Sunlight, opengov groups call on legislatures around the globe to embrace open data

Posted September 18, 2014 at 12:44pm by lindsayferris

This post originally appeared on the Sunlight Foundation’s blog.

Sunlight is thrilled to mark Global Legislative Openness Week with our global legislative transparency campaign, which culminated earlier this week in a joint letter from the world’s parliamentary monitoring organizations (PMOs) sent to national legislatures across the globe. The letter calls for increased legislative transparency and parliamentary open data, and affirms the importance of legislative institutions and NGOs as partners in strengthening democracy. It is also an invitation for increased collaboration, offering help to legislatures in embracing new technology. In the short time since we solicited endorsements, we’ve been nothing short of astounded by the response we’ve gotten from the community of PMOs throughout the world. In part, that’s due to the unique strength of the PMO network we’ve built along with the National Democratic Institute and the Latin American Network for Legislative Transparency; it also demonstrates NGOs’ appetite for both transparency and for coordinated international advocacy. One hundred nine PMOs from 54 countries have endorsed the letter, along with a variety of other supporting organizations.1 The letter has also been translated into 14 languages, for a total of 20 translations (including regional variations). With groups’ help from around the world, we have submitted the letter to 191 legislative bodies in 130 different countries and the EU.

Open Up Your Legislature!

Read the full letter that calls on legislatures across the globe to make parliamentary data “open by default.” Many legislatures are demonstrating an eagerness to respond. Our colleagues at Hasadna in Israel have leveraged the campaign to begin conversations with the Knesset about releasing an API for parliamentary data. The Al Hayat Center in Jordan had a personal appointment with the Speaker of the Jordanian parliament to hand deliver our community’s demands for openness. These early conversations mark a new opportunity for dialogue between PMOs and members of parliaments, and we expect to hear of many more examples in the coming weeks. In addition to these governmental responses, we’re also seeing a big response from our broader PMO community. National level actors are customizing the campaign to leverage it in their own context, through activities including organizing a coalition of civil society organizations (CSOs) for a strong coordinated promotional push (Spain, Burkina Faso, Croatia), crowdsourcing unique translations based on the national parliamentary situations or cultural nuances (Latin America, Netherlands, Chile) and even hand delivering letters to parliaments when contact information is difficult to find (Kenya). One development we’re particularly excited about is that our approach to legislative reform at scale internationally is also being translated to the subnational level. Sunlight is leading (and will soon be sending) a similar letter to every U.S. state legislature, and PATTIRO — an NGO based in Indonesia — has disseminated the letter nationwide, reaching out to the country’s 34 regional legislatures. OpenNorth, a PMO in Canada, and Public Policies Lab from Argentina have also sent the letter to local legislatures. We expect that these stories of direct legislature impact and national CSO activity are just a few of the many to come. To track these initiatives, we’ve put together a public document to help build a repository of success stories for the global legislative transparency community. However, to create a complete and inclusive repository, we need your help. If you know of any updates or activities that have resulted from this campaign on the national level, please add it to our spreadsheet. 1 “Supporting” groups include parliamentary bodies or commissions within parliaments that are publicly supporting the initiative by promoting the letter or the message behind the campaign.

Global Legislative Openness Week has begun!

Posted September 15, 2014 at 11:43am by danswislow

Today, September 15, is the International Day of Democracy and the beginning of the Global Legislative Openness Week (GLOW), sponsored by the Legislative Openness Working Group of the Open Government Partnership.

Get Involved!

For ideas on how you can support the campaign for greater parliamentary openness during the GLOW, click here

Don’t forget to Follow all of the action on Twitter using the hashtag #openparl2014 and tell us, why is an open parliament (or legislature, congress, council or assembly) important for your democracy?

You can check out a calendar of some of the events that are happening around the world during the GLOW at

To start us off, the Legislative Openness Working Group is convening a regional meeting of MPs, legislative staff and civil society organizations from 15 countries at the Parliament of Montenegro in Podgorica today and tomorrow (view an agenda for that meeting here).

Today also marks the launch of a global advocacy campaign during the GLOW, Open Up Your Legislature!, led by the Sunlight Foundation. The campaign calls on the world’s parliaments to make legislative data “open by default.” More than 100 organizations from the community have signed onto a letter in support of the initiative over the last two weeks, which will be sent to parliamentary leadership around the globe. The letter has been translated into twelve languages so far, available here.

The Declaration on Parliamentary Openness is launched in Rome on September 15, 2012.

Lastly, today we’re also celebrating the two-year anniversary of the launch of the Declaration on Parliamentary Openness, which more than 150 civil society organizations from over 80 countries have signed onto so far. Has yours? Read more about the launch at the 2012 World e-Parliament Conference here.

Global Innovation Competition to have a focus on legislative openness

Posted September 10, 2014 at 3:59pm by danswislow

Photo credit: Making All Voices Count

On September 15, Making All Voices Count (MAVC), a global initiative that aims to create opportunities for new ideas and technologies that strengthen citizen engagement and government responsiveness, is launching its second Global Innovation Competition (GIC). In this year’s competition, Making All Voices Count is seeking ideas relating to four themes, including legislative openness. 

£300,000 in grants are available to winners who propose projects in a limited set of countries: Ghana, South Africa, Kenya, Indonesia, the Philippines, Liberia, Tanzania, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Mozambique, Uganda and Nigeria.

This announcement comes on the heels of the Global Legislative Openness Week (GLOW), being organized by the Legislative Openness Working Group of the Open Government Partnership, that will see events and conversations relating to legislative openness happening around the world. The GIC offers an important platform to help translate many of these discussions into new tools and innovations to help parliaments better represent citizens, and to help citizens better engage and communicate with their elected representatives.

You can read more about the competition at MAVC’s website.

First meeting of presidents of legislatures in the Americas endorses Declaration on Parliamentary Openness

Posted September 1, 2014 at 6:05am by danswislow

In July, the Organization of American States (OAS) convened an Inter-American Meeting of Presidents of Legislative Powers at the National Congress of Peru. The event brought together parliamentary leadership from more than 25 countries in the Americas, and highlighted issues of parliamentary openness and accountability as a major topic of discussion.

The meeting culminated in the endorsement of the Lima Declaration (view it in English or Spanish), which ratified the recommendations of two working tables at the event, including one entitled, Transparency and Accountability in the Role of Parliament: Are there any Open Parliaments?

This working table, one of two highlighted during the event, agreed to a number of principles including the promotion of greater civil society engagement in the legislative process, initiatives for civic education, and the integration of new technologies. Among its specific agreements, it endorsed the civil society-authored Declaration on Parliamentary Openness as a fundamental standard for legislative openness.

imageParliamentary leadership from more than 25 countries convene in the Congress of Peru.

The working table also recognized the work of the Open Government Partnership’s Legislative Openness Working Group (OGP-LOWG) as well as additional key international standards documents like the Santiago Declaration on Transparency and Integrity in Parliaments and Political Parties. (View all of the working table’s agreements in English and Spanish.)

In addition to the working tables, conference participants also had the chance to hear from experts on parliamentary openness and citizen engagement, including Senator Hernán Larraín, representing the Chilean Congress as co-chair of the OGP-LOWG; Cristiano Ferri, director of the e-Democracy project and HackerLab at the Chamber of Deputies of Brazil; and others including Senator Pío García-Escudero Márquez, president of the Senate of Spain.

Read more information on the conference on the OAS’s website.

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.