The gate to Sørlandet
When local authorities shut down the tool used to search public documents, reporters at the Norwegian newspaper Fædrelandsvennen decided to fix the problem on their own and created a search engine. When the tool was in place, they were reminded of the democratic importance of everyone’s access to these facts and now they give the tool away to use for free, creating a shortcut to transparency.
To work for openness in public administration is one of the main tasks for media. Openness contributes to secure that good decisions are being made and prevents corruption.
One of the most important tools for openness in public administrations are searchable documents. In Kristiansand in the south of Norway where Schibsted’s newspaper Fædrelandsvennen operates, the authorities used to be a good example with practical services to find digital documents. Until it all changed.
Without any warning, the city removed 14 years of electronic journals of public documents from the web. Suddenly, they decided to spend time and taxpayers’ money on printing and scanning public documents that had been searchable, in order to turn them into non-search image-PDF files. Anyone wanting to see and use the information had to manually read thousands of pages of lists of documents. At Fædrelandsvennen the journalists were annoyed and angry and chose to fight back and develop a tool to solve the problem.
This is why Sørlandsporten was created.
The newspaper runs all the files with lists of public documents through a program that recognises text in pictures and then puts all the records in a searchable database. They did this to be able to do their job.
The result now benefits everyone, also their competitors. In June 2014, Fædrelandsvennen opened up Sørlandsporten to the public, free of charge.
In August 2015 next step were taken when Sørlandsporten became a new site – Innsyn.no (insight) which is a national service, supported by the trust Fritt Ord (Freedom of Speech Foundation). You can now search all of the public documents from all the Norwegian universities and documents from the police as well as some of the publicly owned health companies.
The code has also been shared at GitHub in case anyone wants to build something similar. And if you need any help searching, Tarjei Leer-Salvesen, reporter at Fædrelandsvennen and one of the team behind the service, will help you find the information you’re entitled to.
Like they say at the paper: Together we can make society more open.