Over 30 countries celebrate first Global Legislative Openness Week

Posted October 17, 2014 at 10:23am by swelshopengov

Last month, the Open Government Partnership (OGP)’s Legislative Openness Working Group issued an open call to parliaments and civil society organizations around the world: show support for open lawmaking, and help advance the cause. Thanks to “an incredibly strong network of national advocates,” the response to the first-ever Global Legislative Openness Week (GLOW) was tremendous, with 45 activities organized in 33 countries. See images, videos and stories from the week at

Clockwise from top: Brazil’s GLOW Hack Weekend; the OGP Legislative Openness Working Group’s global meeting in Chile; Mexico’s Open Parliament Alliance logo; and Open Australia’s Hackfest: GLOW Edition.

The GLOW campaign was anchored by two international OGP Working Group meetings aimed at expanding civic engagement and institutionalizing the open parliament agenda — in other words, making sure that citizens can actively participate in decisions that affect them, and making sure that the Open Government Partnership has reform mechanisms and resources that are for and by legislatures. In between these two meetings (a regional meeting hosted by the Parliament of Montenegro and a global meeting held by the Congress of Chile, a co-anchor of the OGP Working Group) a number of independent GLOW events brought legislators and civil society organizations together to discuss opening parliamentary processes and information — particularly open data.

Here are just some of the GLOW activities held between Sept. 15 and 25:

  • The Chamber of Deputies of Brazil hosted a GLOW Hack Weekend to connect software programmers with policy experts; 
  • Mexican officials formally launched the Open Parliament Alliance, an institutional platform for coordinating openness efforts across the executive, legislature and civil society; 
  • The Sunlight Foundation led a group of more than 100 civil society organizations around the world in delivering an open-data advocacy letter to parliaments;
  • The Al Hayat Center for Civil Society Development met with the Speaker of the Jordanian Parliament, to advocate for open legislative data, and also organized a series of constituent meetings with members of parliament; 
  • In the UK, the Digital Society Network at the University of Sheffield and the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy hosted a debate on Exploring New Ways of Reconnecting Parliament and Citizens; 
  • In Israel, the Knesset collaborated with civil society organization Hasadna to organize a workshop on open legislative data; 
  • In Australia, civic hackers explored political donation data, previewed an upcoming vote tracker project and taught web scraping during the Open Australia Foundation’s Hackfest: GLOW Edition. Staff from the Federal Parliamentary Library were in attendance, marking the first time that parliamentary staff had attended a hackathon in official capacity;
  • The Open Myanmar Initiative hosted an “Open Parliament Event Myanmar” with lectures by former and incumbent Members of Parliament, discussions with journalists, researchers and data experts, and an exhibition of parliamentary information and processes;
  • Open Knowledge Burkina Faso held an event on “Open Parliament to Reinforce Citizen Participation” with the National Assembly;
  • A group of four civil society organizations in Liberia — IREDD, NAYMOTE, CEMEPS and LISGISPOL — submitted the Open Your Legislature letter to the Chairman of the Committee on Claims and Petitions, and organized a lecture series on legislative openness;
  • Open Knowledge Denmark organized a workshop to explore parliamentary data, one day after release of the Folketinget API;
  • Otvoreni Parlament held “Yes for Open Parliament” street actions in six cities in Serbia; 
  • In Guatemala, members of congress and experts from civil society met via Google Hangout with Mexican open-data experts to discuss implementing an open-government agenda; 
  • Members of Parliament from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kenya and Mongolia discussed legislative openness and citizen engagement in Washington, DC as part of a House Democracy Partnership exchange program; 
  • Four “Tweet Talks” convened experts on specific areas of legislative openness — money in politics, opening municipal council data, visualizing parliamentary data and making actionable openness commitments — for one-hour conversations on Twitter; and 
  • Kosovo’s Assembly held an “Open Doors Day” as part of its International Day of Democracy celebration.

In addition, parliamentary monitoring research products were released during and co-branded with GLOW, including the Latin American Network on Legislative Transparency’s Second Index on Legislative Transparency, which compares open government progress in 11 Latin American countries, and the Parliamentary Monitoring Group’s infographic benchmarking the South African Parliament’s progress against the Declaration on Parliamentary Openness.

The GLOW campaign was also picked up by diverse supporters on Twitter, serving as a touchpoint for government reformers, civil society groups, open data evangelists and journalists working on transparency and accountability issues or political reform broadly. “Global Legislative Openness Week” was mentioned on at least 54 independent blogs and websites, and the #OpenParl2014 hashtag was used over 3,600 times on Twitter. See some of the tweets from GLOW’s launch here.

What’s Next?

GLOW has demonstrated the enormous potential for networked civil society activists to unite behind a shared value, to create and disseminate valuable advocacy materials, and to drive an agenda forward — even when working in dozens of different languages, cultures and political contexts. While preparing its 2015 work plan, OGP’s Legislative Openness Working Group will be surveying GLOW event organizers and participants to collect feedback on the campaign. The working group will also be seeking ways to support follow-up activities that deepen national or sub-national commitments, forge peer-to-peer mentoring relationships and build on the momentum from GLOW.

To share your experiences and ideas, please email

Latin American parliaments lag behind on transparency standards

Posted October 16, 2014 at 2:44pm by agustinadeluca

Latin American legislatures have significant work to do to meet international standards on openness and transparency.  This is evident from the latest findings of the Latin American Index for Legislative Transparency, unveiled between 15-25 September during Global Legislative Openness Week (GLOW) in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela. The average country score was below 40 percent. While Peru (55%) and Chile (53%) lead the index, Argentina (36%) ranks in seventh place, followed by Bolivia (24%) and Venezuela (21%).


What does the Index measure?

The Index comprises four dimensions: (i) Legal regulations; (ii) Parliamentary work; (iii) Budget and Administrative Management; and (iv) Mechanisms for Participation, Public Engagement and Accountability.

Click here to read more.

We need an affirmative vision for Congress

Posted October 15, 2014 at 3:41pm by johnwonderlich

This article was cross-posted from the Sunlight Foundation’s blog.

It’s time for an affirmative vision for the institution of Congress.

Congress currently serves as a punchline — an excuse for inaction, a symbol for what’s wrong with Washington.

The refrains have become familiar and ubiquitous: Congress is broken, DC is paralyzed, polarization is choking discourse, Congress abdicates its duties, “we all hate Congress.”

In its current form, though, this thinking has gotten us almost nowhere. Cynicism about Congress pervades our discourse without getting to remedies. Congressional defeatism has become the universal dead end for our government reform reflexes.

While no one is helped by magical thinking about what’s going to pass this Congress, frustration with the current Congress, for some reason, obscures our ability to think about what would define a good Congress.

We need to channel our frustration over Congress, and use our frustration to ask a more fundamental question: What would a strong, representative, effective Congress look like?

This question has been neglected far too long. And most of the thinking about it has been reductive. Congress is understaffed, lacks expertise, is surrounded by lobbyists, captured by moneyed interests, moves too slowly, is reticent to exercise its prerogatives and is cowed by expansive executive power. And its Members spend most of their time asking rich people for money.

These are all problems, and we shouldn’t pretend that solving any one of them will fix all the others.

When we see Congress fail, each failure should become part of a vision for what a modern legislature should be.

It’s not enough to complain about specific policy issues where congressional inaction is ideologically frustrating. We have a responsibility to consider what it means to have a strong representative institution. Through this lens, legislative failures create an outline of what Congress should be.

For example:

  • Congress should have both capacity and expertise proportional to its power and responsibilities.
  • Distinguished careers should point towards congress, not private interests that influence it.
  • Members of Congress should look like the US population, not a slice of wealth and privilege.
  • Congressional activity should infuse our politics with the substance of self-governance.
  • A citizen from any background elected to Congress should have the tools they need to legislate effectively.
  • Congress should empower the public to understand complex procedures and policy issues.
  • Committees and congressional support agencies should represent substantive questions in all their complexity.
  • Congress should defuse extremism, by confronting bad ideas with good ideas in the light of public attention.

This kind of evaluation isn’t being made nearly enough. The design of the institution of Congress takes a backseat to politics (“this Congress” vs. “Congress”), even though the design of Congress helps to set the tone of the politics that populates it.

Congress is cheap, in budgetary terms. A year of Congress costs a few billion dollars. This amount of money is far, far less than that of a single bad decision. The gap between our Congress and the Congress we deserve is enormous. It’s bigger than whatever amount Gingrich cut Congress in the 1990s, and bigger than Boehner’s pay cuts. Congress should be proportional to the needs of American representation. Its current form owes more to historical accident than to conscious design. (Openness clearly plays a huge part in this vision, which is why Sunlight has worked for years on legislative transparency reform. Here are recommendations for the 114th Congress.)

Around the world, legislative power is constantly being reorganized, as committed people use public policy failures to refine representative processes to strengthen their democracies.

We should be doing bigger thinking. We don’t have to accept the Congress we inherit; we should design a Congress that is proportional to the roles we expect it to play.

Sure, “Congress is broken.” But it’s not going to fix itself.

Poplus grant recipients

Posted October 9, 2014 at 11:49am by gregbrownm

This post was written by Jen Bramley of mySociety and originally appeared on the Poplus blog here

We recently held a call for proposals - we had several grants of up to USD $5,000 available to help fund projects which made use of a Poplus Component, or proposed a completely new one. The recipients have been chosen, and I thought I’d share with you the Poplus Governance Committee’s decisions. Here’s what we’ll be funding:

Project 1:

Group & CountrySinar Project, Malaysia
Proposal: Using PopIt and potentially TrackIt (or another similar accountability Component) monitor politicians in Malaysia and display their details.
Problem: There is no single public API or reference database for current and past electoral candidates and representatives in Malaysia. Several civil society and media organisations each have their own copy, but they differ in quality, format and completeness.
Solution: To build a database on PopIt of current and past electoral candidates and representatives, which will then be used as lookup reference for a public corruption database, in partnership with local media and transparency organisations.
What they want the money for: 1) The creation of a database of people, organisations (political parties/government departments/ministries) and their positions/memberships. At the least this will include all people/parties from the past three elections, so about one to two thousand entries. 2) The publication of accountable Malaysian issues, parsed from public Auditor General reports dating back three to five years.
Amount awarded: $5,000

Click here to read more.

Legislatures have the most power to enable the accountability and productivity benefits of open data, but are the institutions least equipped to do so

Posted October 6, 2014 at 9:41pm by danswislow

A quote from the Sunlight Foundation’s John Wonderlich, speaking on the keynote panel at last week’s ConDatos conference in Mexico City:

"The public institution with the most power to change how open data helps our societies to be more productive and accountable is legislatures. I think they have the most power to change this and they are the least well-equipped to deal with it.
There is the biggest gap between how the modern world works and how our legislatures function, and how our legislators understand technology, and know how to write laws, and regulate. No country is doing a good job of writing laws that deal with the modern world.

And so I think one of the biggest opportunities we have is to close the gap between the laws that dictate how our public institutions are structured, and our expectations and how the world actually functions. I think right now that’s like a 40-year gap between those two things. And I think closing that gap will be a huge lever in changing how data is released, how our laws are enforced and what our expectations are for accountability.” (39:34)

You can watch the full panel and the entire ConDatos conference above.

New OGP lead chair, Mexican President Peña Nieto lists parliamentary openness as a 2015 priority

Posted October 1, 2014 at 11:25am by gregbrownm

Photo credit: OGP/Evan Abramson

At the Open Government Partnership (OGP)’s High-Level Event on the margins of the UN General Assembly on September 24, President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico, which now holds the lead chairmanship of OGP, noted that one of his administration’s priorities for OGP will be to “promote initiatives on open parliament” so that “more reformers can collaborate on a larger number of issues.”

Mexico continues to be a leader on legislative openness, having just launched an Open Parliament Partnership on September 22. This new alliance is a formal collaboration between the Congress of Mexico, the government of Mexico’s Instituto Federal de Acceso a la Información y Protección de Datos (IFAI), and a broad coalition of civil society groups. The Open Parliament Partnership will aim to “ensure that [Mexico’s] 32 state legislatures and National Congress comply with the principles and actions of open parliament.”

Video of Mr. Peña Nieto’s speech can be viewed here and a full-text version can be read here.

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.