FOI Notes: UK, India, UK, OGP, Open Budgets, Pakistan, More

30 October 2014

United Kingdom: Joe Reddington in a blog post writes about a paper by Alexander J Fowler, and others: “The UK Freedom of Information Act (2000) in healthcare research: a systematic review.“ In an interview, Fowler says among other things:

I think the FOI Act is a hugely powerful tool for medical research – especially policy type research. In the context of the broad changes happening to our healthcare system, the FOI Act will provide an important method for us to understand the impact of these changes. A request made across multiple NHS Trusts would enable us to establish what is being funded in different regions, for example. The get out clause in the Act for commercial interests may well limit this use though.

India: Venkatesh Nayak ,Programme Coordinator, Access to Information Programme, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, writes about whether double tax agreements should supersede the right to information law.

United Nations: David Kaye, the new UN Human Rights Council special rapporteur on the protection and promotion of the right to freedom of opinion and expression has written about his goals on the Just Security blog. On Oct. 21 he introduced his goals for the mandate in the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly and presented the final report of his predecessor Frank La Rue. He explained that he “will be focusing my attention especially on the protection of journalists and access to information, vulnerable groups, and online freedom issues (such as internet regulation, corporate responsibility, and surveillance).” A longer goals statement is available here on the OHCHR website). Kaye is a clinical professor at the UC Irvine School of Law. From 1995 to 2005, he served in the Office of the Legal Adviser at the State Department. Follow him on Twitter at (@davidakaye).

Transparency Research: Albert Meijer has a chapter in The Oxford Handbook of Public Accountability on the relation between transparency and accountability. Send him an e-mail at if you want to receive the full (but unformatted) text of the chapter. Abstract:

Government transparency is increasing worldwide and political rhetoric assumes a strong positive relation between transparency and accountability. This chapter opens up the “black box” of the relation between transparency and accountability by examining the expanding body of literature on government transparency. Three theoretical relations between transparency and accountability are identified: transparency facilitates horizontal accountability; transparency strengthens vertical accountability; and transparency reduces the need for accountability. The review of studies into the relation between transparency and accountability show that, under certain conditions and in certain situations, transparency may contribute to accountability: transparency facilitates accountability when it actually presents a significant increase in the available information, when there are actors capable of processing the information, and when exposure has a direct or indirect impact on the government or public agency.

India: Democracy and Transparency in the Indian State: The Making of the Right to Information Act, a book by Prashant Sharma, Global Fellow, Open Society Foundations, has been published recently by Routledge. Abstract:

The enactment of the national Right to Information (RTI) Act in 2005 has been produced, consumed, and celebrated as an important event of democratic deepening in India both in terms of the process that led to its enactment (arising from a grassroots movement) and its outcome (fundamentally altering the citizen-state relationship). This book proposes that the explanatory factors underlying this event may be more complex than imagined thus far.

 The book discusses how the leadership of the grassroots movement was embedded within the ruling elite and possessed the necessary resources as well as unparalleled access to spaces of power for the movement to be successful. It shows how the democratisation of the higher bureaucracy along with the launch of the economic liberalisation project meant that the urban, educated, high-caste, upper-middle class elite that provided critical support to the demand for an RTI Act was no longer vested in the state and had moved to the private sector. Mirroring this shift, the framing of the RTI Act during the 1990s saw its ambit reduced to the government, even as there was a concomitant push to privatise public goods and services. It goes on to investigate the Indian RTI Act within the global explosion of freedom of information laws over the last two decades, and shows how international pressures had a direct and causal impact both on its content and the timing of its enactment.

 Taking the production of the RTI Act as a lens, the book argues that while there is much to celebrate in the consolidation of procedural democracy in India over the last six decades, existing social and political structures may limit the extent and forms of democratic deepening occurring in the near future. It will be of interest to those working in the fields of South Asian Law, Asian Politics, and Civil Society.

Open Government: An initiative has been launched in the UK to crowdsource an Open Government Manifesto. From now until the end of February 2015 we’ll be collecting ideas through for specific commitments to improve transparency, participation and accountability.

Parliamentary Transparency: A blog post on about last month’s first Global Legislative Openness Week (GLOW), organized by OGP’s Legislative Openness Working Group. “We are currently soliciting input from Working Group participants on a set of recommendations for how OGP might better engage legislatures and are also in the process of drafting a workplan for 2015. If you have any comments or suggestions on those issues, or if you would like to participate in the Working Group, please contact the Group’s co-anchors at the Congress of Chile and the National Democratic Institute (contact information for all of the working groups is listed on OGP’s website).”

Pakistan: On Oct. 23, Shehri, a civil society organization, held an inaugural workshop of the Coalition for Transparency and Access to Information (C-TAI) to discuss FOI laws and the legal processes to obtain information from public bodies in Pakistan. The coalition currently consists of 22 civil society organizations – including Bolo Bhi – that are committed to promoting greater transparency within public bodies and ensuring that the constitutional right of access to information for citizens is upheld.

OGP:Three things to watch for in the OGP,” by Jed Miller of the Transparency & Accountability Initiative.

OGP: In a report, “What’s in the New OGP National Action Plans?”, the OGP Support Unit highlights the work of OGP participating countries that are making interesting new commitments in their action plans. The report, which was recently updated with four more countries, presents an overview of the noteworthy policy commitments from 35 countries that delivered their new plans by October 1, 2014. “ according to a blog post.

OGP: A 29-page full transcript of the OGP High-Level Event that took place in New York on Sept. 24 has been published.

Open Data: Samantha Custer of Open Data for International Development posts “Avoiding Data Graveyard: 5 Questions the Data Revolution Should Be Asking.”

Who is going to use open development data and how do we design responsively?

How do we integrate relevant, high quality data of all types for a complete picture?

What does an enabling environment for open development data require?

How do we lower the barriers to entry for those supplying and using data?

What can the post 2015 data revolution learn from other similar discussions?

Research: ?The Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency (GIFT) is commissioning two research projects.?and is seeking proposals. The Open Budget Data Current State of Affairs involves “both a landscape (existing practices and research) and assessment (identification of gaps and opportunities in the practice and research), will compile existing practices related to the use of open budget data as it relates to the delivery of public services and overall engagement with public stakeholders. Country Case Studies of Practical and Innovative Approaches on Open Budget Data and Fiscal Policies explores in detail three to five examples of countries using open budget data in innovative ways to connect with the public, CSOs, academics, and the media. GIFT is a multi-stakeholder action network of governments, international organizations, civil society groups, professional associations, and private sector participants.

Fellowship: The Open Society Fellowship advertises for applications for a fellowship program that funds projects on the intersection of the areas of human rights, government transparency, access to information and to justice, and the promotion of civil society and social inclusion.

India: “The Right to Information and the Public Interest: A Primer, ” in full text online by Srinivas Macdhav. The effort covers Indian, US, UK, Australian and Scottish laws. The introduction says:

The Right to Information Act 2005 does not define ‘public interest’ .No other Freedom of Information Law in the world does it. Non-disclosure of information under Qualified exemptions requires application of the public interest test. Something in the public interest is simply something which serves the interests of public. However, it may not be that simple in practice.T his is an attempt to make an elementary study of international experience.

United States: An article by the Data Transparency Coalition of the multiple identifiers used by the government to identify corporations and others. “The jungle of entity identifiers creates big problems–for citizens seeking accountability, for entities trying to comply, and for the government itself.”

ICT: “Mixed incentives: Adopting ICT innovations for transparency, accountability, and anti-corruption, a paper by Tim Davies and Silvana Fumega. Chr. Michelsen Institute (U4 Issue 2014:4) 38 p. Download (pdf)

Governments adopt anti-corruption-related ICT innovations for many reasons. Different motivations for adopting these technologies shape the way they are put into practice and the anti-corruption impacts they may have. ICT for anti-corruption should not be understood as a single approach, since different technologies, and different modes of technology adoption, create different dynamics. Whether or not a particular ICT can bring anti-corruption benefits will depend upon the design of a specific implementation, the incentives driving its adoption, and the wider context in which it is applied. This issue paper raises critical questions for policy makers, funders, and advocates to consider when seeking positive anti-corruption impacts from ICTs.


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