Right To Know

14 Jun, 2013


by Giorgi  Kldiashvili and Levan Avalishvili

Institute for Development of Freedom of Information


While tyrannies feed on ignorance, informed citizens constitute the underlying foundation of a free society. The more people know about the government, the better the country is governed, because government transparency is a critical precondition for an effective fight against corruption and to assure accountability of the government before the people. 

To develop trust between people and their government, citizens must be more actively engaged in decision-making. This requires access to public information. Only transparency of the government restores public trust in state institutions. Only wide-ranging transparency will allay society’s suspicions and erase the stereotype of officials’ dishonesty. Only when information is free is it possible to realize the ideal of democracy – power of the people, by the people and for the people.

IDFI was a small organization, consisting of its two founders, when we started monitoring the information content of government websites in Georgia. The Institute received its first grant from OSGF in 2010, which was used to rent an office and hire staff. Thanks to the OSGF support, “Monitoring of Information (Internet) Resources of Public Authorities of Georgia” became IDFI’s main project.

We have been monitoring official websites and advocating for the development of e-transparency and modern trends of e-Government for three years. Institute experts analyze the content of official governmental web pages as well as auditing their technical level, and providing the agencies with detailed recommendations.

Concurrently, IDFI advocated for the legal regulation of proactive publishing of information by government organizations. As a result, with the direct engagement of the Institute, in May 2012 amendments were made to the General Administrative Code of Georgia (Chapter III) regulating proactive publishing of information.

IDFI worked with the Legal Issues Committee of the Parliament of Georgia and the Ministry of Justice of Georgia on drafting the amendments to the General Administrative Code of Georgia on proactive disclosure of information. According to the new amendments, new terms were adopted, such as “proactive publishing”, and “electronic resources” proposed by the Institute. Electronic submission of request of information and obligation of the government agencies to send information will go into force starting in September of 2013.

Monitoring access to information is the leading project of the IDFI. The Public information database www.opendata.ge, a project initiated and supported by OSGF, made the Institute well known in Georgia and in the Freedom of Information and NGO communities.

The main challenges were the lack of awareness about the obligation of governmental organizations to enable public access to government documents, and a lack of understanding about the significance of freedom of information to society. 

For three years IDFI has been receiving funding from OSGF for the development of the Opendata project. The first year of the project “Public Information Database” (www.opendata.ge) was a success, with thousands of requests sent and answers received. Citizens sought statistical information, the database was enriched, and researchers uncovered interesting cases and submitted nominations for the most transparent and the most opaque public institutions.

However, intensive work on this project has also revealed new perspectives for development and new challenges. A lot of valuable information received by us during the project did not receive adequate attention, either from journalists or from the general public.

This was the main reason why IDFI increased its activity in this field, increased its staff and decided to develop its analytical direction and, besides being a watch-dog organization, develop some aspects of a think-tank as well.

That is why in July the team launched an analytical Opendata blog. The goal of the blog was to present the analysis of interesting information received within the framework of the project.

Thus, it can be said that Opendata team has moved on to a substantially new level of development – not simply requesting and uploading public information, but now analyzing it.

The challenge here is in combining the two tasks, since some topics require in-depth study and can take considerable time until a valuable piece of analysis can be presented. Now that more than half of the project has passed, it is clear that the new initiative was a big success. It is now easier for the media to cover important topics and cite us (or not, and simply copy-paste – which is a different problem). As a result, IDFI has become better known as various topics are covered by the publications of the Institute, and blog posts of the project are discussed by the media and the public. IDFI also publishes researches related to Freedom Of Information, best practices on access to government documents, and comparative analyses.

In September 2011, Georgia joined the Open Government Partnership Initiative (OGP). The Institute’s experts submitted detailed recommendation regarding the Action Plan of Georgia for the OGP. Parameters used by IDFI for monitoring of web-pages were updated and presented as a list of socially important information that must be proactively published by state agencies. IDFI worked with the Ministry of Justice of Georgia on drafting Georgia’s Action Plan for OGP. In April 2012, Georgia published its Action Plan for OGP. Since then IDFI is involved in monitoring the implementation of the Government of Georgia’s commitments on OGP and in February 2013 submitted the new list of recommendation to the government.

IDFI is a member and actively participates in the activities of the Media Advocacy Coalition, and is involved in writing policy, research and developing strategy for Digital Switchover (DSO) process (digitalization of terrestrial broadcasting). Institute also actively works on long term broadband strategy policy for Georgia and other issues related to media, internet and communication.

From a small organization established in 2009, IDFI has become a well-known organization working on FoI issues. The fact that IDFI was invited by the Government of Georgia after the 2012 parliamentary elections to become a member of the Anti-Corruption Council of Georgia – can be considered as a success and recognition of the Institutes role in FOI, transparency and accountability issues.

IDFI is a leading organization in Georgia focusing on e-Governance and e-Transparency that organizes international conferences, workshops and round tables. The Institute is involved in drafting legislative amendments and experts of the organization are frequently invited to participate in discussions about transparency, accountability, anti-corruption strategy and e-government.

The development of analytical activities is one of the priorities of the organization. Interest in analyzing transparency and accountability of the government has become even higher after the elections, when it became possible to compare the current and previous governments. Thus, Opendata will continue working in this direction.

IDFI will continue to work closely on policymaking processes in the field of Freedom of Information, and is one of the most active parts of the civil society, advocating changes in this direction.