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Open government is the governing doctrine which holds that citizens have the right to access the documents and proceedings of the government to allow for effective public oversight. In its broadest construction it opposes reason of state and other considerations, which have tended to legitimize extensive state secrecy. The origins of open government arguments can be dated to the time of the European Enlightenment: to debates about the proper construction of a then nascent democratic society.
Among recent developments is the theory of open source governance, which advocates the application of the free software movement to democratic principles, enabling interested citizens to get more directly involved in the legislative process.
In the West, the idea that government should be open to public scrutiny and susceptible to public opinion dates back at least to the time of the Enlightenment, when many philosophes made an attack on absolutist doctrine of state secrecy, a core part of their intellectual project. The passage of formal legislative instruments to this end can also be traced to this time with Sweden, for example, (which then included Finland as a Swedish-governed territory) enacting free press legislation as part of its constitution (Freedom of the Press Act, 1766). This approach, and that of the philosophes more broadly, is strongly related to recent historiography on the eighteenth-century public sphere.
Influenced by Enlightenment thought, the revolutions in America (1776) and France (1789), freedom of the press enshrined provisions and requirements for public budgetary accounting and freedom of the press in constitutional articles. In the nineteenth century, attempts by Metternichean statesmen to row back on these measures were vigorously opposed by a number of eminent liberal politicians and writers, Bentham, Mill and Acton prominent among the latter.
Open government is widely seen to be a key hallmark of contemporary democratic practice and is often linked to the passing of freedom of information legislation. Scandinavian countries claim to have adopted the first freedom of information legislation, dating the origins of its modern provisions to the eighteenth century and Finland continuing the presumption of openness after gaining independence in 1917, passing its Act on Publicity of Official Documents in 1951 (superseded by new legislation in 1999).
The United States passed its Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in 1966, FOIAs, Access to Information Acts (AIAs) or equivalent laws were passed in Denmark and Norway in 1970, France and The Netherlands in 1978, Australia, Canada and New Zealand in 1982, Hungary in 1992, Ireland and Thailand in 1997, South Korea in 1998, the United Kingdom in 2000, Japan and Mexico in 2002, India and Germany in 2005.
Transparency in government is often credited with generating government accountability.:1346 Transparency often allows citizens of a democracy to control their government, reducing government corruption, bribery and other malfeasance.:1347–50 Some commentators contend that an open, transparent government allows for the dissemination of information, which in turn helps produce greater knowledge and societal progress.:1350
For good governance, it is beneficial to make governments, their institutions, and markets transparent. Information is a necessity for a democracy to function and for citizens to have a basis of insight into what their government legislates. Information is to how a democratic government and system functions, in which it is necessary for citizens to voice their opinions on matters regarding policies/bills and their political lawmakers and representatives. It enables for a sense of open government and transparency to which a government that functions for the people should be based on. Democracy being correlated with transparency presents a good governance system that employs itself for the nation and its people. Democratic governments enable a sense of openness through transparency, what the people want, in order to attain greater knowledge of the inner mechanisms of a governing system and its legislative processes on specific matters that pertain to the people of the nation. With this transparent system, the citizens, especially the voters, will have a greater insight into what occurs, so they can voice their opinions more actively and effectively to gain a greater sense of value in the political realm.
The contemporary doctrine of open government finds its strongest advocates in those non-governmental organisations keen to counter what they see as the inherent tendency of government to lapse, whenever possible, into secrecy. Prominent among these NGOs are bodies like Transparency International or the Open Society Institute. They advocate the implementation of norms of openness and transparency across the globe and argue that such standards are vital to the ongoing prosperity and development of democratic societies.
Advocates of open government often argue that civil society, rather than government legislation, offers the best route to more transparent administration. They point to the role of whistleblowers reporting from inside the government bureaucracy (individuals like Daniel Ellsberg or Paul van Buitenen). They argue that an independent and inquiring press, printed or electronic, is often a stronger guarantor of transparency than legislative checks and balances.
Other advocates include President Obama, who in 2009, sought out an Open Government Initiative in order to improve the trust within the United States government and " establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration." His strategy for transparency correlates with democratic values in how it allows for greater sight into the functions of the governmental institutions. Openness allows for more insight into the government, which gives the citizenry a greater sense to engage politically and collaborate to improve their own standing and the efficiency of the government's legislative processes. His platform of endorsing the accessibility of government data online to the public paves the way for increased transparency to governing systems and for an openness that allows the public to view and establish opinions on policies concerning themselves and their fellow voters. His willingness for greater openness in governmental institutions demonstrates what we are thriving to achieve as a community: transparency for the benefit of the citizens and their concerns with the government and society as a whole. The initiative has goals of a transparent and collaborative government, in which to end secrecy in Washington, while improving effectiveness through increased communication between citizens and government officials. Though there is confusion about the goals of the Open Government Initiative, there is certainty that it has been designed by the Obama administration in an effort to establish a more democratic and effective system of governing, a system that improves the openness for the sake of its citizens and their concerns with trusting the government and its secretive functions.
Along with an interest in providing more access to information goes a corresponding concern for protecting citizens' privacy so they are not exposed to "adverse consequences, retribution or negative repercussions" from information provided by governments.
A relatively new vision for the implementation of open government is coming from the municipal sector. In a similar fashion to grassroot movements, open government technology expert Tobias SK Cichon postulates  that the swarming pressure of small local governments using technology to implement open government solutions will lead to similar adoptions by larger municipalities and eventually state, provincial and federal level changes.
The use of technology within the political realm has grown through Open Government Data (OGD), which provides for the data to be accessible in any format. Users of this data have several purposes in regards to government, technology, or other specific focuses. These include government focus, technology innovation focused, reward focused, digitizing government, problem solving, and social/public sector enterprise. These focuses help expand the broad scope of Open Government Data toward furthering technological use within the government and towards more transparency within governmental institutions. Governments that enable public viewing of data can help citizens engage within the governmental sectors and "add value to that data."  Easily accessible data pertaining to governmental institutions and their information give way to citizens' engagement within political institutions that ensure just, democratic access for the benefit of the citizenry and the political system. "Open data can be a powerful force for public accountability—it can make existing information easier to analyze, process, and combine than ever before, allowing a new level of public scrutiny."  The openness of data that a governing system provides ensures a greater sense of transparency within the function of this system, to ensure that there is accountability for how this system runs. Open data enables for greater openness in this government through providing information on government-related data pertaining to technology, politics, and social sectors. This enables citizens to get a grasp on what the government is up to and what they are planning on implementing, opening up information to see how the government is taking account of their citizens and their concerns.
Public and private sector platforms provide an avenue for citizens to engage while offering access to transparent information that citizens have come to expect. Numerous organizations have worked to consolidate resources for citizens to access government (local, state and federal) budget spending, stimulus spending, lobbyist spending, legislative tracking, and more.
Despite the obvious and undeniable benefits that come from increased government transparency, a number of scholars have questioned the moral certitude behind much transparency advocacy, questioning the foundations upon which advocacy rests. They have also highlighted how transparency can support certain neoliberal imperatives.
- Civic technology
- Freedom of information
- Access to public information
- Open data
- Open society
- The Open Society and Its Enemies, an essay by philosopher Karl Popper
- Political corruption
- Public trust
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