Trust and openness to our decision making

By ZeiP, 11 June, 2021

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.