WJP Authors Answer Questions About New Index

13 May 2015

The authors of a new index of government openness have responded to questions about their methodology and indicated eagerness to hone their measurement of access to information.

Juan Carlos Botero and Alejandro Ponce of the World Justice Project have written an article to amplify and explain the WJP Open Government Index.

After the announcement of the Index (See FreedomInfo.org article), FreedomInfo.org published reactions from RTI experts Ben Worthy and Helen Darbishire.

Among other things, Botero and Ponce addressed commentary that the satisfaction rate of requesters was high because they asked for and got personal information rather than information about government or government officials. Just over 10 percent of those surveyed requested information from the government, with 40 percent of such requests being for personal information. Almost three-fourths of those surveyed received the information they requested, according to the report.

The WJP authors explained their intentional focus was on getting “the perspective of the ordinary citizen” rather than studying the experiences of highly sophisticated NGOs or the media soliciting government information.

Besides, they said, “When we analyze the experiences in terms of time, satisfaction, and cost, the differences between those who requested personal data and those who requested information understood to be governed by freedom of information laws (FOIA requests) the results are not very different.”

They continue:

Only in 15% of cases worldwide was the difference between these two types of requests statistically significant. This may prove a fertile ground for further inquiry for the FOI community. This finding tends to suggest that, at least from the point of view of the ordinary citizen, personal data and other requests for information may be a reasonable proxy for more precise FOIA requests in most countries. However, such conclusion should be taken with a grain of salt.

Boteo and Ponce report plans for refining the Index, saying:

As a response to Dr. Worthy’s comments and others, we are currently updating our dataset (as viewable on our website) to show the results grouped by type of request: (a) Information about yourself, associated with the conduct of a local business or as a legal representative, against (b) information requested as a member of the media, as a member of a NGO or special interest group, for political purposes, to lobby or pursue an issue, or for educational or research purposes. Again, we remain eager to continue exploring these questions with the FOI community within the broader boundaries of this research project.

The WJP Index authors also provide a detailed discussion of the finding that on average, 30% of the people in the three largest cities of France are “aware of any laws that are intended to provide individuals with the right to access information held by government agencies.”

Also discussed is the rationale for using “baskets of indicators.” The authors draw attention to statements of caution in the report about the limitations of the data and what conclusions can be drawn.

The authors state finally:

To conclude, we recognize that this project, like all others, has challenges and limitations. But we also believe that the exercise is of significant value. Through data, analysis, collaboration, and open debate, this new system of indicators and its accompanying dataset have the potential to contribute to deepen the discussion around governmental openness around the world.

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