Improving the Aid Sector With Open Data

Interview with Peter Eigen of Transparency International at Open Aid Data Conference 2011 in Berlin

Mr. Eigen, how can Open Data, opening up data treasures, improve the development sector?

Peter Eigen: At Transparency International we’ve observed that countries with an open approach to information, like the Scandinavian countries, rank in the upper spheres of our corruption index, among the honest states. Countries like Germany, on the other hand, where you have a hard time getting insights into official files and information, rank much lower. From our point of view there is a direct correlation between the openness of information and the integrity of the way institutions perform, in administration, important institutions, as well as the private sector.

Of course, you need to consider how this information is generated. Some participants raised the question whether the information is mainly donor-driven. And indeed, the presentation of the World Bank representative gave the impression of an almost overwhelming amount of data they collect, and the highly qualified and professional way in which this data is processed and provided. Some people wonder if this might result in a one-sided presentation, where qualitative aspects, especially aspects that evoke critique, are drowned by quantitative ones. The huge amount of data shouldn’t delude you into believing you hold the truth in your hands. Because the question remains: How do you select data that’s relevant? How do you use and present it best?

Despite these issues, it is nevertheless clear to me that more transparency fosters more efficiency, responsibility, and greater participation. We’ve seen that very clearly in the raw materials sector, where the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative collects information and ensures its credibility by a multi-stakeholder procedure. Of the around 35 states involved, about half of them have now for the first time issued reports that can be used by parliaments, media, and civil society. This leads to a more efficient way of utilizing means, better bookkeeping, and makes it possible to compare, whether investments are one-sided and exploitative or whether they comply with modern standards.

I believe that openness and information, Open Data, inevitably leads to a strengthening of civil society, integrity, responsibility and better governance.

At the Open Aid Data Conference, you’ve met enthusiastic young Data activists as well as sceptics from the organisations, who are nevertheless curious. How can we proceed in a meaningful way in the field of Open Data? Should we put all data out on the web? What would you suggest as a smart way to go about?

Peter Eigen: Well, I’m not an expert in this field. All I can say is that I am overwhelmed by the progress that has been made in the past years. Different groups are interested in opening the data sets, instead of seeing each other as opponents. The example of the Netherlands is quite interesting in this respect: The critics as well as proponents of development cooperation are equally interested in making public as much data as possible. One side wants to show: ‘See how much money we waste for developing countries’. And the other wants so say: ’ See how much we do and how few positive results this has had so far’.

So this is a collaborative endeavour. One of its recent expressions is the Open Government Initiative, announced by Obama in New York with seven other states like Brasil and Mexico. It’s a very exciting development taking place at the moment. I believe in five or ten years we’ll take it for granted that all the necessary data to carry out our projects will be much easier available, that the people in the affected villages will be able to have a say, and that the powerful and responsible will be taken better to account. But that won’t happen overnight, it will need a lot of activism and hard work by many people.

Thank you very much.

Post from ICTD.de, crossposted on Open Aid

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