Research on Open Data and Transparency

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New Research on Open Data: Making Transparency Stick and International Comparisons


Some autumn reading. Here’s a conference paper examining what could make Open Data succeed or fail over the next few years.Ben Worthy Making Transparency Stick-The Complex Dynamics of Open Data.

Here’s the abstract

This paper examines the complex dynamics of Open Data reform in the UK, assessing the chances of the policy ‘sticking’ or failing over time. Using the ideas of Patashnik and Zelizer (2013) on what makes policies succeed or fail post-enactment, it begins by looking at the unique features of Open Data. The broad but vague vision of the reform, its symbolism and ‘voteless’ status and the multi-instrument, multi-actor approach all make Open Data exceptional. The paper then examines how these play into the three factors that make a policy ‘stick’ or fail over time: the resources re-allocated by the policy, interpretation of its success by different actors and the institutional support it receives. It concludes by arguing that Open Data is likely to benefit from leadership and the ongoing innovation but may be threatened by resistance, manipulation of the aims and the underlying assumptions, which invite disappointment.’

You can also download it here Worthy, Ben, Making Transparency Stick: The Complex Dynamics of Open Data (September 17, 2014). Available at SSRN:

Paper two is this great piece by Tim Davies on international comparisons you can read here

New national Open Government Data (OGD) initiatives are being launched on an almost monthly basis. From Brazil to Burkina Faso, governments are establishing open data portals and committing to make machine-readable datasets available for re-use. Similar patterns are being replicated at the local level, with municipalities and sub-national states also establishing their own open data projects. At first glance, many of these local and national initiatives appear almost identikit copies of each other: using the same data portal software, and selecting similar datasets for their initial launch. Increasingly, the preparation and launch of open data initiatives follows a orthodox approach involving hackathons, training events and outreach activities, designed to build interest in, and demand for, newly available open data. Yet, the countries launching these OGD initiatives are vastly different: in their levels of development, their political structures, and their public policy priorities. This raises important questions about the nature of open data policy, and policy transfer.’

Davies, Timothy Glyn, Open Data Policies and Practice: An International Comparison (September 5, 2014). Available at SSRN:

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Scotland: the Signal, the Noise and the Future


Ok, not really about FOI but thought you may find it interesting…..

indexWith the Scottish referendum on independence less than a week away, here’s some answers to three of the burning questions:

What is the current state of the vote?

Very close-the YouGov poll today puts it at ‘too close to call’. Analysis by polling experts here offers the view that ‘while the race has got considerably closer, the polling evidence still makes No the favourite’. However, predicting referenda is not the same as elections and they conclude that

‘When the result is tight enough to be within the margin of error, polls showing Yes at 49% and 51% amount to the same thing – it’s “squeaky bum time”.’

You can see the ‘poll of polls’ here and Professor John Curtice explains why many have changed their mind in recent weeks.

Why has the campaign changed so much?

Until a few months ago, a No victory appeared to be a virtual certainty. So why has it all changed? This great piece by Mark Shephard here explains how YES actually means NO and NO means YES. You can read some research from YouGov here that looks into why there has been this shift –the positivity of the Yes campaign, word of mouth and the negativity of the No campaign all seem to have changed things. It also appears that Ed Miliband’s performance has changed some Labour votes-unfortunately for him, towards Yes.

What will happen afterwards?

If Scotland votes Yes, the short answer is it will be complicated and messy-as Robert Hazell’s ‘10 things to know about the referendum’ shows. The independence negotiations will take some time and it may all become very political.

Even if Scotland doesn’t say Yes, the ‘big offer’ by Gordon Brown to give more power and devolution is likely to open up some very interesting issues across Britain. Here’s the Institute for Government’s 16 scenarios for what happens next in the UK.

One fascinating question is whether independence would create a ‘permanent Tory majority’ in what’s left of the UK, by taking away 30+ Labour seats. This analysis here by Full Fact and also these graphs show that this is rather a dubious claim-the vote share for Conservatives and Labour has been falling since the 1950s, so no party is likely to be a ‘majority’ for some time. More importantly, the ‘loss’ of Scotland may create all sorts of electoral ripples across the rest of Britain.

Amid all the noise and discussion, whatever happens next Thursday, things will be different.





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Slow Train Coming? FOI and Network Rail



As of yesterday, Network Rail became a public body and the government has indicated that it will come under the scope of the Freedom of information Act following its redesignation. Simon Hughes tweeted that ‘newtwork rail will now be subject to Freedom of information’. Network Rail is the body that ‘runs, maintains and develops Britain’s rail tracks, signalling, bridges, tunnels, level crossings, viaducts and 19 key stations’ and is made up of a Board and a group of 30 to 50 ‘Members’ who Act as shareholders-see here. It holds quite a few datasets and is already committed to answer FOI requests as ‘if they were covered’-as these requests made via WhatDoTheyKnow seem to show.

But what difference will it make? When the Scottish government looked into extending its own FOISA to new bodies in 2010, with a mind to private prisons and housing assocations, one of the reasons it decided not to was because it felt there would be little public interest.

I’m not sure that lack of interest will be the problem with Network Rail-see this article yesterday that is packed with all sorts of FOI-able angles. Despite not being covered by FOI, railway operators themselves have already been ‘opened up’ by FOI requests on salaries-despite all but one of the companies pointing out they weren’t covered.

So we can expect more stories about ‘fat cats’ mixed in with comment about ‘rail fare hikes’ and commuter ‘misery’. But underneath this, we’ll probably find lots of individual requests-the WhatDoTheyKnow requests seem to be about hedges and disabled access at particular stations. As ever with FOI, we’ll get the ‘big bang’ headlines and the ‘personal’ mixed together.

I’ve found one country where FOI (or in this case Right to Information-RTI) covers the railways and has made an impact-India. It is often said that the Indian State Railway is the world’s second biggest employer, after the Army of the People’s Republic of China. This isn’t quite true (it’s the eighth with 1.6 million employees behind McDonald’s and Walmart). However, its coverage by India’s Act has led to controversy. The railways appear to be one of the biggest RTI ‘avoiders’ in India-with this case rather shocking. It has also had some embarrassing exposures- this RTI led to widespread anger when it revealed that there was on average one train derailment every five days between 2007 and 2012.

So Network Rail’s coverage is significant, though its designation may take time. Interestingly, it’s not the only private body that campaigners have their eye on. This Private Members’ Bill from Grahame Morris MP is now on its first reading yesterday and will have its second reading in December. His ‘Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill 2014-15’ seeks to ‘amend the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to apply its provisions to private healthcare companies and other bodies seeking health service contracts; and for connected purposes.’

So FOI, as ever, keeps moving. Are we now seeing it close the ‘privatisation gap’ and creep into new areas?