Themes

Commitments are divided into cross-cutting themes, which are issues that impact across government, and focused-topics that relate more specifically to the work of particular ministries and departments.

ACCESS TO INFORMATION AND OPEN DATA

Access to Information: This theme covers the creation and implementation of access to information laws.

Open Data: By opening up data, and making it sharable and reusable government can enable informed debate, better decision making, and the development of innovative new services. This theme addresses the policies, technologies, processes that enable the free use, reuse, and redistribution of government data by anyone.

Open Data is the idea that data should be freely available for everyone to access, use and republish as they wish, published without restrictions from copyright, patents or other mechanisms of control. Public sector information made available to the public as open data is termed ‘Open Government Data’.Governments and their contractors collect a vast quantity of high-quality data as part of their ordinary working activities. Typically this results in the state becoming a powerful data monopoly able to structure and homogenize the interactions between itself and its citizens. These one-sided interactionspp are expensive and unresponsive to citizens’ needs and can unnecessarily restrict government activities, as well.

Opening government data involves both policy and technical considerations. If governments’ data is made open, it can have huge potential benefits including:

  •  In a well-functioning, democratic society citizens need to know what their government is doing. To do that, they must be able freely to access government data and information and to analyse and share that information with other citizens.

  •  Enabling better coordination and efficiency within government, by making data easier to find, analyse and combine across different departments and agencies.

  • : In a digital age, data is a key resource for social and commercial activities. Everything from catching a bus to finding a doctor depends on access to information, much of which is created or held by government. By opening up data, government can help drive the creation of innovative business and services that deliver social and commercial value.

Where many public records laws and policies regulating the right to information have traditionally relied on reactive disclosure, meaning public information has to be requested before it is shared, a government fully engaged in open data is choosing to proactively disclose information – meaning public data is released as it is collected and before it is requested. Put another way, the vision of open data is for government information to be ‘open by default’.Open data also has a number of technical implications, with special consideration given to the particular formats chosen for data release. Open formats are those that are structured and non-proprietary, allowing the public and the government to extract maximum value from the information now and in the future.

Governments around the world cite many different reasons for starting open data initiatives, including increasing government transparency and accountability, catalysing the creation of new digital services and applications for citizens, unlocking the full economic potential of public information, and evolving current government services for anticipated future needs. Although much of this top-level government interest is new, there are many professions and communities engaged in dialogue, policy, and development around this issue, including from government officials, journalists, developers, transparency reformers, issue advocates, and interested citizens.

BRANCHES OF GOVERNMENT

Judicial Openness: This theme addresses the judiciary as a branch of the federal government, including the network of judges and courts that comprise it.

Legislative Openness: This theme encompasses transparency of and participation in the legislative branch of government, including efforts to open up legislative decision-making and hold legislators accountable.

CITIZEN ENGAGEMENT WITH GOVERNMENT

E-Government: This theme covers ways in which e-government information systems or mechanisms can support a more transparent, accountable, and participatory government.

E-petitions: This theme covers the electronic tools that enable the public to petition their government and call for action on issues.

Feedback Loops: Concerns commitments relating to forums (formal or informal), mechanisms, and processes that enable the public to provide input and for officials to listen and provide public responses on government activities. (These commitments must have the input, listening, and response elements.)

Lobbying: Policies and actions affecting lobbying, i.e. any direct or indirect communication with a public official that is made, managed or directed with the purpose of influencing public decision-making.

Marginalized Communities: This theme encompasses factors that affect or involve traditionally marginalized populations, defined broadly to include any historically oppressed groups.

Nonprofits: Cover civil society/ nonprofit/ voluntary/third sector including cultural organizations. Restrictions on funding opportunities for non-governmental organizations, for example, would fall under this theme.

ELECTIONS AND POLITICAL FINANCING

Democratic elections serve two essential functions in any country: to provide the vehicle through which the people express their will as to who shall have the authority to govern; and to resolve peacefully the competition for governmental power. Through democratic elections citizens hold incumbents to account for their performance and promise to hold to account those who seek to be elected.

The obligation of governments to organise genuine elections, based on universal and equal suffrage, is interwoven with the right of citizens to participate in government and public affairs. Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states that the basis of the authority of government derives from the will of the people expressed in periodic and genuine elections. Article 25 of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) states the governmental obligation to provide each citizen with the right and opportunity, without discrimination or unreasonable restriction, to vote and to be elected at genuine elections.

Citizens not only have a right to participate in elections, but also the right to know for themselves whether the electoral process is valid and free of corruption. The right to information is integral to electoral rights because it is impossible to participate meaningfully without information needed to make informed electoral choices. Access to information about electoral processes, including government held electoral data, and the steps taken by governmental institutions to establish accountability in the electoral context is fundamental to creating and reinforcing public confidence in the integrity of elections and the government that derives from them.

Genuine elections require administrative measures that ensure political impartiality of state institutions and personnel, vigorous enforcement of equality before the law and equal protection of the law. Unless the population is assured that citizens can participate in electoral processes free from the harms of violence, intimidation, threat of political retribution and other forms of coercion – and unless the population believes that votes will be accurately counted and honoured – barriers may undermine participation and the credibility of the electoral mandate. Unless electoral competitors are assured that they will be able to participate free from such harms and that they will have access to redress, including effective remedies for violations of their political rights, they may either choose not to participate or to turn to “self-help”, such as political violence.

Even in established democracies maintaining public confidence in administrative impartiality and effectiveness can often become points of sharp controversy.  Moreover, where electoral problems are significant and transparency is lacking, public trust in government can be severely damaged, which is hard to repair in any country. That damage can have important effects on governmental stability.

The growing arena of campaign and political finance is also important to electoral integrity. The role of money in politics, whether from private individuals or corporations, or whether from legal sources or organised crime, can impact significantly upon who competes in elections, how well they are able to spread their messages to the electorate, how they are able to develop their other organisational efforts and potentially how they may perform if they enter government (Transparency International, 2013;  Öhman and Zainulbha, 2009; International IDEA, Political Finance Database; Open Congress, International Campaign Finance Literature Review).   Attention is increasingly turning to how to control the impact of money in politics so as to nurture its positive aspects, while controlling and counteracting negative influences.

FISCAL OPENNESS

Citizen Budgets: Set of activities to publish simplified budget documents to make them easily understood by ordinary citizens.

Fiscal Openness: This theme encompasses any activity or process to put more information on government budgets and public finances in the public domain.

Oversight of Budget/Fiscal Policies: Commitments regarding all activities of the legislature in approving, monitoring and reviewing the budget and fiscal reports, all activities of the Supreme Audit Institution, and also of any independent fiscal institutions that provide oversight, and any activities of the Ombudsman in reviewing/enforcing public access to fiscal information. This could also include social audits of any kind.

Participatory Budgeting: This theme covers efforts to explain the budgetary process in simple language, and to involve citizens in making budgetary decisions that affect them.

Public Participation in Budget/Fiscal Policy: Commitments regarding direct engagement between the public/external parties and official entities and officials at any stage of the budget or fiscal policy cycles.

JUSTICE, PUBLIC SAFETY, AND RULE OF LAW

Law Enforcement & Justice: This theme addresses mechanisms to fairly resolve legal disputes, provide justice, and enforce the rule of law.

Public Safety: Cover domestic policing functions by non-military authorities. e.g. protection of public property and maintaining public order and safety.

Public Safety and Surveillance: This theme encompasses police, public order, and government surveillance.

NATURAL RESOURCES AND DEVELOPMENT

Development: This theme addresses the ways in which open government relates to economic development.

Environment & Climate: Covers commitments that explicitly refer to "climate," "climate adaptation," or "climate resilience" as well as commitments affecting environment regulation, monitoring, and protection/ conservation efforts.

Extractive Industries: Covers commitments relating the extraction and governance of renewable and non-renewable natural resources (mining, forests, fisheries, etc.) and related industries.

Land & Spatial Planning: Commitments relating to land use, property rights, or spatial planning. May include public or private land and aquatic rights.

Natural Resources: This theme encompasses the extraction, use, and governance of natural resources, including land, water, minerals, and fossil fuels.

PUBLIC INTEGRITY MEASURES

Anti-corruption Institutions: This theme covers the challenges of corruption and the ideas, laws, and institutions for combating it.

Asset Disclosure: Asset disclosure and conflict of interest laws act as a deterrent against graft, collusion, and patronage in the public sector. This theme covers the rules for public officials disclosing their income and assets, and the systems for enforcing those rules.

When officials use their public office for private gain, it undermines institutions, deprives citizens of essential services and derails economic development. A conflict of interest arises when a public official is in a position to use public office for personal private gain or for the gain of other private parties. It points to the potential for–not necessarily the existence of–improper conduct. Thus, a regulatory regime of rules, guidance, and enforcement is needed to reduce the risk of real or perceived unethical conduct. Codes of conduct and regulations typically cover the following areas:

  1. Asset disclosure requirements to make public official’s assets and business activities transparent to the public.

  2. Conflict of interest rules and guidance to identify and manage conflicts of interests and make sure public officials’ decisions are not improperly affected by self interest.

  3. Revolving door regulations to stem conflicts of interest arising from the movement of individuals between the public and private sectors.

  4. Gift and hospitality rules preventing special interests attempting to influence policy by offering public servants items or services of value in return for favours.

Disclosure can be a powerful tool in bolstering public integrity and preventing abuses of power. While governments may put in place absolute restrictions on certain kinds of conduct, it is often supplemented with disclosures, which provide the means to monitor and resolve conflicts of interest and to detect and deter illicit enrichment.

There are multiple pathways through which asset disclosure and conflict of interest regulations strengthen public integrity. They build a culture of integrity by establishing standards of acceptable behaviour and by providing clear rules and guidance on ethical conduct in public office. Greater transparency through disclosure is a powerful deterrent against unethical behaviour by reminding public officials that their behaviour is subject to scrutiny. Moreover, they provide a valuable source of information for detecting abuse and corruption (World Bank, 2013). There is no one-size-fits-all approach to designing an appropriate regime. Absolute restrictions are often easier for governments to implement than disclosure systems, and are particularly relevant in contexts where there is low government capacity or resources. However income and asset disclosures are increasingly used, and a growing body of work points to a set of core principles that could be considered by governments seeking to adopt robust, effective disclosure measures.

Audits & Controls: This theme covers internal accountability and oversight institutions within government.

Conflicts of Interest: This theme includes ways to prevent or reveal public officers' conflicts of interest, where private benefits may influence their public decisions.

PUBLIC PROCUREMENT

Open Contracting & Procurement: Procurement of goods and services on behalf of a public authority. Commitments that explicitly mention public procurement, contracting, or open contracting are tagged with this category. Also, commitments enhancing the transparency and integrity of public procurement institutions and processes are tagged with this category.

Public Procurement and Contracts: This theme encompasses the transparency and accountability of the processes by which the government procures goods and services and signs contracts.

CITIZEN ENGAGEMENT

Nonprofits and Civic Space: This theme addresses improvements or threats to the civic space in which non-governmental and civil society organizations have the ability and freedom to operate.

Public Participation: This theme covers the various challenges to, opportunities from, and ways in which citizens became involved in designing and implementing public decisions.