PRINCIPLE 1 — Open by Default

Author: Paulina Bustos Arellano | Reviewers: Ania Calderon, Danny Lämmerhirt

Open by Default

Principle 1 represents a real shift in how government operates and how it interacts with citizens. At the moment we often have to ask officials for the specific information we want. Open by default turns this on its head and states that there should be a presumption of publication of all government data. Governments need to justify data that is kept closed, for example, to safeguard privacy, security or for data protection reasons. Aside of the policies that need to be put in place, this principle details a culture of openness within organizations.

Case study

An example of a successful case study that demonstrates the implementation of the commitments of Principle 1 is how the government of Paraguay was able to forecast dengue outbreaks with open data. The government released and increased the quality of datasets, knowing that they will be used by a renowned university (Facultad Politécnica-Universidad de Asunción) to predict the spread of the disease. These datasets were already provided to the public through the health agency (Direccion General de Vigilancia de la Salud, DGVS).

Overview of Principle 1 – Open by Default

Target audience(s)

Governments, researchers, civil society, activists, journalists

What is currently measured

All, except commitments related to updating domestic laws. To measure all commitments with confidence, you need to understand “the good reasons” for justifying something that is not open. Clarifications are also needed to clarify what laws (domestic and international) need to be updated or modified to enable open by default.

Elements of Principle 1 that are assessed by leading open data measurement tools are catalogued in Appendix I - Principle 1 Indicator Table and reviewed below.

Principle 1 is interpreted as having legal and technical frameworks that encourage a culture and practice of openness in government. It is important to note how governments define open by default: public information should be open — unless there is a good reason for it not to be — and that it is well-justified publically. In addition, open by default includes political commitments and technical resources, especially for jurisdictions that are starting their open data journey. Finally, this principle requires creating an open data culture through capacity building, which is essential for the execution of political commitments.

However, there are different approaches to ‘open by default’ from different governments — ranging from high-level political statements, to programs that adapt public information systems. The complexity and range of the ‘open by default’ statement has government adopters asking what ‘open by default’ looks like in practice. Currently there is no consensus. While the concept aims to be more of the latter statement, this is still unclear given that it is an ambitious aspiration that takes time to achieve.

Besides the policies put in place at the right level, to become open by default there is a need for a culture of openness and the necessary capabilities to implement it. Measuring this principle will allow civil society to monitor whether government has the right legal framework for open data and should empower governments at all levels in their quest to improve the access to information.

Commitment P1.a, “Develop and adopt policies and practices to ensure that all government data is made open by default, as outlined in this Charter, while recognizing that there are legitimate reasons why some data cannot be released”, is measured by ODB, EODMA, and OURdata. Indicators assess whether high-level government officials show commitment to open data, whether a data policy is implemented, and how it is implemented. Indicators test if an open data policy and/or strategy is implemented in the country. The quality aspect is measured by the qualities that the index specifies, the more detailed those qualities, the better.

Commitment P1.b, “Provide clear justifications as to why certain data cannot be released”, is measured by ODB and OURdata. Indicators assess data policies and whether governments publish their decision-making processes. These should include justifications of what data can and cannot be published.

Commitment P1.c, “Establish a culture of openness, not only through legislative and policy measures, but also with the help of training and awareness programs, tools, guidelines, and communication strategies designed to make government, civil society, and private sector representatives aware of the benefits of open data”, is measured by ODB and OURdata. Indicators assess whether government provides training for civil servants.

Commitment P1.d, “Develop the leadership, management, oversight, performance incentives, and internal communication policies necessary to enable this transition to a culture of openness in all government departments and agencies, including official statistics organizations”, is measured similarly to P1.c by ODB, OURdata and EODMA. Indicators assess whether trainings are provided to use data.

Commitment P1.e,Observe domestic laws and internationally recognized standards, in particular those pertaining to security, privacy, confidentiality, and intellectual property. Where relevant legislation or regulations do not exist or are out of date, they will be created and/or updated”, is measured by ODB and OURdata. Indicators assess the existence of a robust legal or regulatory framework for protection of personal data.

Commitment P1.f, “In accordance with privacy legislation and standards, anonymize data prior to its publication, ensuring that sensitive, personally-identifiable data is removed”, is measured by ODB and OURdata, and use the same questions as in P1.e.