October 24th marked the launch of the first global Transparency week. Kicking off in Washington DC with the launch of Publish What You Fund’s Transparency Index 2013, the week is supported by numerous events around the world including ‘Global Hang Outs’ in Nepal , and ending in London with the Open Government Partnership Summit, where 1,000 delegates from over 60 countries will share their experiences of how openness can improve public services, support economic growth and contribute to poverty reduction.
Transparency has become increasingly sexy in recent years with national governments opening up data and the UN Secretary-General’s High Level Panel (HLP) introducing the ‘Data Revolution’ concept to the debate on ending poverty. Although this term is new, making data more open, accessible and usable, as well as improving capacity to use it, has long been underway. Nowhere is this more evident than in the global south where the revolution has been on a slow burn through important initiatives like Open Data for Africa, Open Nepal, Kenyan Open Government Initiative and many others.
There is a broad trend towards greater openness among aid donors, reflecting a growing acceptance that transparency is becoming the norm. However, today’s launch of Publish What You Fund’s Transparency Index, which assesses the state of aid transparency, emphasises that publishing data alone is not enough and that the quality and format must also be improved. For transparency to deliver results, the data available must be complete, accessible, comparable and usable for all. David Hall-Matthews from Publish What You Funds rightly asserts: “more is not enough. We also want to make sure that the information is useful.”
The data revolution requires useful data for it to be transformative – not data that is incomplete, out of date, or buried in PDFs on hard to navigate websites. The HLP’s call to “leave no-one behind” cannot be delivered without going beyond national averages to sub-national dis-aggregated information. Key to getting this right will be strong leadership from developing countries, well articulated demand from citizens – and a willingness to listen, and learn.
Development Initiatives will bring transparency week to an end with a session on joined-up data at the Open Government Partnership Summit. This takes on the important challenge of turning ‘more data’ into better information. We argue that this requires two fundamental shifts: firstly data needs to be joined-up so that one dataset can be compared, combined and analysed alongside others, leading to a more complete picture; and secondly, data needs to be translated into information which meets the needs of the user (most of whom are not skilled analysts) allowing them to engage easily with the information and use it. If data is not presented in a way that enables it to be used, the untapped potential of the open data movement will not be met.
Global Transparency Week is an international series of events between 24th October and 1st November. Fifteen organisations have come together to call for transparency, accountability and good governance across the world. Full listings of events and information about the organisations involved can be found at: globaltransparencyweek.org