OK Google, what kind of state is Switzerland? According to Wikipedia:
Switzerland is a federal state. Access to federal documents is governed by the Swiss Federal Act on the Principle of Freedom of Information in Public Administration, and supervised by the Federal Data Protection and Information Commissioner. Access to documents at the cantonal level is governed by cantonal laws, which are mostly similar to the federal law. As of 2018, the cantons of Appenzell Innerrhoden, Glarus, Lucerne, Nidwalden, Obwalden and Thurgau do not have freedom of information legislation.
The association Öffentlichkeitsgesetz.ch is the counterpart to Opendata.ch in this topic, representative of how the gulf between „critical“ and „constructive“ transparency is breached when people work together to strengthen all pillars of the state.
This process itself is curious. People get bright ideas, tips from concerned parties, connect various dots, journalists work to determine the agency where further information is withheld. A lengthy process of knocking doors ensues, arguments contrived and exchanged for why certain information should be more or less in the public domain.
In regular posts on social media, the news are shared along with high-contrast data points which the project uses to evaluate the success of freedom of information requests across departments. You can find these infographics by selecting the various branches of government on this page: Öffentlichkeitsgesetz.ch | Die Ämter - for which the (not open?) data source is the Federal Data Protection and Information Commissioner. Conversely, you find the association referred to in official publications, like the protocols of the interdepartmental working group on transparency.
We have other connections to this topic as well. The German chapter of Open Knowledge has for years run a hard-balling service with open source traditions and a friendly forum and slick stats, that influences the course of the debate in Europe.
They have by the way recently put out this excellent monitoring site:
From their launch post at blog.okfn.org:
The use of requests is not wide-spread even amongst journalists, however, and when it is attempted information is often withheld through bureaucratic tricks. The new site is part of an ongoing discussion involving many civil society organisations, officials and the data privay and freedom of information commissioners of both Bund and Länder on how to promote the use of this useful legislation and to make its outcome more transparent.
Some say there’s no such thing as a stupid question, but if you’re prepared to handle it, the questions will come. Just like our colleagues at Öffentlichkeitsgesetz.ch, we are keen to support journalists and media projects, and look for opportunities to promote open data reuse as information requests and the responses become more technical, taking on the form of tables and spreadsheets and other digital content, rather than just snippets of text.
Without going into too much detail right now, I’d like to thank Martin for inviting me to a discussion today about future initiatives, which were enlightening on some of the pressing challenges of the political and media landscape in this federal state. Cooperation across projects like legal case data could prove to be mutually rewarding. In particular the topic of enabling learning, a.k.a. data literacy, for the wider citizenry, as well as connecting the loop with „my personal government data“ requests are exciting to ponder upon. Well formulated requests for data or information are fundamental things we should try to teach the members of our digital society.
FoI platforms are a powerful instrument to support public institutions. Whether they are devlopers asking for advice and code snippets, or hacks digging into the next great scandal, I believe that these are constructive ways to provide a critical service. Not just for media workers, they should be accessible to all who have a burning question to help to ensure that the advantages of digital access to political (sensitive) information outweigh their risks.