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The Next Frontier for Open Data: An Open Private Sector

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Martin Tisne of the Omidyar Network in his blog The Missing Link: How to Engage the Private Sector in Open Government Partnership, discusses the nascent Open Government Partnership (OGP) Private Sector Council, which was set up to provide recommendations to the OGP Steering Committee on precisely this issue. As a member of the founding group, who works at the World Bank where I lead the work on the Open Private Sector platform, I would like to offer a perspective.
With the OGP, countries are now starting to realize that open government data is improving transparency, creating opportunities for social and commercial innovation and opening the door to better engagement with citizens. But openness is not just for governments and citizens.

In fact, the private sector not only interacts with government data, but also produces a massive amount of data, much of which is directly linked to government regulations. Many foresighted businesses have already adopted open and collaborative practices. Not for altruism or philanthropy, but because it can actually improve their bottom line. JP Morgan Chase provides information to the banking authorities on its thousands of subsidiaries. Walmart works to offer visibility into its  supply chain through real-time, anonymized worker feedback from 279 factories in Bangladesh. Armajaro tries to trace all its cocoa from Ghana through handheld devices and then shares information both to its purchasers, regulatory authorities and to the producers for increased sustainability and governance traceability. Kalsaka mining in Burkina Faso makes its government contracts openly accessible so that local communities can check if the company is meeting its environmental and labor commitments. 
For many companies, openness of data can translate into more efficient internal governance frameworks, enhanced feedback from workers and employees, improved traceability of supply chains, accountability to end consumers, and better service and product delivery. Open and collaborative private sector practices are thus a true win-win: they impact the bottom line AND also correlate with governance, environmental and social gains.
This results in a paradigm shift. Previously, captured knowledge was power in the business world. Now, in the hyper-connected and ever-evolving world, transparency is the new power, because it helps the private sector reduce cost and better manage risk.
However, as demand rises from companies for more transparency and openness, the gap widens between the companies that have the capacity and funds to afford open and collaborative behaviors, or to make use of open government data, and those who don’t. 
This is exactly why, to complement the work of the OGP with governments and citizens, we have launched the Open Private Sector platform at the World Bank -- a suite of open data, web and knowledge services that can help bring the private sector into the OGP movement. The Platform was first launched at the G-8 Summit  last June  and its services were unveiled at the OGP meeting in the UK in November 2013. We are still prototyping some elements while others are in full gear.
  •  We launched the Open Company Data Index with OpenCorporates to incentivize governments to increase corporate registries and to foster improved corporate accountability. This new data index examines how countries enable transparent corporate registry information. What’s more, by aggregating open registry information, the OpenCorporates tools we support generate open-source, transnational datasets that can curb corruption, check beneficial ownership and deepen due-diligence and competitiveness analysis.
  • We prototyped an “Open Supply Chain Global Dashboard” with EcoDesk, and are preparing a global Open Suppliers platform with Sedex and OpenCorporates to help companies track and improve business ethics, labor standards, environmental footprint and governance practices. We are trying to give all businesses the ability to display and track the source of so-called “conflict minerals”, rare woods, or other commodities. Open supply chain systems can help reduce child labor, increase diversity, reinforce third-party certifications and service regulatory compliance.
  • We launched the Beneficiary Feedback App Store to enable companies to track and resolve social, governance and sustainability issues through direct feedback from customers, governments and clients. The App Store is operated in partnership with Keystone Accountability, the Open Data Technology Alliance and Feedback Labs to bring together a series of technologies that can be easily deployed.
  • With the Open Contracting community we are working with Govini to launch  a global dashboard of government contracts analytics designed for the private sector to  engage with the government using cutting-edge big data technologies to offer an unprecedented level-playing field insight into government buyers, competitors, contracts and partners.
  • We launched a new Community of Practice on Public-Private Dialogue, with IFC, GIZ and the Center for International Private Enterprise. The service will offer the tools and services for companies to easily create engagement spaces with governments and citizens.
We’re at the beginning of a journey. There are many questions for which we have no answers yet. For each of the areas covered, we plan to invest in learning lessons about their use in the private sector and their impact on the ground, and make them available widely.
The private sector, government and civil society partners will benefit equally from the synergy created between the various platform components and partnership. The Open Private Sector platform is starting to provide access to data and dialogues that will help companies apply governance, social, and environmental solutions to their business practices. It enhances the ability of the Civil Society to monitor government and private sector practices to make sure they provide efficient and governance-prone service delivery.
The role of the private sector in the OGP agenda is vast, and the Open Private Sector platform is only a piece of it. But I believe it is an important one. The Private Sector Council is here to help put these types of solutions together, and the Council’s Co-Chairs will soon be circulating a White Paper around the why, how, and what of the Council. The upcoming discussions at the OGP in Bali and Dublin will help us sharpen these ideas.


Benjamin Herzberg

Senior Private Sector Development Specialist

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