Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the guest blogger and those providing comments are theirs alone and do not reflect the opinions of the Sunlight Foundation or any employee thereof. Sunlight Foundation is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information within the guest blog.
With Sunlight`s growing involvement in the global open government movement, we are introducing some of the innovative and interesting open government tools and projects outside of the U.S. We welcome our first international guest blogger, Eva Vozárová, who works as an IT projects manager at the Slovak watchdog NGO Fair-play Alliance. She worked as a journalist for five years at the largest Slovak economic weekly, Trend, before joining FPA. Currently, she mostly works on open data-related activities. Eva will join us at TransparencyCamp next week, and it’s not too late to register for TCamp!
Slightly over a year ago, an important shift happened in the field of access to information in Slovakia. The government of the Prime Minister Iveta Radičová was due to leave office in a couple of weeks. The involved parties lost elections in March 2012 and were soon to be replaced by their opponents.
But in a final move before going out of business, the Cabinet Office decided to make a push for openness in Slovakia and launched an official governmental data portal at data.gov.sk. The whole process took about a month and was greatly helped by OKFN and their CKAN platform, which was used to power the portal. For the first time, Slovak government made a commitment to publish data proactively, systematically and in machine readable formats.
True, the data was not of very good quality at the beginning. Even now, a year later, it is still lacking in several aspects. The formats are often inconsistent, often linking to plain .html websites. The licensing is not sorted out at all with public licenses not being available under Slovak copyright law. And some of the most interesting datasets are still stuck in the process of being published. But anyway -- the shift happened and the data is slowly being released.
It was to a great extent thanks to the work of Slovak Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) that this shift happened at all. The Fair-play Alliance started working with data 10 years ago. In 2003 we first started requesting public data through FOIA requests, collecting it and analyzing it. Since then, we created an extensive database of public information called Datanest.sk -- a website storing loads of information about flows of public money in Slovakia (subsidies, EU funds, funding of political parties). In short, a website filled with as much corruption-related data as you can possibly get in Slovakia. The data is accessible and searchable through the web and is also available through a simple API. It’s far from perfect and it has been a long time in the making, but it was available long before the state started publishing its own data and even today, Datanest is still the only source to have published several interesting datasets.
The reason why we originally decided to go for data was pretty simple. As a watchdog organization made up of several former journalists, we wanted to focus on anti-corruption advocacy through publishing of corruption-related cases. In order to prepare these stories properly, we needed to look at hard evidence - and getting the data about public finances was simply the best way to go about it.