Author: 
Jessamine Pacis
Publication Date
2017
Affiliation: 

Foundation for Media Alternatives

...in these existing attempts to elevate citizen engagement and amplify citizen voice through transparency and access to data and information, whose voices are being heard? Whose data is it, anyway? And ultimately, who benefits from the data?"

The Philippines, a founder of the Open Government Partnership (OGP), has a history of strong government commitments, open government, and citizen participation. As a result, the country has a complex layer of open data initiatives, systems, and laws. However, according to this research brief from IT for Change via Making All Voices Count, effective implementation of open data initiatives has been constrained by lack of inter-operable systems within government. Furthermore, a strong digital divide means that issues of access and awareness limit the reach and impact of information and communication technology (ICT)-mediated citizen engagement. Without a broader reach, the benefits of open government accrue to the democratic citizenship of relatively few individuals, rather than to democracy as a whole.

The brief examines the Philippine experience with open data, particularly during the first five years of the country's commitment to the OGP through Open Data Philippines (ODP). One of the commitments of the Philippines, as part of the OGP, was the creation of a central information portal, which was addressed through the ODP portal (data.gov.ph) in 2014. By the end of June 2016, which marked the end of former President Benigno Aquino III's administration, over 3,000 files of data were available on data.gov.ph. A tracing of this history reveals that, while citizen involvement increases knowledge, civic skills, and public engagement, and contributes to the support for decisions among participants, the general assessment of those involved in ODP is that open data from the government was more supply-driven rather than demand-driven. Furthermore, only those who are connected have access to the limited data published by government.

Shortly after assuming office in June 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte signed an Executive Order (EO) on Freedom to Information (FOI), mandating all Executive Offices to operationalise the people's constitutional right to information, subject to some exceptions. As the new administration embarks on the path of harmonising open data and FOI initiatives, the primary challenge is ensuring that citizens have the access (through the necessary infrastructure), technical capacity, and digital literacy, as well as a real and substantial value for the data and/or information that the state is committing to provide.

An excerpt from the paper follows (footnote numbers removed): "It is vital that the public doesn't just have access to data, but also understands its importance and how they can use it. Furthermore, open data initiatives cannot succeed without a greater framework and culture of openness, which includes interoperability of systems in government. Another aspect of developing such culture of openness is changing the attitudes of both government and public towards open data, as well as developing their technical capacity in information management.

It is with these learnings and considerations in mind that we make the following recommendations:

  1. Government-wide policies that employ the key principles of openness and transparency of information - availability and access, reuse and redistribution, and universal participation - are necessary in all operations. This includes strengthening and ensuring effective implementation of existing interoperability frameworks.
  2. Campaigns and other initiatives for enhancing awareness of the public to the importance of open data in democracy are vital. Efforts must be made to bridge technological or cultural gaps that may inhibit the public from engaging proactively in Open Data and/or FOI.
  3. A law on FOI that covers offices and agencies in all branches of government, and not just the executive needs to be passed. Multiple stakeholders from various sectors (civil society, academic, private sector) and regions need to be engaged in the process of FOI legislation.
  4. A continuous programme on multi-stakeholder monitoring process for FOI and Open Data initiatives must be developed to ensure that the needs of the public are being met and appropriate ICTs and channels are being utilised. Administrators of and contributors to the Open Data platform (the supply side) must be able to monitor and analyse how the data they provide is being used by the public and by civil society.
  5. Access to Open Data and FOI portals should not be reliant only on individual Internet access. Options need to be made available for those who would like to request or access information but do not have reliable Internet access or the technological capability to process the available data.
  6. Interactivity and reciprocity in the design of FOI and Open Data mechanisms must be ensured. Citizens must be able to engage critically with the information made available to them, not merely access or consume it. Feedback mechanisms, whether ICT-enabled or through consultative processes, must be in place to guarantee that citizen voice is heard and acted upon.
  7. Data and information made accessible by open data policy frameworks must be used for participatory rule-making and other democratic practices. Both content and platforms must be designed and implemented with a view towards enabling the public to participate in governance."

This research brief is part of the IT-for-Change-led Voice or Chatter? - a multi-country case study analysis about how ICT-mediated citizen engagement can be empowering for citizens and transformative for democratic governance outcomes. Voice or Chatter? was funded by Making All Voices Count.

Source: 

Research, Evidence and Learning Newsletter, Making All Voices Count, June 2017; and email from Karen Brock to The Communication Initiative on July 25 2017.