opendatastudy

Research on Open Data and Transparency


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Does FOI Work?

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We tried to find out with this experiment, with a little help from English parish councils. See the full article here.

Abstract

‘How effective are systems of transparency, such as Freedom of Information (FOI) requests? The ambitious aims of FOI laws hinge on whether requests produce the desired information for the citizens or groups that use them. The question is whether such legally mandated requests work better than more informal mechanisms. Despite the high hopes of advocates, organizational routines, lack of awareness or resistance may limit legal access and public bodies may seek to comply minimally rather than behave in concordance with the spirit of the law. This article reports a field experiment that compared FOI requests and informal nonlegal asks to assess which is more effective in accessing information from English parish councils. The basic premise of statutory access is borne out. FOI requests are more effective than simple asks and the size or preexisting level of openness of a body appears to make little difference to their responsiveness. FOI requests are more effective in encouraging bodies to do more than the law asks (concordance) than encouraging more minimal levels of legal cooperation, when a body simply fulfils its obligations to varying degrees (compliance). This finding indicates high levels of support for FOI once it is embedded within the system.’

parish-council-4wSee our blog summary and also FOI man’s blog post and analysis.


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Some collected new (ish) work on FOI and Open Data

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Some collected new (ish) work on FOI and Open Data. All are free to access on the links…

Worthy, Ben and John, Peter and Vannoni, Matia, Transparency at the Parish Pump: A Field Experiment to Measure the Effectiveness of Freedom of Information Requests (December 4, 2015). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2699198 (see also FOI man’s excellent summary here and this longer assessment 201607-parishcouncils)

Worthy, Ben, Freedom of Information and the Media (September 12, 2016). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2837762

Worthy, Ben and Hazell, Robert, Disruptive, Dynamic and Democratic? Ten Years of Freedom of Information in the UK (December 28, 2015). Parliamentary Affairs, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2708768

Worthy, Ben, The Impact of Open Data in the UK: Complex, Unpredictable and Political (March 5, 2015). Public Administration 93 (3): 788-805, 2015. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2806876


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New Transparency International Report: ‘Counting The Pennies’

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See the new report here

Key statistics in “Counting the pennies: increasing the transparency in the UK’s public finances” include:

  • £2.312 trillion – Total value of published transactions made by local and central government (2011-2015).
  • £14 million – Redacted transaction data reported in a single month by Hackney London Borough Council that did not identify suppliers – largest in this research.
  • 35% – Proportion of contracts awarded where it is unclear who the supplier is.
  • 81,057 – Different descriptions given to transactions making analysis of data near impossible
  • 75% – Proportion of transactions that contain company registration numbers.


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New Paper: Freedom of Information and the Media

vivre-la-foi-agenda-727x412Abstract:

The media are a powerful constituency of users, lobbyists and defenders of Freedom of Information (FOI) laws. Looking at FOI regimes across the world, it argues that the media are important users but also powerful innovators and defenders. This chapter examines how journalists use the laws in the UK and work to protect and extend it. It also looks at how media use is seen to damage trust in the political system and can generate resistance from government. It ends by arguing that FOI must be viewed in context and now fits within a rapidly changing information eco-system and a shifting and hybrid media environment.

 

Download here


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You Never Give Me Your Money: Reporting of Multinational Tax Transparency in the UK

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On Monday the UK government accepted an amendment to its Finance Bill proposed by Caroline Flint MP (see her article explaining it here). The amendment means the public reporting of ‘country-by-country reporting of taxes paid by multi-national corporations’ in the UK. Amendment 145 had cross party support from 60 MPs (you can see the debate here) and was accepted without a division. Interestingly, the government also promised to champion the issue at ‘multi-national’ level elsewhere, following on from David Cameron’s championing of Beneficial Ownership and Extractives Transparency.

As Caroline Flint pointed out (see Column 134), she had originally proposed the amendment in June but the government were concerned that ‘introducing my amendment at that time might put UK multinationals at a competitive disadvantage for reputational reasons’. The idea had considerable backing

The backing I received spurred me on to try to amend the Finance Bill in June, gaining the support of eight parliamentary parties: Labour, the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, the Social Democratic and Labour party, the Ulster Unionist party, the United Kingdom Independence party, the Green party, the independent hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon), and a number of Conservative MPs, too. Oxfam, Christian Aid, Save the Children, ActionAid, the ONE campaign and the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development joined our efforts, adding an important and necessary dimension to the argument for public country-by-country reporting.

It was also supported by high profile investigations in 2016 by the Public Accounts Committee that called for country reporting.

The new transparency will help with the closing of loopholes and ‘clever manipulation of [tax] rules’ that she likens to ‘trying to catch jelly’ around the ‘legal and moral difference between tax evasion and tax avoidance’:

Companies often rightly defend themselves on grounds of working within the rules, but politicians and civil servants are often caught out by clever manipulation of those rules. That is not illegal but cannot be said to be in the spirit of what was expected.

This change fits with the push to tax fairness, symbolised by the recent EU decision over Apple:

Around the world, people and their Governments are questioning the loopholes and convoluted legal arrangements that create inaccurate descriptions of multinationals’ trading activities in individual countries. The problem is not confined to tech firms such as Google, but their massive global presence has exposed the fault lines of an old-fashioned tax structure that has not kept up with today’s online business world. Many of today’s high-tech household names were not always so big or so profitable.

She concluded that such reporting was not a magic bullet but would help:

 I have no illusions about having a perfect tax system. Keeping one step ahead is a never-  ending task for modern tax authorities…Tax policy is not easy. Once one tax loophole is closed, another one opens up [but] transparency is an important ingredient in ensuring that the rules we apply have some bite.


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Scrutinising Brexit: the role of Parliament

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From European Union Committee 1st Report of Session 2016–17 HL Paper 33

Scrutinising Brexit: the role of Parliament (full report here):

        ‘Confidentiality and transparency

  1. One of the key objectives of parliamentary scrutiny is to ensure transparency— to cast a light on the actions of the executive. It is, we suggest, essential thatmany elements of the forthcoming negotiations—for instance, negotiationsaffecting acquired rights, or future cooperation between UK and EU policeforces—should be conducted transparently.
  1. At the same time, some of the most important and complex aspects of theforthcoming negotiations on a new relationship will be sensitive, commercially and politically, and will require a high degree of confidentiality. As the European Commission itself has noted, in the context of trade negotiations,“When entering into a game, no-one starts by revealing his entire strategy tohis counterpart from the outset”.5
  1. It is clear, therefore, that parliamentary scrutiny of the negotiations will haveto strike a balance between, on the one hand, the desire for transparency, and on the other, the need to avoid undermining the UK’s negotiating position.We note that parliamentary scrutiny has shown itself, in practice, to be highly flexible. The Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, though a statutory body rather than a Select Committee, conducts its hearings wholly in private; other Committees, such as the House of Commons Defence Committee, may receive confidential briefings, while private meetings arecommon across both Houses.
  1. We acknowledge that certain elements of the forthcoming negotiations,particularly those relating to trade, may have to be conducted confidentially. We would expect parliamentary scrutiny of the negotiations to strike an appropriate balance between transparency and  confidentiality, while achieving the over while achieving the overarching objective of holding the Government effectively to account.’

 

 


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New Paper: The Impact of Open Data in the UK: Complex, Unpredictable and Political


revenue expenditure01Image http://www.londoncouncils.gov.uk/our-key-themes/local-government-finance/local-government-funding-and-expenditure/revenue-funding-and

Abstract:

This article examines the democratic impact of the UK Coalition Government’s Transparency Agenda, focusing on the publication of local government spending data as the first steps in an evolving ‘ecology’ of Open Data transparency. It looks at whether the Open Data has driven accountability, participation and information transmission. Rather than forging new ‘performance regimes’ or bringing mass use and involvement, the publication of spending data adds a further element of political ‘turbulence’ that can ‘punctuate’ the ‘equilibrium’ of local politics (Hale et al 2013). The evidence finds that the spending data, so far, has driven some accountability but less participation or information transmission. Taken together, assessment of the three objectives reveals that the use and impact Open Data is far more complex, more unpredictable and more political than the rhetoric around Open Data indicates. The danger is that the gap between aims and impact invites disappointment from supporters.

Worthy, Ben, The Impact of Open Data in the UK: Complex, Unpredictable and Political (March 5, 2015). Public Administration 93 (3): 788-805, 2015.

Paper Available here : http://ssrn.com/abstract=2806876