Wednesday, July 29, 2009

How should transparency in government be enforced?

While open government advocates are calling for governments around the world to be more transparent and accountable, one of the issues that has to be worked through is how to ensure that the data made publicly available is complete and accurate.

Generally transparency costs dollars - even online. Therefore there needs to be suitable commitment to 'watching the watchmen' to support data transparency.

Since the US government has already mandated more open and transparent government - a process in mid-stream in Australia - they are now considering the appropriate governance for accuracy and other issues in making transparency 'stick' in a culture where secrecy has been a defining trait for many years.

A few weeks ago NextGov interviewed Earl Devaney, head of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board in the US. This panel is responsible for placing details of the $787 billion economic stimulus spending online via a revamped site and preventing waste, fraud and abuse of the money.

As the article's headline states, Transparency will be embarrassing.

This potential for embarrassment can lead into the potential for incomplete or fraudulent reporting, which is why Devaney's Board will be using 40 inspectors to monitor US agencies and ensure that they provide accurate and timely data for public view.

The rest of the interview is an interesting discussion around how the Board will be enforcing transparency and the tools it will have at its disposal to manage any data accuracy issues.

I think Australia has a tremendous opportunity to monitor how successful the US is in this transparency initiative, then learn from and legislate appropriately to mitigate any holes that appear.

1 comment:

  1. Personally, the rule "must be published, publically available, and at the very least, disclosed in an FOI" UNLESS the metadata indicates it is secret/confidential

    The metadata on confidentially (at whatever level) must be included within all documents - otherwise publically available is the default.

    A "data ombudsman" reports on the percent of data classified to different levels of confidentially by department that do not contain privacy-related information (we could expect ASIO to have a high one, but other departments should be much lower).

    The other thing for a data ombuds would be a breakdown of how well metadata keywords were entered... because poor keywording means non-discoverability.

    So... a combination of something like these wouldn't ENFORCE transparency, but it would highlight those agencies that are least transparent compared to their mission statement.

    The tricky one is Centrelink, where you would expect nearly everything NOT pertaining to an individual "client" to be open.