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Exploring the Sunlight Foundation

by guest author Iris Palma

This post was written by Iris Palma, an open government consultant in El Salvador. Sunlight hosted Iris for several weeks late last year as part of a professional international exchange program. 

The Legislative Fellowship Program of the U.S. State Department benefits a significant number of professionals from various countries around the world each year, enabling them to strengthen their potential as agents of influence in various areas — including transparency, citizen participation and government accountability. The program is administered by various organizations in the United States, such as Partners of the Americas.

Iris Palma
Iris Palma at the Sunlight Foundation. Photo credit: Sunlight Foundation

This year, the program gave me the opportunity to share and learn about open data at the Sunlight Foundation, an organization that has become a leader in regards to the performance and expected role of civil society in promoting transparency. In a professional fellowship lasting four weeks I joined the Policy team at Sunlight with two main objectives: to learn about the impact of Sunlight’s research on public policy and the recommendations or guidelines they provide, and to learn about the use of open data for the development of applications and solutions that are citizen oriented.

With the help of the Policy team, I embarked on a research project on open data public policies in Latin America that included a review of the environment, analysis of Open Government Partnership action plans as well as online research about national and municipal open data portals and regulations. In addition to this, I translated the Open Data Policy Guidelines created by the Sunlight Foundation in August 2013, allowing Latin American examples to be included in some of the 32 provisions that seek to be a guide on enforcing an open data policy. Also, I had the opportunity to educate Sunlight about open data in El Salvador, my home country, and Latin American in general. And those were only some of the activities that I undertook during my professional fellowship.

Joining Sunlight was really valuable, enabling me to understand the challenges that such an organization faces in promoting transparency. Civil society organizations in Latin America have much to learn from the Sunlight Foundation, from the issues related to both the administrative operations and its impact on the promotion of  transparency and the continuous innovation and evolution of public administration. I'm sure Sunlight also benefitted from this opportunity by getting closer to the Latin American region, providing guidelines and technological solutions that are certainly of a big benefit for all Latin American civil society organizations, activists, journalists and lovers of open data.

For me, it was a pleasure to learn and share knowledge with Sunlight. Undoubtedly, good things  came out of this experience for both parties: Sunlight learned more about open data in Latin America, and, for me personally, this experience will surely improve my work as an economist and consultant for e-government and open data at the Department of Information and Technological Innovation of the Presidency of El Salvador (ITIGES). Specifically, it will help in the development of strategies and methodologies to enhance and promote government transparency by ICT, and to contribute to the creation of policies and activities to promote the Open Data Project that was recently launched.

el sal flag

ITIGES is the e-government national office in El Salvador, working in 4 main areas: digital education, e-government projects, open data, and tech support. Of these, some projects have already been developed, such as the Observatory of e-Government, the Virtual Education Platform, the Open Data Portal, the Websites Standarization Portal and the e-Signature Promotion Website, among others.

The Open Data project of ITIGES includes the Open Data Portal and the Open Data Strategy created for our team to promote data openness in the public institutions. Currently, we are working on improving the portal and training for the upload of more data sets and promoting a culture of open data in the public administration, as well to create an open data policy and/or the promotion of a normative framework.

In 2014, I plan to promote data openness as a tool for transparency and the digital economy in El Salvador and Latin America. A paper that I co-wrote about open data in Central America and open data business models can be found here.

There is a lot to do to best take advantage of open data for our countries. Sunlight Foundation is showing that this is a challenge that needs to be part of the public policies and government agenda, but also requires an active role from the civil society and open data activists.