Availability of data on activities of representative bodies is a necessary condition for strong democracy. Representative bodies vary significantly in an extent to which they publish various data about their activities and in ways how they provide them to the public. These ways of publishing data are very important because it determines how easy it is to search, understand, obtain and re-use this data. For these reasons we decided to measure and quantify these differences and perform an evaluation of data openness of the Czech Regional Assemblies, as well as formulate specific recommendations for each Regional Assembly.
The study “Datová otevřenost krajských zastupitelstev: Analýza a doporučení” (in Czech). Source: KohoVolit.eu. The study can be downloaded here.
The evaluation is based on the Declaration on Parliamentary Openness, an international covenant drafted by the international community of parliamentary monitoring organizations, most importantly by the National Democratic Institute, the Sunlight Foundation an association of Latin American parliamentary monitoring organizations Latin American Network for Legislative Transparency. Since its launch in 2012, the Declaration has been endorsed by over 140 parliamentary monitoring organizations in some 70 countires and by a number of national parliaments and other representative bodies. The Declaration contains 44 articles defining specific conditions that a national parliament or other representative body should meet in order to be considered open.
The evaluation is focused only on data proactively provided by the Regional Assembly on its official website. It is focused on six key datasets related to the legislative process in the Czech Regional Assemblies: minutes from sessions, audio and video recordings of sessions, voting results, session agenda, texts of legislation and information about members. For each of these types of data, openness of the plenary session is measured separately from openness of committee sessions. For each type of data in each Regional Assembly, openness is quantifies using a special methodology. Each type of data recieves a certain number of points based on quality, usability nad completeness of data. These points are then divided by a maximum number of points. A value of an indicator of data openness is thus obtained, ranging from 0 % to 100 %. Alternatively, points for all six types of data can be added up and the product can be again divided by a maximum number of points. An aggregate indicator of data openness for a Regional Assembly is obtained this way, ranging again from 0 % to 100%.
A map below shows a value of the aggregate indicator of data openness in Regional Assemblies. It is a combination of values of data opennes for plenary sessions and for committee sessions.
Czech Regional Assemblies are not very open. In all Regions, data related to plenary sessions are less open than data related to committees. For example, many Regional Assemblies publish audio or video recordings of plenary sessions (Praha, Jihočeský Region, Liberecký Region, Vysočina Region) and voting results recorded by names of individual members (Praha, the Jihočeský Region, the Plzeňský Region, the Karlovarský Region, the Liberecký Region, the Královéhradecký Region, the Pardubický Region, the Vysočina Region, the Jihomoravský Region, the Olomoucký Region, the Moravskoslezský Region) while the same standard is not practised for committee sessions in any Region.
No Regional Assembly provides access to its data via an API (application programming interface) and there is only one region that provides bulk downloads although in a suboptimal way (data related to one session are stored in separate files). In regard to data formats, proprietary formats of Microsoft Office and native PDF formats are most typical although scans of printed documents are also common.
Charts below show values of data openness indicators for plenary and committee sessions in all assemblies. The same metodology was used to evaluate data openness in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, the two chambers of the Czech national Parliament. As you can see, the chambers are much more open than any Regional Assembly. The most open is the Assembly of the Liberecký kraj and the least open is the Assembly of the Zlínský kraj.
The chart above shows that data openness of plenary sessions (horizontal axis) does not correlate with data openness of committee sessions (vertical axis). While e.g. the Liberecký Region or the Olomoucký Region exhibit relatively high levels of both plenary-related and committees-related data openness there are Regions such as the Plzeňský Region or the Moravskoslezský Region that exhibit high levels of plenary-related data openness but very low levels of committees-related data openness.
A table below summarizes main findings regarding quality, formats and a number of years covered by data published on official websites of the Regional Assemblies. Complete data from a survey questionnaire used to capture information about Regional Assemblies data openness in can be downloaded (in Czech).
Although overall data openness is relatively low there are notable positive examples of data openness:
Praha: This Regional Assembly exhibits the best practice of publishing video recordings of plenary sessions of all the Regional Assemblies. The video recordings are always edited according to the session agenda so that debates related to individual issues on the agenda can be searched easily. The video recordings, however, can only we watched on the official website and cannot be downloaded.
The Jihočeský Region: This Regional Assembly publishes audio recordings of plenary sessions. These are again edited according to the session agenda. This time, individual audio files can be downloaded in MP3 formats.
The Liberecký Region: This Regional Assembly provides rich information about its members. Apart from usual types of information such as party affiliation or committee memberships, incumbent members of the Assembly provide declarations of assets. These declarations use the same methodology used in the national Parliament. In some cases, the declarations are hand-written which seriously decreases their usability.
The Olomoucký Region: This Regional Assembly allows users to download data in bulk which greatly improves usefulness of this data. All minutes from plenary and committee sessions, voting results from plenary sessions, texts of legislation and session agenda from one term can be downloaded easily.
On the other hand, there are negative examples to mention:
The Středočeský Region: The official website does not contain a list of minutes from committee session. Some minutes, however, are searchable via the website’s search engine. Obviously, the minutes are recorded but not publushed in any systematic way.
The Plzeňský Region: This Regional Assembly produces relatively high quality minutes from plenary sessions including e.g. summary of the debate. However, only minutes from the last session is available. Older minutes could not be found.
The Karlovarský Region: This Regional Assembly records voting during the plenary sessions by names of individual members. However, links to these voting records are only included in text files of minutes from the sessions. Therefore, voting results are very difficult to find, download in bulk and re-use.
The Ústecký Region: The only data available on the official webiste of this Regional Assembly are texts of legislation. These texts include voting results. However, only total numbers of members voting for, against or abstaining are published. This Regions is therefore one of the few Regions where citizens cannot find out how their elected representatives decide on important issues.
The Královéhradecký Region: Until 2013, this Regional Assembly published audio recordings from plenary sessions. However, it ceased to publish these recordings afterwards. Currently, there are no audio recordings available.
The Jihomoravský Region: This Regional Assembly actually registered a decrease in data openness over time. While in its first and second terms (2000-2008) it published texts of legislation in the HTML format it later begun to publish this data in DOC files which are much more difficult to process.
Zlínský kraj: This Regional Assembly scored last in the evaluation. The only type of data published on its official website is the plenary session agenda.
This evaluation was performed in the Advocacy of open data in the Regional Assemblies based on the Declaration of Parliamentary Openness project supported by the Open Society Fund. Complete results are available in our report (in Czech). There is also a detailed description of our methodology (in Czech), including a research questionnaire (in Czech and in English). Summary of the methodology can also be found on a special website (in Czech and English). You can also download a complete dataset capturing information on data openness in each Regional Assembly (in Czech).
We have prepared short policy briefs for public servants working in the Regional Assemblies. These policy briefs shortly introduce our evaluation, summarize main findings and formulate recommendation. Separate policy briefs are available for Praha, the Středočeský Region, the Jihočeský Region, the Plzeňský Region, the Karlovarský Region, the Ústecký Region, the Liberecký Region, the Královéhradecký Region, the Pardubický Region, the Region Vysočina, the Jihomoravský Region, the Olomoucký Region, the Zlínský Region and the Moravskoslezský Region. This project was also covered by a prestigious OpeningParliament.org website focused on the international parliamentary monitoring commuity.
Kamil Gregor, KohoVolit.eu 2014, CC-BY 4.0.