Evidence of an Open Government Data Portal Impact on the Public Sphere

Evidence of an Open Government Data Portal Impact on the Public Sphere

Rui Pedro Lourenço (INESCC, Faculty of Economics, University of Coimbra, Coimbra, Portugal)
Copyright: © 2016 |Pages: 16
DOI: 10.4018/IJEGR.2016070102
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Data portals are being created as part of open government strategies to increase transparency. But although the potential of the internet to increase transparency (as data disclosure) has been widely considered in the literature, there is no reported evidence of any of the released data actually being used by their ultimate recipients (citizens) for public accountability purposes. This descriptive research effort aims to find evidence of the impact of open government portals, asserting whether data is indeed being used and for what purposes. One contract portal was selected and Google Search was used to find portal references on the internet. A qualitative content analysis approach was adopted, whereby references were examined with respect to its main purpose and data usage. Evidence was found of contract data being used, among others, to identify possible situations of corruption, nepotism and misusage of public resources, support argumentation on public policy debates and, in general, to hold public officials accountable in the public sphere through ‘blame and shame' sanctions.
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1. Introduction

The 2009 Transparency and Open Government Memorandum issued by President Barack Obama (Obama, 2009), followed by the correspondent Directive (Orszag, 2009), marks a turning point in the public and political awareness concerning open government principles. Shortly after, in 2011, the Open Government Partnership1 was launched to disseminate the Obama open government principles and nowadays the partnership includes 65 participating countries committed to “develop and implement ambitious open government reforms”.

The ideas behind the Memorandum and Open Government Directive (OGD) were not totally new as they can be traced back to contributions and different perspectives from transparency advocates, technology savvy futurists, eDemocracy civic engagers, and bureaucrats aiming at legal compliance (Linders & Wilson, 2011). Nevertheless, the Memorandum and Directive clearly state and systematize three main goals of open government: transparency, public participation, and collaboration (Linders & Wilson, 2011).

Among these objectives, achieving governmental transparency through data disclosure has been the focus of attention by both academics and researchers, even prior to the ‘new’ open government prominence. This attention has concentrated broadly on two themes: the effects and impact of transparency as data disclosure, and the role technology may play in supporting transparency and increasing its impact. When considered together, these broad themes illustrate what Yu and Robinson (2012) call “The New Ambiguity of ‘Open Government’”: whether the open government expression refers to “the politics of open government” or “the technologies of open data”.

In what concerns the political dimension of open government, the OGD clearly identifies two potential impacts of transparency (Linders & Wilson, 2011), namely public accountability (Meijer, 2009) and added economic and social value stemming from the re-use of disclosed data (European Commission, 2011). But the importance of transparency in modern governance, broadly considered as the access to government information, is sustained by a number of other normative claims made in the literature about its effects, namely, that it fosters democratic participation, increases trust in government, supports prevention of corruption, and allows for informed decision-making (Bertot, Jaeger et al., 2010).

The technological perspective, on the other hand, emphasizes the potential of the internet in general (Bertot, Jaeger et al., 2010; Jaeger & Bertot, 2010), Web 2.0 technologies (Bonsón et al., 2012), social media (Kalampokis et al., 2011a; Kalampokis et al., 2011b; Bertot, Jaeger et al., 2010; Criado et al., 2013), data disclosure platforms (Alexopoulos et al., 2014), and open and linked data (Open Government Working Group, 2007; Eaves, 2009; Shadbolt et al., 2012; Berners-Lee, 2009) to promote transparency and data disclosure.

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