Open Data supporting democracy, sustainable development and the SDGs

airtrafficvizImage: Air traffic visualisation, NATS Press Office

Open data is a term used to describe data that is free and openly available for anyone to use. Many governments around the world are challenging software developers to help identify applications that help citizens and organization make innovative use of open data. Some US cities have had a number of successes. Examples include apps that leverage vacant city lots or track cyclist activity as a way of planning cycle infrastructure.

The World Bank’s August 2015 policy paper, “Open Data for Sustainable Development” identifies a number of benefits of open data in enabling the monitoring and achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The paper also highlights two areas particularly related to SDG Goal 16: “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.” Although the collection and use of good data will enable all the goals to be more effectively monitored and reached.

Firstly, the World Bank paper suggests that open data will further accountability because it enables more stakeholders to access data about government performance, thus discouraging and sometimes exposing corruption. The paper notes that, “several national governments are considering open contracting standards, which would bring new transparency to government contracts a move that could increase trust in those governments both among citizens and for foreign investors.”

And secondly, open data also facilitates creative and cooperative sharing of data, which might help in developing more accountable and responsive services. Some governments are providing open data on extractive industries, and indeed The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative offers guidelines for this type of open data.

Ultimately the paper highlights that successful open data initiatives require both willing governments and active communities of programmers and end users who can help leverage the data for good governance outcomes.

You can download the report here (pdf, 1.4MB).


Governance the Key to SDG Success

Prime Minister David Cameron addresses the UN

The UN: success of Sustainable Development goals depends very much on process. Image: number10gov/flickrCC BY-NC

James Patterson, Florian Koch, and Kathryn Bowen have written an article examining key governance issues underpinning the success of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals which were adopted in September 2015.

In, “How can we prevent the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals from failing?” the authors highlight factors such as bringing together the right stakeholders, making trade-offs, and building in accountability.

You can read the full article here.

SDGs: precious lever for progress in the UK | Ann Pfeiffer, Green House

Green house AP

Unlike the Millennium Development Goals, which focus primarily on social development priorities in low-income countries, the Sustainable Development Goals are intended to apply to developing and developed countries alike.

In her Green House essay What do the Sustainable Development Goals mean for the UK?, Ann Pfeiffer argues that underestimating the SDGs “would be to underestimate their ability to provide a means of holding up our own government’s domestic policies on renewable energy, austerity and economic growth to scrutiny on a global stage”. In her view the “current limited approach by the UK government risks giving a superficial interpretation of what the SDGs are designed to achieve.” “If groups that stand to benefit from the Goals do not understand how they can be used in campaigning and fail to take ownership of them from the start, there is a risk that the implementation of the Goals will become diluted and toothless.” Applying the right vision and strategy is key to ensure that they will be a useful lever and powerful indicators of real progress going forward.

 You can download the essay here (pdf, 231 K).

Related Links

‘Bringing the Goals Home: Implementing the SDGs in the UK’, report by BOND and Beyond2015 UK

Bringing the goals homeBOND (the UK membership body for NGOs working in international development) and Beyond2015 UK published ‘Bringing the Goals Home: Implementing the SDGs in the UK‘ in September 2015. The report urges the Westminster Government to clearly outline its strategy for the SDGs “based on a detailed review of what is required of the UK to achieve each goal and target”, link up departments to ensure policy coherence and more effective delivery, as well as develop clear processes for accountability and scrutiny.

Its recommendations include a Cabinet-level Minister responsible for SDG implementation support by a junior Minister for Sustainable Development, a Cross-Cabinet Committee and cross-party Sustainable Development select committee to oversee the SDGs, an external stakeholder scrutiny body along the lines of the German Sustainable Development Council as well as a focus on ensuring wider participation and accountability. For example, they suggest that the strategy for implementation includes participatory processes similar to the ‘national conversations’ that have taken place in for example Wales (WalesWeWant) and Scotland.

The worrying rise of anti-democratic sentiments amongst climate scientists


In his latest essay Climate Policy: Democracy is not an inconvenience, Professor Nico Stehr – founding director of the European Center for Sustainability Research – reflects on the growing number of climate scientists who are not only expressing their impatience with Western democracies, but openly practise their sympathy for authoritarian political approaches.

“Scientific disenchantment with democracy has slipped under the radar of many social scientists and commentators”, he says, but “attention is urgently needed”. In concentrating only on a reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions, the calls for technocratic leadership fail to acknowledge that “environmental concerns are tightly entangled with other political, economic and cultural issues”. In his view, “scientific knowledge is neither immediately performative nor persuasive” and it is “only a democratic system (that) can sensitively attend to the conflicts within and among nations and communities, decide between different policies, and generally advance the aspirations of different segments of the population.”

The full essay can be found on the Nature website.

Image: CC by 2.0, courtesy of  NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/

Climate Risks and Democracy

anthropocene -

Ecological crises can make politics horrible: panic-inducing scarcity, ethnic and religious conflict, hunger driven imperialism. In his latest essay “Climate Apocalypse and/or Democracy, Professor Jedediah Purdy is shedding light on the fact that an ecological apocalypse is a fundamentally political problem and needs to be tackled before turning into a harsh reality. In his view, a “livable Anthropocene future would have to be democratic (…): a people would have to accept, willingly, limits on the demands they make on the natural world.” Professor Purdy argues that the chance at a workable future is crucially dependent on an “international democratic effort to take joint responsibility for the planet: “It isn’t (even) that a democratic Anthropocene is a nice idea”, he says, “it’s just that its slim chance is better than any alternative.”

You can read the full essay on the Huffington Post website. Professor Purdy’s new book “After Nature: A Politics for the Anthropocene” is now available in hardback.

Image (modified): CC by 2.0, courtesy of Doc Searls/

New Book: Governance for Sustainable Development

Governance book cover

Felix Dodd has blogged about this new book, Governance for Sustainable Development, that collects the best insights from three recent workshops held by the “Group of Friends of the Governance for Sustainable Development” that was created to help prepare the Rio + 20 Conference.

Recently the governments of Mexico, Romania and the Republic of Korea, with the technical support of the Tellus Institute and the organization ARTICLE 19, reinvigorated the Group of Friends as a flexible and informal space to discuss issues related to good governance and foster cooperation between multiple actors in the context of the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

The three participatory workshops, in November 2014, January and May 2015, gathered government representatives, UN officials, experts, and civil society  to discuss the institutional architecture for the Agenda’s implementation, follow-up and review.

Governance for Sustainable Development is edited by: Hoonmin Lim, Sara Luna and Oana Rebedea, David Banisar Felix Dodds and Quinn McKew. The PDF is available here:

FDSD launches new direction at event featuring Peter Davies, Welsh Commissioner for Sustainable Futures


The National Assembly for Wales will appoint a Future Generations Commissioner as early as December 2015, says Peter Davies, the Welsh Commissioner for Sustainable Futures. The announcement came during his keynote speech at the FDSD relaunch event on 29 June.

Speaking to an audience from the legal, academic and third sectors, Davies outlined the far-reaching Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act, passed in April. “The intended effect of the Act is to provide a framework for how the public sector in Wales does business,” he said. “It’s about building in mechanisms that improve our governance for the long-term.”

After hearing from Davies, audience members broke into groups to consider how lessons learned in Wales could be applied elsewhere. We’ll hear from some of them in a later blog post.

The event also launched a new direction for FDSD. John Lotherington, Chair of Trustees, said: ‘We want to make sure that we seed ideas, connect ideas. And also, just as we’re doing here tonight, gather together some of the people who can make those ideas fruitful and start to make the sorts of changes we need to better connect democracy and sustainable development.’

The talk, titled ‘The wellbeing of future generations: how can the Welsh act inspire the UK and beyond?’, was hosted by the Centre for the Study of Democracy at Westminster University in London.

A UK-wide Commissioner for Future Generations?

In her new Provocation, Cat Tully argues that there is an opportunity now for the Government to learn from the comprehensive Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act and establish an early form of a Future Generations Commissioner for the whole UK by October’s Budget. The danger is that in the forthcoming spending cuts, short-term decisions will be made to the detriment of the long-term and future generations. If we want a political system that is open and engaged with citizens, and is future-focused and strategic, we can learn a lot by looking outside London.

Download full paper in pdf.

Future generations and the UK 2015 election campaign – looking ahead?

John Lotherington audits the election campaign to find how far discussion about future generations and sustainable development could be heard above the electoral din.

Future generations were important in the election if all that mattered was the national debt. The crucial, broader issues of sustainable development were largely side-lined, buried in unread manifestos. Some issues, like support for climate change, were agreed in a cross-party pact, with the perverse effect of removing it from debate and from the vital, participatory, consciousness-raising weeks of an election campaign.

We need to work out how better to represent the long-term and the voices of future generations in our constitutions, our institutions, our democratic practices and our elections. Maybe then they can be heard above the din?

You can read the full text of his Provocation here.