Open data, transparency and accountability

Topic guide by Liz Carolan: “…introduces evidence and lessons learned about open data, transparency and accountability in the international development context. It discusses the definitions, theories, challenges and debates presented by the relationship between these concepts, summarises the current state of open data implementation in international development, and highlights lessons and resources for designing and implementing open data programmes.

Open data involves the release of data so that anyone can access, use and share it. The Open DataCharter (2015) describes six principles that aim to make data easier to find, use and combine:

  • open by default
  • timely and comprehensive
  • accessible and usable
  • comparable and interoperable
  • for improved governance and citizen engagement
  • for inclusive development and innovation

One of the main objectives of making data open is to promote transparency.

Transparency is a characteristic of government, companies, organisations and individuals that are open in the clear disclosure of information, rules, plans, processes and actions. Trans­parency of information is a crucial part of this. Within a development context, transparency and accountability initiatives have emerged over the last decade as a way to address developmental failures and democratic deficits.

There is a strong intersection between open data and transparency as concepts, yet as fields of study and practice, they have remained somewhat separate. This guide draws extensively on analysis and evidence from both sets of literature, beginning by outlining the main concepts and the theories behind the relationships between them.

Data release and transparency are parts of the chain of events leading to accountability.  For open data and transparency initiatives to lead to accountability, the required conditions include:

  • getting the right data published, which requires an understanding of the politics of data publication
  • enabling actors to find, process and use information, and to act on any outputs, which requires an accountability ecosystem that includes equipped and empowered intermediaries
  • enabling institutional or social forms of enforceability or citizens’ ability to choose better services,which requires infrastructure that can impose sanctions, or sufficient choice or official support for citizens

Programmes intended to increase access to information can be impacted by and can affect inequality. They can also pose risks to privacy and may enable the misuse of data for the exploitation of individuals and markets.

Despite a range of international open data initiatives and pressures, developing countries are lagging behind in the implementation of reforms at government level, in the overall availability of data, and in the use of open data for transparency and accountability. What is more, there are signs that ‘open-washing’ –superficial efforts to publish data without full integration with transparency commitments – may be obscuring backsliding in other aspects of accountability.

The topic guide pulls together lessons and guidance from open data, transparency and accountability work,including an outline of technical and non-technical aspects of implementing a government open data initiative. It also lists further resources, tools and guidance….(More)”