Opendata.GE: Recognizing the Successes and Challenges of E-Transparency in Georgia
Part of the four “grand challenges” recognized by the Georgian government’s 2014-15 Open Government Partnership action plan is increasing public integrity. One particular non-governmental organization is creating online solutions to put these words into practice. The Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI) successfully launched Georgia’s first online open data portal, Opendata.Ge, in 2010. Published in both Georgian and English, the portal is continually updated by IDFI as additional public information becomes available. For this nation of over four million people, government is now held accountable with a few strokes of the keyboard; a digital accomplishment unfathomable five years ago.
As a result of advocacy by IDFI and other civil society organizations, a key initiative aimed at expanding e-transparency was passed last year. On September 1, 2013, the Georgian government issued a decree requiring administrative bodies to create their own web pages that proactively disclose public information. This is a major milestone for advancing good FOI policy in Georgia, and combined with Opendata.Ge, the e-infrastructure necessary for increasing public integrity is in place.
Under the framework of Opendata.Ge, over 20 categories of public information are available for online access: government salaries, remuneration, asset declaration, gender related data, bonuses, procurement, official visit costs, and more. With its clean layout and easy to navigate interface, Opendata.Ge serves as a user-friendly template for e-transparency implementation. Four years after the portal’s creation, IDFI has sent approximately 20,400 FOI requests to 301 governmental institutions, with around 9,000 replies received containing complete information. Given that in 2010, IDFI sent 540 requests and received only 238 responses, the improvement is substantial and indicative of Georgia’s FOI development since joining OGP. While the technical aspect of the portal is excellent, the empirical evidence shows the ability of Opendata.Ge to yield results.
In February of 2014, organizations such as Transparency International Georgia, Georgian Young Lawyers Association, and Green Alternative joined IDFI in contributing their own received and sent public information to the database. Some say the participation of these organizations may cause confusion to standardizing FOI practices. However, integrating additional civil society actors into the FOI process provides a more comprehensive picture of public information and expands the resources needed for gathering open data.
From a grassroots perspective, IDFI produces educational FOI videos and regularly sponsors regional workshop sessions to connect with younger generations of citizens. When engaging central government, IDFI uses consultations for agenda-setting (such as discussing bonus limits for senior officials) and gives recommendations for improving FOI policy. Furthermore, IDFI publicly recognizes public institutions that exhibit good FOI practices by presenting annual awards. It is clear from these activities IDFI and Opendata.Ge deliver an essential service by facilitating the relationship between citizens, freedom of information, civil society, and public institutions.
The unprecedented number of FOI requests and complete replies is a positive step forward, but even more invaluable is a sustainable culture of compliance. Unfortunately, the rate of compliance for state sub-agencies from October 2013 to July 2014 decreased. The number of complete responses received by IDFI fell by 27 percent, while the number of FOI requests ignored increased by 26 percent. The progress made in accountability after the October 2012 parliamentary elections is fading away, and the political motivation for compliance is at a low level. If continued apathy to proactive disclosure and responding to FOI requests becomes the status quo, the immense amount of work done by Georgian civil society will be unduly harmed, and public integrity will suffer as a consequence.
After the 2003 Rose Revolution, democratic reform in Georgia took an accelerated, but difficult path. Although the journey has not been an easy one, NGOs like IDFI are enabling democracy to grow in Georgia by embracing the principles of transparency, accountability, and accessibility embodied by OGP. It is important to recognize the successes of Opendata.Ge, but it is also important to understand FOI is a constant process, and the challenges faced will have to be overcome through continual cooperation between Georgian public institutions and civil society.