In our (justifiable) enthusiasm for transparency, we rarely ask whether information provision leads private citizens to help themselves, thereby relieving governments of their responsibilities. If so, we may not be quite there (yet) in finding tools that improve government accountability.
Take the case of community radio, a classic tool for information sharing for accountability in Africa. It is supposed to organize communities and (literally) give voice to the opinions and needs of the marginalized. It also carries public interest messages, communicating the importance of health, education, and democratic values. New data from Benin, a country with a vibrant community radio network, show that people in poorer and far-flung regions are able to access news and information, and share views, because of this medium.
But these data yield some surprising results.
In villages with greater access to community radio, where people are more informed about the value of services, they are more likely to invest their own, private resources in health and education. More informed households are more likely to purchase bed nets from government officials, paying for this public health good to combat malaria, even though nets are supposed to be distributed free.