Over the past months, I’ve been working with the Transparency and Accountability Initiative on updating and expanding the Open Government Guide, and it’s been a real eye opener in terms of the immense number of ways to make governments more transparent and accountable, worldwide.
Recent examples in our news section include a one-stop-shop government information portal in Uganda, Geo-referencing of public investments in Bolivia, a law in Canada that (finally) requires local hydrocarbon and mining companies – including large privately held ones – to publicly disclose the payments they make to governments around the world, a planned public service quality feedback system in Georgia, and a five-stage participatory budgeting approach pioneered in California.
The Open Government Guide emerged out of the Open Government Partnership, which was established in 2011 as an international voluntary effort to foster more transparent, effective and accountable governments. Member governments embrace a high-level declaration of principles on transparency, participation, accountability, and innovation and develop their own individualised action plans that outline specific, measurable, actionable, relevant and time-bound (‘SMART’) commitments for advancing transparency, accountability and participation.
Open Government Partnership member countries
While not all European Union member states are participating in the Partnership, the Open Government Guide enables transparency advocates across all of Europe to dig around in a treasure trove of global experience to brainstorm ideas for new projects.
For example, one of over 20 topics covered by the Guide is “Records Management”. In that category alone, there are eight possible commitments that transparency advocates could push their governments to embrace, from adopting a government-wide policy on records management, over establishing a central digital repository to provide lasting access to government records and data over time, to developing a quality assurance strategy for open government datasets.
Going over the list, your brainstorming team immediately flags the idea of installing a central digital repository in the country. Such a repository would ensure long-term access to digital records, protect their trustworthiness, demonstrate the traceability of data, and provide assurance that the records and data have not been compromised.
Now your team has hit upon an innovation that would constitute a real step forward in terms of transparency, what next? The answer is simple: just keep following the Open Government Guide.
Clicking on the “Central Digital Repository” link takes you to a dedicated page where you find a list of nine practical recommendations for establishing a repository, discover that there are already internationally recognised standards (ISO 14721 and ISO 16363) in the field, and are able to follow links to Central Digital Repository programmes that have already been successfully implemented in Norway and New Zealand. With all this information at your fingertips, you can turn your initial idea into a rough project outline within a single day.
Over the coming months and years, the Open Government Guide will continue to expand its collection of such topic pages, of which several hundred are already online. (Want to publish all construction sector disclosures in machine-readable format, anyone? Or maybe establish a system for monitoring customs declarations in real time to detect abuse?) If you know of any legal innovations or interesting initiatives in your own country, please get in touch with us so that your experiences, too, can be shared worldwide.
In the meantime, if you’re working for a TI National Chapter, I’d like to invite you to set aside two hours with your team next week to use the Open Government Guide to brainstorm fresh ideas. If Ecuador managed to save over 300 million dollars by consolidating health sector procurement, just imagine what you could achieve in your country if you let yourself be inspired by your fellow transparency advocates worldwide!
By Tania Sanchez, Transparency and Accountability Initiative, Open Government Guide (firstname.lastname@example.org)