“Following the Corporate Money” workshop report-back

Last week, OpenCorporates ran a workshop on “Follow the (corporate) money: using open data to improve integrity, procurement, development and reduce corruption & fraud“ at the pre-conference for International Open Data Conference in Ottawa. The conference was a fantastic congregation of over 1000 people from around the world to discuss the challenges and opportunities of open data.

The purpose of our workshop was to tease out the role of open corporate data in solving the challenges governments and civil society faces in tackling corruption, procurement, development and beneficial ownership as well as question what barriers & success stories will be pivotal in making open corporate data transformative.

The session started with presentations on the current status of open company data enabling change by Chris, John Jordan, Senior Strategist for Open Government and Service Experience at Industry Canada, and David McNair, Director of Transparency & Accountability at ONE Campaign. Most of the attendees were from government, with the rest represented civil society working on development, aid and transparency.

Chris kicked off the workshop talking about how open corporate data links to development, procurement, beneficial ownership and corruption monitoring. After this John Jordan gave a presentation on his experience of about working on https://buyandsell.gc.ca/ – the digital platform for procurement and tenders in Canada – the problems caused by not tying this to company data, and what Canada was doing to address these issues.

After these talks, we split into three groups: (1) Corruption, (2) Procurement, and (3) Development. The purpose of these groups was to bring together people interested in these issues to imagine success in this area – with open company data being used to significantly improve outcomes in these fields – and map the pivotal moments that were required along the way.

Here’s what they come up with (transcribed from flip-charts):

— It became socially & fiscally awkward to enable corruption.

— Move from paper to digital for majority of transactions and records.

— Public registers of beneficial owners of companies

— Tools, Techniques & Incentives for society + companies to collaborate to fight corruption

— Pervasive use of appropriate corporate & personal identifiers.

Clarification: It’s not a technology problem.

We have “Connected”/Improbable Registries “Standards” “Break Down Silos”

Predictive analytics allows anyone to gain insight into “Bad behaviour” and narrow search and focus investigation

Systems are secure & trusted

Cultural Perspective

Demand side – we need people to want exposed data.

Legal frameworks in Place > Able to have full legal liability

 Moving to fully data-driven digital processes

Collection of basic beneficial ownership data by developing countries

— Use – data literacy becomes mainstream. A pivotal moment could be Someone (citizen/journalist/NGO) has done a viral story on connection of money and politics before an election.

— Value: demonstrating value of open corporate data to government.

— Pivotal moment: Social Impact Index that is meaningful for the role of business in communities

— Pivotal moment: Manufacturing company publishes asset & energy consumption data per unit.

We ended the session by hearing from David McNair who spoke about the current campaigns and progress on beneficial ownership which has been a community effort so far with some significant gains. He explained some of the arguments civil society and organisations like OpenCorporates has to answer to for why beneficial ownership data must be open e.g. Why making it only available on request for law enforcement is problematic; Why we can’t leave the government to solely investigative corporate fraud – what role does civil society play in this?

Seeing the workshop come from a sketch on a piece of paper to actual fruition was hugely rewarding. It was great to see people put on their creative hats and think about pivotal moments. People expressed they really enjoyed this way of approaching a challenge and would like to see more of these. So, I’ve decided to keep adding to this list as I do more workshops and who knows, maybe this will become a manifesto or roadmap for the wider open data community.

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