Omidyar Networks features OpenCorporates in a landmark report on the impact of open data in UK

This week, Omidyar Network released a landmark report which features six examples of open data that having a profound impact in the UK. We’re proud to say that OpenCorporates, specifically its work in the successful campaign for a public beneficial ownership register, was featured as one of the case studies.

We’ve been championing the benefit of a public beneficial ownership data for several years because it goes to the heart of OpenCorporates’ mission – it is critical for both good business and a free and fair society that we know who we’re doing business with (employed by, regulating etc), and knowing who controls companies is core to that creating an environment that builds trust for business and hostility to corruption. As part of a group civil society, campaigning not just for a register of beneficial ownership, but a public one (companies and shareholders in the UK are already public),OpenCorporates performed an important role as the ‘expert in the room’, using its insights from open data, particularly the visualisations of the corporate networks six of the biggest names in the global financial industry, to explain the problem and potential solutions.

As Becky Hogge, the author of the report, said, “This is a case about the contribution open data has to make to advocacy efforts on complex issues, and illustrates how moving the needle on complex issues like corruption and governance reform requires much more than opening government data…. A by-product of this sort of handling of open government data is the ability to speak the language of internal government bureaucracies. This turned out to be a key advocacy tool. ”

Becky also interviewed several key figures in the transparency space on the impact OpenCorporates had on the campaign:

“Going down to that sort of level is really important …. It’s not just the fact that there should be a public beneficial ownership register, nor even that there should be a public beneficial ownership register that is open data. How is the data stored? What’s being done on it? How is that being recorded? What level of granularity? What should we do here? What should we do there? Understanding the problem is a nontrivial part of the puzzle here. The added value that I saw OpenCorporates bring was that very, very detailed knowledge of how this database would work …. If it was just OpenCorporates of course it wouldn’t have happened. But the example they were showing in terms of demonstrating that it’s possible to build a database, and the technical understanding that they had as a result of that, was really critical for making the standard robust.”

David McNair, Save The Children/ONE

“One of the biggest impacts that OpenCorporates had on the campaign was to insist that the new beneficial ownership information be provided as open data and this was a key part of the eventual NGO position and the fnal government announcement.”
Robert Palmer, Global Witness

Our favourite phrase of the report is where the work we do is described as “data-based advocacy”. I think that sums up what we do really well.

You can find the case study of OpenCorporates from page 25 to 29 here.

The report marks five years since the United Kingdom launched its first open data portal and revisits whether the experience so far has rendered the wider public and business benefits promised. The six cases include Transport for London (TfL), the local government body for public transport; HM Land Registry Price Paid Data, the government body responsible for maintaining the Land Registry; OpenCorporates and Beneficial Ownership Transparency; The Open Public Services Network and school performance in England; and TheyWorkForYou which is a parliamentary monitor.

We would like to thank Omidyar Network for continuing to support the transparency and accountability sector, championing our work, and Becky Hogge, for an accurate and insightful case study of the open data space in the UK, especially through telling the story of OpenCorporates.

Picture by Tim Davies.

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