For some time now, there has been a big buzz in the development community around good governance, open government and the need for citizen-state collaboration built on trust. This is at the core of sustainable development, and in this context Access to Information (ATI) plays a critical role. Citizens’ ready access to government information—through information requests or proactive disclosure by government—is a key dimension of open government and a necessary condition for meaningful citizen participation.
When citizens have access to information they can, for example, learn about and demand their entitlements under certain government programs: By finding out how public resources are allocated and used, such as the availability of medicines in local health centers, citizens can provide concrete feedback for better services.
The ancient cities of Bagan, Myanmar, and Luang Prabang, of Lao PDR offer today’s travelers a nostalgic vision of South East Asia: timeless landscapes and exquisite architecture. This vision is in sharp contrast to the rapid pace of recent economic activity in both countries. Myanmar recorded very strong investor interest in last year’s bidding round for oil and gas blocks. This was a clear signal of the successful reform process undertaken so far. In Lao PDR, the mining industry has increased annual production from around US$ 10 million in the early 2000s to well above US$ 1 billion a decade later – contributing around 15 percent of Government revenues in recent years.
In mid-July, when the Government of Nepal’s FY15 budget was announced live on TV, radio and social media, most Nepalis were keen to watch the latest game of the World Cup. However, in a country with a literacy rate of only 57%, where almost half of Nepalis can neither read nor write, analyzing complex GoN budgetary information would not have been their priority. The World Bank’s Program for Accountability in Nepal (PRAN), however, is hoping to change that and educate people how the GoN budget affects their lives.
PRAN, together with Institute for Governance and Development (IGD), has recently developed ready-to-use, neo-literate flip charts outlining the importance of the government budget, its priorities, and its processes. These new IEC materials have been officially approved by the Government of Nepal for use nationally. Used effectively, they can help Nepali citizens become much more aware of what is rightfully theirs.
Since 2011, PRAN has promoted increased social accountability and transparency in Nepal. PRAN seeks to educate communities about their local budget process and content. As part of this effort, these new flip charts will serve as an awareness-raising tool by offering a detailed visual explanation of how the budget is designed, reviewed and approved.
"And so the good news -- and we heard this in the summit -- is that more and more countries are recognizing that in the absence of good governance, in the absence of accountability and transparency, that’s not only going to have an effect domestically on the legitimacy of a government, it’s going to have an effect on economic development and growth. Because ultimately, in an information age, open societies have the capacity to innovate and educate and move faster and be part of the global marketplace more than closed societies do over the long term. I believe that."
-Barack Obama, President of the United States, speaking August 6, 2014 at a Press Conference after U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit
Citizens around the world know that these accountability problems are at the heart of development, security and equality. But often their voices are not heard and they do not have the tools to change the status quo. The Accountability Lab works with citizens like Bendu to generate innovative ideas for integrity and make people with power more responsible for the issues they face in their everyday lives. The team provides training, mentorship, networks, management support and seed funding to take these ideas from conception to reality to sustainability.
Blair Glencorse is Executive Director of the Accountability Lab. In this video he discusses the nature of accountability and provides optimism for making it a reality.
Without Stronger Transparency, More Financial Crises Loom
Committee to Protect Journalists
The social forces that can encourage euphoria among investors and then suddenly flip them into mass panic are not unlike those that generate crowd disasters such as the stampedes that have killed more than 2,500 pilgrims at Mecca since 1990. In such moments of herd-like behavior, the common element is a profound lack of information. If neither the individuals in an enthusiastic crowd nor those charged with policing it have a grasp on how it is behaving as a whole, the mob can grow too big for its surroundings. Equally, if those people are ill-informed about the extent of the risks they face when they discover something is wrong, they will assume the worst and rush for the exits, increasing the danger to all. This describes numerous crowd disasters. It also illustrates the financial crisis of 2008.
2014 Global Peace Index
Vision of Humanity
We are living in the most peaceful century in human history; however the 2014 Global Peace Index shows that the last seven years has shown a notable deterioration in levels of peace. The Global Peace Index measures peace in 162 countries according to 22 indicators that gauge the absence of violence or the fear of violence. This is the 8th year the index has been produced.
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
Three reasons investors are beginning to take sustainability seriously
Most of the ingredients for a healthy, secure, and fulfilling existence come to us from nature. Food, clean water, pollination, and natural hazard protection are all essential goods and services that underpin our economy and secure our wellbeing. But business models that exploit these benefits unsustainably are intensifying pressure on our planet's natural resources, putting their future – and ours – in jeopardy. How can we relieve this pressure before it is too late? As a first step, we need to recognise that rapidly declining natural systems are bad news for business. There is a two-way street between the economy and the environment: businesses damage the environment, and the damaged environment then creates risks to the bottom lines of businesses. But why should members of the investment community care?
Does transparency improve governance? Reviewing evidence from 16 experimental evaluations
Journalist's Resource- Harvard Kennedy School
The idea that transparency can make institutions more effective and provide greater accountability and better results for the public seems uncontroversial on the surface. But scholars and bureaucrats who have been involved in the wave of transparency initiatives over the past decade continue to debate the particular merits of various approaches. Some commentators have been troubled that as a reaction to scrutiny, malfeasance and inefficiency could increasingly be kept hidden and transparency could erode public trust in institutions and personal privacy. The many types of transparency initiatives around the globe are often confused, making sharp distinctions all the more essential.
After a slightly disappointing ‘wonkwar’ on migration, let’s try a less adversarial format for another big development issue: Transparency and Accountability. I have an instinctive suspicion of anything that sounds like a magic bullet, a cost-free solution, or motherhood and apple pie in general. So the current surge in interest on open data and transparency has me grumbling and sniffing the air. Are politicians just grabbing it as a cheap announcement in austere times? Does it contain some kind of implicit right wing assumptions (an individualist homo economicus maximising market efficiency through open data)? And is there any evidence that transparency actually has much impact on the lives of poor people (after all, the proponents of transparency and results-based agendas are often the same organizations, so I hope they are practicing what they preach….)
I put these fears to three transparency gurus, and here are their fascinating responses, striking in their quality and level of, well, openness. It’s a long read, but I hope you’ll agree, a worthwhile one. Think we’ll just stick with comments on this one – doesn’t feel like a vote would be useful (but let me know if you think otherwise)
In our last post, we discussed how establishing “relevant reasons” for decision-making ex ante may enhance the legitimacy and fairness of deliberations on resource allocation. We also highlight that setting relevant decision-making criteria can inform evaluation design by highlighting what evidence needs to be collected.
We specifically focus on the scenario of an agency deciding whether to sustain, scale or shut down a given programme after piloting it with an accompanying evaluation — commissioned explicitly to inform that decision. Our key foci are both how to make evidence useful to informing decisions and how, recognizing that evidence plays a minor role in decision-making, to ensure decision-making is done fairly.
For such assurance, we primarily rely on Daniels’ framework for promoting “accountability for reasonableness” (A4R) among decision-makers. If the four included criteria are met, Daniels argues, it will bring legitimacy to deliberations and, he further argues, consequent fairness to the decision.
In this post, we continue with the second criterion to ensure A4R: the publicity of decisions taken drawing on the first criterion, relevant reasons. We consider why transparency – that is, making decision criteria public – enhances the fairness and coherence of those decisions. We also consider what ‘going public’ means for learning.
World Press Freedom Index 2014
Reporters Without Borders
The 2014 World Press Freedom Index spotlights the negative impact of conflicts on freedom of information and its protagonists. The ranking of some countries has also been affected by a tendency to interpret national security needs in an overly broad and abusive manner to the detriment of the right to inform and be informed. This trend constitutes a growing threat worldwide and is even endangering freedom of information in countries regarded as democracies. Finland tops the index for the fourth year running, closely followed by Netherlands and Norway, like last year. At the other end of the index, the last three positions are again held by Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea, three countries where freedom of information is non-existent. READ MORE
Throwing the transparency baby out with the development bathwater
In recent weeks, a number of leading voices within the international development movement – including the billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates as well as development economist Chris Blattman and tech-for-development expert Charles Kenny - have come out arguing that corruption and governance efforts in developing countries should be de-prioritized relative to other challenges in health, education, or infrastructure. Their basic argument is that while yes, corruption is ugly, it’s simply another tax in an economic sense and while annoying and inefficient, can be tolerated while we work to improve service delivery to the poor. The reality is more complicated and the policy implications precisely the opposite: corruption’s “long tail” in fact undermines the very same development objectives that Gates, Blattman, and Kenny are advocating for. READ MORE