Transparency International Latvia, in collaboration with Alina Ostlng, Serdar Temiz and Antoni Mickiewicz from Open Knowledge Sweden as well as Aleksi Knuutila and Teemu Ropponen from Open Knowledge Finland, has published a new study on open data and anti-corruption policies in Latvia, Sweden and Finland, showing that governments in the three countries could do more to leverage the potential of open data for anti-corruption policies and public accountability.
The study comprises an overview report summarising the overall findings and identifying opportunities for knowledge transfer and regional cooperation as well as specific reports assessing to what extent governments in Latvia, Sweden and Finland have implemented internationally agreed-upon open data principles as part of their anti-corruption regime, providing recommendations for further improvement at the national level.
The study is the outcome of a project funded by the Nordic Council of Ministers. The aim of the project was to gain a better understanding of how Nordic and Baltic countries are performing in terms of integration of anti-corruption and open data agendas, in order to identify opportunities for knowledge transfer and promote further Nordic cooperation in this field. The study assessed whether 10 key anti-corruption datasets in Latvia, Finland and Sweden are in line with international open data standards. The datasets considered in the frame of the study are:
1) Lobbying register
2) Company register
3) Beneficial ownership register
4) Public officials’ directories
5) Government Budget
6) Government spending
7) Public procurement register
8) Political Financing register
9) Parliament’s Voting Records
10) Land Register
Within this respect, Sweden has made only 3 of 10 key anti-corruption datasets available online and fully in line with open data standards, whereas Finland have achieved to make 8 of these datasets available online, six of which are fully in line with open data standards. As for Latvia, 5 of them have been found to be available and in line with the standards. When it comes to scoring these three countries with regard to anti-corruption datasets, in Sweden, the situation is more problematic compared to other two countries. It has the lowest score, 5.3 out of 9, while Finland and Latvia have scored 6.1 and 6.0, respectively. Similarly, there are some signals that transparency in Sweden has been worsening in recent years despite its long tradition of efficiency and transparency in the public administration, good governance and rule of law as well as being in the top-10 of the Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI) for several years.
The problem in Sweden stems from the fact that the government has had to cope with the high decentralization of the Swedish public administration, which seems to have resulted in little awareness of open data policies and practices and their potential for anti-corruption among public officials. Thus, engaging the new agency for digitalisation, Agency for Digital Government (DIGG), and all other authorities involved in open data could be a solution to develop a centralised, simple, and shared open data policy. Sweden should also take legal measures to formally enshrine open data principles in PSI (Public Sector Information) law such as requiring that all publicly released information be made ‘open by default’ and under an ‘open license’.
The situation in Finland and Latvia is more promising. In Finland, a vibrant tech-oriented civil society in the country has played a key role in promoting initiatives for the application of open data for public integrity in a number of areas, including lobbying and transparency of government resources.
As for Latvia,in recent years, it has made considerable progress in implementing open data policies, and the government has actively sought to release data for increasing public accountability in a number of areas such as public procurement and state-owned enterprises. However, the report finds that much of this data is still not available in open, machine-readable formats – making it difficult for users to download and operate with the data.
Overall, in all three countries it seems that there has been little integration of open data in the agenda of anti-corruption authorities, especially with regard to capacity building. Trainings, awareness-raising and guidelines have been implemented for both open data and anti-corruption; nonetheless, these themes seem not to be interlinked within the public sector. The report also emphasizes the lack of government-funded studies and thematic reviews on the use of open data in fighting corruption. This applies both to the national and regional level.
On the other hand, there is also a considerable potential for cooperation among Nordic-Baltic countries in the use of open data for public integrity, both in terms of knowledge transfer and implementation of common policies. While Nordic countries are among the most technologically advanced in the world and have shown the way with regard to government openness and trust in public institutions, the Baltic countries are among the fastest-growing economies in Europe, with a great potential for digital innovation and development of open data tools.
Such cooperation among the three states would be easier in the presence of networks of “tech-oriented” civil society organisations and technology associations, as well as the framework of cooperation with authorities with the common goal of promoting and developing innovation strategies and tools based in open data.