anti-corruption interventions by governments, civil society organizations, and investigative journalists.

Learn more about the the process of developing the anti-corruption sector package, including more details of the events conducted: here

Take part in the ongoing public consultation on open data & anti-corruption but sharing you ideas & experiences: here

Image credit: Future Atlas on Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0.