Why is the OpenGov movement siloed?

As a follow up to my post ‘on the open government movement and silos’ quite a few people came back to me asking ‘well this is all very nice but why are open government groups not working better together?’ So here’s a shot at answering the question:

First, why should we seek to build a global open government movement?

(1) so that groups can work better, more strategically together to solve common problems (e.g. budget groups working with freedom of information and open data groups to make budgets public)

(2) so that we approach politicians and citizens with one common discourse around open government (and so we do not remain locked in our ‘geek box’). The fact that this year’s G8 summit will focus on transparency is a testament to how far we’ve come in convincing high level politicians that our agenda matters.

But why aren’t groups working together more effectively? Here is what I have heard from groups so far:

(1) Each community of practice (whether budget groups, freedom of information, open data groups, extractives’ groups) has its own language, discourse, way of working, basic reason for why they are doing this in the first place (e.g. whether to deepen democracy or decrease poverty) which can be a big barrier to doing business together

(2) NGOs are in competition for limited resources: why should civil society groups make an effort to coordinate when they will ultimately be competing against each other for a limited pot of funding?

(3) Coordination, partnership is hard work! Why do it unless there is a clear pay-off at the end? With limited resources to start with, why should CSOs work and partner together, when they could forge ahead with their own agenda (perhaps faster)?

What can we do about it and what is the role of the gatekeepers / gate makers?

(1) What can donors do? How can we better resource CSOs? Do large funds such as Making All Voices Count and GPSA help?

(2) What can international and national processes like Open Government Partnership (OGP) do to help bring people together? In my experience in the UK, OGP is playing a huge role in bringing together a broad group of civil society groups working on opengov that had previously never met nor worked on a common platform.

Ideas welcome! And I will mull over myself some more…


This week in Transparency/Accountability

Great work on data immersion programs from the UK ODI


Broaden, deepen and connect data – the OKF conference 2013 will be Sept 17-18th in Geneva


UK joins the 0.7% club. “There is no peacetime precedent for a 37% increase from one year to the next in the budget of a UK government department.”


Alan Hudson on phantom firms and dodgy deals


Interesting, controversial article on ‘why the rich don’t give to charity’


Critiques of ‘open’:

Steve Song: “we see openness emerging as a western agenda with the implicit assumption that open = good and by extension more open = more good.” http://manypossibilities.net/2013/03/right-openness/

Morozov: “For many institutions, “open” has become the new “green.” And in the same way that companies will “greenwash” their initiatives by invoking eco-friendly window dressing to hide less-palatable practices, there has also emerged a term to describe similar efforts to read “openness” into situations and environments where it doesn’t exist: “openwashing.”


And my take on the great work done by the US CTO Todd Park:


This week in transparency and accountability

From Dani Kaufmann at Revenue Watch Institute

Bono’s speech at TED now live

Sunlight foundation and their role in the global open government movement

Good article by Madrigal reviewing Evgeny Morozov’s latest book

My colleague David’s review of the ‘Check List Manifesto’

Good article on human use centered design not product centered design (with thanks to Rakesh Rajani for pointing it out to me)


ODI brief on governance and the post 2015 framework

Click to access 8261.pdf

Keep up to date on submissions to the Knight News Challenge on open government

Options for RSS reader now that (sic) Google reader is shutting down

International Budget Partnership’s super duper guide on how to plan for impact

Click to access Super-Duper-Impact-Planning-Guide.pdf

Is the development community un-interested in technology?

Dave Eaves on cyber warfare

and on lessons for hacktivists

And Alex Ross on leaving the State Department

No transparency organization can get away with…

No transparency organization today can or should get away with simply saying that their job is to put the data, information out there, and others will do the rest.

I don’t mean that every transparency organization should be responsible for the whole chain – from getting the data out, to ensuring its use, to ensuring its impact. But I do think that organizations should be cognizant and conscious of the broader ecosystem that they operate in, and seek out partnerships/advisory roles across that ecosystem.

IE transparency organizations whose job it is to get open data out there on foreign aid, or to advocate for a data standard on budget information, or indeed to advocate for stronger right to information laws etc. should plug in to the broader ecosystem they are part of. For example they could:

–       Publish and be clear about how they see change happening as a result of the data/information they will ‘liberate’.

–       Map the different steps through which that change may happen, and be explicit about where they see their own organization fitting

–       This is the key bit I think – link up with other organizations that themselves are responsible for the other steps in the chain, and explore possible partnerships, seats on advisory boards, how to help them achieve their goals (but without necessarily deviating from their own core mission)

Simple but hugely helpful for the field.

PS – thank you to Sunlight Foundation’s Tom Lee for pointing out that transparency also works by forestalling bad action, which is hard to second guess and/or measure. http://www.manifestdensity.net/2013/01/18/how-transparency-works/#more


What should donors make of OECD aid data in XML?


NB – I serve as board member for Publish What You Fund which I helped found back in 2008. Please read this important post by Andrew Clarke, Advocacy Manager for Publish What You Fund.

CRS, XML, IATI – what’s the big difference?

March 8, 2013

Yesterday, the OECD produced an XML file containing DAC members’ annual aid flows. The file is a conversion of 2010 and 2011 data from their Creditor Reporting System (CRS) into XML format (computer-readable “mark-up” language that allows programmers to extract and present data in a comparable and accessible way).

By converting their aid data to XML, the OECD has provided an additional way of accessing this large statistical data set. But this shouldn’t be mistaken for being published to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) Standard.

While XML is the data format specified by IATI, there is a lot more to making this aid data transparent.

IATI was developed because traditional donor reporting (such as the CRS) and ad hoc information on their websites weren’t serving the needs of partner country governments, citizens and other data users. IATI stipulates that in order for data to be transparent, it must be published in a way that is timely, comprehensive, accessible and comparable.

The fundamental requirement for reporting to IATI is that a full picture of each project or activity is provided. All this information, from start to end, is gathered into a single record: this is essential if the information is to be used effectively for the coordination and monitoring of projects on the ground. The CRS XML file makes no attempt to do this.

The IATI standard also provides much more detail, including actual transactions between donors, recipients and contractors. Crucially, the IATI standard requires timely data – published at least quarterly – to create a current picture of aid activities. Partner country governments need timely data so they can plan their own budgets around it.

It is hard to have a debate about the effectiveness of a donor’s aid without detailed and timely information on their spending in a comparable format. Organisations, like us at Publish What You Fund, believe that as more donors continue to publish information to the IATI standard, it will be easier for all stakeholders to hold their institutions and governments to account.

For example, IATI data is already being used in the government’s aid data platform in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This live feed of donor data is used by the government to track spending and plan where to allocate their domestic revenues. The format (XML) is useful but it’s the timeliness and detail of the data that makes this worthwhile – the raison d’être of IATI.

So, what should donors make of this OECD aid data in XML? Don’t equate it with doing IATI. It may be useful for research on historical flows, but it’s aggregated financial reporting (doesn’t show actual transactions) and it is not timely. It also contains none of the added-value components of IATI – such as data on results, conditions and project design.

Donors should press forward with delivering their commitments to aid transparency.

Andrew Clarke, Advocacy Manager, Publish What You Fund

This week in Transparency and Accountability

Can you innovate government? Nine great pieces on the Open Government Partnership just out in the Stanford Social Innovation Review:


New accountability and open government podcast on Development Drums, with Rakesh Rajani of Twaweza and I http://www.owen.org/blog/6612

Alan Hudson on linking resources, budgets and spending for the G8 agenda http://www.one.org/international/blog/linking-resources-to-results-a-transparency-narrative-for-the-g8/

Bono ignites TED 2013 urging audience to become ‘factivists’ in war on extreme poverty and corruption  http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/02/27/bono-ignites-ted-2013-urging-audience-to-become-factivists-in-war-on-extreme-poverty-and-corruption/#.US56CN04ecc.twitter

13 Nonprofits Recognized for Creativity and Effectiveness up to $1.5 M each by MacArthur Foundation http://shar.es/j4ClO

Developing a narrative for the action plan | Open Government Partnership UK http://www.opengovernment.org.uk/narrative/

Fulfilling our Commitment to Open Government | The White House: http://wh.gov/vRUo

OGP Leaders Decide Against Reacting to National Issues – http://www.freedominfo.org/2013/02/ogp-to-avoid-making-comments-on-national-issues/

Make yourself heard with ONE’s new ‘You Choose’ campaign says D’banj http://www.one.org/africa/blog/make-yourself-heard-with-ones-new-you-choose-campaign-says-dbanj/

Very interesting developments in Rajasthan:
Rajasthan’s Rajsamand shows the way with Right to Hearing Act – Times Of India http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Rajasthans-Rajsamand-shows-the-way-with-Right-to-Hearing-Act/articleshow/18474400.cms?intenttarget=no

This week in Transparency and Accountability

Why Germany needs the OGP

Josh Goldstein on governance innovations

Guinea’s mining contracts now online, very cool

More good noises re G8 and transparency

Great piece on governance and development by my colleague David Sasaki

Re-reading oldies but goodies:

Dave Eaves on what he is doing at Code for America

Clay Johnson on how to run large hackathons

This week in transparency and accountability

Great exchange between Steve Davenport (look at the comment section) at Development Gateway and Dennis Whittle from Global Giving on how best to enable feedback loops

The You Choose Campaign has now launched

Hans Rosling on open data and Co2 emissions

Report on tax and data
“A new definition of a permanent establishment must be introduced, grounded in the fact that users play a key role in digital value creation. […] This tax can be compared to the concept of a carbon tax, which grew out of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on climate change. It would tax 1) any company 2) that collects data through regular and systematic monitoring 3) from lots of users based in France and 4) that refuse to comply with stronger privacy and user empowerment requirements.”

Germany open data progress seen as disappointing

Interesting  post on whether there is a german open gvt movement

Great piece on human centered design here

This week in Transparency and Accountability

Ivan Krastev’s new article on Transparency:
“It is people’s willingness to take personal risks and confront the powerful by daring to speak the truth, not the truth itself, that ultimately leads to change.”

Great article on tax transparency and how different countries have wildly different approaches to secrecy around tax and personal wealth

The above study also references this great Pakistani investigation, by the Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI), in coordination with the Centre for Investigative Reporting Pakistan (CIRP), turns out 2/3rds of Pakistani MPs surveyed did not pay their tax.

Also in a more skeptical/questioning vein, this
is worth reading
“[open] is not a politics geared towards specific changes, but towards change in general”

On Purpose.com and The Rules, interesting article in the economist.

FYI Interesting event coming up, tactical tech’s InfoActivism camp

And Liberation Tech’s Right to Information and Transparency in the Digital Age

On The Open Government Movement and Silos

A lot of talk here at Personal Democracy Forum Poland about whether there either:

(1) already is a vibrant, coherent, global open government movement and how best to strengthen it,or

(2) that there is a great potential for but not yet a truly ‘global’ open government movement – rather somewhat silo-ed “open government” communities working on budgets, extractives, data, FOI etc.that don’t quite share the same language to describe their (very similar) work. Some refer to their work as being part of the “open data movement”, the “open government movement”, the “anti-corruption movement”, the “transparency   movement” etc. The question being how to best bring them together more strategically and how to share the same discourse/words/language.

On my side, I feel that (2) is correct – silos are still a problem albeit much less than they were. One example – 5 years ago budget and FOI groups in Latin America were not working together (which I always thought was v odd) and now they are – much more so. There are dozens of such examples, and the Open Gvt Partnership has helped provide a platform for these groups to work together. In the UK, every Thursday civil society groups of all background (e.g. poverty campaigners, aid transparency advocates, construction sector transparency experts etc) get together at the Open Data Institute with the Cabinet Office OGP team to discuss how best to move the needle further via OGP. This is great – and very new. Prior to March 2012, these groups hadn’t all met (in the UK), and didn’t benefit from the OGP platform to this degree.

Ultimately, the two views mentioned above are two sides of the same coin, we are both working towards the same aim: that in our lifetimes, open government/transparency/accountability (whatever we will end up calling it) should be as recognised a discourse and movement as human rights, the environmental movement, the gender movement. That our families and friends should ‘obviously’ know and understand what open government is. That mainstream media should cover and ‘get’ open government. And that advocates strategically understand where and when best to work together and when where best to work separately to best drive effective social change and open governments.

And however this plays out, we should come up with a consensus definition of ‘open government’ (if that is the term that best unites our work) that goes beyond transparency, and includes public engagement and accountability. See http://www.globalintegrity.org/blog/working-definition-opengov and http://www.opengovstandards.org/