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OPEN DATA AS AN IMPORTAN TOOL IN THE FIGHT AGAINST CORRUPTION

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Recognising the need for innovative tools in the fight against corruption, Transparency International Latvia (Delna), together with Open Knowledge Sweden and Open Knowledge Finland, and with the financial support of the Nordic Council of Ministers, have carried out a study on open data and anti-corruption policies in Latvia, Sweden and Finland.

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The aim is to assess the open data standards of 10 key anti-corruption datasets and evaluate whether the publication of data and related policies meet all the six Open Data Principles set in the International Open Data Charter: Timely and Comprehensive, Accessible and Usable, Comparable and Interoperable, For Improved Governance and Citizen Engagement, For inclusive Development and Innovation, see here for more details. The principles were developed in 2015 by governments, civil society and experts around the world to represent a globally-agreed upon set of aspirational norms for how to publish data.

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The datasets assessed in the study are: lobbying register, company register, beneficial ownership register, public officials’ directories, government budget, government spending, public procurement contracts, political financing, voting records, land register. These are a relevant sample of a wider range of datasets, identified by the International Open Data Charter, forming an ideal national anti-corruption data infrastructure.[1] The final results of the study will be published in mid-October.

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In the 21st century, for governments and society at large, we believe there is an urgent need to adapt to the digital world and move toward the concept of national and regional “open data ecosystem”, where governments, public administrations, media, NGOs and other actors consume and reuse data that enables them to make more informed decisions on public and anti-corruption policies and better perform their work drawing upon the digitisation of their own activities. This would greatly contribute not only to greater political accountability at the national level, but also to conduct complex cross-border anti-corruption investigations at the regional level.

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The study will be discussed in a stakeholder event on 15th October 2018 and will be published on TI Latvia’s website.

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What is open data and why it is important for the fight against corruption

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In recent years, with the increasing use of technology by state administrations, with thousands of procurement processes taking place every month, and hundreds of spending transactions by governments every day, data generated and stored by government and public sector has become a key resource to spot irregularities and corruptive behaviour within the state administration. However, it is only when these data are provided in a way that allow users to perform in-depth analysis and create new knowledge that their true potential can be unleashed.

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In this context, Open Data‘digital data that is made available with the technical and legal characteristics necessary for it to be freely used, reused, and redistributed by anyone, anytime, anywhere’ has emerged as an important potential instrument in the fight against corruption. [2]

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Governments have traditionally published their data through “transparency portals” – websites with a thematic focus, often featuring scanned documents or copyright restrictions denying users (citizens) the right to reuse data, reducing their potential for transparency. Open data, on the other hand, allows to bring together diverse datasets published by different government departments in formats that let actors inside and outside the public administration to freely reuse explore and operate with the data, allowing them to overcome bureaucratic barriers improving efficiency, reduce the mismanagement and misallocation of resources but also to secure a transparent, more accountable exchange between governments and citizens. [3]

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Studies on the topic show that reduction of corruption opportunities has often been an incidental benefit, rather than an explicit objective of open government data policies. Most open government data projects did not begin as anti-corruption measures but were rather adopted in an effort to modernise government and make it more efficient. As a consequence, crucial opportunities for value added through harmonisation of open data and anti-corruption have been missed.[4]

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Although in theory anti-corruption and public policy cycles should coexist, in practice, there can be tensions. Whereas public policy aims to deliver solutions to concrete problems in the most effective and efficient way possible, anti-corruption strategies place emphasis on compliance with the rules and procedures to ensure the integrity of the policy process, with a feeling that this adds bureaucracy and delays to policy processes can create challenges when governments are facing demands to become more responsive. For this reason, it is crucial then to explore how open data can be introduced and integrated into the policy processes in ways that protect and promote the responsiveness to corruption risks and incidences.[5]

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When datasets are available as open data across national borders, citizens, journalists or officials in one country can draw upon data from another easily – and without having to go through various administrative processes to access information. This may assist investigators working in risky contexts allowing investigations to proceed without political interference or placing a spotlight on the investigator. It can also support easier investigation of cross-national corruption networks.[6]

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The adherence to global data standards is a valuable tool to reduce variations across datasets, to allow cross-references between databases, cross-country comparisons. It also increases the possibilities of involving a higher number of different actors in anti-corruption efforts, allowing them to even form anti-corruption task forces and carry out more complex anti-corruption investigations.

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Project “Open Data Against Corruption” is funded by Nordic Council of Ministers office in Latvia.

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Contact:

Antonio Greco

antonio@delna.lv

+371 67285585

www.delna.lv

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[1] https://www.u4.no/publications/mixed-incentives-adopting-ict-innovations-for-transparency-accountability-and-anti-corruption/ 

[2] https://www.transparency.org/whatwedo/publication/connecting_the_dots_building_the_case_for_open_data_to_fight_corruption

[3] https://www.u4.no/publications/mixed-incentives-adopting-ict-innovations-for-transparency-accountability-and-anti-corruption/

[4] https://www.transparency.org/whatwedo/publication/connecting_the_dots_building_the_case_for_open_data_to_fight_corruption

[5] https://opendatacharter.net/open-guide-using-open-data-combat-corruption/

[6] Ibid.

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