Open government is the governing doctrine which holds that citizens have the right to access the documents and proceedings of the government to allow for effective public oversight. In its broadest construction it opposes reason of state and other considerations, which have tended to legitimize extensive state secrecy. The origins of open government arguments can be dated to the time of the European Enlightenment: to debates about the proper construction of a then nascent democratic society.
See also Accountability
The concept of Open Government is broad in scope but is most often connected to ideas of government transparency and accountability. One definition, published by The Quality of Government institute at the University of Gothenburg, limits government openness to information released by the government, or the extent to which citizens can request and receive information that is not already published. Harlan Yu and David G. Robinson specify the distinction between Open Data and open government in their paper “The New Ambiguity of “Open Government”. They define open government in terms of service delivery and public accountability. They argue that technology can be used to facilitate disclosure of information, but that the use of open data technologies does not necessarily equate accountability.
The OECD approaches open government through the following categories: whole of government coordination, civic engagement and access to information, budget transparency, integrity and the fight against corruption, use of technology, and local development.
The term 'open government' originated in the United States after World War II. Wallace Parks, who served on a subcommittee on Government Information created by the U.S. Congress, introduce the term in his 1957 article “The Open Government Principle: Applying the Right to Know under the Constitution.” After this and after the passing of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in 1966, federal courts began using the term as a synonym for government transparency.
Although this was the first time that ‘open government’ was introduced the concept of transparency and accountability in government can be traced back to Ancient Greece in fifth century B.C.E. Athens where different legal institutions regulated the behavior of officials and offered a path for citizens to express their grievances towards them. One such institution, the euthyna, held officials to a standard of “straightness” and enforced that they give an account in front of an Assembly of citizens about everything that they did that year.
In more recent history, the idea that government should be open to public scrutiny and susceptible to public opinion dates back to the time of the Enlightenment, when many philosophes made an attack on absolutist doctrines of state secrecy. The passage of formal legislature can also be traced to this time with Sweden, for example, (which then included Finland as a Swedish-governed territory) enacting free press legislation as part of its constitution (Freedom of the Press Act, 1766).
Influenced by Enlightenment thought, the revolutions in America (1776) and France (1789), enshrined provisions and requirements for public budgetary accounting and freedom of the press in constitutional articles. In the nineteenth century, attempts by Metternichean statesmen to row back on these measures were vigorously opposed by a number of eminent liberal politicians and writers, including Bentham, Mill and Acton.
Open government is widely seen to be a key hallmark of contemporary democratic practice and is often linked to the passing of freedom of information legislation. Scandinavian countries claim to have adopted the first freedom of information legislation, dating the origins of its modern provisions to the eighteenth century and Finland continuing the presumption of openness after gaining independence in 1917, passing its Act on Publicity of Official Documents in 1951 (superseded by new legislation in 1999).
Morocco's new constitution of 2011, outlined several goals the government wishes to achieve in order to guarantee the citizens right to information. The world has been offering support to the government in order to enact these reforms through the Transparency and Accountability Development Policy Loan (DPL). This loan is part of a joint larger program between the European Union and the African Development Bank to offer financial and technical support to governments attempting to implement reforms.
As of 2010, section 35 of Kenya's constitution ensures citizens’ rights to government information. The article states “35.(1) Every citizen has the right of access to — (a) information held by the State; and (b) information held by another person and required for the exercise or protection of any right or fundamental freedom ... (3) The State shall publish and publicize any important information affecting the nation.” Important government data is now freely available through the Kenya Open Data Initiative.
Taiwan started its e-government program in 1998 and since then has had a series of laws and executive orders to enforce open government policies. The Freedom of Government Information Law of 2005, stated that all government information must be made public. Such information includes budgets, administrative plans, communication of government agencies, subsidies. Since then it released its open data platform, data.gov.tw. The Sunflower Movement of 2014, emphasized the value that Taiwanese citizens place on openness and transparency. A white paper published by the National Development Council with policy goals for 2020 explores ways to increase citizen participation and use open data for further government transparency.
The Philippines passed the Freedom of Information Order in 2016, outlining guidelines to practice government transparency and full public disclosure. In accordance to its General Appropriations Act of 2012, the Philippine government requires government agencies to display a “transparency seal” on their websites, which contains information about the agency's functions, annual reports, officials, budgets, and projects.
The Right to Information (RTI) movement in India, created the RTI law in 2005 after environmental movements demanded the release of information regarding environmental deterioration due to industrialization. Another catalyst for the RTI law and other similar laws in southeast Asia, may have been due to multilateral agencies offering aid and loans in exchange for more transparency or “democratic” policies.
In the Netherlands, large social unrest and the growing influence of televisions in the 1960s led to a push for more government openness. Access to information legislation was passed in 1980 and since then further emphasis has been placed on measuring the performance of government agencies.
In 2009, President Obama released a Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government and started the Open Government Initiative. In his memorandum put forward his administration's goal to strengthen democracy through a transparent, participatory and collaborative government. The initiative has goals of a transparent and collaborative government, in which to end secrecy in Washington, while improving effectiveness through increased communication between citizens and government officials. Movements for government transparency in recent American history started in the 1950s after World War II because federal departments and agencies had started limiting information availability as a reaction to global hostilities during the war and due to fear of Cold War spies. Agencies were given the right to deny access to information "for good cause found" or "in the public interest". These policies made it difficult for congressional committees to get access to records and documents, which then led to explorations of possible legislative solutions.
Since the early 2000s, transparency has been an important part of Chile's Anti-Corruption and Probity Agenda and State Modernization Agenda. In 2008, Chile passed the Transparency Law has led to further open government reforms. Chile published its open government action plan for 2016-18 as part of its membership of the Open Government Partnership (OGP).
Transparency in government is often credited with generating government accountability, which supporters argue leads to reduction in government corruption, bribery and other malfeasance. Some commentators contend that an open, transparent government allows for the dissemination of information, which in turn helps produce greater knowledge and societal progress.
Government transparency is beneficial for efficient democracy, as information helps citizens form meaningful conclusions about upcoming legislation and vote for them in the next election. According to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, greater citizen participation in government is linked to government transparency.
Advocates of open government often argue that civil society, rather than government legislation, offers the best route to more transparent administration. They point to the role of whistleblowers reporting from inside the government bureaucracy (individuals like Daniel Ellsberg or Paul van Buitenen). They argue that an independent and inquiring press, printed or electronic, is often a stronger guarantor of transparency than legislative checks and balances.
The contemporary doctrine of open government finds its strongest advocates in non-governmental organizations keen to counter what they see as the inherent tendency of government to lapse, whenever possible, into secrecy. Prominent among these NGOs are bodies like Transparency International or the Open Society Institute. They argue that standards of openness are vital to the ongoing prosperity and development of democratic societies.
Critics of government transparency argue that transparency leads to government indecision, poor performance and gridlock. David Frum writes in an article for the Atlantic, “instead of yielding more accountability, however, these reforms [transparency reforms] have yielded more lobbying, more expense, more delay, and more indecision.” Jason Grumet argues that government officials cannot properly deliberate, collaborate and compromise when everything they are doing is being watched.
Additionally, open government initiatives may raise privacy concerns. In her article, Teresa Scassa outlines three main possible privacy challenges. First, the difficulty of balancing further transparency of government, while also protecting the privacy of personal information, or information about identifiable individuals that is in the hands of the government. Second, is dealing with distinctions between data protection regulations between private and public sector actors because governments may access information collected by private companies which are not controlled by as stringent laws. Third, is the release of "Big data", which may appear anonymized can be reconnected to specific individuals using sophisticated algorithms.
There is also concern for protecting citizens' privacy so they are not exposed to "adverse consequences, retribution or negative repercussions" from information provided by governments.
A number of scholars have questioned the moral certitude behind much transparency advocacy, questioning the foundations upon which advocacy rests. They have also highlighted how transparency can support certain neoliberal imperatives.
See also Open Data
Governments and organizations are using new technologies as a tool for increased transparency. Examples include use of open data platforms to publish information online and the theory of open source governance.
Open Government Data (OGD), a term which refers specifically to the public publishing of government datasets, is often made available through online platforms such as data.gov.uk or www.data.gov. Proponents of OGD argue that easily accessible data pertaining to governmental institutions allows for further citizen engagement within political institutions. OGD principles require that data is complete, primary, timely, accessible, machine processable, non-discriminatory, non-proprietary, and license free.
Public and private sector platforms provide an avenue for citizens to engage while offering access to transparent information that citizens have come to expect. Numerous organizations have worked to consolidate resources for citizens to access government (local, state and federal) budget spending, stimulus spending, lobbyist spending, legislative tracking, and more.
The Access to Knowledge (A2K) movement is a loose collection of civil society groups, governments, and individuals converging on the idea that access to knowledge should be linked to fundamental principles of justice, freedom, and economic development.Blockade of Germany
The Blockade of Germany, or the Blockade of Europe, occurred from 1914 to 1919. It was a prolonged naval operation conducted by the Triple-Entente powers during and after World War I in an effort to restrict the maritime supply of goods to the Central Powers, which included Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire. It is considered one of the key elements in the eventual Allied victory in the war. The German Board of Public Health in December 1918 claimed that 763,000 German civilians died from starvation and disease caused by the blockade up until the end of December 1918. An academic study done in 1928 put the death toll at 424,000.Both the German Empire and the United Kingdom relied heavily on imports to feed their population and supply their war industry. Imports of foodstuffs and war materiel of all European belligerents came primarily from the Americas and had to be shipped across the Atlantic Ocean, thus Britain and Germany both aimed to blockade each other. The British had the Royal Navy which was superior in numbers and could operate throughout the British Empire, while the German Kaiserliche Marine surface fleet was mainly restricted to the German Bight, and used commerce raiders and unrestricted submarine warfare to operate elsewhere.Center for Responsive Politics
The Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) is a non-profit, nonpartisan research group based in Washington, D.C., that tracks the effects of money and lobbying on elections and public policy. It maintains a public online database of its information.Its website, OpenSecrets.org, allows users to track federal campaign contributions and lobbying by lobbying firms, individual lobbyists, industry, federal agency, and bills. Other resources include the personal financial disclosures of all members of the U.S. Congress, the president, and top members of the administration. Users can also search by ZIP codes to learn how their neighbors are allocating their political contributions.Electronic Privacy Information Center
Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) is an independent non-profit research center in Washington, D.C. EPIC's mission is to focus public attention on emerging privacy and related human rights issues. EPIC works to protect privacy, freedom of expression, and democratic values, and to promote the Public Voice in decisions concerning the future of the Internet.
EPIC works closely with a distinguished advisory board, with expertise in law, technology and public policy.
Based in Washington, D.C., EPIC engages the national debate over the future of privacy. With an office in Somerville, Massachusetts, EPIC works on state and local issues across the country. And with strong ties to organizations around the world, EPIC has a global presence.Freedom of Information Act (United States)
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. § 552, is a federal freedom of information law that requires the full or partial disclosure of previously unreleased information and documents controlled by the United States government upon request. The Act defines agency records subject to disclosure, outlines mandatory disclosure procedures, and defines nine exemptions to the statute. President Lyndon B. Johnson, despite his misgivings, signed the Freedom of Information Act into law on July 4, 1966, and it went into effect the following year.As indicated by its long title, FOIA was actually extracted from its original home in Section 3 of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). Section 3 of the APA, as enacted in 1946, gave agencies broad discretion concerning the publication of governmental records. Following concerns that the provision had become more of a withholding than a disclosure mechanism, Congress amended the section in 1966 as a standalone act to implement "a general philosophy of full agency disclosure." The amendment required agencies to publish their rules of procedure in the Federal Register, 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(1)(C), and to make available for public inspection and copying their opinions, statements of policy, interpretations, and staff manuals and instructions that are not already published in the Federal Register, § 552(a)(2). In addition, § 522(a)(3) requires every agency, "upon any request for records which ... reasonably describes such records" to make such records "promptly available to any person." If an agency improperly withholds any documents, the district court has jurisdiction to order their production. Unlike the review of other agency action that must be upheld if supported by substantial evidence and not arbitrary or capricious, FOIA expressly places the burden "on the agency to sustain its action," and directs the district courts to "determine the matter de novo."
The federal government's Freedom of Information Act should not be confused with the different and varying freedom of information law enacted by the individual states.Government Accountability Office
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is a legislative branch government agency that provides auditing, evaluation, and investigative services for the United States Congress. It is the supreme audit institution of the federal government of the United States.National Security Archive
The National Security Archive is a 501(c)(3) non-governmental, non-profit research and archival institution located on the campus of the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1985 to check rising government secrecy, the National Security Archive is an investigative journalism center, open government advocate, international affairs research institute, and is the largest repository of declassified U.S. documents outside the federal government. The National Security Archive has spurred the declassification of more than 10 million pages of government documents by being the leading non-profit user of the U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), filing a total of more than 50,000 FOIA and declassification requests in its over 30 years of history.Open-source governance
Open-source governance (also known as open politics) is a political philosophy which advocates the application of the philosophies of the open-source and open-content movements to democratic principles to enable any interested citizen to add to the creation of policy, as with a wiki document. Legislation is democratically opened to the general citizenry, employing their collective wisdom to benefit the decision-making process and improve democracy.Theories on how to constrain, limit or enable this participation vary. Accordingly, there is no one dominant theory of how to go about authoring legislation with this approach. There are a wide array of projects and movements which are working on building open-source governance systems.Many left-libertarian and radical centrist organizations around the globe have begun advocating open-source governance and its related political ideas as a reformist alternative to current governance systems. Often, these groups have their origins in decentralized structures such as the Internet and place particular importance on the need for anonymity to protect an individual's right to free speech in democratic systems. Opinions vary, however, not least because the principles behind open-source government are still very loosely defined.Open Government (Yes Minister)
"Open Government" is the first episode of the BBC comedy series Yes Minister, first broadcast 25 February 1980. In this episode, the final "Yes Minister" is uttered by Sir Humphrey Appleby.Open Government Licence
The Open Government Licence is a copyright licence for Crown Copyright works published by the UK government. Other UK public sector bodies may apply it to their publications. It was developed and is maintained by The National Archives. It is compatible with the Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) licence.Open data
Open data is the idea that some data should be freely available to everyone to use and republish as they wish, without restrictions from copyright, patents or other mechanisms of control. The goals of the open-source data movement are similar to those of other "open(-source)" movements such as open-source software, hardware, open content, open education, open educational resources, open government, open knowledge, open access, open science, and the open web. Paradoxically, the growth of the open data movement is paralleled by a rise in intellectual property rights. The philosophy behind open data has been long established (for example in the Mertonian tradition of science), but the term "open data" itself is recent, gaining popularity with the rise of the Internet and World Wide Web and, especially, with the launch of open-data government initiatives such as Data.gov, Data.gov.uk and Data.gov.in.
Open data, can also be linked data; when it is, it is linked open data. One of the most important forms of open data is open government data (OGD), which is a form of open data created by ruling government institutions. Open government data's importance is borne from it being a part of citizens' everyday lives, down to the most routine/mundane tasks that are seemingly far removed from government.Open source
Open source is a term denoting that a product includes permission to use its source code, design documents, or content. It most commonly refers to the open-source model, in which open-source software or other products are released under an open-source license as part of the open-source-software movement. Use of the term originated with software, but has expanded beyond the software sector to cover other open content and forms of open collaboration.Openness
Openness is an overarching concept or philosophy that is characterized by an emphasis on transparency and free, unrestricted access to knowledge and information, as well as collaborative or cooperative management and decision-making rather than a central authority. Openness can be said to be the opposite of secrecy.Primary and secondary legislation
In parliamentary systems and presidential systems of government, primary legislation and secondary legislation, the latter also called delegated legislation or subordinate legislation, are two forms of law, created respectively by the legislative and executive branches of government. Primary legislation generally consists of statutes, also known as 'acts', that set out broad outlines and principles, but delegate specific authority to an executive branch to make more specific laws under the aegis of the principal act. The executive branch can then issue secondary legislation (mainly via its regulatory agencies), creating legally-enforceable regulations and the procedures for implementing them.Public Whip
The Public Whip is a parliamentary informatics project that analyses and publishes the voting history of MPs in the Parliament of the United Kingdom.
It was developed by Francis Irving and Julian Todd following the 18 March 2003 Parliamentary Approval for the invasion of Iraq as a tool to record which MPs had defied their party's whip long after the information had become effectively inaccessible for reference.
On 1 August 2011 Irving and Todd handed control of the site to a new team.The project is loosely affiliated to mySociety's TheyWorkForYou with which it shares a large part of the same parliamentary parsing code-base.
In 2014 the OpenAustralia Foundation launched a fork of the project for Australia’s federal parliament called They Vote For You .Solemn League and Covenant
The Solemn League and Covenant was an agreement between the Scottish Covenanters and the leaders of the English Parliamentarians in 1643 during the First English Civil War. On 17 August 1643
the Church of Scotland (the Kirk) accepted it and on 25 September 1643 so did the English Parliament and the Westminster Assembly.Sunlight Foundation
The Sunlight Foundation is an American 501(c)(3) nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that advocates for open government. The organization was founded in April 2006 with the goal of increasing transparency and accountability in the United States Congress, the executive branch, and in state and local governments. The foundation's primary focus is the role of money in politics. The organization seeks to increase campaign finance regulations and disclosure requirements.TheyWorkForYou
TheyWorkForYou is a parliamentary monitoring website by mySociety which aims to make it easier for UK citizens to understand what is going on in Westminster, as well as the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly. It also helps create accountability for UK politicians by publishing a complete archive of every word spoken in Parliament, along with a voting record and other details for each MP, past and present.
TheyWorkForYou does not publish original content: it scrapes from the official sources, then presents debates and information about representatives in a more accessible version.
For example, TheyWorkForYou's version of Hansard may be searched, and each section has its own permalink so that it can be shared easily.
The site aggregates content from the Hansard records of the House of Commons, House of Lords, Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly, along with other publicly available data such as the MPs Register of Members' Interests, election results, Wikipedia entries, and voting records, providing a "digital dossier on your local MP". It also has a facility to alert users by email to speeches by an MP or specific words appearing in Hansard.
In 2008, The Daily Telegraph rated it 41st in a list of the 101 most useful websites.UK Government Web Archive
The UK Government Web Archive (UKGWA) is part of The National Archives of the United Kingdom. The National Archives collects records from all UK government departments and bodies creating records defined as Public Records under the British Public Records Act. This includes on-line records. These are captured, preserved, and kept accessible by the UKGWA, in conjunction with an external service provider. Initially, and until July 2017, this was the Internet Memory Foundation. The current provider is MirrorWeb.
The UKGWA is one of the web archiving initiatives holding the largest amount of material fully open to the public: the majority of UK public records are Crown Copyright and so are available under the Open Government License. Restrictions to Crown Copyright material mean, however, that, when it comes to social media archiving, the UKGWA can capture only the UK Government's side of the conversation with the public.