Saturday, March 17, 2012

Legislative Transparency and the Open Government Partnership

The elements are aligning for a major transformation in how governments publish laws. Open data and open government go hand-in-hand and one significant benefit of this pairing is that the accelerated pace of technology can pull open government forward faster than it would otherwise move. Earlier this week, President Obama and UK Prime Minister issued a press release that highlighted a number of joint initiatives of the two countries. Among them is the Open Government Partnership, promoting transparency initiatives around the world. Transparency means many things to many people, but at the core, it is about improving citizen access to information about the actions and workings of government. I am encouraged to see that the U.S. commitments to the Open Government Partnership are headed by two items that are directly related to making legal data more accessible to citizens: Promote Public Participation in Government and Modernize Management of Government Records. These two items could make a big difference, at a relatively low cost, for many of the other participant countries in the OGP, and improve transparency for all countries. Transparency in the 21st century is almost synonymous with being web accessible. Making laws web accessible, in a standard, structured data format means that laws are not only accessible to a wider population of citizens within a country, but means that citizens around the world can compare their own laws to those of other countries, on the subjects of Freedom of Information, anti-Corruption, environmental protection and a hundred other dimensions of an open society. This can create a race to the top and pressure on laggards to bring up their standards in these areas.