In October 2015, Kyrgyzstan’s parliament announced it had ordered 120 new chairs at a cost of 2.6 million soms, or over US$34,000. News of the extravagant purchase price sparked a backlash.
Social media users noted that the extravagant purchase makes them skeptical of promises to reduce spending. A virtual flash mob inundated social media networks with hundreds of photos of their own armchairs and office chairs under the hashtags #mychair and #120armchairs. The public shaming proved effective, and the order was canceled.
As information becomes readily available and easily sharable, the internet and social media have helped lay bare government corruption and waste for all the world to see. In Kyrgyzstan, where corruption has long flourished, this is especially true—public exposure has led to the cancellation of several recent government procurements.
Last month, an order by Kyrgyzstan’s Ministry of Finance for two electronic tablets at $1,500 each and office chairs for $3,744 was halted after a flurry of online criticism. Before that, the 2015 New Year’s party for the agency that manages Kyrgyzstan’s Manas International Airport was cancelled under pressure from the public when it was revealed the event would cost $20,000.
The availability of all this data helps to hold governments accountable. But just as important is interpreting and disseminating the data for public consumption. That’s the focus of the Global Open Data Index, a crowdsourcing platform that evaluates the openness of government data sets around the world. The initiative is essentially a civil society audit of government-published data, which citizens and organizations can use as a tool for discussion and analysis.
Tools for working with open data bring to the surface various aspects of government work—from official decisions to public expenditures—that were previously hidden in enormous volumes of documents.
This year, the Open Society Foundations supported the first Central Asian Open Data Hackathon, which compiled and analyzed 40 government data sets. The hackathon resulted in several new applications that the public can use to sift through public data, including Open Parliament, which helps citizens monitor political activities, and Open Bilim, which lets users analyze test results for high schools.
The hackathon also handed out awards to government agencies that had made data available. For instance, the Supreme Council was recognized for publishing the most detailed and informative data, the official website of the National Statistical Committee was praised for publishing large quantities of data, and the information portal of the Customs Service was hailed for publishing data in the most convenient format.
In addition to offering citizens the opportunity to request information, the Open Data Index assesses the openness of information on tenders, procurements, and general services of government agencies. For example, the Ministry of Justice’s website provides information on which lawyers are licensed, the Supreme Court’s shows rulings and decisions, and the Hydrometeorological Service’s portal has weather data.
The openness of these state agencies, in turn, allows developers to create products and services that make life easier for citizens. Open data creates transparency that leads to a better functioning government, making Kyrgyzstan more attractive for investment, and more accountable to its citizens.