Open government

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Open government is the governing doctrine which holds that citizens have the right to access the documents and proceedings of the government to allow for effective public oversight.[1] In its broadest construction it opposes reason of state and other considerations, which have tended to legitimize extensive state secrecy. The origins of open government arguments can be dated to the time of the European Enlightenment: to debates about the proper construction of a then nascent democratic society.

Among recent developments is the theory of open source governance, which advocates the application of the free software movement to democratic principles, enabling interested citizens to get more directly involved in the legislative process.


The concept of Open Government is broad in scope but is most often connected to ideas of government transparency and accountability. One definition, published by The Quality of Government institute at the University of Gothenburg, limits government openness to information released by the government, or the extent to which citizens can request and receive information that is not already published.[2] Harlan Yu and David G. Robinson specify the distinction between Open Data and open government in their paper “The New Ambiguity of “Open Government”. They define open government in terms of service delivery and public accountability. They argue that technology can be used to facilitate disclosure of information, but that the use of open data technologies does not necessarily equate accountability.[3]

The OECD approaches open government through the following categories: whole of government coordination, civic engagement and access to information, budget transparency, integrity and the fight against corruption, use of technology, and local development. [4]


The term open government, originated in the United States after World War II. Wallace Parks, who served on a subcommittee on Government Information created by the U.S. Congress, introduce the term in his 1957 article “The Open Government Principle: Applying the Right to Know under the Constitution.” After this and after the passing of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in 1966, federal courts began using the term as a synonym for government transparency. [3]

Although this was the first time that ‘open government’ was introduced the concept of transparency and accountability in government can be traced back to Ancient Greece in fifth century B.C.E. Athens where different legal institutions regulated the behavior of officials and offered a path for citizens to express their grievances towards them. One such institution, the euthyna, held officials to a standard of “straightness” and enforced that they give an account in front of an Assembly of citizens about everything that they did that year.[5]

In more recent history, the idea that government should be open to public scrutiny and susceptible to public opinion dates back to the time of the Enlightenment, when many philosophes made an attack on absolutist doctrine of state secrecy, a core part of their intellectual project.[6][7] The passage of formal legislative instruments to this end can also be traced to this time with Sweden, for example, (which then included Finland as a Swedish-governed territory) enacting free press legislation as part of its constitution (Freedom of the Press Act, 1766).[8] This approach, and that of the philosophes more broadly, is strongly related to recent historiography on the eighteenth-century public sphere.

Influenced by Enlightenment thought, the revolutions in America (1776) and France (1789), freedom of the press enshrined provisions and requirements for public budgetary accounting and freedom of the press in constitutional articles. In the nineteenth century, attempts by Metternichean statesmen to row back on these measures were vigorously opposed by a number of eminent liberal politicians and writers, Bentham, Mill and Acton prominent among the latter.

Open government is widely seen to be a key hallmark of contemporary democratic practice and is often linked to the passing of freedom of information legislation. Scandinavian countries claim to have adopted the first freedom of information legislation, dating the origins of its modern provisions to the eighteenth century and Finland continuing the presumption of openness after gaining independence in 1917, passing its Act on Publicity of Official Documents in 1951 (superseded by new legislation in 1999).

The United States passed its Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in 1966, FOIAs, Access to Information Acts (AIAs) or equivalent laws were passed in Denmark and Norway in 1970, France and The Netherlands in 1978, Australia, Canada and New Zealand in 1982, Hungary in 1992, Ireland and Thailand in 1997, South Korea in 1998, the United Kingdom in 2000, Japan and Mexico in 2002, India and Germany in 2005.[9]


Transparency in government is often credited with generating government accountability.[10]:1346 Transparency often allows citizens of a democracy to control their government, reducing government corruption, bribery and other malfeasance.[10]:1347–50 Some commentators contend that an open, transparent government allows for the dissemination of information, which in turn helps produce greater knowledge and societal progress.[10]:1350

Government transparency is beneficial for efficient democracy, as information is necessary for citizens to form meaningful conclusions about upcoming legislation and vote for them in the next election.[11] Attainable information enables a sense of open government and transparency to which a government that functions for the people should be based on. With government transparency, citizens can voice their opinions more actively and effectively in the political realm, thus fulfilling their civic duty in society as well. According to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, greater citizen participation in government is linked to government transparency.[12]

The contemporary doctrine of open government finds its strongest advocates in those non-governmental organizations keen to counter what they see as the inherent tendency of government to lapse, whenever possible, into secrecy. Prominent among these NGOs are bodies like Transparency International or the Open Society Institute. They advocate the implementation of norms of openness and transparency across the globe and argue that such standards are vital to the ongoing prosperity and development of democratic societies.

Advocates of open government often argue that civil society, rather than government legislation, offers the best route to more transparent administration. They point to the role of whistleblowers reporting from inside the government bureaucracy (individuals like Daniel Ellsberg or Paul van Buitenen). They argue that an independent and inquiring press, printed or electronic, is often a stronger guarantor of transparency than legislative checks and balances.[13][14]

Other advocates include President Obama, who in 2009, sought out an Open Government Initiative in order to improve the trust within the United States government and " establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration."[15][16] His strategy for transparency correlates with democratic values in how it allows for greater sight into the functions of the governmental institutions. Openness allows for more insight into the government, which gives the citizenry a greater sense to engage politically and collaborate to improve their own standing and the efficiency of the government's legislative processes.[17] His platform of endorsing the accessibility of government data online to the public paves the way for increased transparency to governing systems and for an openness that allows the public to view and establish opinions on policies concerning themselves and their fellow voters.[18] His willingness for openness in governmental institutions demonstrates transparency for the benefit of the citizens and their concerns with the government and society as a whole. The initiative has goals of a transparent and collaborative government, in which to end secrecy in Washington, while improving effectiveness through increased communication between citizens and government officials.[19] Though there is confusion about the goals of the Open Government Initiative, there is certainty that it has been designed by the Obama administration in an effort to establish a more democratic and effective system of governing, a system that improves the openness for the sake of its citizens and their concerns with trusting the government and its secretive functions.

Along with an interest in providing more access to information goes a corresponding concern for protecting citizens' privacy so they are not exposed to "adverse consequences, retribution or negative repercussions"[1] from information provided by governments.

A relatively new vision for the implementation of open government is coming from the municipal sector. In a similar fashion to grassroot movements, open government technology expert Tobias SK Cichon postulates [1] that the swarming pressure of small local governments using technology to implement open government solutions will lead to similar adoptions by larger municipalities and eventually state, provincial and federal level changes.

The use of technology within the political realm has grown through Open Government Data (OGD), which provides for the data to be accessible in any format. Users of this data have several purposes in regards to government, technology, or other specific focuses. These include government focus, technology innovation focused, reward focused, digitizing government, problem solving, and social/public sector enterprise.[20] These focuses help expand the broad scope of Open Government Data toward furthering technological use within the government and towards more transparency within governmental institutions. Governments that enable public viewing of data can help citizens engage within the governmental sectors and "add value to that data." [18] Easily accessible data pertaining to governmental institutions and their information give way to citizens' engagement within political institutions that ensure just, democratic access for the benefit of the citizenry and the political system. "Open data can be a powerful force for public accountability—it can make existing information easier to analyze, process, and combine than ever before, allowing a new level of public scrutiny." [21] The openness of data that a governing system provides ensures a greater sense of transparency within the function of this system, to ensure that there is accountability for how this system runs.[22] Open data enables for greater openness in this government through providing information on government-related data pertaining to technology, politics, and social sectors.[23] This enables citizens to get a grasp on what the government is up to and what they are planning on implementing, opening up information to see how the government is taking account of their citizens and their concerns.

Public and private sector platforms provide an avenue for citizens to engage while offering access to transparent information that citizens have come to expect. Numerous organizations have worked to consolidate resources for citizens to access government (local, state and federal) budget spending, stimulus spending, lobbyist spending, legislative tracking, and more.[24]

Despite the obvious and undeniable benefits that come from increased government transparency, a number of scholars have questioned the moral certitude behind much transparency advocacy, questioning the foundations upon which advocacy rests. They have also highlighted how transparency can support certain neoliberal imperatives.[25]


Open Government Partnership - OGP was an organization launched in 2011 to allow domestic reformers to make their own governments across the world more open, accountable, and responsive to citizens. Since 2011, OGP has grown to 75 participating countries today whose government and civil societies work together to develop and implement open government reforms.[26]

Code for All - Code for All is a non-partisan, non-profit international network of organizations who believe technology leads to new opportunities for citizens to lead a more prominent role in the political sphere and have a positive impact on their communities. The organizations relies on technology to improve government transparency and engage citizens.[27]

Sunlight Foundation - The Sunlight Foundation is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization founded in 2006 that uses civic tech, open data, and policy analysis to make information from government and politics more transparent to everyone. Their ultimate vision is to increase democratic participation and achieve changes on political money flow and who can influence government. While their work began with an intent to focus only on the US Congress, their work now influences the local, state, federal, and international levels.[28]

Open Government Pioneers UK is an example of a civil society led initiative using open source approaches to support citizens and civil society organisations use open government as a way to secure progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals. It uses an Open Wiki to plan the development of an open government civil society movement across the UK's home nations.[29]

See also


  1. ^ a b Lathrop, Daniel; Ruma, Laurel, eds. (February 2010). Open Government: Transparency, Collaboration and Participation in Practice. O'Reilly Media. ISBN 978-0-596-80435-0. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b Yu, Harlan; Robinson, David G. (February 28, 2012). "The New Ambiguity of 'Open Government'". UCLA L. Rev. 59. 
  4. ^ "Open Government". 
  5. ^ von Dornum, Deirdre Dionysia (June 1997). "The Straight and the Crooked: Legal Accountability in Ancient Greece". Columbia Law Review. 97 – via JSTOR. 
  6. ^ Jurgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (1962, trans., Cambridge Massachusetts, 1989)
  7. ^ Reinhart Koselleck, Critique and Crisis (1965, trans., Cambridge Massachusetts, 1988)
  8. ^ Lamble, Stephen (February 2002). Freedom of Information, a Finnish clergyman’s gift to democracy. 97. Freedom of Information Review. pp. 2–8. Archived from the original on 2010-10-01. 
  9. ^ Alasdair Roberts, Blacked Out: Government Secrecy in the Information Age (Cambridge, 2006)
  10. ^ a b c Schauer, Frederick (2011), "Transparency in Three Dimensions" (PDF), University of Illinois Law Review, 2011 (4): 1339–1358, retrieved 2011-10-16 
  11. ^ "Transparency and Open Government". The White House. Archived from the original on 2016-12-15. Retrieved 2016-12-16. 
  12. ^ Carothers, Thomas. "Accountability, Transparency, Participation, and Inclusion: A New Development Consensus?". Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Retrieved 2016-12-16. 
  13. ^ J. Michael, The Politics of Secrecy: Confidential Government and the Public's Right to Know (London, 1990)
  14. ^ A.G. Theoharis, ed., A Culture of Secrecy: the Government Versus the People's Right to Know (Kansas, 1998)
  15. ^ Huijboom, Noor (March–April 2011). "Open data: an international comparison of strategies" (PDF). European Journal of Practice. Retrieved October 23, 2016. 
  16. ^ "Open Government Initiative". The White House. Archived from the original on 2016-12-17. Retrieved 2016-12-17. 
  17. ^ "Shedding light on government, one dataset at a time". OECD Insights Blog. 2015-05-28. Retrieved 2016-12-17. 
  18. ^ a b Robinson, David G.; Yu, Harlan; Zeller, William P.; Felten, Edward W. (2009-01-01). "Government Data and the Invisible Hand". Rochester, NY: Social Science Research Network. SSRN 1138083Freely accessible. 
  19. ^ Pyrozhenko, Vadym (June 2–4, 2011). "Implementing Open Government: Exploring the Ideological Links between Open Government and the Free and Open Source Software Movement" (PDF). Syracuse University. Retrieved October 24, 2016. 
  20. ^ Davies, Tim (August 2010). "Open data, democracy and public sector reform" (PDF). Oxford Internet Institute. Retrieved October 24, 2016. 
  21. ^ Yu, Harlan; Robinson, David G. (2012-02-28). "The New Ambiguity of 'Open Government'". Rochester, NY: Social Science Research Network. SSRN 2012489Freely accessible. 
  22. ^ Scassa, Teresa (June 18, 2014). "Privacy and Open Government". Future Internet. Future Internet. Retrieved October 25, 2016. 
  23. ^ Maier-Rabler, Ursula; Huber, Stefan (2012-01-05). ""Open": the changing relation between citizens, public administration, and political authority". JeDEM - eJournal of eDemocracy and Open Government. 3 (2): 182–191. ISSN 2075-9517. 
  24. ^ Giordano Koch & Maximilian Rapp: Open Government Platforms in Municipality Areas: Identifying elemental design principles, In: Public Management im Paradigmenwechsel, Trauner Verlag, 2012.
  25. ^ Garsten, C. (2008), Transparency in a New Global Order:Unveiling Organizational Visions, Edward Elger 
  26. ^ "Open Government Partnership". Open Government Partnership. Retrieved 2016-12-16. 
  27. ^ "Code for All". Code for All. Retrieved 2016-12-17. 
  28. ^ "Sunlight Foundation". Sunlight Foundation. Retrieved 2016-12-17. 
  29. ^ "Open Government Pioneers UK". Opengovpioneers. Retrieved 2017-05-21. 

Further reading

  • Jane E. Fountain (2001), Building the Virtual State: Information Technology and Institutional Change, Washington, D.C: Brookings Institution Press 
  • Beth Simone Noveck (2009), Wiki government: how technology can make government better, democracy stronger, and citizens more powerful, Washington, D.C: Brookings Institution Press 
  • Jay Nath (2011). "Reimagining government in the digital age". National Civic Review; Special Issue: Beyond the Digital Divide: How New Technologies Can Amplify Civic Engagement and Community Participation. 100 (3). 
  • Tom McClean (2011). "Not with a Bang but a Whimper: The Politics of Accountability and Open Data in the UK". American Political Science Association 2011 Annual Meeting Paper. Social Science Research Network. SSRN 1899790Freely accessible. 
  • April Manatt (2011). Hear Us Now? A California Survey of Digital Technology's Role in Civic Engagement and Local Government. New America Foundation. 
  • C. Freeland (August 18, 2011). "Remaking Government in a Wiki Age". New York Times. 
  • Bernd W. Wirtz und Steven Birkmeyer (2015): Open Government: Origin, Development, and Conceptual Perspectives, in: International Journal of Public Administration Volume 38, Issue 5, 2015.

External links

  • Gov 2.0 Conference
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