In January 2011, mass demonstrations in Tunisia ousted a regime that had tolerated little popular participation, opening the door to a new era of transparency. The protesters demanded an end to the secrecy that had protected elite privilege. Five months later, the president issued a decree that increased citizen access to government data and formed a steering committee to guide changes in information practices, building on small projects already in development. Advocates in the legislature and the public service joined with civil society leaders to support a strong access-to-information policy, to change the culture of public administration, and to secure the necessary financial and technical resources to publish large quantities of data online in user-friendly formats. Several government agencies launched their own open-data websites. External pressure, coupled with growing interest from civil society and legislators, helped keep transparency reforms on the cabinet office agenda despite frequent changes in top leadership. In 2016, Tunisia adopted one of the world’s strongest laws regarding access to information. Although members of the public did not put all of the resources to use immediately, the country moved much closer to having the data needed to improve access to services, enhance government performance, and support the evidence-based deliberation on which a healthy democracy depended.
Tristan Dreisbach drafted this case study based on interviews conducted in Tunis, Tunisia, in October 2016. Case published May 2017.