Aligning Supply and Demand for Better Governance: Open Data in the Open Government Partnership
By Sonia Khan and Joseph Foti
Many have predicted that open government data will lead to major gains in political accountability, generate economic value, and improve the quality of government services. Yet, there is a growing consensus among practitioners and experts that, for open data reforms to have strong governance, economic, and social impacts, reforms must do more than make data available and reusable. Government reforms ultimately must aim to provide data that is useful and used. There may be a high opportunity cost to investing in open data in the place of other useful governance reforms.
The Open Government Partnership (OGP) is an international platform for domestic reformers committed to making their governments more open, accountable, and responsive to citizens. The Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM) is one of OGP’s learning and accountability tools. Since 2011, OGP has grown from eight countries to the 65 participating countries. In all of these countries, government and civil society are working together to develop and implement ambitious open government reforms through bi-annual national action plans. OGP has grown quickly. As a consequence of its rapid growth, it runs the risk of being accused of “open-washing.” With a growing emphasis on open data commitments among its participating countries, OGP’s credibility and goals could be jeopardized if open data commitments ultimately fail to improve governance.
This paper identifies strong performances and gaps in aligning open data supply and demand. Findings from action plans and IRM reporting reveal the following trends:
- OGP countries are making more open data commitments in their national action plans, both in absolute numbers and in percentage. This could be good for open data advocates, but may come at the expense of other open government approaches that may be more effective at countering excessive secrecy and corruption.
- Open data commitments emphasize government supply of data and government coordination mechanisms over identifying and stimulating public demand for data.
- Among a smaller group of countries, a growing number of commitments aim to align supply and demand by reforming the regulatory framework and by setting up mechanisms to ensure greater demand, such as participatory prioritization processes in which government solicits public input on which data sets to release. However, typical OGP action plans do not show a distinct move toward establishing or implementing the right to request data.
- There is some evidence that sector-specific approaches to open data see higher rates of implementation than crosscutting and whole-of-government approaches to open data. Commitments emphasize data on budgets, health, natural resources, and aid.
Based on the evidence, at present, there are two major growth areas for open data in OGP:
- Formulating and executing commitments to align supply and demand. As it stands, open data programs featured in OGP need to establish more clearly the usefulness of data to key public constituencies. Future commitments will need to improve processes for identifying high-value data sets, to establish processes for participatory prioritization, and to strengthen request means, including the right to information.
- Formulating and executing commitments that relate clearly to other OGP values of civic participation and accountability. Open data commitments may do a good deal to improve market efficiency or to improve social outcomes, but if they are to improve governance, they must have clear articulation with public decision making processes (participation) and with public accountability mechanisms.