The right to information is a fundamental human right that is critical to the realization of other rights as well as to the attainment of an effective democracy. More than 80 countries around the world have a law which guarantees the public’s right to information and ensures access to government records. While campaigns to support the adoption of new laws are crucial in countries where they are not already in place, the failure to implement existing laws could undermine the strength of this emerging global movement. Many countries have taken the first step of adopting right-to-information (RTI) laws without then investing in the capacities and resources needed to implement them.
The Open Society Right to Information Fund provides support to civil society groups that are working to promote the full implementation of RTI laws. The fund supports initiatives that build awareness about the utility of RTI laws, expand the community of users of these laws, and educate groups on obtaining information through RTI laws that can be used to further policy goals. Support is also given to efforts that ensure a broad range of civil society actors from a variety of fields have a stake in the implementation of these laws.
The fund provides support for civil society efforts in the following areas:
Centers of Expertise
An RTI law places a legal obligation on government to open up its workings to the public. At the national and regional level, the fund supports groups that can serve as centers of expertise in their country or region and act as effective watchdogs on government progress. These groups should have the skills to file requests, challenge refusals, undertake litigation and monitor government performance. Support is also given to groups able to provide essential assistance to others by helping them to use RTI laws.
Citizens can more effectively hold government accountable when information is proactively disclosed in a timely manner and accessible format. The fund supports civil society efforts to ensure that governments not only respond to information requests, but also proactively disclose information as required by the country’s RTI law. Where a country’s RTI law does not include a proactive disclosure requirement, the fund supports groups to push for the law to be amended to include such a provision. Groups may focus on the disclosure of particular kinds of information such as information related to the environment or public health, or on types of information, such as annual reports by public bodies. Information must be obtained through the country’s RTI law, not through other legislation.
Civil society organizations are increasingly using RTI laws to spur debates and advance reform on a range of issues. These kinds of efforts reveal how RTI laws can create opportunities for deeper civil society engagement in the policy decisions that affect their lives. The fund supports projects which combine a strategy for obtaining information under RTI laws with a credible plan for using that information. For instance, information could be used to advocate for policy change or promote the broader inclusion of the public in government decision-making. Proposals from groups which do not primarily focus on RTI but would like to use RTI laws in their work are encouraged.
Documenting, Research, and Networking
Understanding how laws work in practice requires a critical examination of how groups have used these laws to achieve their goals. Too often, groups are forced to rely on anecdotal evidence to learn about the efforts of other advocates. At the same time, opportunities for the development of best practices and networking across countries and movements can allow experienced organizations to share knowledge with groups in countries where RTI laws are new and local expertise is still developing. The fund supports this kind of networking and learning, as well as projects which document experiences using RTI and provide analysis that would benefit others.
The fund supports groups to monitor implementation and create demand for RTI rather than undertake adoption campaigns. Priority is given to national efforts that can have impact beyond their borders as models or regional catalysts. This includes groups working in countries where civil society organizations are already engaged in the field, the RTI law reflects best practice and/or the government is committed to international standards. The fund also supports regional networking and collaboration in order to build partnerships among groups with experience and those working in countries where efforts are more nascent.
To apply for a grant from the Open Society Right to Information Fund, interested organizations should send a two- to three-page concept paper to firstname.lastname@example.org. The paper should include the following:
- A brief description of the project goals and planned activities;
- Information about the applicant organization and project partners;
- An estimated overall budget and timeframe of the project.
The fund will aim to respond to concept papers within one month of receipt. Selected applicants will be invited to submit a full proposal for consideration.