After we had analyzed an article by Professor Sheila S. Coronel called «Measuring Openness: A survey of transparency ratings and the prospects for a global index»  we asked ourselves: Is it possible to create a worldwide measure for the openness of governments? In order to answer this question we organized a pilot survey on the basis of an already-completed method of grading the openness of government websites. We invited our colleagues from Belarus, Georgia and the USA to participate. Here are the results for your interest.

Since 2004 the Freedom of Information Foundation has been conducting an audit of the websites of Russian governmental organisations. The survey is based on measures similar to parameters (categories of information which must be published on the websites, in accordance with regulatory requirements and expertise) measured according to a set of criteria (availability, degree of completeness, degree to which it is kept up to date, ease of navigation etc).

Read more about the methodology

In 2010 we launched an automated information system, Infometer, which optimizes the work of experts on evaluating websites by minimizing the possibility for error. The basis of the system is software written by experts at the Foundation with an open code, which you can adapt to any other survey method of web-content analysis, and so localize it for other countries. The survey method and the Infometer system make together an effective instrument for the assessment of the governmental openness, which has proved itself in Russia, and we wished to try it in the framework of a comparative international survey. 

We invited our colleagues to take part in the project, namely other activists working to support freedom of government information in Belarus, Georgia and the USA. Their experience and qualifications allow them to make an objective assessment of their government’s presence on the Internet.

We worked out survey parameters which were universally applicable to each partaking country. Before choosing the information categories (whose presence among government resources was subjected to evaluation), we firstly considered their significance for public oversight. In our view, the categories of information listed below illustrate the degree to which a culture of proactively publishing information on the internet has been developed in one government or another.

  • Information on voting in the highest legislative body
  • Information about meetings held by the highest executive body
  • The State budget
  • State and local procurement
  • Legislation
  • Court rulings
  • Legal entities' founders  and participants
  • Information about the real estate owners
  • Information about taxes paid by individuals and organisations
  • Information about the income of civil servants
  • Persons hosted by the State head
  • Local crime statistics
  • Information for voters
  • State archives
  • Cartographic information
  • Individuals’ theses

Full list of parameters

The most important measure was the ability to find the required information on government websites, namely the websites of government agencies or other internet resources, whose contents are monitored by civil servants. The ability to acquire such information on request was not taken into account.

 

Summary Results

Average openness rate over all countries and all information categories amounts to 45.1% (detailed evaluation scores for each country are available in the Infometer system). However, we wouldn't stress this figure since it hardly can be considered as real statistical data and doesn't characterize real state of affair regarding governmental openness. Countries covered by the study are quite different regarding either political traditions or cultural specificities. For instance, 87% of citizens use internet in the United States, and in Russia, only 59%. Another example: in Russia, information on governmental officials' incomes is mandatory for publication and rather demanded by citizens while in the US, publication of such information is not common due to privacy protection traditions. It is comparative analysis of openness for various life spheres in the countries studied that appears to be most interesting.

On the charts below, we present summarized data for various aspects of governmental openness in the countries studied

 

 

Georgia

 

Organisation that conducted assessment: Institute for Development of Freedom of Information

 

Country report

Indicators on parameters

 

Information placed often and soundly:

  • Information on realty objects and their owners
  • Information on governmental employees' incomes
  • Information on voting in the top legislative body
  • Information for voters

Information absent or placed seldom and poor:

  • Information on taxes paid by a specific individual
  • Dissertation theses' texts
  • Court decision texts
  • Shorthand records of the top executive body meetings
  • Crime statistical data location by location

Interesting examples of governmental information disclosure:

1)      The “Unified Electronic System of Procurement” website provides, among other, original texts of state procurement contracts (however, only in PDF format). 

2)      The http://napr.gov.ge/?m=229 webpage is an interesting and useful resource allowing to find information on all legal entities of Georgia. Another page of the same portal, http://napr.gov.ge/?m=123, allows to find information on realty objects.

3)      Information on high officials' incomes are also placed at a single  specified resource, declaration.gov.ge. Officials provide very detailed data on their annual incomes, information on bank accounts, realty, contracts, gifts, cash, business (if any), and chattels such as jewels, vehicles, and other property costing more than USD 6,200).

 

 

Republic of Belarus

 

Organisation that conducted assessment: «Lawtrend» Legal Transformation Center

 

Country report

Indicators on parameters

 

Information placed often and soundly:

  • Access to texts of legislative acts
  • Some information on state procurements
  • Cadastre map

Information absent or placed seldom and poor:

  • Information on legal entities' participants
  • Information on realty objects' owners
  • Information on officials' incomes and properties
  • Information on voting results in the legislative body
  • Shorthand records of the government meetings
  • Dissertation theses' texts
  • Texts of court decision for all types of proceedings
  • Texts of settled contracts for state procurements, etc.

Interesting examples of governmental information disclosure:

1.       Cadastre map of Belarus. In the mid-April 2014, the National Cadastre Agency launched the test version of the public cadastre map of Belarus (http://map.nca.by) providing information of the State Land Cadastre registers and lists.

2.       Information on persons hosted by the head of state during the current year. On the new version of the Presidential official web portal, the special subsection, Meetings, is introduced (http://president.gov.by/en/news_en/findTags/193/), publishing detailed information on guests hosted by the President.

 

Russian Federation

Organisation that conducted assessment: Freedom of Information Foundation

 

Country report

Indicators on parameters

Information placed often and soundly:

  • Information on governmental employees' incomes and properties;
  • information on voting in the top legislative body;
  • legislative acts;
  • information on national budget expenditures.

Information absent or placed seldom and poor:

  • texts of decisions made at voting stations;
  • information on tax amounts paid by a specific person;
  • possibility of searching for realty objects' owners;
  • dissertation theses texts;
  • information on persons hosted by the state head;
  • crime statistical data location by location (possibility to search for statistical data by a police unit number or address);
  • texts of contracts for state procurement.

Interesting examples of governmental information disclosure:

1) The full map of the Russian Federation showing all realty objects. Possibility for searching by cadastre numbers, addresses, or by exact coordinates, much facilitates usage of the resource.

2) Detailed information on the State Duma activities is placed at its official website. It provides access to roll-call voting results, statistical data on meeting attendance by deputies, and to information on approval or rejection of bills. Illustrative statistics is also available.

3) The state procurement portal places detailed information on orders and procurements performed by state structures. The resource is important both for potential contractors that can find information on all competition at a single web portal, and for public control and transparency of the state procurement system. However, the portal does not place original texts of state procurement contracts; such a measure could increase procurement transparency without damage for commercial or other secrets.

4) Detailed information on incomes, expenditures, properties, and liabilities provided by the Russian Government members for the last fiscal year (January 1  - December 31, 2013) are available as a downloadable file.

 

 

The United States of America

 

Organisation that conducted assessment: National Security Archive at George Washington University

Country report

Indicators on parameters

Information placed often and soundly:

 Information absent or placed seldom and poor:

  • Not all the information on governmental employees' incomes, real property, and vehicles owned by them is posted online (however, the expert from the US  sees no special problem in this since publication of such information is not very common for the American informational culture).
  • There is no functionality for searching information on taxes paid by a specific individual or legal entity.
  • Legal entities' founders  and participants

 Interesting examples of governmental information disclosure:

1) In the US, police units' websites usually contain such a convenient and useful tool as a crime map showing what criminal actions take place, and where. Examples: http://www.crimemapping.com/map/fl/daytonabeach, http://crimemap.dc.gov/CrimeMapSearch.aspx

2) The Supreme Court of the US practices publishing audio records of the hearings

 

Conclusions

 

The most interesting results of our international monitoring could be considered the exposure of “closed” categories of information (those not represented on government websites in any of the countries surveyed). 

  • The ability to search for information regarding taxes paid by citizens and organisations. In not a single one of the participant countries was information about the total amount of taxes paid by each individual (civic or legal entity) available on their Internet site. As a rule, the only information available was that regarding the total amount of taxes paid by individuals for a specific period. At the same time, this information is public in a number of countries, including Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Pakistan.
  • Number of funding spent by the central executive government body (the ministry) for official events and services for representatives of other organizations negotiating for establishment and support of cooperation with this body
  •  The ability to search the full text of dissertations written as part of an individual’s undergraduate degree by their name and surname. (Although a number of non-governmental organisations work on this information). Amount of funds spent by the federal executive body (the ministry) on official receptions and the service of representatives of other organisations which take part in negotiations for the purpose of establishing and maintaining cooperation with a particular authority
  • The ability to search for information about a legal person (entity) by their participants. The practical availability of such a resource was not evident in a single one of the countries surveyed.

The following categories of information could be described as “rare” (they were represented only in one country):

 

Only in the USA:

  • A majority of decisions made by courts are available, along with the individual contributions of actual participants in the legal process
  • The possibility of using the number (address) of a police unit (section) to find out the number of crimes committed in the area assigned to that particular unit over the last fiscal year
  • The possibility of using the number (address) of a police unit (section) to find out the number of crimes committed in the area assigned to that particular unit over the previous fiscal year
  •  Crime map
  • A majority of sites of police units in the USA provide crime maps, on which are indicated the scene of the crime (including the street on which it occurred), the time and the type of crime committed

 

Only in Georgia:

  • The ability to search for the real estate objects owned by individuals by name of owner (the full name of legal entities)
  • The ability to search for information about the income of a civil servant by the position and (or) name of the civil servant
  • The ability to search for information about the income of a civil servant’s spouse by the position and (or) name of the civil servant

 

 

Post Scriptum

You have been reading the results of a pilot study about state freedom of information provision. In our view, these results demonstrate that a comparison of such experiences of different countries is useful and interesting.

We would like to see more countries participating in this project, which we plan to carry out on an annual basis.

We also are hopeful that the parameters of the research will be improved with the participation of our foreign colleagues. If you are ready to join the study or want to learn more, contact the program director of the Freedom of Information Foundation Tatyana Tolsteneva: tatyana.tolsteneva@svobodainfo.org