International drivers of open data and transparency

International drivers of open data broadly align with drivers of transparency, and reflect overlapping trends among donors and other actors. These trends include:

  • a drive to fill data gaps and improve statistical capacity in developing countries for improved design and evaluation of government and aid programmes
  • a push for reforms aimed at opening up government
  • desires for greater transparency, both of aid spending and within particular sectors
  • a push for more sophisticated uses of data in decision-making and analytics, and for innovation more broadly
  • a push to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals on tackling corruption and tax evasion

The need to fill data gaps was a strong theme in A World That Counts (IEAG, 2014), the influential final report of the “data revolution” advisory group established by the UN Secretary-General for the Sustainable Development Goals process. This group resulted in the establishment of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data (GPSDD),  a network of governments, NGOs and businesses aiming to improve how data is used in work on sustainable development.

The Open Government Partnership (OGP) aims to open government in a range of ways. It has been a strong driver of the adoption of open data initiatives at government level, incentivising governments to work with their civil societies to co-produce national action plans that include commitments to release key datasets. The OGP has been criticised, however – for example for not having “evaluable objectives” in relation to how open data can lead to increased access by citizens (Carter, 2014).

The International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) aims to make information about how aid is spent more accessible to recipient governments and citizens of both beneficiary and donor countries. It has developed a data publication standard aimed at enabling easier comparability and scrutiny, including by calling for interoperability and machine readability.

The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), another voluntary arrangement, incentivises governments and companies to publish information on oil, gas and mining agreements and transactions to a particular standard, to enable scrutiny and identification of financial irregularities.

The Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition initiative (GODAN) consists of public, private and third sector actors aiming to increase the availability and use of data in its sector, through advocacy and support to innovation projects.

In addition, donors and investors are increasingly recognising the value of the data produced through the projects they fund, especially those involving research, and are introducing conditionality in funding agreements so that recipients publish data openly. One example of this is the Gates Foundation’s open access policy.

A number of other programmes are dedicated to promoting and supporting open data in developing countries. Many of these fall under the umbrella of the Open Data for Development Network (OD4D). This is a funding mechanism hosted by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC). Its grantees support both governments to develop open data initiatives (e.g. at the Open Data Institute) and civil society to demand and use data (e.g. at Open Knowledge). The World Bank also supports open data initiatives, and uses an Open Data Readiness Assessment tool in a large number of countries.

Finally, the newly launched Open Data Charter (2015) incentivises national and city governments to make a public commitment to openness. Adoption of the non-binding and voluntary charter requires a high-level public statement of commitment to its principles, designating key actions and how they will be delivered. As of August 2016 the charter had no uptake in Africa, though a number of African governments were considering adopting it.