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Opening the Gates: Will Open Data Initiatives Make Local Governments in the Philippines More Transparent?

December 06, 2016 by Michael Canares, Joseph de Guia, Marijoe Narca, Jaremilleta Arawiran

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In 2011, the Department of Interior and Local Government of the Philippines mandated the implementation of the Full Disclosure Policy that requires local government units (LGUs) to post financial and procurement –related information in LGU websites. To date, more than 75% of the local government units in the country have complied. This research investigates whether the provision of local government information through government websites has affected both the providers of the information and its supposed audience – the public, as represented by citizen groups. To answer the questions, the researchers made use of a case study approach by selecting three provinces as research sites. The primary methods used were review of secondary data, focus group discussions, and key informant interviews. The research found out two major significant findings. On the supply side, incentivising openness is a critical aspect in ensuring that local governments have the interest to disclose financial data. While at this stage, local governments are still on compliance behaviour, it encourages the once reluctant LGUs to disclose financial information in the use of public funds, especially when technology and institutional arrangements are in place. However, LGUs do not make an effort to inform the public that information is available online and has not made data accessible in such a way that it can allow the public to perform computations and analysis. Currently, no data standards have been made yet by the Philippine national government in terms of format and level of detail. On the demand side, there is limited awareness on the part of the public, and more particularly the intermediaries (e.g. business groups, civil society organizations, research institutions), on the availability of data, and thus, its limited use. As most of these data are financial in nature, it requires a certain degree of competence and expertise so that they will be able to make use of the data in demanding from government better services and accountability. This paper argues that openness is not just about governments putting meaningful government data out into the public domain, but also about making the public meaningfully engage with governments through the use of open government data. This requires policies that will require observance of open government data standards and a capacity building process of ensuring that the public, to whom the data is intended, are aware and able to use the data in ensuring more transparent and accountable governance.