OpenParl News Brief: April 16, 2014

Posted April 16, 2014 at 12:59pm by posonmn4

News from the community:

In Portugal, a petition that began to circulate in March calls for more comprehensive information access on the voting records of Members of Parliament on the parliament’s website. While the website currently holds a record of activity for each member, determining how an individual votes for a particular measure can be difficult. The initiative is similar to another petition, that would create an electronic registry on the votes of each representative in the National Assembly. Transparencia Hackday, a Declaration endorser, has supported these measures.

In the United Kingdom, mySociety interviewed Flavio Zeni about the Akoma Ntoso metadata format for the recently launched SayIt platform (for more on Akoma Ntoso implementation around the world, see Robert Richards’ list here). mySociety reviewed the UK Parliament’s online services last month (report available here), while recently provided a look at technology in the British Parliament, including widening access to parlaimentary information (H/T Robert Richards).

In Hungary, the Public Policy Institute (PPI) released its report on parliamentary activities in 2013, drawing attention to several important issues, including the quality of projects initiated by parliamentarians, chronic absenteeism, abuse of tacit adoption procedures, failure to exercise legislative power to rein in the executive branch, and encouragement of political migration by some parties.

In Nigeria, CISLAC outlined various advocacy positions and strategies for engagement during the recently convened National Conference. CISLAC emphasized that beyond discussing contentious historical issues at the conference, the government needed to set the agenda “inclusive, participatory democratic governance beyond 2015.”

In the United States, the Sunlight Foundation analyzed the White House Office of Management and Budget’s opposition to portions of the DATA ACT and changes to the Senate version of the bill which weaken the bills data standardization provisions. It also has continued a webinar series on enhancing transparency in political finance, with past webinars viewable here. Elsewhere, GCN profiled the GovLab and its new public interest lab network.

Click here to read more.

Big Step for Public Access to Legislation

Posted April 11, 2014 at 10:01am by gregbrownm

This post is by Daniel Schuman, Policy Director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington

Earlier today, the House of Representatives’ Appropriations Committee made a major move towards improving public access to legislative information. In layman’s terms, the committee said that by the beginning of the next Congress information about the disposition of bills—where they are in the legislative process and who authored or co-sponsored the legislation—will be published in a way that computers can easily process, and thus can be easily reused by apps and websites.

U.S. Code

Americans access legislative information through third-party sites. This change in publication policy will help guarantee that accurate, timely, and complete legislative information is directly available from the official source. Congress already publishes the text of legislation in a structured format that is downloadable in bulk.

The committee specifically directed the Clerk of the House to work with the Librarian of Congress and the Public Printer to publish bill status information for bulk data downloads by the beginning of the next congress. This has been a long-standing request of the public interest community and was the subject of a recent letter sent by CREW and on behalf of the newly formed Congressional Data Coalition.

The report language came at the behest of Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL), who recommended the committee adopt this language in its report. His recommendation was the culmination of many years of hard work by legislative transparency advocates in both parties, including (but not limited to) Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), Minority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), and Reps. Darrell Issa (R-CA), Mike Quigley (D-IL), Mike Honda (D-CA), and Ander Crenshaw (R-FL).

In June 2012, Speaker Boehner, Majority Leader Cantor, and then-Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Ander Crenshaw issued a letter on the occasion of the establishment of a Legislative Bulk Data Task Force charged with looking into improved public access to legislative information, stating “our goal is to provide bulk access to legislative information the American people without further delay.” Rep. Issa had offered an amendment to put that requirement into law, but withdrew it pending the report of the Task Force. In its December 2013 report, the Task Force recommended ”that it be a priority for Legislative Branch agencies to publish legislative information in XML and provide bulk access to that data.” While the issue was not raised during the recent Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee hearings, Ranking Member Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL) singled out Rep. Quigley at the full committee hearing for making the recommendation.

With the report language in the final committee report, it is unclear what additional action, if any, is necessary to put it into effect. The House Appropriations Committee has tremendous sway over legislative branch agencies, who may spring to comply even in the absence of floor action in the House. The Senate, in its own committee report, may not address the issue (thus perhaps giving tacit approval) or may expressly agree or disagree to bulk publication of bill status information. Indeed, the Senate’s Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee is still reviewing its appropriation bill, having met just yesterday.

Regardless, today’s action in the House is a significant win for transparency. Public interest advocateshave been fighting for bulk access to legislative information at least since May 2007, and the House has now put its full weight on the side of legislative transparency.

Here is the report language:

The Committee request that the Clerk of the House, the Librarian of Congress and the Public Printer work together to make available to the public through or FDsys bulk data downloads of bill status by the beginning of the next Congress.

Mexican Congress announces a landmark Open Parliament Alliance

Posted April 3, 2014 at 5:16pm by danswislow

Thanks to Greg Brown for his help in putting together this post.

In March, the Mexican Congress hosted the first Transparency and Open Parliament Week (Semana de la Transparencia y Parlamento Abierto). With assistance from Fundar, Transparencia Mexicana, and the National Democratic Institute (NDI), the Congress convened a week-long series of meetings and panels focused on parliamentary transparency and access to information.

The week of events brought together parliamentarians from the national and subnational level, public officials, civil society representatives, academics, journalists, and other interested citizens—giving a platform to many different voices and opinions from Mexico and the international community.

During the week, the Mexican Congress made two landmark announcements. The first was the establishment of a bicameral commission on parliamentary transparency—showing a new commitment by both legislative chambers to providing citizens with the information they need to evaluate and analyze the performance of their government.

In addition, the Congress announced the creation of an Open Parliament Alliance, a formal partnership between civil society and the Congress that will work to develop commitments and tools that can be adopted to increase legislative transparency, jointly undertaking this new openness agenda. This new initiative mirrors the Mexican government’s involvement in the Open Government Partnership (OGP), and comes as the Mexican Congress begins to engage as a principal member of OGP’s Legislative Openness Working Group.

Click here to read more.

Case Study #10: Team POPONG’s Pokr Project

Posted April 2, 2014 at 2:18pm by arianatuckey

Organization: Team POPONG

Project: Pokr - Politics in Korea

Country: South Korea

Government Level: National

Overview: Pokr (pronounced pōker) — short for “Politics in Korea” — was designed and developed by Team POPONG, a non-profit organization from South Korea. Team POPONG’s goal with Pokr is to organize Korean political information and make it universally accessible and useful. The website allows users to search for any official or candidate; proposed bill; political party or administrative region in South Korea.

Background: Team POPONG (POPONG: Public Open POlitical engineeriNG) is a Korean nonprofit, nonpartisan group founded in 2010 that aims to make politics easy and fun via technology. They value political neutrality, process automation and reproducibility, open source and open data.

The team initially created a platform called Korean Political Dictionary that compared candidates standing for election in the National Assembly.  At the time, there was very limited amount of information available on public candidates. POPONG began to find this data and, with the use of APIs, organized the information within a single source. This project turned into Pokr when the team decided to also provide information on bills and the inter-election season in which they were proposed.

Click here to read more.

UK commission collecting evidence on “making laws in a digital age”

Posted March 31, 2014 at 4:34pm by gregbrownm

The Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy, a new body of the UK parliament, provides evidence and recommendations that outline how the parliament can better serve its citizens through technology. Recognizing the diverse opportunities that technology provides for creating more open, collaborative forms of governance, the Speaker’s Commission will address a range of issues, including the legislative process, citizen engagement, representation, and evaluating the work of government.


Over the next few months, the Speaker’s commission will be collecting evidence on the first of these themes: making laws. The legislative process stands to change immensely as digital democracy becomes a reality, and the Speaker’s Commission wants to know what the public thinks are the greatest opportunities for a tech-empowered parliament.

To structure their call for evidence, the Commission has asked a few questions. Could technology improve access to the legislative process? Should technology be used to consider citizens’ opinions when crafting legislation? What are other parliaments doing with technology to make the legislative process stronger?

The Commission, which is made up of MPs and civil society representatives, will provide guidance on how the parliament can become more open and participatory through the use of technology. These recommendations will be based in part on the feedback and comments they receive during their open call for evidence.

If you have thoughts on these topics or valuable information to share, you are encouraged to submit evidence to the Commission via email or through the web forum

(Photo credit: screenshot of Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy website)

OpenParl News Brief: March 21, 2014

Posted March 21, 2014 at 5:20pm by posonmn4

News from the community:

In Venezuela, Transparencia Venezuela outlined various civil rights in response to the worsening human rights situation in Venezuela. Earlier in February, the group joined with Forum for Life and other Venezuelan organizations to issue a statement condemning the increasing violence, arbitrary detention, and spread of misinformation by the government.

The European Parliament recently called on the government of Venezuela to disarm pro-government militant groups targeting ongoing protests with impunity. In a joint resolution, the Parliament called for the dispatch of a European-led monitoring group to Venezuela and for the Maduro government to withdraw arrest warrants issued for opposition leaders.

In the Ukraine, CHESNO suggested five criteria for the composition of a new cabinet of ministers and other management authorities in Ukraine. The President of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly (who has previously blogged on OpeningParliament) stated that the Assembly should play a strong role in direct talks between Ukraine and Russia.

Meanwhile, OPORA reported that documents taken from the Party of Regions headquarters in Chernivtsi may reveal violations of the 2012 electoral law, including the improper use of administrative resources by the Party, indirect vote-buying, using indirect Party representatives to obtain a majority in the election commissions, and the improper handling and storage of personal data lists.

In Afghanistan, the Free and Fair Election Forum (FEFA) released its first election observation report, which analyzes the security and electoral environment and reports violations observed so far in the run up to the April 5 presidential election.

In Mexico, Senator Laura Rojas spoke during Transparency Week in Mexico in support of further efforts to open government, which she said would address public concern with closed door negotiations on appointments, lack of budget transparency, confusion about allocation of resources for parliamentary travel, and many other issues. During Transparency Week activities, Senate President Raul Cervantes announced the creation of a joint commission to recommend actions to increase the transparency of Mexico’s government.

Click here to read more.

Survey on openness in Central and Eastern Europe reveals major problems with committees

Posted March 19, 2014 at 9:48am by kamilopblog

A recent survey on parliamentary data openness in Central and Eastern Europe shows that national parliaments in the region especially lack transparency of committees’ sessions. Transcripts of sessions, voting records or even sessions’ agenda are unavailable in many countries. The survey clusters the countries into two groups, with Czech Republic, Macedonia, Montenegro, Poland, Serbia and Slovakia being moderately open and Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo being much more closed.

Some time ago, I presented results of a global survey on voting data availability by, a Czech and Slovak parliamentary monitoring organization (PMO). Recently, there has been another development in parliamentary data openness monitoring. NDI’s Western Balkan Legislative Strengthening Initiative conducted a comprehensive survey of nine Central and Eastern European parliaments. It is unique in many ways, mainly because the survey questionnaire was filled by parliamentary researches and not by PMOs, as it is usually the case.

The survey was based on the Declaration of Parliamentary Openness and focused on opportunities of citizens’ participation in the legislative process and parliamentary data openness. This section of the questionnaire contains questions on whether 48 types of parliamentary data are available on the official parliamentary website. It does not ask any further details (e.g. how many years of data are available or in what formats) and some questions could be more specific (e.g. whether voting records are available by name of individual MPs) but it draws a good rough picture of parliamentary openness in the region.

Click here to read more.