How can governments ensure that they get their money’s worth when they embrace open government reforms?
Ongoing research suggests that open government reforms—those that promote transparency, participation, and accountability—may lead to better development outcomes if properly implemented by governments. However, governments must navigate the myriad of initiative options as they strive to improve citizens’ quality of life and achieve the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Without a rough idea of the potential costs and benefits different reforms might offer, how can governments allocate their resources efficiently?
Multiple stakeholders are collaborating to answer this question. The Research Consortium on the Impact of Open Government commissioned a study to determine the financial costs associated with particular open government initiatives.
For all of the recent explosion in data related to learning -- as a result of standardized tests, etc. -- remarkably little is known at scale about what exactly happens in classrooms around the world, and outside of them, when it comes to learning, and what the impact of this has.
This isn't to say that we know nothing, of course:
The World Bank (to cite an example from within my own institution) has been using standardized classroom observation techniques to help document what is happening in many classrooms around the world (see, for example, reports based on modified Stallings Method classroom observations across Latin America which seek to identify how much time is actually spent on instruction during school hours; in many cases, the resulting data generated are rather appalling).
Common sense holds various tenets dear when it comes to education, and to learning; many educators profess to know intuitively what works, based on their individual (and hard won) experience, even in the absence of rigorously gathered, statistically significant 'hard' data; the impact of various socioeconomic factors is increasingly acknowledged (even if many policymakers remain impervious to them); and cognitive neuroscience is providing many interesting insights.
But in many important ways, education policymaking and processes of teaching and learning are constrained by the fact that we don't have sufficient, useful, actionable data about what is actually happening with learners at a large scale across an education system -- and what impact this might have. Without data, as Andreas Schleicher likes to say, you are just another person with an opinion. (Of course, with data you might be a person with an ill-considered or poorly argued opinion, but that’s another issue.)
|side observation: Echoing many teachers (but, in contrast to teaching professionals, usually with little or no formal teaching experience themselves), I find that many parents and politicians also profess to know intuitively ‘what works’ when it comes to teaching. When it comes to education, most everyone is an ‘expert’, because, well, after all, everyone was at one time a student. While not seeking to denigrate the ‘wisdom of the crowd’, or downplay the value of common sense, I do find it interesting that many leaders profess to have ready prescriptions at hand for what ‘ails education’ in ways that differ markedly from the ways in which they approach making decisions when it comes to healthcare policy, for example, or finance – even though they themselves have also been patients and make spending decisions in their daily lives.|
One of the great attractions of educational technologies for many people is their potential to help open up and peer inside this so-called black box. For example:
- When teachers talk in front of a class, there are only imperfect records of what transpired (teacher and student notes, memories of participants, what's left on the blackboard -- until that's erased). When lectures are recorded, on the other hand, there is a data trail that can be examined and potentially mined for related insights.
- When students are asked to read in their paper textbook, there is no record of whether the book was actually opened, let along whether or not to the correct page, how long a page was viewed, etc. Not so when using e-readers or reading on the web.
- Facts, figures and questions scribbled on the blackboard disappear once the class bell rings; when this information is entered into, say, Blackboard TM (or any other digital learning management system, for that matter), they can potentially live on forever.
|A few years ago I worked on a large project where a government was planning to introduce lots of new technologies into classrooms across its education system. Policymakers were not primarily seeking to do this in order to ‘transform teaching and learning’ (although of course the project was marketed this way), but rather so that they could better understand what was actually happening in classrooms. If students were scoring poorly on their national end-of-year assessments, policymakers were wondering: Is this because the quality of instruction was insufficient? Because the learning materials used were inadequate? Or might it be because the teachers never got to that part of the syllabus, and so students were being assessed on things they hadn’t been taught? If technology use was mandated, at least they might get some sense about what material was being covered in schools – and what wasn’t. Or so the thinking went ....|
Yes, such digital trails are admittedly incomplete, and can obscure as much as they illuminate, especially if the limitations of such data are poorly understood and data are investigated and analyzed incompletely, poorly, or with bias (or malicious intent). They also carry with them all sorts of very important and thorny considerations related to privacy, security, intellectual property and many other issues.
That said, used well, the addition of additional data points holds out the tantalizing promise of potentially new and/or deeper insights than has been currently possible within 'analogue' classrooms.
But there is another 'black box of education' worth considering.
In many countries, there have been serious and expansive efforts underway to compel governments make available more ‘open data’ about what is happening in their societies, and to utilize more ‘open educational resources’ for learning – including in schools. Many international donor and aid agencies support related efforts in key ways. The World Bank is a big promoter of many of these so-called ‘open data’ initiatives, for example. UNESCO has long been a big proponent of ‘open education resources’ (OERs). To some degree, pretty much all international donor agencies are involved in such activities in some way.
There is no doubt that increased ‘openness’ of various sorts can help make many processes and decisions in the education sector more transparent, as well as have other benefits (by allowing the re-use and ‘re-mixing’ of OERs, teachers and students can themselves help create new teaching and learning materials; civil society groups and private firms can utilize open data to help build new products and services; etc.).
What happens when governments promote the use of open education data and open education resources but, at the same time, refuse to make openly available the algorithms (formulas) that are utilized to draw insights from, and make key decisions based on, these open data and resources?
- Are we in danger of opening up one black box, only to place another, more inscrutable back box inside of it?
Available in Myanmar
Successful development is about making a reality of aspirations and ambitious ideas through effective implementation – Myanmar can achieve just that for its people by instilling the values of transparency, accountability and public participation in its public sector.
Ideas and policies matter. They have the power to be transformative. A strong and efficient, transparent and accountable public sector is crucial for translating inspiring ideas and policies into real development outcomes. If we liken Myanmar to a car, then the public sector – a collection of institutions, processes and people which together function as the machinery of government – has an important role to play. The people of Myanmar sit in the driver’s seat, the private sector is the engine which moves the economy forward – and the public sector acts as the car’s transmission and gearbox. If it’s running well, the car moves forward smoothly – but if it’s poorly maintained, people may be in for a bumpy ride.
Transparency and accountability in government actions are increasingly recognized as central to economic development and political stability. Where citizens know the rules that govern their society and have a role in shaping them, they are more likely to comply with those rules. Corruption is lower and the quality of regulation is higher. In addition, citizen access to the government rulemaking process is central for the creation of a business environment in which investors make long-range plans and investments.
Among the 185 countries sampled by the Global Indicators of Regulatory Governance, 138 notify the general public of a proposed new regulation before its adoption. Most countries that give notice are either high income OECD economies or located in the European and Central Asia region.
Fear of openly confronting politics can come in the way of achieving economic development goals. To help address this problem, the Development Research Group of the World Bank prepared a report synthesizing the vanguard of economics research on the functioning of political markets to understand the implications. It yields insights for strengthening existing transparency and citizen engagement policies with potentially powerful consequences for economic development everywhere, in poor and rich countries alike.
The call for an international set of guidelines came from many quarters between 2008 and 2010, but was largely driven by concerns raised in international fora by civil society, member states, development partners, and the private sector. These concerns primarily pertained to food security (and specifically food price spikes) and access, and rights to land and other resources by small, medium and large scale producers as they impact investments in food production systems.
One of the more notable concerns driving the development of the Guidelines was related to large scale land acquisitions (including what some organizations may sometimes refer to as “land grabbing”). Through a technical process FAO developed the initial draft of the Guidelines, and then initiated a process of input and consultation over two years before the document was given to the UN Committee for World Food Security (UN CFS) for negotiation.
As the subject of land rights can be very political (no international guidance can address the plethora of land challenges from Latin America to Africa to Asia and beyond with one-solution fits-all-problems), and civil society organizations, member states, and the private sector often have different views and needs in achieving their respective objectives, you can imagine it was not an easy task for CFS to agree to a set of guidelines.
An active player in the transparency space, the World Bank just released its fifth Access to Information (AI) Annual Report. The report presents the evolution and progress of the Policy on Access to Information (the Policy) since it was launched on July 1, 2010, provides a variety of statistics, and highlights a range of transparency activities carried out in fiscal 2015. Since 2010, the Bank has pushed the frontiers to disclose more information and twice revised the Policy to keep abreast of evolving public demand—in 2013 to clarify declassification of certain Board transcripts, and in 2015 to align the treatment of the documents and records of the Board of Governors with the treatment of those of the Executive Directors. The following are select highlights from the past five years.
Enhanced information access. The Policy has provided the public with access to a broad range of historical and current information on operations, research, corporate matters, and Board decisions. The Bank has also received and responded to more than 3,000 access to information requests. The number of requests declined from 700 in 2010 to 474 in 2015, due to the Bank’s proactive and systematic efforts to disclose information online. The main entry points to the Bank’s wealth of information are the Projects and Operations portal, which provides detailed information on lending operations, and the Documents and Reports repository, which contains more than 200,000 documents that are freely accessible to the public. Further, the Archives Holdings website offers a growing collection of digitized records dating to the 1940s.
Governance structure and appeals. The Policy has established two robust bodies to manage the appeals process—the AI Committee and the external AI Appeals Board. A new chair of the AI Committee was appointed last fall, Stefan Koeberle, Bank director of strategy, results and risk. In 2015, the membership of the AI Appeals Board was renewed with the selection of a new member and the re-appointment of two previous members. The number of appeals submitted to these bodies has been low, possibly indicating that proactive disclosure and the system for responding to requests are working well. The appeals mechanism ensures that the Bank implements the Policy effectively.
Image from the 2016 Aid Transparency Index
On April 13, 2016, Publish What You Fund (PWYF) launched the 2016 Aid Transparency Index (ATI), a broadly recognized measure of donors’ aid transparency. We were pleased to see that for the second consecutive year the World Bank (IDA) is in the top (“very good”) category— this year as number 6 on the list, with a score of 86. So, we are among the only 10 donors that, according to PWYF, have lived up to the Busan commitment on aid transparency.
Of course, we are proud of our standing. At the same time, it is worth noting that the ATI to a very high degree measures the publication of machine-readable data in compliance with the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) standard, while other aspects of transparency have hardly any weight in the index.
Transparency is a priority for the World Bank. Since the launch of our Access to Information Policy in 2010 we have not looked back; the just-released World Bank Group Access to Information Annual Report and 5-Year Retrospective makes this clear. The World Bank joined IATI when it was launched in 2008, and we published our first IATI data in 2011, but publication of IATI data is just a small part of our efforts to be an open institution. Detailed information on Bank supported projects, including procurement data, is available from the projects and operations database; we were among the first to map projects; details on financial transactions are available at the portal for open financial data; and the open data platform gives access to thousands of development indicators.
The notion of the “public sphere” is useful worldwide to consider how citizens can and do articulate demands to the market or to states. The public sphere is generally conceived as a place (figurative or literal) in which citizens can share information, debate issues and opinions, and restrain the interests of the powerful elite. This space is critical to the formation of public will and the transmission of it to official authorities.
In contrast, the Panopticon is a design for a prison or jail which allows watchmen to observe all inmates at all times without the inmates knowing whether they are being observed or not. The idea has been used to discuss online privacy, as individuals are often unaware of how governments and companies collect and use the information they gather about them online. Moreover, the revelation that governments and companies work together to “spy” on citizens, as revealed by Edward Snowden revived the concern that a modern-day panopticon might be possible.
But these concepts raise another important question: How can the public sphere, which aims to limit excess power, continue to function if the state is monitoring citizen activity? Much of the information that is collected and tracked online is willingly shared by individuals as they search the internet, use mobile apps, and contact friends and family. This activity is vital to the future of a public sphere around the world, but it also allows governments and companies to intrude in our private lives.
Silvio Waisbord explores these two evergreen, yet very immediate concerns. He argues that while digital technologies have improved the capacities of states and companies to track human activity, digital media can also be used for democratic purposes.