24 Oct 2012

Russian NGO Implements Systematic Monitoring of Government Websites

The Russian NGO Freedom of Information Foundation (FIF) has developed a project dedicated to systematically monitoring the level of information openness on the official websites of government agencies in Russia. The project assesses the compliance of contents of governmental websites with freedom of information legislation and with information users’ needs. This year FIF has already published a series of articles rating information openness for several public bodies at the federal and local levels, including legislative bodies, judicial regional departments and election commissions.

FIF was established in 2004 with the objective of investigating, identifying and solving problems of access to public information in Russia. The main motivation behind this work is the belief that government transparency is a precondition for a law-based democracy, and that it has an important impact in constraining abuses by public officials. FIF’s activities focus particularly on access to governmental information and information about the activities of state agencies both through organisational means and legal recourse. One of its primary goals is to assist in the development of information technology resources available to the public.

The method for monitoring government websites was initially developed by experts of the Institute for Information Freedom Development – later renamed Freedom of Information Foundation in 2004. Its implementation is based on the principles of independence and objectivity, and all results are open to the public. The assessments are conducted by experts that take into account not only parameters related to the substantive information disclosed on the websites, but also technical parameters that influence the degree of user-friendliness in each website.

This initiative has generated important insights regarding the implementation of freedom of information legislation in Russia. According to FIF’s reports, although governmental agencies do publish the necessary information on their websites, users commonly face problems to access the information due to incompleteness or unavailability of website sections due to alleged updates on some pages, particularly those meant to disclose financial information from government agencies.

In addition to periodic assessments the project has also led to the development of a specific system that enables full automation of monitoring activities and rating of information openness. Since 2010, the assessment has been conducted by the use of this system – entitled EXMO (expert monitoring). Another great advantage of this tool is that it can be used by governmental officials to track openness indices’ trends for the governmental bodies where they work, a mechanism expected to create incentives for poorly rated agencies to improve the openness of their websites. Data on the 2011 round of assessments suggested that the cooperation with government officials is working: a 20%-rise in information openness was observed in the rated agencies. In the Judicial Department, for instance, the average information openness coefficient grew from 63.58% to 80.51%.

In the past years the project has been established as an efficient tool for monitoring the public administration and has attracted great attention from both governmental agencies and the expert community in the field. Due to the independence of the assessment process, the results are widely recognised by the government and also other civil society organisations. This is a good example of an innovative approach to addressing and improving freedom of information. FIF is also open to cooperation with organisations from other countries that are interested in developing a similar initiative and could profit from the progress they have made in developing this methodology.

More information on this project is available in the article “Monitoring of the government bodies’ official websites as an efficient tool for public control”, published on www.svobodainfo.org.