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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.

In Latvia, a plea for citizens to push for data-driven public policy

- August 18, 2016 in Event report, fellowship, Latvia

Data is the core substance required for evidence-based policies and decision-making. “How do we make Latvia the country that makes most use of data to inform its decision-making?” was the question that Latvian MP’s and civil-society representatives tried to answer during 1,5 hours on the hot morning of July 2nd, at the occasion of the second edition of the national political festival, LAMPA. image alt text This festival, funded by the DOTS foundation, aims to clarify the concept of open data which is still new for Latvian law-makers, who often confuse it with public data. The discussions there serve as a good encouragement to give data to the hands of regular citizens and encourage them to participate in national, evidence-based policy making.

The roadblocks to evidence-based decision-making

None of the participants denied the importance of evidence in decision-making. Nevertheless, many alarming issues were detected. Open data, and engaging civil society in its use, was seen as one of the best short-term solutions for producing more thoughtful policy-making. First, the State Controller, Elita Krumina, raised the issue that evidence – based on statistics, research documents and research papers – needs to be revised every year. There are many policies based on outdated evidence, even though the real situation has actually changed. Another issue the Head of State Secretary Office, Martins Krievins, illuminated was that oftentimes decisions are made quickly and there is no time for lengthy research and data-gathering. At the same time, Krumina suggested that a great deal of research is conducted, but the benefit is small: “These papers repeat already-known principles of good governance without giving much data-driven solutions,” she explained.

The problem of trust

“The problem is, we don’t trust many evidence,” says Krievins. He gave an example of the census results: “First, everyone said that the data is incorrect because more people left the country than was counted. Then, when the state conducted an outsourced census, the first question was – whom did the hired company pay in bribes?” Krievins said that data can be easily manipulated based on policy goals, whereas parliamentarian and experienced politician, Sergejs Dolgopolovs, said that he thinks it’s important to set goals and assess all the risks in order to make better decisions. Later, Krievins admitted that there are many complex issues with evidence that may encourage a bad decision to be made: “Everyone realises that small schools in the countryside are expensive – the evidence is clear. Nevertheless, schools in the countryside are cultural centres for the local area, hosting many social events. There would be a broad social impact if small schools were to be closed.” Ernests Jenavs, the founder and CEO of Edurio, an app that helps users to make evidence-based decisions in education, said that evidence should be separated from ideology: “Data should be analysed by independent people, not politically biased decision-makers,” says Jenavs. He suggested opening data, so that politically independent civil society members can suggest evidence-based solutions. Nika Aleksejeva, the Head of School of Data Latvia, agreed with this point, adding that there is a need for enhancing data-literacy in Latvian society and encouraging people to use open data. Technology allows us to engage with society faster and more cheaply than before, agreed both Janevs and Aleksejeva. The discussion was concluded by a unanimous message from the panel – there should be much more pressure from civil society for evidence-based decisions in government, and data should be open for everyone to be able to contribute to this decision-making. Video (in Latvian): link
Infobox
Event name: Festival “Lampa”, discussion “How to make Latvia the greatest country of evidence based policy-making?”
Event type: Roundtable
Event theme: open data and data-driven public policy
Description: Possibilities to execute more evidence based and data-driven policies in Latvian government
Speakers: Ernests Jenavs (the founder and CEO of Edurio) Nika Aleksejeva (the Head of School of Data Latvia) Sergejs Dolgopolovs (parliamentarian), Elita Krumina (the State Controller), Ilze Vinkele (parliamentarian), Martins Krievins (Head of State Secretary Office), Valts Kalnins (The lead researcher at think-tank PROVIDUS)
Partners: NA
Location: Cesis, Latvia
Date: July 2
Audience: cycling society representatives, analysts, others
Number of attendees NA
Gender split: NA
Duration: 1 hour
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Using data for improving cyclist community in Riga, Latvia

- August 10, 2016 in Event report, fellowship, Latvia

Nika Aleksejeva presenting the project Would you believe that a socially relevant, data-driven project can be accomplished without a budget, a big team and full-time staff? How? This question was the focus of the ‘How we did it?’ meetup in Riga, Latvia. It was the final point of #Velodati – a data-driven project that crowdsourced geographic data about cycling mobility in Riga, initiated and conducted by the School of Data Latvian local group (Datu skola). The Datu Skola’s mission is to facilitate data-driven projects, conducted by journalists and activists, in collaboration with data analysts and programmers. The #Velodati project works as an example for such projects. As a result an interactive online map was created showing the most busy cycling routes and how they overlap with the net of cycle tracks in Riga. screenshot of the project The project took nothing more than three months of one person’s work and 37 euros for posters, that encouraged Riga cyclists to share GPS recordings of their routes during the Riga Cycling Week in May. This was possible thanks to the open source and freemium tools used to create the crowdsourcing campaign, to clean and to visualize data. As a result, the online map got over 16.2K+ views (in a country of 1.9M population) and received coverage in eight national media outlets. Here is a list of tools used for every part of the data project:
Crowdsourcing campaign Data collection Data cleaning Data visualization, publication
Froont campaign’s web page
Animaker video animation
Typeform survey sharing instructions
Google Docs data recording instructions
Zapier email automation
Gmail data compilation
“Save emails and attachments” Google Spreadsheet add-on organising data
QGIS data cleaning, formating
CartoDB map visualization
Tableau Public survey data visualization
Social media (Twitter, Facebook) social media campaign promotion of results
Each tool was demonstrated during the first part of the event. Attendees were particularly interested in Animaker, the video editing tool, Zapier, the cross-platform integration tool, the “Save emails and attachments” Google add-on, that organises email attachments automatically on Google Drive and CartoDB, a geographic data visualization tool. Attendees also wanted to know why data vas visualized using points instead of lines and how a person who cleaned data made choices regarding which routes to keep or delete. Some also started to wonder how to improve the data crowdsourcing campaign for greater data submissions. This was a great warm-up for the second part of the event. Participants split into three working groups to brainstorm about next steps for the project.
  • One group discussed how the project could be improved for more impactful, data-driven results.

  • Another group discussed how to lobby Riga municipality for better cycling infrastructure in the capital.
  • Finally, there was a group which brainstormed ideas for other data journalism projects.
All groups concluded that it’s useful to combine cycling data with data about public transportation. Bicycles can serve as a good alternative, not only for cars, but also for reaching areas of the city where public transportation is inconvenient. Research, such as that conducted as part of this project, could be used to make evidence-based decisions regarding improving citizen mobility in Riga. The tools and methods used to produce the #Velodati story will be shared as learning modules on School of Data international page. audience
Infobox
Event Name Velodati – How we did it?
Type meetup
Description a reflection on methodology and tools used to produce the “Velodati” story.
Trainers Nika Aleksejeva
Partners No
Location Riga, Latvia
Date July 5th
Audience journalists, cycling community representatives, analysts, civic society representatives, others
Number of attendees 23
Gender split NA
Duration 3 hours
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Data Harvest: Planting seeds of journalism collaboration

- June 10, 2016 in datajournalism, Event report, fellowship, Latvia

This article was written by Nika Aleksejeva, 2016 School of Data Fellow European data journalists meet at Data Harvest to plant seeds for cross-border collaboration From a tiny sprout of 35 people who were interested in EU spending on Farming Subsidies six years ago, this year Data Harvest grew to a 350+ attendees conference that shared stories, inspirations, methods and practical skills with European data journalists. The famous #PanamaPapers investigation was in the center of everyone’s attention as it embedded the core values of modern investigation projects: cross-border collaboration between local newsrooms all around the world and data-driven computer-mediated approach that blends together with conventional investigative journalism methods. Mar Cabra (ICIJ) invites newsrooms to collaborate on global data-driven investigations:

It’s all about collaboration

Panama Papers investigation sets a perfect example for fighting the so called “Gollum journalism” [reference from the Lord of the Rings trilogy] that presumes that journalists should keep every exclusive piece of information to themselves, even if a story crosses the borders. “If the journalists from SZ had not shared the data with ICIJ and us with more than 370 journalists, Panama Papers would not have happened.” concludes Mar Cabra while sharing 10 tips for conducting collaborative investigations:

The notion of collaboration as a key to big scale data-driven investigations that can change things for good was floating in the air not only during the talks, keynotes and sessions. It was soaking through every conversation in the networking space, during the lunch and on the way to sessions that were scheduled across two floors in two buildings.

Back to the future

A day before the conference coders and data-savvy journalists could join a traditional hackathon dedicated for data projects about EU spending. This is how it all started. Brigitte Alfter, the Editor at the Journalismfund.eu, remembers the time when she was working as a correspondent for a Danish newspaper covering European affairs. At that time she realised that many so-thought national stories exceed borders of a single European country and affect the all EU member states all together. One of such matters is EU spending.

Therefore teams at the hackathon worked on data collection about EU cohesion funds, finalized a database about EU tenders, merged datasets about EU farming subsidy beneficiaries with illegal polluters as well as pulled data about EU sanctions and regional development funds. Some of the projects are expected to be continued, like Open Spending database crowdsourced by Open Knowledge and the data base about European tenders that keeps being updated since the previous hackathons.

Many tracks to go

Tailored for busy journalists, the conference lasted from Friday to Sunday. The three-day program consisted of eight thematic tracks.

The most hands-on track was Data Lab. The track consisted of step-by step hands-on tutorials for working with Excel, SQL, R, Python, Open Refine, Carto DB and many more. The coordinator of the track data journalist Crina Boros made sure, every attendee can progress from the basics working on Excel to analysing data programmatically in just three days (!!!). Cross-border track shared the investigations conducted by international journalists working on a problem that concerns more than one country. One of such stories was “The Criminal Migrant Shipping Network”. The team of 9 journalists and experts managed to discover who is behind illegal shipping of migrants across the mediterranean using shipping database and researching the ownership structures behind the suspicious ships. The project was funded by the Journalismfund.eu, the organiser of the event and promoter of cross-border investigations. Many practical suggestions, learnings and inspirations were shared during the Data track, that covered every aspect of working with data. Besides this year special attention was also devoted for more administrative issues, as funding of data journalism projects, security while conducting an online research, how to do “wobbing” and cover Tax and Finance.

Planting relationships

Data Harvest is the most important event for data journalists in Europe. It’s steady growth ensures diversity of experiences, ideas and skills to combine for big scale data-driven investigations across borders. Its sessions inspire and build practical competences while the networking during, between and after the session builds connections that grow into relationships and friendship. There are not enough words to express the mood floating around. Perhaps images will do a better job. Though… yeah, better come and taste the fruits of Data Harvest next year. Meanwhile check resources from the conference here.





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Data Harvest: Planting seeds of journalism collaboration

- June 10, 2016 in datajournalism, Event report, fellowship, Latvia

This article was written by Nika Aleksejeva, 2016 School of Data Fellow European data journalists meet at Data Harvest to plant seeds for cross-border collaboration From a tiny sprout of 35 people who were interested in EU spending on Farming Subsidies six years ago, this year Data Harvest grew to a 350+ attendees conference that shared stories, inspirations, methods and practical skills with European data journalists. The famous #PanamaPapers investigation was in the center of everyone’s attention as it embedded the core values of modern investigation projects: cross-border collaboration between local newsrooms all around the world and data-driven computer-mediated approach that blends together with conventional investigative journalism methods. Mar Cabra (ICIJ) invites newsrooms to collaborate on global data-driven investigations:

It’s all about collaboration

Panama Papers investigation sets a perfect example for fighting the so called “Gollum journalism” [reference from the Lord of the Rings trilogy] that presumes that journalists should keep every exclusive piece of information to themselves, even if a story crosses the borders. “If the journalists from SZ had not shared the data with ICIJ and us with more than 370 journalists, Panama Papers would not have happened.” concludes Mar Cabra while sharing 10 tips for conducting collaborative investigations: The notion of collaboration as a key to big scale data-driven investigations that can change things for good was floating in the air not only during the talks, keynotes and sessions. It was soaking through every conversation in the networking space, during the lunch and on the way to sessions that were scheduled across two floors in two buildings.

Back to the future

A day before the conference coders and data-savvy journalists could join a traditional hackathon dedicated for data projects about EU spending. This is how it all started. Brigitte Alfter, the Editor at the Journalismfund.eu, remembers the time when she was working as a correspondent for a Danish newspaper covering European affairs. At that time she realised that many so-thought national stories exceed borders of a single European country and affect the all EU member states all together. One of such matters is EU spending. Therefore teams at the hackathon worked on data collection about EU cohesion funds, finalized a database about EU tenders, merged datasets about EU farming subsidy beneficiaries with illegal polluters as well as pulled data about EU sanctions and regional development funds. Some of the projects are expected to be continued, like Open Spending database crowdsourced by Open Knowledge and the data base about European tenders that keeps being updated since the previous hackathons.

Many tracks to go

Tailored for busy journalists, the conference lasted from Friday to Sunday. The three-day program consisted of eight thematic tracks. The most hands-on track was Data Lab. The track consisted of step-by step hands-on tutorials for working with Excel, SQL, R, Python, Open Refine, Carto DB and many more. The coordinator of the track data journalist Crina Boros made sure, every attendee can progress from the basics working on Excel to analysing data programmatically in just three days (!!!). Cross-border track shared the investigations conducted by international journalists working on a problem that concerns more than one country. One of such stories was “The Criminal Migrant Shipping Network”. The team of 9 journalists and experts managed to discover who is behind illegal shipping of migrants across the mediterranean using shipping database and researching the ownership structures behind the suspicious ships. The project was funded by the Journalismfund.eu, the organiser of the event and promoter of cross-border investigations. Many practical suggestions, learnings and inspirations were shared during the Data track, that covered every aspect of working with data. Besides this year special attention was also devoted for more administrative issues, as funding of data journalism projects, security while conducting an online research, how to do “wobbing” and cover Tax and Finance.

Planting relationships

Data Harvest is the most important event for data journalists in Europe. It’s steady growth ensures diversity of experiences, ideas and skills to combine for big scale data-driven investigations across borders. Its sessions inspire and build practical competences while the networking during, between and after the session builds connections that grow into relationships and friendship. There are not enough words to express the mood floating around. Perhaps images will do a better job. Though… yeah, better come and taste the fruits of Data Harvest next year. Meanwhile check resources from the conference here. Flattr this!