Open Government with large holes

How open is our administration and governance in Denmark? "Very open," you're probably thinking. But is it so? Do you for example know exactly what your municipality has registered about you? Or do you know how to access the information they have? Can you even get it? And if you can (or can not), can you then decide who else can? Denmark is part of an international organization, Open Government Partnership, which works to ensure that you can get answers to questions just like these. Therefore Agency for Digitisation made ​​an action plan from 2012 that on 33 points should help Denmark to become a more open society with a more open government. But did they succeed? The answer is not simple at all.

But first a little background on Open Government Partnership. In brief Open Government Partnership is an international initiative where a large number of countries have pledged to open up governance by introducing greater transparency, fight corruption and work for better accountability in the administration. An action plan was devised in 2012. And to further ensure that the government does not cheat this action plan is independently reviewed. The independent review is underlying this opinion piece. If you have not heard of the Open Government Partnership before, then you are not alone. The Danish media have completely overlooked this project, though its core values ​​, "openness" and " transparency " to the extent sounds well with the traditional journalistic tones.

But why make Denmark part of an initiative like Open Government Partnership? Denmark already appears high on international lists of openness and inherent in the Danish mentality is that we are quite open in management. Precisely for this reason it would internationally be a strange signal to send, if we had not joined. So we did. But when we joined we did not commit to open very much. The Danish government instead took a lot of pre-existing initiatives and pooled in an action plan. In the evaluation of the report one can conclude that only 8 out of 33 points in the action plan is clearly linked to the Open Government Project. The rest of the points fall outside or have only a marginal connection. But is this a problem?

Yes, it's a problem, since large parts of the action plan used on items from the eGovernment strategy where eGovernment to a large extent is confused with openness. Granted, eGovernment can help to create transparency and openness. But the digitization strategy is not an exercise in creating transparency and openness. It is an exercise in creating a modern and less costly administration by digitizing several services. The action plan could then have been used to ensure that while the eGovernment strategy was introduced so was elements of more openness in the new services. Unfortunately, this is a chance Denmark has missed - at least at the first level of digitalization of society. But it is not all bad.

An excellent example which shows elements of the right fabric on openness and digital content is the Open Data Initiative (ODIS). This initiative has ensured that a large number of data sets that used to cost a lot of money now is available for free. This applies to geographic base data and corporate register information. The information is now free. Both to use and in cost. To citizens, businesses and governments. In other words the knowledge that the government before exclusively possessed (but sold) have now been opened. More initiatives with outcomes like this is needed in the action plan. There are many good ideas and projects in the action plan - there are just too many items that fall outside the intentions that lie in the open governance.

Open Government is about giving power to the people - real democracy, some would say. Where the Danish action plan focuses on several digital elements, it neglects to other obvious subjects; tightening of public administration legislation, whistleblower systems, transparency in all administrations, citizens' access to data about themselves, numbers on police uniforms and nepotism in corporate boards are just some of the missing points raised by the more than 80 persons and organizations consulted in the independent report. And they are right to miss them. Even though the Open Government Partnership is both an international signal and national project, it is not worth anything without a strong central government to take ownership and responsibility for the project. As for now, the Open Government is rooted in the Agency for Digitisation – this is also why so many of the points in the plan is taken from the work that goes on there. But no other ministries are working consistently with Open Government. Before that happens, we will not really have an open government in Denmark. We will have a government with holes at best. And the citizens of Denmark will not be able to get answers to the questions that we asked at the beginning – and they were quite fair and necessary questions.