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Citizens Love Transparency

Maya Brahmam's picture

Governments? Not so much…When Francis Maude spoke at the World Bank recently on the topic of open data and open government, he said, “The truth is governments have generally collected and hoarded information about their countries and their people…”

Today, however, the context has changed. Citizens are demanding more accountability and openness, and new technologies are making it easier to share data and information more freely. There are also sound reasons for doing this as experience indicates that having a more informed citizenry improves services, and open data has the potential to generate a host of new services and businesses.

Maude estimates that the current economic value of open data is 140 billion Euros annually across Europe, and about 16 billion Pounds Sterling in the U.K. Examples abound. Open sharing of information has sparked improvements in healthcare services for cardiac patients. More mundanely, a U.K. company, Parkopedia, has used live data to create a popular parking search product covering 20 million spaces in 25 countries.

While governments are sometimes reluctant to open up their treasure store of data, worrying about the accuracy and quality of the data, Maude believes that the race is to the swift: “Speed trumps accuracy every time.”  He noted data quality improves once the data is released and open to public scrutiny and feedback.

Although governments are often challenged by opening up data, a growing number of them are becoming convinced that the benefits outweigh the risks. In fact, about 50 countries have signed up for the recently launched Open Government Partnership. Some interesting examples include Latvia, which partnered with its citizens online to create new legislation, and Mongolia, which published all its mining contracts and found that with greater transparency, more money has flowed to education and health.

Citizen privacy and anonymity are real issues, and have to be dealt with. However, they have often been used as a cat’s-paw for not opening up. Maude sees this process as inevitable and irreversible:  “Governments are finding transparency risky, difficult and uncomfortable. But transparency sticks – it’s irreversible once you start… I believe transparency will become the defining characteristic of future public policy.”
 

Picture credit: flickruser tsevis

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Comments

Submitted by Ana K. on
Thanks for this blog. It's a passionating subject, and I would be very interested in having more information on the topic. 2 questions: 1) "Citizens are demanding more accountability and openness". Are the demands for accountability and transparency more common nowadays than 15 years ago? What is the evidence? 2) On government transparency, is the information disclosed used by citizens? Does that really lead to accountability? I would be very thankful if you could point me towards some reliable resources that go beyond the anecdotal. Thanks!

Submitted by Maya on
Ana, On the first item regarding demand for accountability,demand has risen owing to rise of social media. A quantitative example from a study on Arab Media Influence Report published by Newsgroup (http://newsgroup.ae/amir2011/amir-march-29.pdf)that points to 35% of Arabic conversations on social media included political terms in Q1 of 2010, this number increased to 88%i n 2011. On the second item as to whether citizens use information disclosed, you can take a look at the Ushahidi platform that demonstrates how citizens are using this information for action: http://ushahidi.com/about-us

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