Infometer: An ICT Tool Promoting Pro-Active Governmental Openness
We have developed the Infometer system, unique open code software able to motivate government bodies to align their official web sites in compliance with the current FOI legislation, international standards and experts’ opinion.
The audit procedure is subdivided into three main stages.
At the first stage, our researchers evaluate government bodies' websites over a pre-determined set of parameters based on national FOI legislation requirements, international (e.g. W3C consortium) standards, and on expert advice. Each parameter is evaluated over a set of criteria.
The final evaluation assigns a percentage rate for a websites' informational openness (100% equals full compliance of the website contents with the evaluation requirements). All websites evaluated within an audit cycle are rated on informational openness. The initial rating is not published openly.
At this stage, the system provides a researcher participating in the evaluation process with a virtual workplace allowing him/her to:
- form comparative tables for evaluating governmental websites' contents over a specific set of parameters and criteria;
- customize the comparative tables in accordance with specific competences of governmental bodies evaluated;
- assign various social significance levels (weight values) to specific parameters;
- enter, save, and modify evaluation scores for a governmental website's content;
- calculate informational openness rate automatically for each website;
- rate the evaluated websites by their informational openness automatically;
- create users of different categories varied by their rights for access to evaluation scores and ratings.
The second stage is commonly known as the “online interaction period”. Within this period, officials from government bodies whose websites were evaluated may register in the system to familiarize themselves with their website's evaluation scores and rating position. Moreover, officials can then discuss the scores with the researchers, and correct inadequacies on their websites. At this stage, Infometr provides efficient, on-demand constructive online dialog between government bodies and civil experts for governmental online informational openness.
Once registered in Infometer, government representatives may communicate remotely with our researchers. This includes opportunities to:
- get familiar with all informational openness scores for the government body's website and with researchers' comments;
- ask questions online and get timely response from a researcher;
- argue against evaluation scores assigned, bringing up his/her opinion for collegiate discussion by the monitoring research team;
- inform researchers on failure corrections at the website, seeking for score modification;
- track change of the website's rating position in real time;
The Infometer system allows both limited and unlimited interaction periods. Officials are invited to choose their preferred online communication mode - from fully open and public to fully private and confidential.
The interaction period strengthens competition between government bodies for best positions in the rating, thus creating a positive impact on their online informational openness. Interaction within the Infometer online process provides governmental officials with the unique possibility of receiving individual, practice-oriented online advice regarding their website content from the Foundation's research team. The more actively a government body's official participates in the interaction, the more fully its informational openness growth potential is achieved for that body's official website. In 2015, the Infometer implementation resulted in a fixed average informational openness rate growth by 23,72% for official websites of general jurisdiction district courts that took part in online interaction. Over all government bodies that interacted with the research team in 2015, average informational openness rate grew by 18%. In 2015, we audited 4,425 websites belonging to government bodies and prepared 232,931 proposals for officials. Active participants of the interaction fulfil at average 40% of the proposals.
At the final stage, monitoring results are summarized and the final informational openness rating of the websites monitored is formed, counting the modifications performed at the websites during the online interaction period. When the final rating is published for open access, evaluation scores for each website, including those preceding the online communication period, become also available publicly. The system allows therating of websites over all monitoring parameters or over a sample of parameters selected by a user. The system generates plots, schemes, and charts illustrating dependence patterns revealed within the research. Anyone can view the primary data online and/or download them in open formats for further possible processing and usage.
Key directions for the system development are the following:
- usability improvement, including providing a user with access to best practices of online proactive information disclosure by government bodies' official websites (by means of a special directory of best practice examples)
- multi-language interface development aimed to enable comparative international studies. This can be of special use for implementation within international initiatives on governmental transparency and accountability such as the Open Government Partnership (OGP)
- involving citizens in interactive communication with governmental officials and FIF research team.
The Infometer is a flexible system capable of being adapted for monitoring websites of government bodies at any level and/or for comparative research, including international. It is of potential use for NGOs dealing with governmental transparency and accountability issues anywhere in the world. Infometer can also be used for performing research in other fields aside from informational openness.