Sunlight`s role in the global open government movement


In the last few years, Sunlight has found inspiration from all over the world in the actions of different stakeholders. We have been experiencing the emergence of surprisingly innovative government reforms such as the transparency law of Hamburg in Germany, the digitization of public procurement processes in Georgia, the government database tracking expenditure in Brazil and the numerous national data repositories using open source software designed by our fellow NGOs. Some of these reforms are results of close consultation between civil society and national governments, and while we certainly acknowledge the complexity of such processes, these examples fuel Sunlight’s work. Innovation also comes through multi-stakeholder initiatives focusing on specific issue areas such as transparency in aid distribution or the extractive industries, just to mention a few. And last but definitely not least, Sunlight has always drawn most inspiration from its allies in civil society: NGOs, individual citizen hackers and activists abroad who develop novel tools, catalyze reform and do their best to defeat political apathy in their own communities.

The number of practitioners and academics using the power of technology to create open and accountable parliaments increases rapidly, with great examples from the U.K., France, Poland, Germany, the EU, Chile and Colombia. Sunlight has helped the National Democratic Institute and the Latin American Network for Legislative Transparency create a network of over a hundred of parliamentary monitoring organizations, who now use this forum to share ideas on engaging citizens in parliamentary proceedings or increasing responsiveness among MPs. And while there’s an animated, dare I say heated discussion around the ultimate purpose and meaning of open government data — we ourselves are also in the process of researching why transparency matters, if it matters at all –, that does not stop reform-minded colleagues in Chile, Slovakia, Hungary and India from creating sophisticated tools that detect corruption or business influence in decision-making. And the list is long.

Sunlight is continuing to refine its goals for international transparency work. And while broadening our focus to the global transparency ecosystem was as natural an extension of our work as Sunlight`s new municipal project, enhancing government accountability outside the Unites States requires a deeper understanding of the opportunities, challenges and problems different nations – and regions – face. No matter how hard for instance we try to create global norms around data disclosure policies in national parliaments, advocacy for machine-readable formats can easily prove labor in vain for developing nations where Internet penetration is still strikingly low. Sunlight may as well be eager to promote its most successful tools in other countries, the lack of relevant data will soon put an end to our efforts – as would be the case if we simply tried to replicate Influence Explorer in countries where campaign finance data or lobbyist registries are non-existent. And no matter how desperate we are to develop the capacity of our NGO allies abroad, the absence of stable funding or a completely ignorant government will require enormous flexibility and creativity from our side.

With those challenges in mind, Sunlight is planning to find compelling evidence in research, remain realistic in expectations and open to the suggestions and needs of its future global allies. Inspired by our amazing partners who do pioneer work in the field – such as the Open Knowledge Foundation or mySociety -, and at the same time mindful of the diversity and the rapid expansion of the international open data community, we are poised to focus our global norm-setting and capacity-building efforts to the issue areas where our expertise may prove the most fruitful: legislative openness, the transparency of political finance and the new international movement for open government data. Within our new procurement initiative, we will pay special attention to procurement systems and disclosure policies in government contracts. In the next few years, we will start pushing for global norms around data disclosure policies in party and campaign finance, try to instigate action on the local level in all of our focus areas, find key actors and create forums for knowledge-sharing, provide technological advice through consultations and formal staff exchanges and find the best tools to promote in house and outside Sunlight.

In the upcoming months, we are planning to write more about our plans and how transparency practitioners can be involved in Sunlight`s international work. We will regularly blog about pioneer projects and tools that aim at reducing corruption and increasing government accountability with the help of technology. Sunlight wishes to pursue in a collaborative manner, so we are asking you to help our efforts by sharing your stories, challenges and the open government projects you are aware of, by leaving a comment here or sending a direct email to us. We also encourage you to take a closer look at Sunlight tools, our policy work and the way we contribute to investigative reporting and let us know if Sunlights know-how may be of any relevance to you.