Open Data and Fiscal Transparency: How Can We Unlock the Benefits?

Every day, national, regional, and local governments spend vast sums of citizens’ tax money. However, all too often, there is a lack of transparency around how these public funds are spent. In Indonesia and the Philippines, civil society groups have consistently clamoured for more accountability in public finances in areas such as procurement, education, and infrastructure. This paper summarises the approach we used and the lessons we learned as we explored how open data might best be harnessed for fiscal transparency in the region.

Starting Conversations between Citizens and the State with Open Data: Insights from the Education Sector in Banda Aceh, Indonesia

This paper summarises how the Web Foundation’s Open Data Lab Jakarta teamed up with local CSO GeRAK Aceh and USAID’s Kinerja program to stimulate greater demand for information in the education sector using open data – the proactive release of government data sets in freely reusable, machine-readable formats.

The keys to success were a participatory, bottom-up process in which interested groups (including the media, researchers, and civil society organisations) identified which data sets would be most valuable to them, coupled with close collaboration with the government to build the trust needed to release that data—an approach we refer to as ‘responsive open data model’.

 

Open Data How to Guides

The Web Foundation’s Open Data Lab produces how-to guides that outline step-by-step the different approaches used in their projects. Some of the Guides are:

1. Opening Data from the Ground UpThis is our step-by-step guide on how we worked with the education agency in Banda Aceh to open up data that was in demand by civil society, as well as how we supported civil society organisations to make use of the data to improve the quality of education in their city.

2. Leveraging Open Data for Greater Fiscal Transparency: This How-to Guide is intended for organisations with expertise in open data, who would like to help civil society groups strengthen their fiscal transparency work through open data. It is also intended for government agencies with established open data initiatives who want to strengthen user engagement and increase citizen participation.

3. Fostering Government and Civil Society Collaboration through Open Data: This guide suggests specific steps that can be taken by funding agencies, project implementers, and other stakeholders who want to promote collaboration between government and CSOs through the use of open data. This approach is particularly helpful in a context where there is prevailing distrust and animosity between the two groups, as it can ensure collaborations are based on facts, not opinions.

4. Accessing and Making Use of Open Health Data: This guide is written for donors, civil society organisations, governments, and other stakeholders who would like to build capacity of user groups in accessing and using open health data to improve their advocacy or development work. In some cases, user groups will be entirely new to open data. Others might have experience using health data, but are unaware of better ways to find datasets efficiently and/or struggle to make effective use of them.

The Open Data Inventory – 2015 Annual Report: How Open are Official Statistics?

In 2015 the Open Data Inventory (ODIN) assessed the coverage and openness of official statistics in 125 mostly low- and middle-income countries. Data in 20 statistical categories were assessed on 10 elements of coverage and openness. The assessments are objective: they record whether data are available and whether the data conform to standards for open data, but they do not attempt to assess the quality of the data. They also record the online location of the data, allowing others to verify the results.

ODIN scores are summarized by data categories and by the elements of data coverage and openness, creating a profile of each country’s statistical system and its ability to deliver the information needed by governments, citizens, and the private sector to guide their decisions. In 2015 no country’s ODIN score reached 70 percent of the total possible points. The highest scoring country was Mexico, with a score of 68 percent, followed closely by Moldova and Mongolia. Rwanda, with a score of 59 percent, was 4th overall and the highest scoring country in Africa. The lowest scoring countries were found in parts of Africa, Asia, and Europe. Measured just on the elements of openness, Mexico was the clear leader with a score of 74 percent, followed by Rwanda and Moldova. Measured by data coverage, which considers the availability of key indicators over the last 10 years and for sub-national units, Cuba had the highest score, followed by China and Moldova.

There is more to be learned from the ODIN assessments. This first annual report on the Open Data Inventory describes the assessment process and highlights significant patterns in the results. The appendixes list results for 125 countries and provide greater details on the assessment methodology as well as orientation for obtaining ODIN results online.

Open Data in Electoral Administration

The concept of open data is based on the idea that data should be freely available for anyone to access, use and share. In recent years, the concept has taken root as an increasingly accepted practice for public and government produced data, with data seen as a public good, and data infrastructure as the key to accessing it.

Publishing election data as open data has numerous benefits: it provides civil society, citizen journalists, electoral observers and citizens access to the same detailed information that was previously only available to selected stakeholders such as large media outlets. In doing so, open data allows all interested stakeholders to follow and understand the electoral process and can enable more inclusive, transparent and trusted elections.

In spite of the potential benefits of open data, election data is often not available in government open-data platforms and election data that is published often does not comply with open-data principles.

The aim of this publication is to encourage electoral management bodies to increase the application of open-data principles. It provides guidance for improving the practice of data publication towards a more open approach.