A workshop on open data for anti-corruption

Last autumn the International Open Data Charter was launched, putting forward six key principles for governments to adopt to pursue an ‘open by default’ approach to key data.

However, for the Charter to have the greatest impacts requires more than just high-level principles. As the International Open Data Conference explored last year, we need to focus on the application of open data to particular sectors to secure the greatest impact. That’s why a stream of work has been emerging to develop ‘Sector Packages’ as companion resources to the International Open Data Charter.

The first of these is focussing on anti-corruption. I’ve been supporting the Technical Working Group of the Charter to sketch a possible outline for this in this consultation document, which was shared at the G20 meeting last year. 

To build on that we’ve just launched a call for a consultant to act as co-ordinating author for the package (closing date 28th Jan – please do share!), and a few weeks back I had the chance to drop into a mini-workshop at DFID to share an update on the Charter, and talk with staff from across the organisation about potential areas that the anti-corruption package should focus on. 

Slides from the talk are below, and I’ve jotted down some brief notes from the discussions as well. 

Datasets of interest

In the session we posed the question: “What one dataset would you like to see countries publish as open data to address corruption?”

The answers highlight a range of key areas for exploration as the anti-corruption sector package is developed further. 

1) Repository of registered NGOs and their downstream partners – including details of their bank accounts, board, constitution and rules etc.

This kind of data is clearly useful to a donor wanting to understand who they are working with, or considering whether to work with potential partners. But it is also a very challenging dataset to collate and open. Firstly, many countries either lack comprehensive systems of NGO registration, or have thresholds that mean many community-level groups will be non-constituted community associations rather than formally registered organisations. Secondly, there can be risks associated with NGO registration, particularly in countries with shrinking civil society space, and where lists of organisations could be used to increase political control or restrictions on NGO activity. 

Working these issues through will require thought about where to draw the lines between open and shared data, and how organisations can pool their self-collected intelligence about partnr organisations, whilst avoiding harms, and avoiding the creation of error-prone datasets where funding isn’t approved because ‘computer says no’. 

2) Data on the whole contracting chain – particularly for large infrastructure projects.

Whilst issolated pockets of data on public contracts often exist, effort is needed to join these up, giving a view of the whole contracting chain. The Open Contracting Data Standard has been developing the technical foundations for this to happen, and work is not beginning to explore how it might be used to track the implementation of infrastructure projects. In the UK, civil society are calling for the next Open Government National Action Plan to include a committment to model contract clauses that encourage contractors to disclose key information on subcontracting arrangements, implementation milestons and the company’s beneficial owners.

3) Identifying organisations and the people involved

The challenge of identifying the organisations who are counterparty to a funding transaction or a contract is not limited to NGOs. Identifying government agencies, departments, and the key actors within them, is also important. 

Government entity identifiers is a challenge the International Aid Transparency Initiative has been grapling with for a few years now. Could the Open Data Charter process finally move forward some agreement on the core data infrastructure describing the state that is needed as a foundation for accountability and anti-corruption open data action?

4) Beneficial ownership

Benefial ownership data reveals who is ultimately in control of, and reaping the profits from, a company. The UK is due to publish an open beneficial ownership register for the first time later this year – but there is still much to do to develop common standards for joined-up data on beneficial ownership. For example, the UK register will capture ownership information in bands at 25%, 50% and 75%, where other countries are exploring either detailed ownership percentage publication, or publication using other, non-overlapping bands. Without co-ordination on interoperability, potential impacts of beneficial ownership open data may be much harder to secure. 

5) Localised datasets and public expenditure tracking data

In thinking about the ‘national datasets’ that governments could publish as part of a sector package for anti-corruption, it is also important to not lose sight of data being generated and shared at the local level. There are lots of lessons to learn from existing work on Public Expenditure Tracking which traces the disbursement of funds from national budgets, through layers of administration, down to local services like schools. With the funding flows posted on posters on the side of school buildings there is a clearer answer to the question: “What does this mean to me?”, and data is more clearly connected with local citizen empowerment. 

Where next

Look out for updates about the anti-corruption sector package on the Open Data Charter website over the first part of 2016.

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