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Trust and openness to our decision making

Published by ZeiP on Fri, 06/11/2021 - 16:00

Turun Sanomat reported a few days ago that Turku will finally publish it's purchasing data next spring – but only for this autumn. I'm glad this is finally happening – last autumn I reiterated in a post how far behind Turku is compared to other communities. Only the data for this autumn will be published, so actually the people will only gain access to a complete year's data on where our common tax money is spent in spring 2023, two years from now.

Turku was also represented well in yesterday's Yle article on municipalities hiding documents. Turku was the only city to be listed with multiple cases. Turku isn't alone with it's culture of hiding documents, but from the published cases it seems that for example Jyväskylä is much more humble in learning of the reprimands.

Openness and trust

Openness creates trust. When the city openly reports of it's activities both in the plenary stage as well as afterwards for example via purchasing data, the citizens can better understand what is done, why and how. It's crucial that citizens have a right to get information on the use of our common tax funds and estimate the decisions made by both officials and politicians.

Openness can be viewed as either a possibility or a threat. In old-school decision-making matters are prepared in silence, decided and only after that published. Openness creates a new kind of discussion, when the citizens get more interested and involved in decision-making. It does require a new way of thinking for the preparation and decision-making process, but I strongly feel it's always worth it because of the trust, better decisions and better understanding it creates.

How to do it?

How, then, should the city inform about it's activites to make decision-making open and grant the citizens their rights?

The Act on the Openness of Government Activities is a very good way to start. All official documents are already public by default, unless there is a special, lawful reason to withhold them. Herein lies a major problem related to openness – often the withholding decisions paint a picture that officials are often trying to apply the withholding reasons for all documents. This shouldn't be – there should be a change in the mindset of our officials so that openness is seen as a true default and withholding information as an exception that is only used when necessary.

A separate, growing problem is limited liability companies partly or fully owned by the municipalities. These aren't covered by the Act on the Openness of Government Activities, and therefore information on them is not available even to the extent of the municipalities' own functions. Some information held by the municipalities relating to the ownership steering should be public anyway, but there seems to be confusion about this as well.

An open municipality that respects its citizens should open up information also about it's companies as much as possible through ownership steering. Information shouldn't be hidden because of trade secrets in companies forming a natural monopoly. The Act on the Openness of Government Activities should also be reviewed regarding these kinds of municipality-owned companies.

Despite the problems the city of Turku has in some regards done an excellent job in opening up some data with relatively scarce resources. A big thank you for this should be extended to the open data services of the city, where there are skillful individuals doing an important job – as long as the administration gives them a chance. Turku must invest more on openness and tools for fact-based decision-making.

Have you already checked out the open data Turku has to offer? Here's to hoping next spring latest the list also contains the purchasing data.

Turku to be the forerunner of open data

Published by admin on Mon, 10/12/2020 - 21:10

Would you like to know what your tax euros are used for? Should data produced with public funding be usable and refinable by the citizens? Wouldn't it be awesome if a company in Turku could develop profitable and tax-gaining business by inventing a new way to utilise data?

Open data is an important part of open governance. It means that everyone can examine, utilise and refine data that has been produced with tax money. In Finland there have also been application competitions which have looked for the most interesting novel open data based solutions. Some examples of solutions that have succeeded in the competitions are

  • Eduskunta Explorer application, which shows and combines data from Eduskunta and actions taken by the members of the parliament,
  • Päästöt kartalla service (exhausts on a map), which shows data from the EU pollutant register,
  • Karttapullautin service, which can be used to create orienteering maps based on the open data from Maanmittauslaitos (National land survey),
  • Parkman parking service, which shows information of free parking spaces collected from open APIs and
  • Miils recipe application, which uses food nutritional data from THL (Finnish institute for health and welfare).

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of services and applications in Finland utilising open data provided by both public and private organisations. They can examine the use of governmental power by aggregating voting results, petitions and minutes; or create statistics of the budgets and purchasing information of public organisations to visualise the use of public money. They can also create new kinds of business. Even a private citizen can use open data to find information relevant to themselves; bikers, for example, have used parking ticket data to compare the amount of certain parking violations to problems observed in the city, for example parking on sidewalks.

Turku is one of the largest cities in Finland, and has for a long time been carrying out the 6aika strategy. One of the main projects in the strategy was the Avoin data ja rajapinnat project (Open data and interfaces), which ended in 2017. Turku has in the recent years opened widely it's assets, for example geographical information, source codes for it's web services and the event data in the city event calendar. The geographical information has been used by the volunteers developing the open geographical database OpenStreetMap to enhance the maps that you've also been using in some services.

In some things Turku is, however, dragging behind. Even many smaller municipalities, for example Sotkamo, are already publishing their purchasing data openly. They indicate what our public funds are used for and publishing them is key to the possibility of citizens influencing the financial decision making in their municipality. The matter has been discussed for years, but no clear indication has been given as to why Turku can't openly share it's purchasing data like so many other cities and municipalities. July this year city manager Minna Arve stated that the purchasing data will finally be published – in 2021! Kuntaliitto (association of Finnish municipalities) published a manual for publishing the purchasing data in 2016 – four years ago. Why is Turku, one of the large cities in Finland, only getting onboard five years after the manual was published and a whopping seven years after Helsinki first published it's information in 2014?

Turku is a runner-up for the other large cities in too many matters. Instead of bold new moves we're only doing things after everyone else is too. That isn't a recipe for success, but for lame mediocrity. Turku must rise as forerunner of the large cities as a modern, supportive and open city which develops itself for the challenges of the future. Every single one of us – yes, you too – can affect the direction of our beloved city in the municipal elections next spring.

I'm running!

Published by ZeiP on Wed, 09/02/2020 - 23:43

My term in the board of the national scouts organisation ends at the end of this year, and it's time to yield for some fresh ideas. But what to do next? Last night it was confirmed that next spring I'll be working on my election campaign – I was confirmed as one of the Green party candidates for city council in Turku.

The environment and nature have always been important for me. In Turku there have been some good decisions towards a more cycle-friendly city, but there's still work to be done until cycling is truly understood as an equal form of travel. People are also re-finding their relationship with nature, and Turku has some amazing natural amenities starting from the Kurjenrahka national park to the small parks and archipelago sights. Maintaining and developing them requires resources and commitment.

I've volunteered for years in the largest youth organisation of Finland. The young are very close to my heart – they're our future, after all! The challenges of every young person left behind are first small, but are bound to multiply if they're not solved on time. Getting slim savings from the important work with the youth will make for much more difficult and expensive issues in the future. That's why we have to ensure adequate resources for youth work, schools and mental health services even when the financial times are tough.

An important part of caring for the young is also keeping the city economy in balance. Raising the public debt is not a sustainable solution, and we can't leave a continuously growing debt to the future shoulders of the young people. We have to invest smart so, that all investments pay themselves back in the best possible way for the citizens and the city. It's also important to support our companies by providing good services and space to grow business in order to ensure the city retains the current employers and also gains more jobs for the growing populace.

I'm also a (sometimes very) vocal advocate for good and open governance. The city has been doing a pretty good job in opening it's IT solutions as open source and for also by opening some data sets, for example geographical information, to the open. However there are still some critical data sets already published by most other larger Finnish cities that are kept behind locks by Turku – the most prominant example being procurement data. The city of Turku must strive to be a frontrunner, not a follower, in openness among the other major Finnish cities.

For these, and various other, reasons I eagerly await next spring and the elections, which provide a great platform for a florishing discussion on the issues we all care. Follow my social media channels (links in the upright corner of this page) and this site to stay tuned – I'll be discussing my views of all the important issues regarding the city of Turku later this year and especially in the spring. See you around!

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