TREND: Greater transparency, access to public sector data and a growing momentum behind open government initiatives designed to empower citizens, reduce corruption and strengthen governance through new technologies
The trend towards open government and greater transparency is likely to continue, particularly in the developed world democracies (World Economic Forum 2012, page 144), where it is progressively evolving into a more interactive web based relationship (eJournal of eDemocracy and Open Government 2011, page 166). As of September 2012, 93 countries have enacted legislation designed to uphold the right of the public to access government information (right2info.org). This in itself is significant. As Professor Prakash Sarangi suggests in his 2012 article (see page 154) on Corruption in India and the implementation of the 2005 Right to Information Act (RITA), “…the RITA encourages politicians and officials to put less stress on acting as agents of special interests, and more on acting as stewards of a public trust and even a common interest.”
Alongside rising online engagement with constituents in relation to information about policy processes and services, the UK (http://data.gov.uk/about-us) and US (http://www.data.gov/home) administrations have also begun to publish public sector data in support of both greater transparency but also to sponsor the creation of innovative new services based on that data. At EU level, in 2010 the European Commission published its e-Government Action Plan (a component of the Digital Agenda Flagship Initiative which is a key pillar of the EU 2020 Growth Strategy). The EU Action Plan includes a strong focus on empowering citizens and businesses to engage in the process of policy-making by increasing transparency and enhancing public access to government information (see page 5).
In April 2012, representatives from 55 governments met in Brasilia for the inaugural meeting of the Open Government Partnership, a new international initiative designed to promote transparency, empower citizens, reduce corruption and strengthen governance through new technologies. According to a 2012 correlational analysis by the World Economic Forum (see page 127) there is a positive relationship between countries with high levels of digitization (the wholesale adoption of networked digital technologies by governments, businesses and consumers) and levels of social transparency, public participation and the ability of governments to make information accessible to the public.
As government policy decisions (and their consequences) become increasingly visible to those they govern, driven substantially by the expansion of Internet connectivity, this process becomes politically difficult to reverse in the face of rising public expectation. According to the 2012 United Nations e-Government Survey (see page 3), these new opportunities have “strongly shifted expectations of what governments can and should do, using modern information and communication technologies, to strengthen public service and advance equitable, people-centred development.”
The standards expected by members of the public when using online consultation and engagement tools can also be challenging to achieve (in the UK the 2011 the Government’s ICT Strategy Strategic Implementation Plan identified this as one of the top three risks in using online channels). In addition, while most commentators focus on the positive benefits of open government, it has also been pointed out that transparency, participation and collaboration “should be viewed as means towards desirable ends, rather than administrative ends in themselves” (Open Government and e-Government: Democratic Challenges from a Public Value Perspective, 2012, page 83). Others express concern that if governments overly fixate on exciting new technologically enabled possibilities, they may run the risk of overlooking other key (if less exciting) elements of solving important policy problems (Open Knowledge Foundation Blog, September 2012).