Open Government Guide - Glossary

There is not yet a single accepted definition of open government, although there is much commonality in the evolving definitions. The OECD, in Modernising Government: The Way Forward describes open government as “The transparency of government actions, the accessibility of government services and information, and the responsiveness of government to new ideas, demands and needs”

Often open government is equated with transparency. For example, the  book Open Government Collaboration, Transparency, and Participation in Practice says that  open government in its most basic sense is “the notion that people have the right to access the documents and proceedings of government”. However  transparency on its own is not enough. Citizens need to be able to have a say about issues that matter to them and a  chance to influence decision-making and hold those making decisions to account.

The working definition that we have used in developing this guide comes from Global Integrity and encompasses these strands of transparency, participation and accountability

  • Transparency: that the public understands the workings of their government;
  • Public engagement: that the public can influence the workings of their government by engaging in governmental policy processes and service delivery programs; and
  • Accountability: that the public can hold the government to account for its policy and service delivery performance.


General reading on open government

Sources of definitions below:



The availability of records/archives for consultation as a result both of legal authorisation and the existence of means of referencing. [International Council for Archives]
An institutionalised (i.e. regular, established, accepted) relationship between different actors. It maybe formal or informal. It is useful to think of an accountability relationship as having up to four stages: standard setting, investigation, answerability and sanction. [Transparency and accountability initiative]


Beneficial ownership
A ‘beneficial owner’ is a natural person – that is, a real, live human being, not another company or trust – who directly or indirectly exercises substantial control over the company or receives substantial economic benefits from the company. [Global Witness]


In general throughout the guide ‘citizens’ is used in its broadest sense, including all inhabitants of a country or locality. There is understandable concern that the term can be used to exclude groups without voting rights and/or are not naturalised in a country, including children and young people, migrants and refugees.
Civil Society Organisation
The Guide uses “civil society organization” broadly to refer to the wide array of non-governmental and non-profit organisations that have a presence in public life, expressing the interests and values of their members or others. These may include non-governmental organizations (NGOs), community groups, labor unions, indigenous groups, faith-based organisations, professional associations, and media organisations. [World Resources Institute]
Classified information
Information to which access restrictions are imposed by a government in the interests of national security. [International Council for Archives]
The quality or property of privacy or secrecy attaching to certain information and/or records, thereby limiting access.[International Council for Archives]
Conflict of Interest
The situation where a person has incompatible interests which hinder her or him from acting for the common good.


Characters, numbers, or symbols collected together for computation, statistical analysis or reference; unrefined information. [Open Forum Foundation]
Data protection
The legal protection of the rights of individuals in respect of the collection, storage and automatic processing of personal data in machine-readable form and the disclosure of such data. [International Council for Archives]
In relation to public services, this data will typically have been collected as a by-product of delivery. This includes, for example, key public datasets about public services; user satisfaction data; and the performance of providers. []
The requirement that particular categories of people and organisations report specific information to an agency.


E government
The use of information communication technologies such as the Internet by government to facilitate in the operation of government.


Freedom of information (FOI)
A legal framework that establishes the policies for the dissemination and/or disclosure of government information (also access to information, right to information). [Open Forum Foundation]


Interpretation and analysis of data that when presented in context represents added value, message or meaning. [].


Linked data
A method for publishing structured data that enhances utility of the underlying data that promotes the sharing, connecting, and exposure of data. [Open Forum Foundation]


Formats that are machine readable are ones which are able to have their data extracted by computer programs easily. PDF documents are not machine readable. Computers can display the text nicely, but have great difficulty understanding the context that surrounds the text. [open data handbook]
“Data about data” – metadata is structural or descriptive information that describes the contents of the associated data or information. [Open Forum Foundation]
The systematic and objective observation and documentation of a particular process over time.


Open Data
Data which can be freely used, re-used and redistributed by anyone. [open definition]
Open Government Data
Open data produced by the government. This is generally accepted to be data gathered during the course of business as usual activities which do not identify individuals or breach commercial sensitivity. Open government data is a subset of public sector information, which is broader in scope. [open data handbook]
Open standards
Generally understood as technical standards which are free from licensing restrictions. Can also be interpreted to mean standards which are developed in a vendor-neutral manner. [open data handbook].


A process that involves the public in decision making or problem solving. [Open Forum Foundation]
The right to be secure from unauthorized disclosure of information relating to personal and private matters.[International Council for Archives]
Public Sector Information
Information collected or controlled by the public sector. [Open data handbook].
Public records
Records created by a public office in the conduct of its affairs.


Information that is recorded for purpose of serving as evidence of an organisation’s action usually in pursuance of a legal obligation. [Open Forum Foundation]
Records management
The efficient and systematic control of the creation, use, and maintenance of all information including records to properly support an organisation. [Open Forum Foundation]
The process of masking or removing sensitive information in a document before releasing it for public use. [International Council for Archives]


Managing and publishing information so that it is relevant and accessible, timely and accurate. [Transparency and accountability initiative]


Exposing misconduct within an organisation through disclosure. [Open Forum Foundation]