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Open data and the fight against corruption in Latvia, Sweden and Finland

- December 7, 2018 in financial transparency, finland, Latvia, network, OK Finland, OK Sweden, Open Data, Sweden

This blog has been crossposted from the Open Knowledge Sweden blog.
Transparency International Latvia, in collaboration with Open Knowledge Sweden and Open Knowledge Finland, has published a new study on open data and anti-corruption policies in Latvia, Sweden and Finland, showing that governments in the three countries could do more to leverage the potential of open data for anti-corruption policies and public accountability.  The study comprises an overview report summarising the overall findings and identifying opportunities for knowledge transfer and regional cooperation as well as specific reports assessing to what extent governments in Latvia, Sweden and Finland have implemented internationally agreed-upon open data principles as part of their anti-corruption regime, providing recommendations for further improvement at the national level.                                 The study is the outcome of a project funded by the Nordic Council of Ministers. The aim of the project was to gain a better understanding of how Nordic and Baltic countries are performing in terms of integration of anti-corruption and open data agendas, in order to identify opportunities for knowledge transfer and promote further Nordic cooperation in this field. The study assessed whether 10 key anti-corruption datasets in Latvia, Finland and Sweden are in line with international open data standards. The datasets considered in the frame of the study are:
  1. Lobbying register
  2. Company register
  3. Beneficial ownership register
  4. Public officials’ directories
  5. Government Budget
  6. Government spending
  7. Public procurement register
  8. Political Financing register
  9. Parliament’s Voting Records
  10. Land Register
Within this respect, Sweden has made only 3 of 10 key anti-corruption datasets available online and fully in line with open data standards, whereas Finland have achieved to make 8 of these datasets available online, six of which are fully in line with open data standards.  As for Latvia, 5 of them have been found to be available and in line with the standards. When it comes to scoring these three countries with regard to anti-corruption datasets, in Sweden, the situation is more problematic compared to other two countries. It has the lowest score, 5.3 out of 9, while Finland and Latvia have scored 6.1 and 6.0, respectively. Similarly, there are some signals that transparency in Sweden has been worsening in recent years despite its long tradition of efficiency and transparency in the public administration, good governance and rule of law as well as being in the top-10 of the Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI) for several years. The problem in Sweden stems from the fact that the government has had to cope with the high decentralization of the Swedish public administration, which seems to have resulted in little awareness of open data policies and practices and their potential for anti-corruption among public officials. Thus, engaging the new agency for digitalisation, Agency for Digital Government (DIGG), and all other authorities involved in open data could be a solution to develop a centralised, simple, and shared open data policy. Sweden should also take legal measures to formally enshrine open data principles in PSI (Public Sector Information) law such as requiring that all publicly released information be made ‘open by default’ and under an ‘open license’. The situation in Finland and Latvia is more promising. In Finland, a vibrant tech-oriented civil society in the country has played a key role in promoting initiatives for the application of open data for public integrity in a number of areas, including lobbying and transparency of government resources. As for Latvia,in recent years, it has made considerable progress in implementing open data policies, and the government has actively sought to release data for increasing public accountability in a number of areas such as public procurement and state-owned enterprises. However, the report finds that much of this data is still not available in open, machine-readable formats – making it difficult for users to download and operate with the data. Overall, in all three countries it seems that there has been little integration of open data in the agenda of anti-corruption authorities, especially with regard to capacity building. Trainings, awareness-raising and guidelines have been implemented for both open data and anti-corruption; nonetheless, these themes seem not to be interlinked within the public sector. The report also emphasizes the lack of government-funded studies and thematic reviews on the use of open data in fighting corruption. This applies both to the national and regional level. On the other hand, there is also a considerable potential for cooperation among Nordic-Baltic countries in the use of open data for public integrity, both in terms of knowledge transfer and implementation of common policies. While Nordic countries are among the most technologically advanced in the world and have shown the way with regard to government openness and trust in public institutions, the Baltic countries are among the fastest-growing economies in Europe, with a great potential for digital innovation and development of open data tools. Such cooperation among the three states would be easier in the presence of networks of “tech-oriented” civil society organisations and technology associations, as well as the framework of cooperation with authorities with the common goal of promoting and developing innovation strategies and tools based in open data.

New Report: “Open Budget Data: Mapping the Landscape”

- September 2, 2015 in digital methods, Featured, financial transparency, issue mapping, open budget data, Open Data, Open Government Data, Policy, Public Money, Releases, research

We’re pleased to announce a new report, “Open Budget Data: Mapping the Landscape” undertaken as a collaboration between Open Knowledge, the Global Initiative for Financial Transparency and the Digital Methods Initiative at the University of Amsterdam. The report offers an unprecedented empirical mapping and analysis of the emerging issue of open budget data, which has appeared as ideals from the open data movement have begun to gain traction amongst advocates and practitioners of financial transparency. In the report we chart the definitions, best practices, actors, issues and initiatives associated with the emerging issue of open budget data in different forms of digital media to navigate this developing field and to identify trends, gaps and opportunities for supporting it. In doing so, our objective is to enable practitioners – in particular civil society organisations, intergovernmental organisations, governments, multilaterals and funders – to navigate this developing field and to identify trends, gaps and opportunities for supporting it. How public money is collected and distributed is one of the most pressing political questions of our time, influencing the health, well-being and prospects of billions of people. Decisions about fiscal policy affect everyone-determining everything from the resourcing of essential public services, to the capacity of public institutions to take action on global challenges such as poverty, inequality or climate change. Digital technologies have the potential to transform the way that information about public money is organised, circulated and utilised in society, which in turn could shape the character of public debate, democratic engagement, governmental accountability and public participation in decision-making about public funds. Data could play a vital role in tackling the democratic deficit in fiscal policy and in supporting better outcomes for citizens. The report includes the following recommendations:
  1. CSOs, IGOs, multilaterals and governments should undertake further work to identify, engage with and map the interests of a broader range of civil society actors whose work might benefit from open fiscal data, in order to inform data release priorities and data standards work. Stronger feedback loops should be established between the contexts of data production and its various contexts of usage in civil society – particularly in journalism and in advocacy.

  2. Governments, IGOs and funders should support pilot projects undertaken by CSOs and/or media organisations in order to further explore the role of data in the democratisation of fiscal policy – especially in relation to areas which appear to have been comparatively under-explored in this field, such as tax distribution and tax base erosion, or tracking money through from revenues to results.

  3. Governments should work to make data “citizen readable” as well as “machine readable”, and should take steps to ensure that information about flows of public money and the institutional processes around them are accessible to non-specialist audiences – including through documentation, media, events and guidance materials. This is a critical step towards the greater democratisation and accountability of fiscal policy.

  4. Further research should be undertaken to explore the potential implications and impacts of opening up information about public finance which is currently not routinely disclosed, such as more detailed data about tax revenues – as well as measures needed to protect the personal privacy of individuals.

  5. CSOs, IGOs, multilaterals and governments should work together to promote and adopt consistent definitions of open budget data, open spending data and open fiscal data in order to establish the legal and technical openness of public information about public money as a global norm in financial transparency.

Just Released: “Where Does Europe’s Money Go? A Guide to EU Budget Data Sources”

- July 2, 2015 in Data Journalism, eu, European Union, Featured, financial transparency, Follow the Money, open budget data, Open Fiscal Data, Open Knowledge, Open Spending, Policy, research, Where Does My Money Go

The EU has committed to spending €959,988 billion between 2014 and 2020. This money is disbursed through over 80 funds and programmes that are managed by over 100 different authorities. Where does this money come from? How is it allocated? And how is it spent? Today we are delighted to announce the release of “Where Does Europe’s Money Go? A Guide to EU Budget Data Sources”, which aims to help civil society groups, journalists and others to navigate the vast landscape of documents and datasets in order to “follow the money” in the EU. The guide also suggests steps that institutions should take in order to enable greater democratic oversight of EU public finances. It was undertaken by Open Knowledge with support from the Adessium Foundation.
Where Does Europe's Money Go?
As we have seen from projects like Farm Subsidy and journalistic collaborations around the EU Structural Funds it can be very difficult and time-consuming to put together all of the different pieces needed to understand flows of EU money. Groups of journalists on these projects have spent many months requesting, scraping, cleaning and assembling data to get an overview of just a handful of the many different funds and programmes through which EU money is spent. The analysis of this data has led to many dozens of news stories, and in some cases even criminal investigations. Better data, documentation, advocacy and journalism around EU public money is vital to addressing the “democratic deficit” in EU fiscal policy. To this end, we make the following recommendations to EU institutions and civil society organisations:
  1. Establish a single central point of reference for data and documents about EU revenue, budgeting and expenditure and ensure all the information is up to date at this domain (e.g. at a website such as ec.europa.eu/budget). At the same time, ensure all EU budget data are available from the EU open data portal as open data.
  2. Create an open dataset with key details about each EU fund, including name of the fund, heading, policy, type of management, implementing authorities, link to information on beneficiaries, link to legal basis in Eur-Lex and link to regulation in Eur-Lex.
  3. Extend the Financial Transparency System to all EU funds by integrating or federating detailed data expenditures from Members States, non-EU Members and international organisations. Data on beneficiaries should include, when relevant, a unique European identifier of company, and when the project is co-financed, the exact amount of EU funding received and the total amount of the project.
  4. Clarify and harmonise the legal framework regarding transparency rules for the beneficiaries of EU funds.
  5. Support and strengthen funding for civil society groups and journalists working on EU public finances.
  6. Conduct a more detailed assessment of beneficiary data availability for all EU funds and for all implementing authorities – e.g., through a dedicated “open data audit”.
  7. Build a stronger central base of evidence about the uses and users of EU fiscal data – including data projects, investigative journalism projects and data users in the media and civil society.
Our intention is that the material in this report will become a living resource that we can continue to expand and update. If you have any comments or suggestions, we’d love to hear from you. If you are interested in learning more about Open Knowledge’s other initiatives around open data and financial transparency you can explore the Where Does My Money Go? project, the OpenSpending project, read our other previous guides and reports or join the Follow the Money network. Where Does Europe’s Money Go - A Guide to EU Budget Data Sources

New research project to map the impact of open budget data

- March 4, 2015 in Featured, financial transparency, Follow the Money, open budget data, open budgets, Open Data, Open Spending, Policy, research

I’m pleased to announce a new research project to examine the impact of open budget data, undertaken as a collaboration between Open Knowledge and the Digital Methods Initiative at the University of Amsterdam, supported by the Global Initiative for Financial Transparency (GIFT). The project will include an empirical mapping of who is active around open budget data around the world, and what the main issues, opportunities and challenges are according to different actors. Drawing on this mapping it will provide a review of the various definitions and conceptions of open budget data, arguments for why it matters, best practises for publication and engagement, as well as applications and outcomes in different countries around the world. As well as drawing on Open Knowledge’s extensive experience and expertise around open budget data (through projects such as Open Spending), it will utilise innovative tools and methods developed at the University of Amsterdam to harness evidence from the web, social media and collections of documents to inform and enrich our analysis. As part of this project we’re launching a collaborative bibliography of existing research and literature on open budget data and associated topics which we hope will become a useful resource for other organisations, advocates, policy-makers, and researchers working in this area. If you have suggestions for items to add, please do get in touch. This project follows on from other research projects we’ve conducted around this area – including on data standards for fiscal transparency, on technology for transparent and accountable public finance, and on mapping the open spending community.
Financial transparency field network with the Issuecrawler tool based on hyperlink analysis starting from members of Financial Transparency Coalition, 12th January 2015. Open Knowledge and Digital Methods Initiative.

Financial transparency field network with the Issuecrawler tool based on hyperlink analysis starting from members of Financial Transparency Coalition, 12th January 2015. Open Knowledge and Digital Methods Initiative.