Regulation of the People’s Republic of China on the Disclosure of Government Information, was enacted 11 years ago, back in May 2008. Stunning as it sounds, we are curious about the effect of this law. How often do citizens take advantage of it? What kind of information do people care most about? Why does the government reject to make the information public? Or why does the court decide to support the applicants? Hence we turned to the OpenLaw, a dataset of Chinese court case records, and analyzed 5,000 out of more than 13,000 case records related to the regulation.
After publishing, the project was republished by sveral stakeholders, getting attention from experts in the open data area. For the general audience, the project was viewed more than 200,000 times on The Paper platform.
Our data is from OpenLaw, a dataset of Chinese court case records. The team spent two months decoding the case records into a database for analysis, containing more than 40 variables.
What was the hardest part of this project?
1) There are no public records of how people acquire information from government and what kind of requests they get. To able to address this issue, we use the court case records, to find out why people couldn’t get through with regular requests and had to resort to lawsuits. We found these records can help us get a glimpse of the very extreme usage of the law. The team spent two months decoding the case records into a database for analysis.
2) Freedom of information law, is a distant topic to the general audience. We start the project by telling a story of a retired doctor who sued the local government several times to acquire the document that could prove a medicine a hospital used during an eye treatment she received was unapproved by the State Drug Adminstration. Therefore, the readers can understand the usage of the law can be very personal and useful.
3) We tried to show not only what the data tells, but also what the findings mean. To understand our findings, we interviewed professors and lawyers to enhance the interpretation of the topic. For example, we found out the kind of information Chinese citizens apply for the most are land, houses, and everything related. Through Professor Xiao Weibin’s interpretation, we understood it shows the usage of the law is still at a very low level. This type of use doesn’t contribute to the information disclosure or open data spirit; since personal property information, even successfully acquired after lawsuit, has few reuse value, and therefore is often unuseful for public interest.
What can others learn from this project?
Our data analysis unveils a very contradictory fact: even when a citizen wins the lawsuit, he or she may still not be able to get the information wanted. Because the law prioritized at ensuring government’s lawful acts, which means responding to data requests within required time, and giving reasons when rejecting the requests. But when the government didn’t make enough efforts, the court has no certain obligation to investigate.
We also found out the kind of information Chinese citizens apply for the most are land, houses, and everything related. It shows the usage of the law is still at a very low level. This type of use doesn’t contribute to the information disclosure or open data spirit; since personal property information, even successfully acquired after lawsuit, has few reuse value, and therefore is often unuseful for public interest.