Chris Blattman is right to question my enthusiasm for information as the solution to seemingly intractable development problems. (By the way, thanks for the complimentary plug for AfricaCan, Chris). Information by itself is not useful unless people can do something with it. And we’re talking about poor people, who typically have very little power. But if enough poor people have access to the same information, they may be able to mobilize and enforce better performance from service providers or public officials. This is the reasoning behind the work on citizen report cards, public expenditure tracking surveys, community monitoring, and the like.
A recent note by Stuti Khemani explores why community monitoring of health care in Uganda appeared to work so well, while a similar program for schools in Uttar Pradesh (UP), India didn’t. She suggests three reasons: differences in the level of NGO activism in the two countries; differences between health and education; and the political economy of service delivery (teachers unions are very powerful in UP). The latter is particularly troubling because another rationale for information campaigns is when reforms in service delivery are blocked for political reasons. What then can we do?