Access Info Europe is the regional partner for the Global Data Barometer (GDB) in Europe coordinating 27 countries across Europe, the Americas, Oceania and Asia. Access Info Europe is a human rights organisation established in Madrid in 2006, dedicated to promoting and protecting the right of access to information. Access Info runs a range of projects designed to leverage the right to information in order to increase participation and accountability, to defend human rights, and to advance democracy.
We recently had the opportunity to learn more about the hub’s experience during the research phase of the Global Data Barometer from Marta Morcuende, the regional coordinator for the GDB project and Researcher and Campaigner at Access Info.
Q: How can you describe your experience throughout the GDB research process?
The first edition of a large-scale research project like this brings challenges, and we have definitely learned many lessons for future editions. Our researchers from around the world made an impressive effort, and the volume of data collected is extremely useful. We are now analysing all the data and defining our strategy to use the findings to advocate for greater openness and transparency.
Q: Can you share some brief insights on data availability across the countries you were working with?
The list of countries covered by Access Info score, as a whole, is higher than the average of the global index, both on the core pillars and on the thematic modules, which was something expected since we cover some of the most developed countries in the world. However, as in many other regions, the lowest scores were on the political integrity module.
Data sets which were generally available included those on Covid-19 vaccinations, asset declarations, public procurement, emissions, political finance, budget and spending data, and vital statistics. By contrast, data on climate vulnerability, RTI performance, and lobbying was largely missing.
Q: Looking at the GDB thematic modules, were there any surprises in terms of the findings?
Lobbying regulations and data on lobbying were strikingly inexistent, which is unacceptable in our modern democracies. There is still some key data that is not available free of charge (an example is having to pay for access to company and beneficial ownership registration data in many countries). Another important finding is how much data is not available in machine-readable formats, something that is unacceptable in the 21st century where everybody works with computers and mobile phones.
We hear much talk about the value of data and data-driven economies and yet governments still make data hard to find and reuse. One positive outcome, which ran counter to our expectations, is that data availability was not seriously affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Rather, the research revealed that the biggest threat to data availability is the lack of legal frameworks requiring the collection and publication of data.
Q: On your website you have a number of projects relating to spending of public funds, company registers, and media ownership transparency. How do you see Access Info Europe using some of the data from the GDB research to lobby for better data availability or capabilities?
We definitely plan to use the data collected through the GDB to advocate for greater transparency. The findings prove that there is still a lot of room for improvement, even in the most developed countries.
In the European Union, a massive amount of money from the recovery funds is being disbursed to the Member States to address the Covid-19 pandemic and its effects on the economy, and it is crucial that we can monitor how these funds are spent, and that there is no misuse of the money. Access Info is a founding member of the Open Spending EU Coalition, a collaboration of non-government organisations and professionals working at the national and EU levels to ensure that government spending is done fairly, openly, efficiently, and creates the best value for money and best outcomes for Europe.
Q: What are some of the bright spots from the GDB data you would like to share with us?
There are some positive findings such as data on Covid-19 vaccination being available in all the 27 surveyed countries. We also found that civil society organisations and the media are the most frequent users of political integrity data for accountability purposes. Significant use of company information and public procurement data has also been identified. It is also positive that in our countries we found strong legislation on data protection, political financing, and asset declarations.
Q: What are some of the areas you would like to see covered by the GDB in future editions?
The GDB survey was quite complete and comprehensive. That said, checking the availability of data on judicial branches, on gender equality, or on the Sustainable Development Goals indicators, would be an interesting addition. At Access Info, we conducted research in 2020 in seven European countries on the availability of data for the SDG 5 on Gender Equality, and it was striking how some data, such as that on violence against women, was not available in every country.
Q: What are some of the obstacles you encounter in your work?
Funding for transparency in the European region is generally overlooked. This is a real challenge and an obstacle to carrying out our work, which is fundamental for defence of human rights and democracy. As experts on the right of access to information, and having evidence on how much work is still to be done on implementing and measuring the implementation of this right, we call for greater funding for civil society working to advance transparency in the European region.