Summit Series: Information Integrity

1. Information Integrity

Ahead of Nigeria’s 2011 election, the West African Non-Government Organisation Network reported troubling inaccuracies in the list of the nation’s polling stations. While preparing a digital map of voting locations, it discovered that as many as 28,000 polling stations might be ‘ghost’. Misinformation about polling locations has obvious implications for civic participation and trust in electoral processes.

‘Ghost’ workers have long haunted Sierra Leone’s public sector payroll. Ghost workers are people receiving salaries who either don’t exist or who aren’t legally occupying the positions for which they’re receiving pay. The Government of Sierra Leone has run a series of payroll verification exercises aimed at identifying ghost workers and removing them from the payroll.1 These exercises have saved public funds that can be redirected to providing services, and they’ve reduced opportunities for corruption.

These cases demonstrate the potential damage that can be done by poor data as policy and funding streams become increasingly dependent on data as evidence of both need and progress. Citizens can be misled, misrepresented or excluded. Governments can make decisions based on faulty data. When data is incomplete, inaccurate or otherwise unreliable, the scope for corruption is vast.

Real openness requires information that people can rely on. In parallel with current enthusiasm for opening public sector data, it’s time to consider information integrity: How can we ensure that open data is authentic and reliable? Where is it coming from, who processed it and in what context? Will we be able to access and audit it in the future?

In the lead up to the OGP Summit in Paris this December, the OGP blog will run a series of posts on the importance of information integrity. The series will pose questions that require closer examination, discussing practical interventions that could strengthen open government initiatives, and pointing to available technical guidance and resources.

The series will look at:

When we can say that data was transmitted by x person at x time, the data is no longer just information – it is evidence of an action or transaction. Evidence is vital for holding public officials to account and demonstrating transparency. How can we make data more evidential, more consistently?

Robust systems are essential for information integrity. Kenya has recognised this in its latest OGP national action plan. One of the posts will discuss Kenya’s commitment and the international standards that could be used to develop systems for the creation and capture of authentic information.

If open data is going to serve as the basis for policy- and decision-making, that data needs to be available for reference into the future. How are web-archiving technologies being deployed to capture a record of what governments have said? Are current approaches adequate for public sector accountability? Is it practical and useful for civil society actors to engage in web-archiving?

The tools and techniques developed in fields such as data curation, records management and digital preservation offer approaches to establishing and protecting the integrity of information. We need to introduce these tools and techniques into open government initiatives, creating and publishing robust data. Information with integrity provides the evidence needed for accountability and participation.

 

1. In January 2016, the Makoni Times reported plans for a new round of payroll verifications: https://makonitimes.com/2016/01/09/sierra-leone-announced-an-exercise-ai... For the report on the first major civil service payroll verification, see: http://psru.gov.sl/sites/default/files/sites/default/files/reports/Final...

 

 

Authors: James Lowry