UK elections 2015: An open opportunity

There’s now just one week to go until the general election here in the UK. We’ve been looking at the party manifestos and are pleased to see a cross-party awareness of the importance of open data. At the same time, the manifestos are lacking in specific details on what will be done to further the publication of open data and help ensure use. This is particularly true in terms of international development, where there is a cross-party consensus on maintaining aid spending levels (with the exception of UKIP). Whilst commitments to increase the transparency of tax and company ownership, for example, are notable and welcome themes, we would also like to see more on the transparency of aid spending.

Back in 2010, in the wake of the MP’s expenses scandal, transparency was a hot issue in Westminster, but did not particularly feature in party manifestos. By then, the call for greater transparency in development was already gathering pace. The lack of open, comparable data was quickly being recognised as a critical systemic issue. The UK government was key in highlighting the problem and has been a global leader in pushing this agenda, pioneering the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) Standard and co-founding the Open Government Partnership (OGP).

A lot has happened in the last five years, but whoever leads the UK for the next five should not take these recent achievements for granted. For transparency to really make a difference it takes dedication to the task – a constant raising of ambitions and concerted efforts to make open data count. Releasing quality data and using it to inform decision making must become the norm.

We are all aware of the importance of this year, with the shape of the post-2015 Development Agenda being decided and a major Financing for Development conference in Addis Ababa in July. These are important processes and the UK will be a crucial voice in pushing for more ambitious transparency commitments. In addition, there is also a great opportunity this year for the new UK government to really drive forward on transparency and open data principles and lay a marker for the rest of the world, namely through the OGP.

The UK is about to start development of its third OGP National Action Plan. For those not familiar with the OGP, the National Action Plans are where governments outline specific open data targets for the next two years. The UK’s implementation of its current aid transparency commitments has so far been strong. OGP has proved a useful platform for open data enthusiasts like us to push the government to open up the books and hold it to account on its promises. The third action plan is a good opportunity for a new government to lay out in concrete terms how it will achieve even more ambitious open data aims.

So our message for the new government is:

  • Build on the achievements of the last five years and ensure the UK continues to set the pace on transparency and open data.
  • Help us to ensure that the Addis conference produces ambitious commitments for the future development agenda
  • Develop an OGP plan that shows how transparency commitments translate into actions to ensure greater and better publication, and achieve wider visibility and use of the information.

The new UK government should underscore this through the Prime Minister and Chancellor attending the Addis meetings in person.

Nicholas Winnett

Nick is the Partnerships & Outreach Officer at Publish What You Fund. You can reach him at nicholas.winnett@publishwhatyoufund.org.
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