How to open beneficial ownership data and apply standards for disclosure formats?

At the EITI Opening Up Ownership Conference, I facilitated a session on standards for beneficial ownership data in the context of the open data and open government movements. I was joined by Antya Widita, the Web Foundation's Data Lab Manager in Jakarta and Malick Tapsoba, Head of the Burkina Faso Open Data Initiative. Alongside these two open data experts, we were lucky to be joined by Yanuar Nugroho, the Deputy Chief of Staff, Office of the President, Indonesia and a member of the Open Government Partnership Steering Committee.

The workshop placed data on beneficial ownership in the context of Burkina Faso and Indonesia’s transparency commitments as part of the EITI and their roles in the Open Government Partnership. Open data was described in terms of its political and economic importance, providing useful information for development planning and accountability for citizens. Transparency on ownership was explicitly mentioned as a way to attract investment. Political buy-in was also mentioned as necessary for successful open data projects, both at regional and local level; standards alone will not be enough for beneficial transparency to succeed, their advantages will need to be explained to stakeholders and local champions will be crucial for implementation.     

We also heard about the importance of standards and a single source of truth. In open data, ‘standards’ can mean developing a holistic process for collecting, validating and publishing data, where no such process existed before. This was something that the Burkina Faso Open Data Initiative did to improve data quality. It can also mean raising awareness among stakeholders about existing data format standards and best practices, like the use of metadata and clear licensing. Data portals, and Indonesia’s policy of ‘One Data, One Map’, emerged as strong solutions to the problem of providing a single-source-of-truth to data users.

Open data on beneficial ownership is at a very early stage. Only the United Kingdom and Ukraine have full public registers, with other partial sources of data available from Slovakia and EITI beneficial ownership pilots. The workshop introduced an existing open data standard for describing beneficial ownership, developed by OpenOwnership,the Beneficial Ownership Data Standard. We were able to link some of the challenges faced by beneficial ownership transparency advocates to those overcome by existing open data projects: persuading stakeholders that beneficial ownership data is not a revenue stream, keeping data up-to-date and consistent, and verifying and validating as much data as possible. Audience contributions also brought out the potential for data standards on beneficial ownership disclosure to link up with standards to describe sanctioned natural persons (an anti-terrorist financing use case) and PEPs (an anti-corruption use-case).