Open Data for Anti-corruption and Public Participation

(This is part 5 of the analysis “Open Data for Beginners”, you can find out more here)

Open data by default in the context of countering corruption and fostering public participation

The main goal of setting up a standard of maximum disclosure is closely connected with the nature of corruption, which usually happens in secrecy. One of the demands of the UN Convention against Corruption[1] is to oblige countries

“to develop and implement or maintain effective, coordinated anti-corruption policies that promote the participation of society and reflect the principles of the rule of law, proper management of public affairs and public property, integrity, transparency, and accountability.

The convention emphasizes the role of transparency in fighting corruption by regulating that central arenas in which a state operates — such as public procurement, managing public funds, or recruitment for public posts — should be transparent, and public officials in these arenas should be held accountable. Enabling data to be accessed by anyone and from anywhere allows for verification by CSOs, experts, and a large number of public officials. According to findings by the Research Center on Security and Crime (TACOD project), about 7 percent of cases of corruption in the UK were detected thanks to open data.[2] This is a significant number of incidents, and the potential for additional open data development is promising as well.[3] Easy access to open data is also of great help to investigative institutions such as the police or prosecutors. For example, access to information about public procurements can facilitate the work of investigators by enabling quicker and more discreet access to information about public funds that are managed in a suspicious manner.[4]

Public participation can only be empowered by offering open access to official sources. This is recognized by the OECD, which, in its Recommendation of the Council on Digital Government Strategies,[5] emphasizes the role of new technologies in social inclusion and public participation. The Open Government Partnership Declaration states that countries should be

“making policy formulation and decision making more transparent, creating and using channels to solicit public feedback, and deepening public participation in developing, monitoring and evaluating government activities.”

Proactive publication of official data will enhance the expertise of representatives of the general public, which is crucial for a sincere and effective public debate and the amount of feedback authorities receive regarding their actions. This point is supported by the G8 Data Charter, in which the authors wrote that

“open data (…) increase awareness about how countries’ natural resources are used, how extractives revenues are spent, and how land is transacted and managed. All of which promotes accountability and good governance, enhances public debate, and helps to combat corruption.[6]

Obtaining and reusing the data is supporting evidence-based law. Combining different statistical data with opinion polls can often bring solutions for burning problems that receive broad public support. You cannot implement a participative budgeting system if information on the budget is not widely spread.

Usable by all in the context of countering corruption and fostering public participation

There is no question that transparent, non-discriminatory, and nonrestrictive conditions for using data will increase public participation. The more people have access to data, the more people will engage in establishing new services that will reach wider circles. Open access will also result in more interest in and increased credibility for official websites. Open data improves governance by giving more people the chance to engage in managing a state or municipality. But it should be also treated as a tool that will help public officials set up standards for the information they gather, resulting in a better ability to exchange information between public institutions locally, nationally, or even internationally. Getting feedback from CSOs is important, but it is also a good practice to discuss the issue with employers.

Corruption is a multilayer phenomenon. To fight corruption, governments have to engage a lot of sources, people, and tools. Allowing data to be open means that more experts can access the information (for example, on public procurement) and more risk factors can be identified. This will not only result in revealing cases of corruption, it will also enable the development of a system that can prevent corruption. According to the Research Centre on Security and Crime’s report,[7] public authorities should educate citizens about which datasets are in their possession and try to develop methods for engaging the general public to monitor the available data in order to identify potential corruption cases. It is also important to establish the possibility of following up when members of the public identify a corruption case by establishing clear ways for the public to communicate with specialized public bodies such as auditors. Only then will open data help win the fight against corruption.

Corruption likes secrecy. There are so many cases, in both the public[8] and private sectors,[9] in which access to data would help to prevent and fight corruption. Open data allows more people to engage in decision-making processes and to influence other important activities of public officials. There is evidence of that coming from different political systems.[10] Open data also enhances the effectiveness of governments. Public officials can use data for evidence-based legislation and are able to react in more efficient ways to signals sent by the general public.

To achieve these goals, public institutions have to prepare themselves to open their data. Below you will find some basic tips based on our analysis. They will help you to build open data policy in a public institution.


[1] Available at (Accessed October 1, 2015.)

[2] Available at (Accessed October 1, 2015.)

[3] Some interesting examples on the potential use of open data in fighting corruption can be also found in How Open Data Can Help Tackle Corruption- Policy paper.. Transparency International. Available at (Accessed October 1, 2015) and Davies, T., and Fumega, S., Mixed Incentives: Adopting ICT Innovations for Transparency, Accountability, and Anti-corruption. Available at (Accessed October 1, 2015.)

[4] Towards a European Strategy to Reduce Corruption by Enhancing the Use of Open Data. National Research: Italy. Available at (Accessed October 1, 2015.)

[5] Available at (Accessed October 1, 2015.)

[6] Available at (Accessed October 1, 2015.)

[7] Towards a European Strategy to Reduce Corruption by Enhancing the Use of Open Data. National Research: United Kingdom. Available at (Accessed October 1, 2015.)

[8] An example is the military industry, as presented in Transparency International’s report: Classified Information: A Review of Current Legislation Across 15 Countries and the EU. Available at (Accessed October 1, 2015.)

[9] Jones, S., September 3, 2015. “‘Web of Corrupt Activity’ Costs Poorest Countries a Trillion Dollars a Year.” The Guardian. Available at (Accessed October 1, 2015.) See also Houlder, V., October 31, 2013. “Company Register in UK to Remove ‘Cloak of Secrecy.’” Financial Times. Available at (Accessed October 1, 2015.)

[10] IBM Center for the Business of Government. 2011. Assessing Public Participation in an Open Government Era: A Review of Federal Agency Plans. Available at (Accessed October 1, 2015.) See also Chiliswa, Z., 2014. Investigating the Impact of Kenya’s Open Data Initiative on Marginalized Communities: Case Study of Urban Slums and Rural Settlements. Available at (Accessed October 1, 2015.)