One of the rationales behind opening up government data is that it provides greater transparency. That's particularly true in the field of procurement: too often in the past it has been hard to find why exactly all that money was spent, and on what. One of the undoubted achievements of the present UK government is to require much of that data to be made freely available for people to inspect, analyse and query.
In some parts of the world, things are even more problematic, not least because procurement is mired in corruption at very high levels. This makes transparency, open government and open data not just highly political issues, but sometimes matters that involve criminality on a large scale.
Against that background, it's great to see the creation of an initiative called Open Contracting aimed at tackling precisely this problem. Here's how it describes itself:
Failings in public contracting are undermining development. Public revenues are not being generated, allocated and spent as effectively as they should be. Such factors as corruption, opaque contracting processes and poor oversight of contract implementation are undermining results.
Citizens, particularly the poor, are paying the price. This is particularly worrisome in key sectors, such as extractive industries or infrastructure, where contracts are shaping the extent to which countries benefit from their natural resources and their public investments.
Citizen should know the how these deals are entered into, the key terms of these deals, and whether the deals are delivering value. Through Open Contracting we aim to build a global movement that establishes contract disclosure as the norm and that builds the capacity of a wide set of actors – government, private sector and citizens- to monitor contracts.
Here's how it hopes to achieve that:
Within the context of improved governance and service delivery, Open Contracting refers to norms, practices and methodologies for increased transparency and monitoring in public contracting, including contracts implemented by multilateral donors. Open Contracting begins with the disclosure of the relevant public procurement information from pre-award activities through contract award and implementation to allow for effective monitoring and accountability for results. It covers the variety of contract types, with an initial emphasis on large-scale concessions deals in land, extractive industries, infrastructure, forestry, and service delivery procurement contracts.
As can be seen, open data lies at the heart of this, and its implications for open government are significant. It's a huge challenge, and it remains to be seen what success Open Contracting has in combatting the kind of problems that beset this field, but it's good to see it trying.