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Estonia

Riigikogu Transparency (EE0050)

Overview

At-a-Glance

Action Plan: Estonia Action Plan 2018-2020

Action Plan Cycle: 2018

Status:

Institutions

Lead Institution: Riigikogu

Support Institution(s): The Estonian Cooperation Assembly, Network of Estonian Nonprofit Organizations

Policy Areas

Access to Information, Democratizing Decision-Making, E-Government, Open Data, Open Parliaments, Regulatory Governance

IRM Review

IRM Report: Estonia Transitional Results Report 2018-2020, Estonia Design Report 2018-2020

Early Results: Major Major

Design i

Verifiable: Yes

Relevant to OGP Values: Yes

Ambition (see definition): High

Implementation i

Completion:

Description

Increasing the openness and transparency of the Riigikogu
Commitment Start and End Date
July 2018 – June 2020
Lead implementing agency/actor Riigikogu
Other Actors Involved State actors involved
CSOs, private sector,multilaterals, working groups The Estonian Cooperation Assembly, Network of Estonian Nonprofit Organizations
Commitment description
What is the public problem that the commitment will address? In 2016, the Riigikogu Rules of Procedure and Internal Rules Act was amended, making the minutes of committee sittings more informative than before.
The State Gazette (Riigi Teataja) enables subscribing to e-mail notifications regarding all draft legislations and the stages of legislative proceeding, from coordination to publishing in the State Gazette.
In 2017, the Anti-Corruption Select Committee developed recommendations for the members of the Riigikogu on how to communicate with lobbyist and described sample situations which may occur .
Therefore, the openness of the Riigikogu has somewhat increased; however, the practice has not been harmonised between committees and problems occur with the speed of publishing information, participation in the legislative proceeding of draft legislation, and access to data regarding both web publications and open data.
What is the commitment? In order to make the information on the web page of the Riigikogu more available and user-friendly, the web page is further developed in a manner which allows processing data related to the plenary assembly in a machine-readable format.
Publishing of minutes of committees is hastened and harmonised between committees.
How will the commitment contribute to solve the public problem? By publishing the open data, information related to legislating becomes more available and more possibilities are created to use information published by the Riigikogu.
Faster publishing of minutes makes legislating more transparent, as the public receives up-to-date information on how the decisions are formed.
Which OGP values is this commitment relevant to? Transparency
Civic participation
Additional information
Milestone Activity Start Date: End Date:
Open data of the Riigikogu are being tested. October 2018 May 2019
Open data of the Riigikogu are constantly available. October 2018 June 2019
Minutes are published as soon as possible after a sitting of a committee has finished. July 2018 June 2020

IRM Midterm Status Summary

3. Increasing the openness and transparency of the Riigikogu

Language of the commitment as it appears in the action plan [32]:

“In order to make the information on the web page of the Riigikogu more available and user-friendly, the web page is further developed in a manner which allows processing data related to the plenary assembly in a machine-readable format.

Publishing of minutes of committees is hastened and harmonised between committees.”

Milestones:

3.1 Open data of the Riigikogu are being tested

3.2 Open data of the Riigikogu are constantly available

3.3 Minutes are published as soon as possible after a sitting of a committee has finished

Start Date: July 2018

End Date: June 2020

Context and Objectives

The transparency of the work of the Estonian Parliament (the Riigikogu) was raised as a problem in the previous OGP action plan. The action plan had focused on developing internal guidelines for Members of Parliament for interacting with lobby groups, while the new action plan seeks to improve public access to information about the Riigikogu’s work. According to the problem statement in the action plan, the Riigikogu’s practice of publishing minutes from parliamentary committees’ sittings is not harmonized, minutes are often published with delays and access to the Riigikogu’s publications and open data could be improved. CSOs confirm that gaps exist. Maarja-Leena Saar, the manager of the Citizens’ Initiative platform [33] at the Estonian Cooperation Assembly, notes that monitoring the status of the citizens’ initiatives sent to Parliament could be substantially simplified if committees’ minutes were available in a timely manner and the Riigikogu’s data repository sent notifications of their publication in real time, with a link to the minutes. [34] According to her experience, minutes sometimes only become available a month after a sitting and occasionally only as printed and scanned PDF files, which need to be manually copied to the Citizens’ Initiative portal. Regarding access to open data, citizens have repeatedly asked for Riigikogu’s data on the Estonian open data issue tracker on Github, [35] indicating demand for this data in open, machine-readable and reusable formats.

When proposing this commitment for inclusion in the action plan, Liia Hänni (e-Governance Academy) also raised the more fundamental need to agree on how discussions and voting results in committees’ meetings should be recorded and on the legal grounds on which committees may restrict public access to their meeting minutes. [36] However, the Riigikogu did not refer to this part of the problem in the final commitment wording. According to Hänni, different interpretations of this right have been a source of controversy for years and have not been resolved in a satisfactory manner. [37]

In order to improve public access to information, the Riigikogu has committed to carrying out two types of activities: 1) publishing data about the Riigikogu’s plenary sittings in machine-readable open data formats, and 2) publishing minutes of committees’ sittings as soon as possible after a sitting. These objectives address the stated needs, although Liia Hänni’s suggestion to revise the legal bases of declaring committees’ minutes confidential remains beyond the scope of these activities. The commitment is clearly relevant to the OGP value of access to information and intends to employ technology to make information available to the public quickly and in open formats. Although the commitment also claims relevance to civic participation, it does not envisage any mechanisms for directly engaging citizens beyond simply informing them and is therefore not directly relevant to civic participation.

The commitment sets milestones that are verifiable, although it is not clear from the wording whether the publication of committees’ minutes “as soon as possible” means immediately or whether committees could delay publication by arguing that publishing them sooner would not have been possible. Based on the IRM researcher’s interview with Tiina Runthal from the Riigikogu’s chancellery, the Riigikogu’s objective is to make minutes available within seven days from the day following the committee’s sitting. [38] This deadline may be extended for justifiable reasons, such as the signatories’ illness or travelling on duty.

If implemented as planned, this commitment could potentially have a moderate impact on the Riigikogu’s transparency and public access to information about the Riigikogu’s work. According to Maarja-Leena Saar (Estonian Cooperation Assembly), publishing Riigikogu’s open data through an API [39] would be a major improvement and help solve their problem of missing information and manual work. [40] However, in Liia Hänni’s (e-Governance Academy) opinion, this commitment only does the necessary minimum to improve the Riigikogu’s transparency, and should continue in the next action plan to address the more fundamental questions of documentation and restrictions on public access to the committees’ work. [41] According to the IRM researcher’s assessment, both the provision of open data and the publication of committees’ minutes in seven days are important steps forward but the Riigikogu could do more to present the minutes on the website in a way that allows citizens to easily find information. For example, the current search function only allows users to search minutes by selecting the respective committee and date of the sitting but does not enable search by keywords or offer users the option of browsing the history of a committee’s sittings. According to Tiina Runthal (Chancellery of the Riigikogu), the Riigikogu does not plan any further activities for improving access to committees’ minutes besides publishing them within seven days. [42]

Next steps

As civil society stakeholders consider access to information about the Riigikogu’s work important, the Riigikogu could consider continuing efforts towards better public access to information in the next action plan. If implemented as planned, the current action plan will likely substantially improve the provision of open data. It will also create a basis to pursue the more ambitious goal of not only publishing committees’ minutes more quickly but also making more of them open to the public and improving the findability of relevant information. Given that this commitment has been mostly implemented, the following recommendations could be considered to increase the commitment’s impact during the implementation of the current action plan:

  • The Riigikogu is encouraged to continue interaction with the main users of the Riigikogu’s open data (e.g. the Estonian Cooperation Assembly) and the broader open data community on Github to improve the quality and usability of the published data and add new datasets based on users’ needs. In order to increase data reuse, it is also important to keep the metadata and links to the Riigikogu’s repository on the Estonian Open Data Portal up to date.
  • For the sake of ensuring equal access to information, the Riigikogu could analyze the accessibility of the information on its website (including committees’ minutes) for people with disabilities, in particular those with visual impairments. To this end, the Estonian Chamber of Disabled People recommends the Riigikogu to involve the Estonian Blind Union in evaluating the accessibility of the website for visually impaired and blind people. [43]
  • The Riigikogu could also consider ways of improving the ease of use of its website, in particular the search function for the minutes of plenaries and sittings of parliamentary committees. Meeting minutes can be an important source of information for the public and merely publishing them on the website may not be sufficient to make the information truly accessible to citizens.
  • Moving forward, the Riigikogu could also enable citizens to subscribe to notifications about events in the legislative process to proactively encourage the use of information that is available online.

 

[33] The Citizens’ Initiative (https://rahvaalgatus.ee/) is an online public participation instrument adopted as part of Estonia’s OGP action plan for 2014-2016 that allows citizens to submit collective addresses (petitions) to the Riigikogu if signed by at least 1000 citizens.
[34] IRM researcher’s interview with Maarja-Leena Saar (Estonian Cooperation Assembly), 29 March 2019.
[36] IRM researcher’s interview with Liia Hänni (e-Governance Academy), 27 March 2019.
[37] For example, Hänni’s blog post from 2015, https://ega.ee/blog_post/kui-avatud-riigikogu-me-vajame/
[38] IRM researcher’s email communication with Tiina Runthal (Chancellery of Riigikogu), 29 March 2019.
[39] APIs (application programming interfaces) allow information to be exchanged directly between software programs and are an increasingly common way of providing open data services.
[40] IRM researcher’s interview with Maarja-Leena Saar.
[41] IRM researcher’s interview with Liia Hänni.
[42] IRM researcher’s email communication with Tiina Runthal.
[43] IRM researcher’s email communication with Anneli Habicht (Estonian Chamber of Disabled People), 2 April 2019.

IRM End of Term Status Summary

3. Increase the openness and transparency of the Riigikogu

Aim of the commitment

This commitment aimed to improve public access to information on the work of the Riigikogu (the Parliament of Estonia). Parliamentary committees often published their meeting minutes with long delays and the committees had diverse practices of publishing the minutes online. Moreover, non-governmental stakeholders could not easily analyze and reuse information about the Riigikogu’s plenary work as the Riigikogu’s data was either not in open data format or, where it was, the data was not available in a machine-readable format. With this commitment, the Riigikogu sought to harmonize the practice of publishing the minutes of committee meetings online in a timely manner. It also aimed to release information about the Riigikogu’s work as machine-readable open data.

Did it open government?

Major

As a result of the commitment, the Riigikogu accelerated the publication of the minutes of committee meetings as planned. With some exceptions, the minutes are now available on the Riigikogu’s website on average within three days and usually no more than seven days after a sitting. [19] This is an improvement compared to the pre-action plan period when publication time varied greatly between committees, ranging from a couple of days to up to several weeks and months. [20] Delays of more than a week are no longer common.

In addition, the Riigikogu published information on its work as machine-readable open data, which is reusable under an open license from the Creative Commons family. [21] The open data involves, for example, draft laws discussed at the plenary meetings, agendas and minutes of plenary meetings, different types of documents from the document register, MP participation statistics in sittings and votings, speeches held, voting results, verbatim reports from the plenaries, and so on. The data is available through an API in a machine-readable format (JSON), [22] which enables machine-to-machine data requests and allows applications and services using the data to make automatic updates. The datasets are updated on a regular basis and users can point to errors or suggest improvements to the API on a public GitHub repository. [23]

The Riigikogu’s data has already found active users. The key data user is the Estonian Cooperation Assembly, which manages the Citizens’ Initiative platform (Rahvaalgatus.ee). [24] The Citizens’ Initiative uses the data to keep track of the status of citizens’ policy proposals signed and sent to the Riigikogu via the platform. [25] In addition, researchers from the University of Tartu used the data to develop a public application analyzing and visualizing the activity (e.g. voting results, speeches, questions, participation statistics) of MPs in the Riigikogu. [26]

According to the manager of the Citizens’ Initiative platform at the Estonian Cooperation Assembly, the Riigikogu’s open data has been a valuable addition to the platform. [27] Specifically, the public can now follow the status of the collective initiatives in almost real time and receive automatic email notifications from the platform when the Riigikogu has discussed or taken a decision on an initiative. Since the Chancellery of the Riigikogu consulted with the Cooperation Assembly when implementing the commitment, the data format corresponds to the needs of the Citizens’ Initiative platform. Before the commitment implementation, the platform’s manager often needed to manually update the status of the initiatives. [28] This is no longer the case as all updates now automatically come in via the API. Occasional delays in receiving information still occur but according to the manager of Citizens’ Initiative platform, the delays are likely not due to technical problems but hiccups in the internal work process of the Riigikogu.

Together, the two parts of the commitment (accelerating the publication of meeting minutes and providing machine-readable open data) constitute a commendable improvement in public access to information on the Riigikogu’s work. To further enhance its transparency, the Riigikogu could focus on improving the ‘human-readability’ of the information and making discussions in committees and plenary sittings easily accessible for citizens. To this end, the Riigikogu could start by engaging users to analyze their needs and propose design ideas for the website’s public interface. The Riigikogu could also improve the findability of committee minutes based on discussion topics. The website’s general keyword search provides access to minutes related to discussing specific draft acts or EU documents, but not to those that have involved other types of discussions or hearings, for example in relation to processing Citizens’ Initiatives. The Riigikogu could therefore consider how to help citizens find relevant information online more easily.

[19] Meeting minutes of parliamentary committees, https://www.riigikogu.ee/tegevus/paevakorrad-ja-protokollid/. The estimated average of three days is based on the IRM researcher’s analysis of the publication dates of the meetings of permanent committees on the working weeks of 10-14 February and 14-18 September 2020.
[21] The Parliament’s data on the national open data portal, https://opendata.riik.ee/andmehulgad/riigikogu-veebi-avaandmed/.
[24] The Citizens’ Initiative is a public participation instrument enabling citizens to propose collective addresses to the Parliament if signed by at least 1,000 citizens. The online platform facilitating the co-creation and signature of the initiatives was developed as part of Estonia’s second OGP Action Plan – see the IRM end-of-term report, https://www.opengovpartnership.org/documents/estonia-end-of-term-report-2014-2016/
[25] An example of a policy proposal (citizens’ initiative for banning fur farming in Estonia), https://rahvaalgatus.ee/initiatives/9a805471-3705-4522-9b6f-9cbd7a455f40
[27] Interview with Kadri Org-Lilleväli (Estonian Cooperation Assembly), 16 December 2020.

Commitments

Open Government Partnership