Research on Open Data and Transparency

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Three Thoughts on Gender and Transparency


Gendered Use: research so far has found that use of access to information laws is highly gendered. Our own research into FOI in the UK found the average requester to be male and middle aged. Users in India of their Right to Information Act were found to be overwhelming male (over 90 %). When transparency laws are sold as a weapon of equality, such gendered use can distort outcomes and undermine their influence. There also appears to be a gender bias in how officials respond, according this experiment in Germany.

Opening Up Politicians: Female politicians face a greater burden of scrutiny and find, in hundreds of ways, that they have less privacy and private space than their male counter-parts. Ironically, research so far also points to female politicians promoting greater openness: this study found that local government bodies with a female mayor were more open than those with a male one.

Opening Up Gendered spaces: Often hidden secret spaces are also highly gendered spaces, whether ‘old boys networks’ of informal meetings or military secrets and national security.  One secretive area is closed party recruitment procedures, which is why seeking data on political candidates is crucial, as the Fawcett Society explains:

Section 106 of the Equality Act requires political parties to report the diversity of their candidates. At the moment, this hasn’t been commenced. There is no collection of data, and no monitoring of party representation at all in terms of disability, ethnicity, gender, etc. That means we can’t have an informed discussion about the number of disabled candidates or black women, for example, put forward in an election, making it very difficult to hold parties to account for their attitudes towards diversity

There have been advances in opening up these gendered spaces. Gender pay data in the UK has had a clear effect of making pay more equal-this research shows 50% of companies have narrowed their pay gap. But such changes also raise the question of if and when publicity itself is enough, and how openness and transparency translates into actual political change.


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5 Interesting things I found out about Seaborne Freight and Ramsgate-Ostend


Here’s 5 interesting things I found out about Seaborne Freight, the ferry company with no ferries. The company has just had its contract to run ‘no deal’ ferries between Ramsgate and Ostend withdrawn. What I’ve found out is all based on a 5 minute search using FOI, open data and a few other sources, so keep this in mind.

1.Is Ramsgate a ferry port? Ramsgate has been a ferry port since the 17 century until very recently and was a major starting point for many of the ‘little boats’ that went to Dunkirk in 1940. Its loss five years ago was a very big problem-and successive local councils have been keen to find a new operator (and seemingly came close in 2015).

2.Where’s the Contract? I couldn’t find the contract on the UK’s contract finder site because it was done under special urgent/emergency procedures, as explained here.

3.Has anyone been given any money? Chris Grayling has been very clear that no payments have been made. Very clear. In an answer to an urgent question, he explained:

‘Let me stress that no money will be paid to any of these operators unless and until they are actually operating ferries on the routes we have contracted. No money will be paid until they are operating the ferries. No payment will be made unless the ships are sailing, and of course, in a no-deal scenario, money will be recouped through the sale of tickets on those ships’.

The contract was worth £13.8 million, out of a total of 103 million for no deal ferries, 90 % has gone to Brittany Ferries and DFDS, both of whom (i) own ferries (ii) run ferries. Perhaps an FOI just to check no payments were made? I’m always suspicious when politicians are so certain. Especially one who thought the best reason for leaving the EU was that Britain could have different train platform heights.

4.What has been done? According to the CEO, it seemed to be experiencing delays, with a need to ‘start from scratch’, including building infrastructure and ‘dredging’. There’s also an admission from him that ‘we’ve had to identify the vessels best-suited to the type of crossing, which we’re keeping a secret for the moment’ (this sounds very much like a ‘my girlfriend goes to another school’ type argument).

5. Who runs Seaborne Freight? The Companies House data indicates there is no ‘person with significant control’ (i.e. a controlling interest) though there was in the past. Their own website is not very helpful, which not a surprise is given some of it appeared to be pasted from a takeaway website. There have been concerns raised about the fact that one Director allegedly owes the UK £600, 000, and whether this came up in the due diligence done by the experts the called in by the Department.

What else do we know? It’s not been a very FOI-able so far-it seems the NAO don’t know much (though they have discussed ferry services with the Department of Transport). But it seems the Public Accounts Committee are interested.

Anyway, this was just a five minute search, with all the limitations that entails. But it looks very much like we should, as Robert Caro advises, turn every page on this story.

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Outsourcing Oversight? ICO calls for an FOI reboot


The ICO’s new report Outsourcing Oversights calls for changes to the FOI and EIR laws to better cover private bodies doing public work. It recommends specifically that the Government should:
1. Designate contractors regarding the public functions they undertake where this would be in the public interest, whether because of the scale, duration or public importance of the contracts.

2. Designate a greater number of other organisations exercising functions of a public nature, and do so more frequently and efficiently. Designation orders under section 5 of FOIA would give the public the right to make requests directly to these organisations and require them to proactively disclose information in line with a publication scheme.
Legislative reform of FOIA and the EIR – primary legislation

3. Consider reforming the EIR to allow organisations exercising functions of a public nature, including contractors, to be designated to increase consistency across the two information access regimes.

4. Amend section 3 of FOIA and regulation 3 of the EIR (‘held on behalf of’ provisions) to give a clearer legislative steer about what  information regarding a public sector contract is held for the purposes of the legislation.

5. Introduce a legal requirement to regularly report on the coverage of
the legislation. Government review of proactive disclosure provisions regarding
contracting .

6. Conduct a comprehensive review of all proactive disclosure provisions regarding contracting, and which affect the public sector. This would include a review of the publication scheme provisions in FOIA, and relevant provisions in the EIR, and how they complement other procurement laws and government requirements. This should
consider how such provisions are monitored and enforced, and what resources are available

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New Chapter: How transparent and free from corruption is UK government?


Democratic Audit’s new book is an in-depth assessment of the quality of the UK’s democracy in 2018. My chapter asks: ‘How transparent and free from corruption is UK government?’

‘For citizens to get involved in governing themselves and participating in politics, they must be able to find out easily what government agencies and other public bodies are doing. Citizens, NGOs and firms also need to be sure that laws and regulations are being applied impartially and without corruption. Ben Worthy and the Democratic Audit team consider how well the UK government performs on transparency and openness, and how effectively anti-corruption policies operate in government and business.’

Read  and download the chapter here

Download the entire book for free here Dunleavy, P et al. 2018. The UK’s Changing Democracy: The 2018 Democratic Audit. London: LSE Press. DOI:

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From opacity to transparency? Evaluating access to information in Brazil five years later


From opacity to transparency? Evaluating access to information in Brazil five years later

Gregory Michener¹
Evelyn Contreras¹
Irene Niskier¹
[¹ Fundação Getulio Vargas / Escola Brasileira de Administração Pública e de Empresas, Rio de Janeiro / RJ — Brazil]

How well is Brazil’s access to information (ATI) law working five years after passage? And what can be done to improve it? Drawing on official data as well as nine evaluations of compliance with ATI obligations, interviews with policymakers, and archival research, this paper provides descriptive and inferential statistics on compliance with ATI
requests and indicators of implementation. Results show that less than one in every two requests in Brazil obtains a response from agencies, and more than 50% of requests exceed the time limits established in the law. Evidence of weak commitments to ATI are also illustrated by the paucity of several key indicators of compliance, including
statistics on requests, declared commitments to ATI, ATI-specific platforms for making requests, and designated oversight institutions. Brazil urgently needs to invest in greater information management, empowering oversight institutions to implement and adjudicate ATI obligations.


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‘Three Harmless Words’: New Labour and Freedom of Information

Digital: GWB: NATO work session

Download my new paper on the development of FOI in the UK here


Tony Blair’s views, expressed a decade and a half apart, reflect some of the paradoxes and contradictions that accompany Freedom of Information laws:

‘Freedom of Information Act is not just important in itself. It is part of bringing our politics up to date, of letting politics catch up with the aspirations of people and delivering not just more open government but more effective, more efficient, government for the future’ (Blair 1996).

‘Freedom of Information. Three harmless words. I look at those words as I write them, and feel like shaking my head till it drops off my shoulders…The information is neither sought because the journalist is curious to know, nor given to bestow knowledge on ‘the people’. It’s used as a weapon’ (Blair 2011, 516-517).

New Labour’s experience is typical of how such reforms develop. Openness laws are frequently powerfully championed, often by new governments, and then ruefully regretted. As resistance increases and doubts within government grow, they often emerge from conflict as messy compromises (see Worthy 2017).


Worthy, Ben, ‘Three Harmless Words’: New Labour and Freedom of Information (July 24, 2018). Available at SSRN: