1. Opening up government ministers’ meetings with lobbyists

    Scrutiny of government ministers’ meetings with lobbyists has been boosted by the Open Access UK project from Transparency International UK, which integrates with our Freedom of Information service WhatDoTheyKnow

    The fact that meetings between ministers, and people or organisations outside of Government have taken place is published, as required by the Ministerial Code, but typically, few details are proactively released. 

    The Open Access UK service collates published declarations of meetings, and provides special links to WhatDoTheyKnow where users can find a pre-written Freedom of Information request for each meeting, asking for:

    • The agenda
    • The list of attendees, including details of any organisations they represented
    • Copies of briefing notes and papers prepared in advance
    • Notes or minutes recording  what was discussed
    • Any correspondence associated with the attendees, including messages sent to follow up on the meeting

    The service covers almost 90,000 ministerial meetings which have taken place since 2012, and it’s being actively maintained, with 1,500 more meetings added last month.  

    Screenshot of the Open Access UK project from Transparency International UK

    To identify meetings of interest, searches can be carried out for the name of an organisation (such as a company, charity, union, or lobby group), minister, or by subject matter/policy area. Anyone interested in details of what happened at a meeting can request such information in public via WhatDoTheyKnow with a couple of clicks. You can also follow requests on any meeting, whether or not you are the person who submitted them.

    It appears that meetings listed don’t only include physical ones, but online events and phone calls. Some detailed Government guidance on what should, and should not, be included in ministers’ transparency disclosures has been released via WhatDoTheyKnow (though the Government initially refused the request); more up-to date material also appears to be available, including a “pandemic-related update” which specifically covers remote meetings. 

    The service does not currently cover meetings with ministers’ special advisers or civil servants where ministers are not present themselves, but Transparency International UK are inviting contact from anyone who would like to fund expanding the scope of the service to cover such meetings.  

    Table of meetings with lobbyists, as it was on 16 Feb 2023
    Table of meetings with lobbyists, as it was on 16 Feb 2023

     Responses to requests

    The service has been running for some time, so everyone can see examples of how requests made through it have been responded to. 

    There is a wide range of responses: in some cases the information sought has been substantively released promptly, while in other cases the responses have been less forthcoming.

    As one would expect, the names of junior officials attending meetings, and involved in correspondence, are typically redacted. Often though, details of the substance of the matters discussed are also withheld. Exemptions commonly cited include those applying to “formulation of government policy” and “commercial interests”. Those exemptions are not absolute, but are subject to a public interest test: material should be released if the public interest in releasing it outweighs the interest in keeping it secret. 

    Public bodies are permitted to delay a response while they consider whether the public interest lies in disclosure or not. We are concerned about the impact that such delays have on the speed of responses: we have noted examples of such delays both in responses to these requests and elsewhere on our service.  

    We encourage requesters to ask for internal reviews if they are unhappy with the response to a request. 25% of internal reviews to UK central government departments result in the release of additional material, so asking for reconsideration is often worthwhile. We also provide advice on referring responses to the Information Commissioner, who is empowered to make decisions on whether information should be released or not. 

    Ten things we’ve spotted in responses

  2. Data quality in Slovakia – guest post from Štefan Urbánek


    “I am working on a project Public Procurements of Slovakia for Transparency International. Requirement was to try to extract number of offers within a tender. I did, however it was strange: majority of number of offers were 1 per tender/contract. I was convinced that the value in document is something different that we are expecting and stared to persuade TIS that we do not have the value they want.

    After couple of weeks, I’ve created couple of reports with the value, despite fact that I was sure that the report is wrong. Gabriel Sipos and his team from TIS started investigation and talked to Public Procurement Office. It turned out that the value is correct and is what TIS expected it to be: it is number of offers per contract. And yes, in Slovakia average was around 1,9 average number of offers per contract. After the finding I’ve created proper reports with all suppliers and all procurers, which had very interesting results. For example, ministry of Justice of Slovak Republic had 7 contracts for around 5,6m € total, with just one offer per-contract. And it looks like it is correct.

    What I wanted to say is, that it is nice that programmers are scraping data and trying to visualise them. However, they may miss important points or might ignore interesting information just because it looks weird and unreal to them, as I almost did. Role of NGOs in this case is domain experts – the ones who know the “state of the state”, the ones who know how to investigate meaning of numbers or can tell if the numbers are correct or not. Programmers might produce interesting and colorful reports, but only with domain knowledge the reports can be useful.”

    This post was written for us by Štefan Urbánek from Slovakia. Thank you!

  3. Transparency Camp Polska


    I have just posted about Open Government Data Camp in London, so I though I would balance it back a little bit by mentioning an event organised in the region too – actually on the very same day. I have talked to Anna Kuliberda, one of the organisers of Transparency Camp Polska today. She has kindly responded to my simple question – “how did it go?”:

    It was brilliant! We had very positive feedback from all sides involved in the event. Not only the idea and the content, but also the very fact that someone spoke at our event was later mentioned during other really important meetings and conferences. We are extremely happy about it, as we hoped for wider understanding of the issue of reuse and transparency.

    I am really happy to hear that.  If you check the list of speakers, you will see that it contains plenty of names from the region with a nice international input too. I managed to talk to key transparency voices of Polish community like Piotr VaGla Waglowski (established lawyer, Internet Personality of the Year 2001, funder of Internet Society Poland) or Alek Tarkowski (voice of Creative Commons Polska) for example. I learned about interesting transparency projects from the region from Hungary (Júlia Keserű from K-Monitor.hu) and Slovakia (Matej Kurjan from Transparency International Slovakia talking about Public Procurement Visualization and Open Municipality). I listened to the presentation about MamPrawoWiedzieć.pl, project documented to Technology for Transparency.

    Sejmometr.pl was there too presented by Jakub Górnicki. I am terribly sorry, I only have the recording in Polish, but if you check it’s ending you will find questions asked and addressed in English.

    If you go to the event page dedicated to the video recordings, you will find that the first seven sessions are in English, but I will post here another one, the opening talk with John Wonderlich and Daniele Silva:

    Once again, please send us your feedback if you have attended this event!

  4. Transparency International Slovakia – chat with Štefan Urbánek


    As I mentioned at the beginning of my presence here, this blog is designed to serve its readers with updates on the projects MySociety is currently working with. You need to understand that by doing so I am establishing organic conversations with many advocates of transparency in the region, so I think it would be really good to share those with you. I hope to open this space up for more discussion leading to knowledge share and inspiration. Yesterday I talk to Štefan Urbánek from Slovakia, who is deeply involved in transparency issues in his country. First, he used his data management experience for work with Fair Play Alliance (documented for Technology for Transparency here, in English). According to Štefan Fair Flay Alliance is pretty good NGO and has gathered quite a lot of valuable data. They have great knowledge and understanding of free information act in Slovakia. Štefan was working with their team on an application aimed to publish and present the data in easily accessible and readable form. (You can learn about it more from this presentation). It seems however that the great amount of data was undervalued and the process of publishing it became difficult due to the lack of marketing, promotion but also worries about potential consequences of that step (more on it below).


    Now Štefan is working on a new project, Public Procurement by Transparency International, Slovakia. Transparency International in Slovakia is the most technologically advanced NGO in the country. It has access to great deal of data but also invests time in creating buzz around it – from blog posts to off-line talks with representatives about the findings resulting from the data. You can find about the project here or in this document. The final results of this project are published in reports.

    While talking to Štefan I grew increasingly interested in his personal involvement in those projects. He said, he is:

    “Trying to use methods, tools or way of doing things from corporate environment to implement in this open society, open data form as those are already invented but do not being used in a public environment.

    Corporate environment is driven mostly by profit, growth, competition or good name. To know their standing they have to know exactly what is going on: how much they have, how much is going in and out. Therefore there is big pressure to have good measurement, analysis and reporting tools. Without those tools it would be only intuition or good guess.”

    Throughout our conversation we have managed to identify the challenges for governments (and other NGO’s) in applying the same rules to their environment:

    1. Lack of pressure: government does not have to compete with other governments, government has stable “paying customer base” – there is no competition for “customers” to leave to. Government representatives do not see benefit of attracting new customers, increasing (voluntarily from “customer’s” side) revenues, nor they see no benefit of using the analytics to optimize their processes.

    2. The data and analytics are expensive: ordinary people but even government cannot afford consultants, tools and storage of the data.

    3. Missing data literacy – even if they had data, they would not know what to do with it. NGO’s should step in and teach people to use and to look for it. But first they need to know how to do it, how to look at the data. They are not doing it because they do not have enough of competence in this area. The people educated in IT or data management start working for corporations, not NGO’s. But we are at the stage we do not need a lot of advanced knowledge or complicated algorithms for now, so we can still change this situation. NGO’s need to start to connect and learn from “domain experts” first, and then they should use the learned knowledge to be not only experts in their area, but also evangelists.

    There is also the issue of releasing the data. Sometimes we are scared of the data! NGOs are sometimes hesitating with data publishing for various reasons. May be they are afraid of legal issues (inaccurate data etc), data completeness (they want to be very up-to-date), application quality (under development, permanent beta). Approach of being a perfectionist is not appropriate here, as there will always be “something to be improved”. We need to get feedback as soon as possible; we need to make use of data despite their quality. Proper legal statements and data description can prevent possible legal conflicts. So it’s important to open the data asap and let people to browse it, send feedback and corrections, to check the data quality with appropriate disclaimers. As Štefan well put it:

    “Release early – release often. “

    So at the moment Štefan is trying to evangelize data knowledge and create really simplified and easy used solutions. He is trying to port knowledge from corporate environment to government, showing how we can benefit from data, what we can learn from them, how to transform them into information and information to knowledge.

    We will hear more from him, as the entire conversation has raised more questions, but I would not like to keep you too long. For now let me leave you with one idea: it would be great if someone could talk to NGO’s to find out why they do not want to/are worried about releasing the data. That seems to be the case in Slovakia but can be in other countries and regions of the world as well. What do you think?

  5. Workshop on Data Journalism by Transparency International Lithuania


    During my conversations with project developers I also learn about the local events they are attending. Emilis Dambauskas from KąVeikiaValdžia.lt Policy Feed mentioned a data journalism workshop organised by Transparency International Lithuania last week. Emilis found it really inspiring to attend the meeting with Danish journalist, Nils Mulvad, Journalist of the Year winner. He also managed to talk to other developers involved in preparations for municipality elections scheduled for March 2011 about ways of getting the data to work with. I have also learned about plans for Transparency Camp in spring of 2011, so it looks like spring will be very busy in transparency world in the region.

    As for the projects themselves, do not forget that parasykjiems.lt is at the first stage of testing, so we will hear about the results fairly soon!