Opening Up the Private Sector

opencoprs

OpenCorporates, a UK-based enterprise founded by  Chris Taggart and Rob McKinnon, was created with a simple yet ambitious  goal in mind: to have a web page for every company in the world. How would one go about it? OpenCorporates started with taking a closer look at the basic source of information on companies registered in any given country – that country’s corporate registry.

While in principle corporate registries are a part of the official public record and should be easily accessible to the public, in practice that is not always the case. Some countries have registries that are non-searchable or very difficult to search; some require registration and/or payment to search the registry; some carry a licence that explicitly prohibits the reuse of data. The quality and depth of available data also varies. Some registries are incomplete and out of date. Many provide only very basic information that contains no statutory filings or information about directors and significant shareholders, which does not allow for establishing beneficial ownership.

OpenCorporates, with support from The World Bank Institute through its Open and Collaborative Private Sector initiative, set out to change that through establishing the Open Company Data Index. The idea came out of the Open Government Partnership meeting in Brasilia in 2012 and OpenCorporates has since  explored over 100 registers to score the access to data and the ability to reuse that data for over 70 countries around the world. Chris Taggart and WBI’s Benjamin Herzberg explained how the index works and why it is important at a lively event on Monday at the OpenGovHub in Washington, DC.

The premise behind creating the index resonates well in today’s globalized world where  information about companies often crosses international jurisdictions and the complexity and inaccessibility of this information can contribute to corruption, organized crime, and money laundering. As the index web site, http://registries.opencorporates.com, explains:

“Equal access to core information is a fundamental principle of both free markets and informed, active democracies. In a world in which data is playing an increasingly important role in the lives of citizens, it is now more crucial than ever that citizens have access to data, are able to combine it with other data and can analyze and use the data in the pursuit of value for all.”

Making company information more accessible, discoverable, and usable can help citizens, journalists, other companies, and societies as a whole increase transparency and improve the environment for conducting business.

OpenCorporates is using an interesting approach to make its work both a public good and a business proposition. The Open Company Data Index is the public good that brings more transparency to how corporate registries are managed and can be used as an advocacy tool for reforms. The index is based on OpenCorporates’ growing data set of over 75 jurisdictions and 60 million companies that is licensed under a share-alike attribution licence, allowing free and open reuse. Organisations or companies that wish to use the information on a non-share-alike basis need to pay for the privilege of not releasing the resultant information to the community. This in turn provides OpenCorporates with a sustainable business model and creates an incentive for users to release information back to the community.

What’s next? Beyond expanding its global data set and virtual community of contributors and users, OpenCorporates is moving toward network visualizations to make the information even more accessible and easy to analyze. Barclays Bank PLCThe Gap or Starbucks are examples of how such visualizations work. With OpenCorporates’ open, crowdsourcing model the possibilities for how the data can be further enriched, analyzed, and shared are plentiful.

Anna Nadgrodkiewicz is Senior Program Officer for Global Programs at CIPE.

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