We pledge to be more transparent at every level — because more information on government activity should be open, timely, and freely available to the people. We pledge to engage more of our citizens in decision-making — because it makes government more effective and responsive. We pledge to implement the highest standards of integrity — because those in power must serve the people, not themselves. And we pledge to increase access to technology — because in this digital century, access to information is a right that is universal.
– President Obama at the launch of the Open Government Partnership in New York. September, 2011.
At Publish What You Fund we also believe that information should be timely and comprehensive so decisions can be informed by what is currently happening and not on stale news. Think about the Haiti earthquake or the Philippines typhoon, there is an enormous outpour of aid from many different sources. The intentions are good and the demand is real but the coordination of these resources is troublesome. There is limited knowledge on who is doing what, where and why. To address this issue, in 2008, the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) was launched with the idea of bringing information into one common place. Think of the benefits of being able to look at donors’ spending side by side. Or to compare what donors spend in one place, at one time, along with the purpose of the projects and the funds committed. Technology allows us to do this and the potential of open data is now recognized in domestic and international agendas. Today IATI has more than 350 publishers, and although the information varies, the largest donors have committed to publish what they fund.
Since the early days we have been working with coalitions and networks to build the momentum behind IATI. The Open Government Partnership (OGP) has been no exception. We see OGP as a platform for ideas to develop with a shared purpose: to make governments more open, accountable, and responsive to citizens. To many in civil society, OGP is a vehicle to further open data, transparency and accountability. For others, it is a place where discussions can happen freely under the umbrella of openness and participation. OGP can also be a convening power to ensure that the domestic and international conversations are joined up.
Publish What You Fund works with OGP in different ways:
- Encouraging donor governments to commit to aid transparency. We do this by working with government in the development of their National Action Plans (NAP). We encourage them to include a specific commitment to make aid timely, comparable and accessible to all. See examples from the UK and the U.S. At Publish What You Fund, we know that opening up aid is possible – we have seen specific examples with DFID, MCC, SIDA, just to name a few.
- Working with recipients of aid to ensure donor spending is transparent and accessible. Tanzania included an ask in its first NAP for all donors to publish their information in line with IATI. Liberia followed suit with this inclusion in its second NAP. The future of open data in development will be secured by recipients not only continuing to demand better information, but also providing this information to their own citizens. Only then will governments, donors and recipients, promote accountability and access to information on the funds they administer.
- Contributing to the Open Government Guide. You can see more about this resource here including up to date case studies on data demand and data use.
The Open Government Partnership can provide those interested in open data and open government with opportunities to explore partnerships and innovative ideas. To make the most out of these opportunities we reflect on lessons learned since we started working on aid transparency.
- Political will: To make information transparent more political will is required. OGP offers leaders an opportunity to set ambitious targets, goals and commitments. In partnership with CSOs, building this political will must be at the forefront of future agendas.
- Linking policy and technical experts: Expertise kept within confined teams is limited when it isn’t shared. Teams should work together to collect, share and publish the highest quality information possible. The Millennium Challenge Corporation and DFID pioneered this by investing the necessary resources early on and committing to see these efforts through even after unexpected setbacks. The peer-to-peer learning stream of OGP is a perfect opportunity to link the technical and policy experts working in open data. It is also an opportunity for those leading on this agenda to share their experiences with those facing technical or capacity challenges. We call on all working groups at OGP to work across sectors and governments to facilitate this exchange.
- Demonstrate data demand, use and promote transparency initiatives: the recent USAID country pilots show how little country offices know about transparency efforts being carried out at HQ. We hope that OGP can work with governments and CSOs around the world to inform users of the progress being made in open government. Facilitating workshops on open data and increasing the capacity of its use (via infomediaries) should be central to the OGP agenda.
- Information in silos is not a smart investment. We are delighted to have launched “Joined Up Data Standards” (JUDS). The aim of JUDS is to achieve greater interoperability of data – the ability to combine data from a range of sources – to improve decision-making and accountability. This is perhaps the most exciting place where OGP can play an awareness raising role and provide a place for the relevant actors and standards to meet. The unique make-up of OGP means that these conversations can happen organically among experts and sectors. Stay tuned for more on JUDS including how you can join!
- Ad-hoc sharing our projects, agendas and next steps. The important work being done by Follow The Money (FTM) can inform the OGP community of the activities we’re carrying out and how they affect our agendas and targets. We welcome more updates from our OGP colleagues, like those from FTM, on what is happening at the local and international level.
- Collecting case studies and stories on the impact of open data is difficult because often this is done ad-hoc. We’re delighted to hear that as part of the research and learning agenda, OGP plans to look at the impact of NAP commitments. This can inform us all on what matters and what is lacking impact.
Our call to action is to all those involved in making information open and transparent. If you’re developing a new National Action Plan, include a commitment to make your aid transparent or a call for aid information to be published in line with IATI. If you’re working on data standards and believe more can be done to link up data then look for us in Mexico!
As we near the Summit in October we look forward to seeing old and new colleagues from around the world. There is real opportunity to seize the momentum of open government and the opportunities that OGP can provide. As President Obama said,
“access to information is a right that is universal”.
Let’s make the most of this opportunity and turn information into power.