Notes from International Open Data Conference 2016, Madrid

Covering open contracting, joined up data standards and civil society capacity

Learning from others from Open Contracting Day

Prozorro - Central Procurement Database and API using OCDS in Ukraine

A good case study of on open data standards providing a new model for driving government, business and civil society innovation.

Implementing and providing a case study for the premise that open standards leads to innovation and competitiveness. It was shared that if there is only one vendor implementing procurement systems, there is little incentive for innovation. With Prozorro and the Ukraine government implementation, the government provides central database and API which stores data in open contracting data standard (OCDS) format.

This opens up competition and innovation for procurement vendors for government. Storing in OCDS format also allows civil society like Transparency International to build tools for monitoring procurement for red flags. Additionally, other vendors or government itself can build planning dashboards and other tools which can be reused amongst other departments if open sourced since all procurement data is open and in a standard format and accessible via a open standard API.

Budeshi, Nigeria

Budeshi is an initiative of the Public and Private Development Centre in partnership with the School of Media and Communication, Pan-Atlantic University and Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism

Malaysia is ranked 54 for Transparency International’s 2015 CPI Index while Nigeria is far down the list at 136. It is likely that the challenges Nigeria civil society faces in implementing Open Contracting be similar to that of Malaysia, and learning from their experience would be beneficial when trying to implement open contracting in Malaysia.

Budeshi had at times do FOI requests for contracting info. One of the challenges they faced was that they needed to map out local contracting terms to OCDS. The project also required compilation of different sources to map available information to compile into OCDS records. For technical support in doing this, they got helped from the Open Contracting Help Desk.

If we were to implement OCDS in Malaysia, this should be the first steps that we should follow, which is to get contract information and then try map it to the OCDS standard, to see how the local terms match, and what information is missing. Since we do not have federal level FOI enactment, a possible test case for Malaysia is to plan on doing it for Penang or Selangor local councils, for which the respective states have an FOI act if state government agencies are unwilling to share contract information.

Moldova Open Procurement

This is basically what many envision a site might look like on how open contracting can make government procurement and contracts accessible. Developed by the Government of Moldova’s Public Procurement Agency under the Ministry of Finance in partnership with the eGovernment Center and with support from the Open Contracting team of the World Bank.

I thought it was open source, but couldn’t find the source code. If it was, it would be a good test to see if tools could be reusable with different country databases as the source data is the same standard.

Joined Up Data for to Demystify Government

One of the outcomes from IODC that was a priority was to connect with people working on joined up open data standards.  At Sinar Project one of our goals is to make government accessible. Unfortunately government is complex and requires joining up a lot of information get the complete picture.

Take the case of conflicting news about shortage of hospital supplies in Malaysia. To understand exactly where the problem is, several data points are needed, including budget and expenditures, supply contracts and agency/hospital management performance. Additional data might also be needed such as price of medicines such as generic versus brand.

At this time, Sinar Project has a good API and Database implementation (Popit) of Popolo standards to store people, organizations, posts & memberships held and legislative information such as as motions and votes. This provides a good source of joined up data for beneficial ownership when joined up with contract information.  A proof of concept application was developed at International Anti-Corruption Conference in Kuala Lumpur. This was of particular interest from some participants from Kenya and other African countries, as contracts are given to cronies and relatives and there is a need for open data database to expose and make these connections accessible to the public.

Follow the Money Network & Open Data Standards Day

Follow The Money

Learned about the Follow the Money Network and started connecting with others working to track and expose the flow of illicit money. What we learned in Malaysia is that associations of PEPs in related cases closely mapped the information from flow of money. It sometimes exposed connections that at the time was not connected yet when tracking flow of funds.

Wanted to meet others, who were working on tracking flow of funds using some sort of open data standard, but it seems that there isn’t any one specific way yet. The positive side is connecting with the network and will be able to keep working on this issue with others.

Shared in a break-out session, how in Malaysia lessons learned in piecing together information on PEPs to be able to expose beneficial ownership or corruption, by structuring unstructured data into open data.

  • Senior public officials at agencies will also need to be tracked, long term (several years or more), the data may not become available until much later
  • Start and End dates of Posts  held is important to be able to prove wrong doing
  • When pulling together different sources, citations is key so that journalists can quickly verify the information before running a story

Global Beneficial Ownership

Beneficial Ownership Register aggregating data from around the world to build a single free and open database of beneficial ownership. It also aims to create links with government data such as budgets, public contracts and expenditure.

As earlier mapping diagram of Sinar for Malaysian government has shown, this is a very big effort involving joining up a lot of data. Getting involved from the beginning would help ensure that our use cases are incorporated into the design and development of this global register, especially for joined up data.

Information on this effort can be found at Ironically access to Medium is blocked in Malaysia due to exposure of corruption information such as details of beneficial ownership published on the platform by Sarawak Report (also blocked in Malaysia), one of the investigative sites that exposed whistleblower information on the 1MDB case.

Joined up Data Sessions

One of the early morning sessions ended up just a circle of people sharing what they were working on within a limited amount of time. There was no time to do break up groups, but managed to get contacts for the Joined-Up Data Standards project to follow up the conversation after the event.  (Mission Accomplished!)

Raised that legislative data in Popolo-spec such as motions and elected representative, senior public officials, government agencies, committees etc. are all important as well to be joined up. Especially for organizations with goals to make decision makers accessible and accountable.

Looking forward now to be part of these discussions and collaborations going forward, as well as learning more about the other data standards, that will be needed for us to implement in Malaysia to map out government information as open data.

CSO capacity

A side discussion that was brought up was that in the Philippines the civil society organizations that used to monitor government procurement contracts are no longer around. Similar feedback has been heard by us from Singapore government, as well as at Malaysian Open Government conference on Oct 20th. When the open data is made available, there is no civil society organization that is making use of it. This was also raised at IODC15 as shared by Open Data Labs Jakarta.

Part of the reason is the technical nature of open data, and I’ve written separately on how this can be addressed. Especially at the open data standards level, my experience has been that even with guides, users not used to technical collaboration on-line such as github have difficulties working in this environment. Partnering with traditional CSOs and mapping their goals and work to open data as well as capacity building might solve this problem, including internally at Sinar Project.

It’s an important point to share, that Sinar Project core funding for 2016 as well as 2017, is actually for Digital Rights work, not open data. Mainstreaming technical aspects of open data into rights based projects that can be funded at Sinar Project is still something that is being worked on at SInar Project. We might be able to avoid the problem faced in Philippines for Malaysia.

Domain knowledge

The other problem is the domain knowledge required to fully understand how to raise red flags. For example, is extending the airport train at Kuala Lumpur for a new terminal that is just 1km away really cost RM100M? Are the reasons for the extension valid? This one would require domain specific knowledge of construction and more specifically rail industry. This is knowledge that traditional transparency organizations likely will not have.

Academic, trade and professional associations will need to be involved in these discussions. We will need efforts and organizations such as Construction Transparency to help bridge these gaps so that domain specific knowledge can be applied to build better open contracting standards, open government standards or as joined up data.

Funding and Support 

Sinar Project participation for Open Contracting Day and International Open Data Conference was possible thanks to travel support by the Open Contracting Partnership

About the Author

Khairil Yusof <[email protected]>  PGP ID:  889164CB

Coordinates project implementations, funding, engagement and overall direction of Sinar Project. He works on open government and open parliament initiatives. He also helps conducts training to help build technical capacity for other civil society organizations. In the past, he used to worked on the International Open Source Network project as part of the UNDP Asia-Pacific Development Information Programme promoting adoption of open source, open standards and open content to developing countries in Asia-Pacific region. Has extensively worked with various government agencies, private sector and civil society for ICT for development issues. Even though he is not as skilled in languages as his fellow team mates, but he primarily speaks Python, and a smattering of Go. In what little (if any) personal time left after spending time with his kids, he plays basketball, dabbles in gardening, playing keyboard and following what's happening in the different fields of design.