Declaration on Parliamentary Openness

An increasing number of Open Enterprise posts are about moves to open up government in myriad ways. That's not really surprising, since open source clearly is a perfect match for public administrations, as are open standards, and open data is a...

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An increasing number of Open Enterprise posts are about moves to open up government in myriad ways. That's not really surprising, since open source clearly is a perfect match for public administrations, as are open standards, and open data is a natural outgrowth of software openness.

Obviously, this shift is taking place around the world, as governments everywhere open up to varying degrees. So it's only natural that some kind of distillation of this process should occur; and here it is, the new Declaration on Parliamentary Openness, hosted on the OpeningParliament.org site:

Parliamentary monitoring organizations (PMOs) are working to create strong, open and accountable parliaments, through enhancing citizen participation in the legislative process and bringing parliaments closer to the people they represent. OpeningParliament.org provides a forum for international collaboration on efforts to improve access to parliamentary information and share experiences and good practices among PMOs. It also serves as the home of the Declaration on Parliamentary Openness, a set of shared principles on the openness, transparency and accessibility of parliaments being developed by the international PMO community.

Here's its stated purpose:

The Declaration on Parliamentary Openness is a call to national parliaments, and sub-national and transnational legislative bodies, by civil society parliamentary monitoring organizations (PMOs) for an increased commitment to openness and to citizen engagement in parliamentary work. PMOs are increasingly recognized for the important role they play in making parliamentary information more accessible to citizens, strengthening the capacity of citizens to participate in parliamentary processes, and improving parliamentary accountability. While PMOs have a strong interest in advocating for greater access to government and parliamentary information, they also recognize the need for increased collaborative dialogue with the world's parliaments on issues of parliamentary reform. The Declaration is intended not only as a call to action, but also as a basis for dialogue between parliaments and PMOs to advance government and parliamentary openness, and to ensure that this openness leads to greater citizen engagement, more responsive representative institutions and, ultimately, a more democratic society.

What's really great is the way that it places openness right at the heart of parliamentary democracy. Here's why:

Parliamentary information belongs to the public. Parliamentary information shall be able to be reused or republished by citizens with any limited restrictions narrowly defined by law. To enable a culture of parliamentary openness, parliament must enact measures to ensure inclusive citizen participation and a free civil society, enable effective parliamentary monitoring, and vigorously protect these rights through its oversight role. Parliament shall also ensure that citizens have legal recourse to enforce their right to access parliamentary information. Parliament has an affirmative duty to promote citizen understanding of parliamentary functioning and share good practices with other parliaments to increase openness and transparency. Parliament shall work collaboratively with PMOs and citizens to ensure that parliamentary information is complete, accurate, and timely.

Lest you think that the document is full of airy generalities, try these very concrete proposals for size:

Parliamentary information shall be compiled and released in an open and structured format, such as structured XML, that can be read and processed by computers, so that parliamentary information can be easily reused and analyzed by citizens, civil society, the private sector and government.

And this:

Parliament shall give preference to the release of digital information in non-proprietary and open formats, and the use of free and open-source software applications.

As you can see, open source and open standards are really baked into the whole document, as they should be. It's really great to see this awareness from organisations working further up the stack of open democracy. I look forward to those values seeping even more deeply into the parliamentary fabric around the world.

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