The Access Initiative

Access to Information and Open Government Data

By Catherine Easton (Posted: July 11, 2012)

Open Data portals, as a means of providing citizens access to government data, are becoming increasingly popular platforms being adopted by governments internationally. On June 19, 2012, the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the Access Initiative (TAI) hosted the “Choosing our Future: Open and Participatory Sustainable Development Governance” event in Rio de Janeiro, alongside the Rio+20 negotiations. At this event, WRI organized a workshop on “Access to Information and Open Government Data in Africa,” in association with the Institute of Law and Environmental Governance (Kenya), Greenwatch (Uganda), Centre for Democratic Development (Ghana), and Open Democracy Advice Centre (South Africa). The workshop was held to understand the context in Africa for the development of open government data portals.

The workshop provided an opportunity for WRI to share preliminary findings highlighting the importance of proactively released government data, from its Access to Information in Africa project, with partners. This project, funded by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC – Canada), aims to better understand transparency models and environmental accountability in Africa, and to inform policymakers and citizen groups engaged in building the infrastructure for greater transparency.

As a part of this project, WRI has developed preliminary templates that list proposed types of data and information that governments should proactively disclose without a formal request, for each natural resource considered in the project (oil, mining, forests, environment, land and water). Through the discussion, a number of improvements to the draft templates were identified. Moreover, the general importance of proactive disclosure of information by governments was continuously stressed. Establishing minimum standards for proactive release of information would alleviate problems associated with 1) procedures for requesting information in developing countries that are often difficult for citizens to navigate, and 2) the lack of resources and capacity for governments to reactively respond to individual information requests.

Along with several other key messages from the workshop, the importance of government collaboration in sharing the means and infrastructure for data collection and dissemination is crucial. Some countries are far more advanced than others. Only ten African countries have passed Access to information acts, but only two, Morocco and Kenya, have implemented open government data portals. While launching a portal is a big step in the right direction, after one year, Kenya’s portal is still not well populated. The sharing of best practices, legal approaches, open source software, applications and development of model standards could alleviate the burden on each government to re-invent the wheel.

For a detailed list of all the key messages from the workshop, as well as summaries of the presentations, please see the full report from the workshop, attached.

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