US Group Creates Ratings on Open Government, RTI

26 March 2015

The World Justice Project has created an “Open Government Index” that rates 102 countries in four categories, including right to information.

“Instead of measuring what the law says, we measure how these laws are experienced by ordinary people interacting with their governments around the world,” according to the report issued March 26 by the Washington-based group.

The RTI results seem both expected and surprising.

The top-rated countries in the RTI category are Sweden, New Zealand, Norway, Estonia and Japan. At the bottom is Uzbekistan.

But the surprises await in mid-table, where Russia, at the 35 spot, is higher ranked than India at 66. Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe have identical (low) scores.

The overall “open government” winner is a three-way tie: Sweden, New Zealand and Norway.

The report also provides observations based on the worldwide data gathered through the public opinion polling that informs the ratings. Just over 10 percent of those surveyed requested information from the government. Almost three-fourths of those surveyed received the information they requested, according to the report, and 13 percent of requesters said they paid a bribe to get the information.

Four Dimensions of Openness Rated

The four dimensions of the index are:

(1) publicized laws and government data,

(2) right to information,

(3) civic participation, and

(4) complaint mechanisms.

The scores and rankings for the WJP Open Government Index 2015 are derived from more than 100,000 household surveys, conducted 2012-2014, of “randomly selected ordinary people” in three cities in each country.

WJP also surveyed about 2,500 in-country experts. The results of the expert surveys was aggregated together with the other survey data to create the scores and ranks presented in the report.

A subset of the survey questions was used to create the ratings, including 47 perception-based questions and 10 experience-based questions.

There are 26 questions on RTI, beginning with: “Are you aware of any laws that are intended to provide individuals with the right to access information held by government agencies?” The last question is “How accessible are transcripts of administrative proceedings in your country?”

It also measures if requests are granted within a reasonable time period, if the information provided is pertinent and complete, and if requests for information are granted at a reasonable cost and without having to pay a bribe.

Eight of the 26 questions are along the lines of: How accessible are copies of government contracts in your country?

Global Insights

The survey results were aggregated into a few “global insights.” The RTI-related ones are:

–  Worldwide, less than half (40%) of survey respondents know of any laws supporting their right to access government-held information.” (Of the 102 countries studied, 73 had RTI laws.)

– In 80% of countries low-income respondents are less aware of their right to information than higher-income respondents.

– In 68% of countries low-income respondents are less likely to request information from the government.

– In 76% of countries women are as likely as men to request information from a government agency.

– However, in half of all countries surveyed, women tend to be less aware than men of laws supporting their right to access government-held information.

– “There is no relationship between the presence of right to information laws and how successfully these laws will actually work in practice.”

– “Worldwide, people who are more educated, richer, and male are more likely to request and seek out government information than those who are less educated, poor, and female.” The richest 20% of adults in a country are 37% more likely to request information than the poorest 20%.

– 11% of respondents requested information from the government. Out of these respondents, 40% were most likely to request information about themselves.

– Of those who requested information from the government, 72% reported receiving it—and of those, 68 percent with satisfied with the process and 32% unsatisfied.

– Worldwide, 13% had to pay a bribe to obtain the information.

Defining `Request’

The term “request”as used in the report is not a synonym for an official FOIA request.

Rather, the results ore based on Question 20, found in the Methodology.

Question 20 asks:

Have you made a request in any way, including oral requests and written requests, for information held by a government agency (such as government ministries, municipalities, law enforcement agencies, public firms, etc.) since July 2013?

(NOTE: information held refers to information that is not reasonably accessible to the public by other means, such as public notices or information published online)

The survey then goes on to ask about the kind of information requested, personal, etc.

To dive deeper into the data, use the Interactive Data section, which include more material than is in the report.

Publicizing Laws and Government Data

The first dimension of the study deals more with the proactive disclosure of information.

It includes questions such as:

How would you rate the information published by the government in print or on the web in terms of quality of the information?


In practice, legislative proceedings (e.g. bills submitted or presented before the legislature for consideration or approval) are broadcast to the public by radio or TV.

RTI Methodology Discussed

In a self-assessment of the methodology, the WJP wrote

The Open Government Index methodology displays both strengths and limitations. Among its strengths is the inclusion of both expert and household surveys to ensure that the findings reflect the conditions actually experienced by the population. Another strength is that it approaches the measurement of open government from various angles by triangulating information across data sources and types of questions. This approach enables accounting for different perspectives on open government, and helps to reduce possible bias that might be introduced by any one particular data collection method.

The Index methodology also has some limitations. First, the data shed light on open government dimensions that appear comparatively strong or weak, but are not specific enough to establish causation. Second, the GPP is administered only in three major urban areas in each of the indexed countries. Third, given the rapid changes occurring in certain countries, scores for some countries may be sensitive to the specific points in time when the data were collected. Fourth, the QRQ data may be subject to problems of measurement error due to the limited number of experts in some countries, resulting in less precise estimates. To address this, the WJP works is piloting improvements to the methodology and continues to expand its network of in-country academic and practitioner experts in all countries.

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