Linking open data and transparency

There is a strong intersection between open data and transparency as concepts. As fields of study and practice in international development, however, open data and transparency have remained somewhat separate. In international development, open data work is often associated with building statistical capacity, developing ICT infrastructure, enabling civic technology activities, and supporting public and private sector innovation and other digital economy benefits. Transparency, on the other hand, is typically associated with governance reform, anti-corruption and citizen empowerment. The literature and evidence base of each has largely emerged separately. The open data field has developed both technical and, increasingly, political insights into the practicalities of getting data released and used. Examples include guides by the Open Data Institute; the Open Data Handbook by Open Knowledge; and a World Bank toolkit.

However, as open data is a relatively new field, evidence about its effectiveness is underdeveloped. Notable examples of more robust sources of evidence include the Open Data Research Network’s evaluations of open data projects, and a case study mapping project at GovLab (Young & Verhulst, 2016).

The open data literature can also often overlook or underestimate the broader political, social and governance considerations of what it means to be open and transparent, and importantly, what it takes for this to lead to accountability. Its integration of gender issues is also underdeveloped, and some have argued that it lacks conceptual clarity (see Fox, 2014; Carter, 2014; McGee & Edwards, 2016).

The evidence base and literature emerging from work on transparency provides a deeper contextualisation of information transparency and its connection to accountability in international development. As a field of practice that has existed for longer, it has a broader pool of examples and empirically evaluated experiments than the open data field. There is therefore a stronger body of evidence on the risks and realities of accountability programme implementation in fragile contexts (Kosack & Fung, 2014; Gaventa & McGee, 2013).

This topic guide discusses connections between open data, transparency and accountability, drawing on analysis and evidence from both the open data and transparency literature. Much can be gained from cross-pollination between these two fields of study, and from sharing good practice and learning between the fields of practice.