Prof. Dr. Melanie Sully

Freedom of Information (FOI) book eds Dr Alexander Balthasar/Dr Melanie Sully

This book came out of a workshop held in Vienna in 2013 and was continued at the University of London the year after. Dr Melanie Sully contributed with a chapter outlining the need for additional measures such as parliamentary reform to accompany freedom of information so as to enhance trust levels.

From Open Government to Open Governance

Melanie Sully

Transparency, accountability and freedom are hallmarks of democratic systems and themes running through the work of organisations such as the OSCE, GRECO, and Transparency International. Increasingly governments have to respond and meet this challenge in the interests of better quality service to their citizens. Recent reforms to deal with corruption in political life, passed by the Austrian government were summed up as the “transparency package” and older laws on Incompatibility modified and renamed to include the word “transparency”[2].

The former dichotomy between open and closed societies of the Cold War era has melted to be replaced by a more complex mosaic. In addition initiatives like the Open Government Partnership put the issue on the agenda.[3] This began in 2011 and now has almost 50 countries committed to more transparency and seeking to “empower citizens, fight corruption and harness new technologies to strengthen governance”. Countries in the organisation (including the UK, USA and more recently Australia) should have an action plan for open government which has developed by public consultation and are obliged to give ongoing independent progress reports. Mature democracies such as the UK are developing policies linked with open government and open data but these are not without problems or weaknesses. Whilst transparency may increase as a result of more open government, it does not always achieve other declared aims such as increasing trust and understanding of political processes. This needs additional complimentary measures.

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Open Governance

In conclusion it can be said that open government should not raise false expectations about what it can achieve and the management of the information is vital. Further it needs a strategy and other policies to complement it in order to increase trust levels and increase citizen empowerment. The first stage with open government can and does increase accountability and transparency but empowerment, engagement and trust need good governance.

Open government is not enough on its own to plug the confidence gap. In any case studies carried out by the Hansard Society in London show that voters never really trusted politicians much anyway. Trust was further shaken by for example the parliamentary expenses scandal but this reinforced the already low levels[1]. It seems the best that can be hoped for, to quote the Hansard Society, is that this basic lack of trust does not sink into cynicism which could endanger the democratic system.

Several of the above measures taken together and consistently employed over a period of time could lead to sustainable governance. Only then can open government transcend to open governance and achieve its wider goals of enabling voters to understand better the political participation process and have more confidence in its workings. If open data and freedom of information can help with this quest then it will fulfil a valuable goal in the pursuit of good governance.



 

 

Contributions from the editors Dr Alexander Balthasar and Dr Melanie Sully with experts from Sweden, United Kingdom and Austria. More from the publishers Fakultas in the Law section. Further FOI here on our page