UNESCO Outlines Ways to Measure ATI Implementation

1 September 2016

In preparation for a Sept. 19 “expert” meeting in Indonesia, UNESCO has outlined potential methodologies for measuring the implementation of access to information (ATI) laws (text).

Measurement of implementation is necessary as part of the Sustainable Development Goals process. Indicator Goal 16.10.2 states: “Number of countries that adopt and implement constitutional, statutory and/or policy guarantees for public access to information.”

Relatively straightforward is to count countries with ATI laws, it’s harder to determine whether they meet international standards and are being implemented, the other two challenges identified in the 26-page UNESCO “briefing note.”

The note was written in preparation for a meeting to be held Jakarta in conjunction with the meeting of the Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD). Few well-known FOI experts are expected to attend, deterred by a lack of travel funding.

The UNESCO “briefing note,” entitled “Unpacking Indictor 16.10.2,” offers a wide variety of possible data points and sources of information to be used.

The briefing note on Indicator 16.10.2 lists three key variables:

1) whether a country (or at the global level, the number of countries) has constitutional, statutory and/or policy guarantees for public access to information. An example here would be the number of countries with Freedom of Information – FOI/right to information – laws, over time. An important issue to recognise, as the World Justice Project advises, is that FOI laws vary enormously around the world, such that it is logistically complicated to formulate one question that applies to all countries. Therefore, proving the existence of such guarantees may encompass a wide range of possibilities, from a very precise Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), to a general government transparency law or policy guideline, to a multi-purpose “right to petition” statute or regulation, or to a very general statement in the county’s Constitution.

2) the extent to which such national guarantees reflect international human rights standards and/or agreements (e.g. the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, etc.); and

3) the implementation mechanisms in place for such guarantees, including the following features:

a) Government efforts to publicly promote the right to information;

b) Citizens’ awareness of their legal right to seek and receive information and their ability to utilize it effectively;

c) The capacity of public institutions to provide information upon request by the public; and

d) Independent redress mechanism.

“In practice,” the note continues, governmental guarantees for public access to information may be assessed in terms of:

  • Proactive disclosure provisions in laws that establish a legal duty to disclose,
  • Mechanisms for citizens, firms, and others to request information that has not been proactively disclosed but that is relevant to their interests,
  • Narrowly-tailored guidelines on exemptions to disclosure, and
  • Institutional structures that support disclosure, such as information commissioners, oversight mechanisms, and complaints mechanisms. In some national cases, there is also information on the sources and numbers of requests and the response time taken to process these requests.
  • Number and success rate of appeals.

Two tables summarize the possible indicators, likely sources of data and potential “data partnerships.”

The briefing note also addresses what “private sector” information should be covered by ATI laws, commenting that many FOI laws are insufficiently crafted to compel private contractors to disclose public-interest information.” The note says that Target 16.10 “may also include information access to the  sector, especially where information holdings of a public nature are concerned.”

The briefing note stresses that Target 16.10 aims to “ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements.” The note states:

This means that implementing this target should not only reflect national jurisdiction but also international jurisprudence, such as instruments dealing with the right to seek, receive and impart information in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

About 40% of the proposed SDG indicators currently do not have an agreed methodology, according to recent report.

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Filed under: IFTI Watch


In this column, Washington, D.C.-based journalist Toby J. McIntosh reports on the latest developments in information disclosure in International Financial and Trade Institutions (IFTI).
Contact: freeinfo@gwu.edu or
1-(703) 276-7748