5 ways the Global Legislative Openness Survey can strengthen OGP action plans

Posted August 15, 2014 at 2:30pm by gregbrownm

Perhaps the greatest benefit of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) is that it provides a forum for openness advocates in government and civil society alike to share information in order to learn what works and what doesn’t when it comes to opening up government. At its best, OGP can facilitate a productive, global exchange of information on openness issues that encourages countries to craft increasingly ambitious national action plans.

To facilitate the sharing of information on legislative openness — an issue that is increasingly being addressed through the OGP process — the OGP Legislative Openness Working Group (LOWG) is embarking on a survey-based research effort to gather and disseminate comparative information about parliamentary openness. The LOWG, which is co-anchored by the Government and Congress of Chile and the National Democratic Institute, is in the process of conducting a series of surveys. The first survey will identify what information parliaments make public. Comments on the survey have been received from many working group participants and from the broader legislative openness community; data collection on the survey will begin shortly. The second survey in the series is intended to gather information about citizen engagement and mechanisms for public participation in the legislative process.   The survey process will be discussed in greater detail at several upcoming events during the Global Legislative Openness Week, from September 15-25.   

One goal of the survey is to support the OGP process by increasing the number of meaningful legislative openness commitments in national action plans. There are a number of ways that the working group’s research efforts could positively affect the OGP process.

Click here to read more.

Towards a standard open decisions API

Posted August 8, 2014 at 6:01am by gregbrownm

This post was collaboratively written by Jogi Poikola and Markus Laine of Open Knowledge Finland, James McKinney of Open North, and Scott Hubli, Jared Ford, and Greg Brown of National Democratic Institute.  

At this year’s Open Knowledge Festival — a biennial gathering of open government advocates — there was considerable interest in moving toward greater standardization of APIs (application programming interface) relating to government decision-making processes. Web APIs help promote an open architecture for sharing content and data between communities and applications. Standardization of APIs for government decision-making data would allow tools built by civic innovators or governments to analyze or visualize data about government decision-making to be used across multiple jurisdictions, without needing to re-program the tool to accommodate differing data formats or ways of accessing the data.   

Most government decision-making procedures involve similar processes (meetings, requests for public comment, etc.), decision-points (committee hearings, committee meetings, plenary sessions, etc.) and supporting documentation (agendas, draft legislation, information on voting records, etc.). Standardizing the ways that these types of information are structured allows tools for visualizing data about open government decision-making to be used across jurisdictions, as well as facilitating comparison of data and information.  

To discuss the state of play with respect to open government decision-making APIs, Open Knowledge Finland, Open North, and the National Democratic Institute organized a session at the Open Knowledge Festival 2014 in Berlin to explore the possibilities for moving toward a global standard for APIs that deal with data on government decision-making.

Click here to read more.

Rally behind Open Parliaments during Global Legislative Openness Week, Sept. 15-25

Posted August 7, 2014 at 1:57pm by swelshopengov

Does your legislature have an action plan for opening up its information and processes to the public? Are legislators making real progress toward their openness goals, in partnership with civil society? 

This September, you can use #OpenParl2014 to build (or regain) momentum around legislative openness and share your successes and challenges with counterparts around the world. The Open Government Partnership (OGP)’s Legislative Openness Working Group has announced that it will be launching the first-ever Global Legislative Openness Week (GLOW) from September 15-25, to leverage a number of events coinciding with one another. These include:

  • Sept. 15: International Day of Democracy
  • Sept. 15-16: Legislative Openness Working Group regional meeting in Podgorica, Montenegro (hosted by the Parliament of Montenegro)
  • Sept. 24-25: Legislative Openness Working Group annual meeting in Valparaiso, Chile (hosted by the Congress of Chile)
  • Sept. 24: Open Government Partnership High Level Event at the margins of the UN General Assembly, New York
  • Sept. 25: ParlAmericas Plenary Assembly in Santiago, Chile

In addition, members of the community in Brazil, Jordan, Mexico, Poland, South Korea, Finland, Australia, Honduras, Canada, Ghana and elsewhere have expressed interest in organizing or participating in openness events such as hackathons and exhibitions. The goal of GLOW is to encourage global collaboration, in the spirit of the Open Government Partnership, toward greater commitments to legislative openness by governments and parliaments:

Through Global Legislative Openness Week (GLOW), the Legislative Openness Working Group’s co-chairs are pleased to offer event organizers access to shared branding and outreach materials, in order to promote peer-to-peer learning and collaboration among these various events. GLOW will provide transparency leaders worldwide with an opportunity to collaborate, share best practices and make progress toward adopting and implementing legislative openness commitments.

To get involved or learn more, visit the GLOW website. Or read more on the OGP blog.

Open Parliamentary Data → Social Change: Example from the Czech Republic

Posted August 7, 2014 at 1:35pm by kamilopblog

Parliamentary monitoring organizations are generally very good at gathering, opening and republishing parliamentary data. Stories about actual social change that can be directly linked to their work are, however, much more rare. This makes a recent development in the Czech Republic all the more interesting.

Every vote taken during plenary sessions in the Czech parliament is by default recorded by names of individual MPs. Voting results are published in real time on the parliamentary website and the lower chamber also provides open voting data. This creates ample opportunities to do research on voting patterns but also allows, a local parliamentary monitoring organization to track MPs attendance.

Results consistently show that MPs with the lowest attendance are almost invariably those that also hold top offices in the national or local government. For example, the chart below visualizes attendance rates of Czech members of the lower chamber since the last parliamentary elections in October 2013. Members of the cabinet (in red) are almost all among the MPs with low attendance rates.

In 2013, tracked an MP with the lowest overall attendance that also managed to simultaneously hold over 30 offices (!). It turned out that some 50 % of his absences in parliament can be explained by him being at an event related to his extra-parliamentary offices (including e.g. christening a new fire truck or opening a vine festival).

Understandably, quite a large media attention to this issue accumulated over time. This has led to some MPs reducing the number of offices they hold (including the MP mentioned above). But most importantly, the Social Democrats (the strongest government party) recently (August 2014) announced results of an inter-party referendum where over 90 % of its voting members endorsed the party to propose a bill that would prevent MPs to hold multiple offices at the same time.

If this bill is indeed approved it will be among the cases where open parliamentary data clearly led to a positive social change and possibly an example for other parliamentary monitoring organizations to follow.

Kamil Gregor is a data analyst with and Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic.

OpenParl News Brief: August 1, 2014

Posted August 1, 2014 at 11:47am by posonmn4

News from the community:

In Germany, the Open Knowledge Festival took place in Berlin from July 15-17. A good summary of the event can be viewed here. Members of the community that attended include Foundation ePaństwo, DATA Uruguay, Sunlight Foundation, Fundar, Fundación Ciudadano Inteligente, KohoVolit, K-Monitor, Holder de Ord, Hvem Stemmer Hvad, Open Ministry, Open Knowledge Foundation Germany, Open State Foundation, Open North, OpenKratio, Hasadna, mySociety, and Access Info.

Elsewhere, Parliament Watch recently announced an online survey that documents the positions of Germany’s 96 MEPs on important policy issues. In addition to the survey, the organization also collected voting behavior of the elected officials during the last parliamentary term.

In Greece, the Ministry of Administrative Reform and E-Government submitted the country’s Action Plan to the Open Government Partnership (OGP). The plan contains ambitious commitments on parliamentary openness and legislative transparency, including the introduction of a system for tracking bill changes, improvements in the usability and functionality of the parliament’s website, provision of historical parliamentary documents, and enhancements of social media policy.

In Ireland, the government launched, an open data portal that currently supports 419 datasets. The Minister of Public Education and Reform announced the end of application fees for FOI requests. And the government approved the country’s Action Plan for OGP which includes several components to increase citizen participation during the pre-legislative process through consultation with committees and scrutiny of draft bills.

In France, Regards Citoyens initiated a crowdsourcing project that converted declarations of interests for all 925 MPs into open data. The declarations were previously scanned into PDFs by the High Authority on Transparency in Public Life (HATVP). The conversion of these files to open data brings the declarations into line with standards established in October 2013 by France’s law on the transparency of public life.

In Italy, OpenPolis and others have been drawing attention to the country’s need for an FOI law with the #FOIA4Italy campaign. Despite the growing momentum around FOI in recent years, there has been a lack of progress on the issue in parliament. FOIA4Italy plans to submit an FOIA bill based on legislation in countries with advanced access to information laws after crowdsourcing improvements from the Italian public.

In Tunisia, Al Bawsala unveiled a new project, Marsad Baladia, a platform that will monitor the activities of municipalities to generate greater citizen awareness before municipal elections scheduled for 2015. The project has already created a transparency index from the 24 municipalities it has so far observed.

Click here to read more.

Open meetings need open data

Posted July 28, 2014 at 10:26am by posonmn4

This post was authored by .

Open meetings laws are an essential element of open government. Ensuring public access to government decision-making processes can help create transparency, allow for accountability, and encourage public participation in the choices being made on the public’s behalf.

For open meetings laws to live up to their full potential, they need to reflect the opportunities provided by recent advances in technology. Governments are already starting to update public records laws to take advantage of these kinds of advances, and open meetings laws are overduefor undergoing similar revisions.

Open meetings generate an abundance of public records, including agendas, minutes, votes, and more. Sharing these records online as open data is becoming increasingly easy and financially feasible. This opportunity is often missed by local governments, but that’s starting to change. States, counties, cities and towns across the country are finding ways to use open data to bolster open meetings, sharing information online about decision-making processes in easily accessible and reusable formats. Open data is helping in ways beyond making information more easily accessible, too. It’s also inviting the public to participate in the decision-making process in new ways — a key component of any open government initiative.

Recommendations for using open data to improve open meetings

Just as the public records process is being updated to take advantage of new technologies, it’s time for an overhaul of how governments approach open meetings. Some of the key principles of open data can be applied to broad improvements of open meetings policies. Here are some of the ways open data can be used to help bolster open meetings:

1. Post the open meetings law online

Open meetings laws are public accountability and access policies, and as such it makes sense to post these laws online where anyone can easily review their rights to access government. Posting these laws online also demonstrates that open meetings are part of the values, goals and mission of the government for keeping the public informed and engaged.

Click here to read more.