Moving beyond the hype: a conversation on open data and corruption

Moving beyond the hype: a conversation on open data and corruption

June 8, 2017

Robert Palmer (@robertnpalmer)

Earlier this week the Open Data Charter brought together experts from the public sector, journalism and civil society for a lively online conversation on how to use open data to combat corruption. This followed the release of the Charter’s new Open Up Guide on how to use open data for anti-corruption purposes.

You can watch the full conversation here.

The panel had great inputs from a range of speakers:

  • Carlos Santiso, Inter-American Development Bank
  • Lindsey Marchessault, Open Contracting Partnership
  • Enrique Zapata, Government of Mexico
  • Friedrich Lindberg, Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP)
  • Hera Hussain, OpenCorporates

The new Guide explores the idea that by publishing different types of data in an open, structured and standardised way, you can spot red flags that might indicate corruption and you can also prevent corruption in the first place by making it harder to hide criminal behaviour.

This is of course only the theory. In our conversation we wanted to get beyond the hype and really understand what it would take for open data to have an impact on corruption.

There is already some evidence that this can happen. For example, Lindsey Marchessault from Open Contracting Partnership told us how transparency, combined with independent oversight, can lead to fewer kickbacks in government contracting processes.

In Carlos Santiso’s view there are three key ingredients that are needed for open data to be used to fight corruption:

  • Good quality data, that’s been cleaned and meets set standards, such as the Charter’s 6 Principles.
  • Timely disclosure of datasets that can link and speak to each other.
  • People inside and outside of government who can use the data to expose and tackle corruption.

We discussed in more detail the role of those crucial users of data – the individuals and organisations taking information that’s in the public domain and using it to expose wrongdoing.

Hera Hussain from OpenCorporates explained how the private sector uses open data to monitor for fraud and money laundering. Friedrich Lindberg from the media organisation OCCRP talked about the importance of well-sourced data that can be relied on in court. He also made it clear that at the moment, most anti-corruption journalism starts with confidential tip offs, and may then build on public-source information. Open data by itself is not enough.

Global Integrity’s Alan Hudson, who was following live online, drew on the insights of Mushtaq Khan to point out that corruption is fundamentally about politics. The release of open data won’t have an impact if it doesn’t change the incentives and political dynamics which drive corruption.

For the Open Data Charter, this conversation was part of our ongoing work to build learning into the heart of what we’re about as an organisation and network. In that spirit, the Charter is pleased to be working with Enrique Zapata, and his team in the Government of Mexico, to road-test the guide and so to get some hard evidence on how this might work in practice.

We hope to host more of these conversations to bring together different viewpoints on open data. You can comment of the Guide here