Syndicate content

Governance

How to make sense of government accountability

Kerina Wang's picture



Also available in: Español | Français | Arabic  

Accountability is an elusive concept, but understanding where it originates can help citizens find ways to hold governments accountable.

In the narrowest sense, accountability is equated with answerability; it refers to the obligation to give an account of one’s action to particular individuals, groups, or organizations.  However, in a world where public administrators increasingly operate in intergovernmental networks and global coalitions, deciphering what constitutes accountability in public management has become a challenging task.

One of the simplest ways to unravel the mystery of accountability for public administrators is to trace back to the root sources; and examine how it unfolds across varying levels to affect governmental decision-making.

Here are five key channels to look for the “pressure points” of accountability:

Davos: New Briefing on Global Wealth, Inequality and an Update of that 85 Richest = 3.5 Billion Poorest Killer Fact

Duncan Green's picture

This is Davos week, and over on the Oxfam Research team’s excellent new Mind the Gap blog, Deborah Hardoon has an update on the mind-boggling maths of global inequality. 

 
 



Wealth data from Credit Suisse, finds that the 99% have been getting less and less of the economic pie over the past few years as the 1% get more. By next year, if the 2010-2014 trend for the growing concentration of global wealth is to continue, the richest 1% of people in the world will have more wealth than the rest of the world put together.


Measurements of wealth capture financial assets (including money in the bank) as well as non financial assets such as property. It is not just inefficient to concentrate more and more wealth in the hands of a few, but also unjust. Just think of all the empty properties bought by wealthy people as investments rather than providing housing for those in need of a home. Think of the billionaire chugging out carbon emissions flying around in a private jet, whilst the poorest countries suffer most from the impacts of climate change and the poorest individuals living want for a decent bicycle to get to school or work.
 

Oil exporters must shift capital stock to renewables

Håvard Halland's picture
Oil pumps, in southern Russia. Photo: Gennadiy Kolodkin / World Bank

As the Financial Times pointed out recently, oil companies such as Exxon Mobil and Shell would, under measures considered for the global climate pact to be sealed in Paris next year, cease to exist in their current forms in 35 years. The proposal of phasing out global carbon dioxide emissions as early as 2050 was not resolved in the UN climate talks in Lima last December.

However, the adoption of even a watered-down version in Paris or in later rounds of climate negotiations would mean that the amount of oil and gas produced by these companies, and the quantity of coal mined by enterprises such as Rio Tinto, would need to be greatly reduced by mid-century. Such long-term concerns might over the next years trump current worries about an oil price slump that could be on the wane as soon as marginal projects and producers are shaken out from the bottom of the market.

Quote of the Week: Samantha Power

Sina Odugbemi's picture

"You learn in government what the obstacles are.  But that’s not so you can go take a nap.  It’s so you can figure out how to scale them or work around them.  Does one get a better sense about context and about impediments and about trade-offs in government?  Absolutely.  But those are not alibis – those are problems to be solved."
 

-Samantha Power, the current United States Ambassador to the United Nations.  Formerly, she served as Special Assistant to President Obama and as Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights on the National Security Council.  She has also written or co-edited four books, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, a study of U.S. foreign policy responses to genocide. 
 

Davos Sees Challenges, ‘Smart Cities’ Seize Opportunities: Finding Sustainable Solutions Via Public-Private Dialogue

Christopher Colford's picture



As the world’s policymakers and business leaders converge in Davos, Switzerland for tomorrow’s opening of the World Economic Forum, there’s certainly no shortage of global threats for them to worry about during the WEF’s annual marathon of policy seminars and economic debates. A world of anxiety enshrouds this week’s conference theme of the “New Global Context,” judging by the WEF’s latest Global Risks Report: Its analysis of 28 urgent threats and 13 ominous long-term trends offers a comprehensive catalogue of extreme dangers to social stability and even human survival.

As if the Davos data isn’t worrisome enough, several just-issued scientific studies – which document worsening trends in climate change, humanity’s imminent collision with the limits of the planet’s resilience and the intensifying damage being wrought by voracious consumption-driven growth – trace a relentlessly gloomy trajectory.

Relieving some of the substantive tension, there’s also often a puckish undercurrent within each year’s Davos news coverage. Poking holes in the self-importance of Davos’ CEOs and celebrities – with varying degrees of lighthearted humor or reproachful reproof – has become a cottage industry, springing up every January to chide the mountaintop follies of “the great and the good.” Skeptics often scoff that the lofty pronouncements of Davos Deepthink have become almost a caricature of elite self-importance, and there’ll surely be plenty of the customary sniping at the insularity of Davos Man and at the insouciance of the globalized jet set as its over-refined One Percent folkways become ever more detached from the struggles of the stagnating middle class and desperate working poor.

Despite such Davos-season misgivings, it’s worth recalling the value of such frequent, fact-based knowledge-exchange events and inclusive dialogues among business leaders and thought leaders. Some of the Davos Set may revel in after-hours excess – its Lucullan cocktail-party scene is legendary – yet the substantive centerpiece of such meetings remains a valuable venue for expert-level policy debates, allowing scholars to inject their ideas straight into the bloodstream of corporate strategy-setting. The global policy debate arguably needs more, not fewer, thought-provoking symposia where decision-makers can be swayed by the latest thinking of the world’s academic and social-sector experts. Judging by the fragmented response to the chronic economic downturn by the global policymaking class, every multilateral institution ought to host continuing consultations to help shape a coherent policy agenda.

Focusing on just one area where in-depth know-how can serve the needs of decision-makers: The World Bank Group has long been tailoring world-class knowledge to deliver local solutions to client countries about one of the trends singled out in this year's WEF list of long-term concerns – the worldwide shift from “predominantly rural to urban living.” The biggest mass migration in human history has now concentrated more than 50 percent of the world’s population in cities, leading this year’s Global Risks Report to assert that the risk of failed urban planning is among the top global concerns.

“Without doubt, urbanization has increased social well-being,” commented one WEF trend-watcher. “But when cities develop too rapidly, their vulnerability increases: pandemics; breakdowns of or attacks on power, water or transport systems; and the effects of climate change are all major threats.”

Yet consider, also, the potential opportunities within the process of managing that trend toward ever-more-intense urban concentration. What if the prospect of chaotic urbanization were able to inspire greater city-management creativity – so that urban ingenuity makes successful urbanization a means to surmount other looming dangers?

For an example of the can-do determination and trademark optimism of the development community – with the world’s urbanization trend as its focus – consider the upbeat tone that pervaded a conference last week at the World Bank’s Preston Auditorium, analyzing “Smart Cities for Shared Prosperity.” With more than 850 participants in-person, and with viewers in 92 countries watching via livestream, the conference – co-sponsored by the World Resources Institute (WRI), Embarq, and the Transport and Information & Communications Technology (TICT) Global Practice of the World Bank Group – energized the world’s leading practitioners and scholars across the wide range of transportation-related, urban-focused, environment-conscious priorities.

(Thinking of the Preston gathering’s Davos-season timing and full-spectrum scope: It sometimes strikes me that – given the continuous procession of presidents, professors, poets and pundits at the Preston podium – there could be a tagline beneath Preston's entryway, suggesting that the Bank Group swirl of ideas feels like “Davos Every Day.”)

Amid its focus on building “smart cities” and strengthening urban sustainability, the annual Transforming Transportation conference took the “smart cities” concept beyond its customary focus on analyzing Big Data and deploying the latest technology-enabled metrics. By investing in “smart” urban design – and, above all, by putting people rather than automobiles at the center of city life – the scholars insisted that society can reclaim its urban destiny from the car-centric, carbon-intensive pattern that now chokes the livability of all too many cities.

The fast-forward series of “smart cities” speeches and seminars reinforced the agenda summarized by TICT Senior Director Pierre Guislain and WRI official Ani Dasgupta – formerly of the Bank Group and now the global director of WRI’s Ross Center on Sustainable Cities – in an Op-Ed commentary for Thomson Reuters: “We can either continue to build car-oriented cities that lock in unsustainable patterns, or we can scale up existing models for creating more inclusive, accessible and connected cities. Pursuing smarter urban mobility options can help growing cities leapfrog car-centric development and adopt strategies that boost inclusive economic growth and improve [the] quality of life.”

Working With The Grain: An Important New Book on Rethinking Approaches to Governance

Duncan Green's picture

Even though it’s relatively short (223 pages), Working With the Grain (WWTG) took me two months to finish, but I’m glad I did. It adds to a growing and significant body of literature on ‘doing development differently’/’thinking and working politically’ – Matt Andrews, Adrian Leftwich, David Booth, Diana Cammack, Sue Unsworth etc. (Like Matt and Adrian, WWTG author Brian Levy is a white South African – what attracts that particular group to rethinking governance would make an interesting study in itself.)

Brian summarizes the common elements of this emerging school of thought as:

"An insistence that the appropriate point of departure for engagement is with the way things actually are on the ground — not some normative vision of how they should be;

A focus on working to solve very specific development problems – moving away from a pre-occupation with longer-term reforms of broader systems and processes, where results are long in coming and hard to discern [...]

Recognition that no blueprint can adequately capture the complex reality of a specific setting, and thus that implementation must inevitably involve a process of iterative adaptation." (pg. 207)

What makes this book special is Brian’s CV – two decades at the World Bank, which experience he raids to provide great case studies throughout. It feels like he’s now gone back into academia (he teaches at Johns Hopkins and the University of Cape Town) partly to make sense of what he’s learned from 20 years of success and (more often) failure (he characterizes the orthodox governance approach as ‘a breathtaking combination of naivete and amnesia’). Unlike most such tomes, I found it clearer on the ‘so whats’, than the general diagnostic, which tends to get bogged down in endless 3 point lists and typologies (hence the two months).

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Many in Emerging and Developing Nations Disconnected from Politics
Pew Research
In recent years, high-profile protest movements have erupted in several emerging and developing countries, roiling, and sometimes overturning, the political status quo in Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey, Ukraine, Brazil, Thailand and other nations. Millions have demonstrated, and activists have pioneered new forms of online engagement.  However, a recent Pew Research Center survey finds that many people in these nations remain relatively disconnected from politics. Although most vote in elections, few take part in other forms of political participation.
 
21st-century censorship
Columbia Journalism Review
Two beliefs safely inhabit the canon of contemporary thinking about journalism. The first is that the internet is the most powerful force disrupting the news media. The second is that the internet and the communication and information tools it spawned, like YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, are shifting power from governments to civil society and to individual bloggers, netizens, or “citizen journalists.”  It is hard to disagree with these two beliefs. Yet they obscure evidence that governments are having as much success as the internet in disrupting independent media and determining the information that reaches society. Moreover, in many poor countries or in those with autocratic regimes, government actions are more important than the internet in defining how information is produced and consumed, and by whom. 
 

How does open data play out in fragile states

Sandra Moscoso's picture
#ARTF's Ditte Fallesen describes the opportunities and challenges around #opendata in Afghanistan
#ARTF's Ditte Fallesen describes the opportunities and challenges
around #opendata in Afghanistan. Photo: Sandra Moscoco

​There's a lot of energy around the role of open data in development. There are talks of data fueling 'smart cities,' citizen engagement in planning and budgeting, public transparency and accountability, entrepreneurship (even without open data), and more. 
 
These show the promise of open data, which doesn’t come easy in stable governments. But how does open data play out in the context of fragile states and conflict situations? 
 
Last year, we asked ourselves these questions and reached out to the aid community.

Activism and Advocacy 'Sans Frontières': Mobilizing Lawyers to Champion Development and the Rule of Law

Christopher Colford's picture
The challenge of global development is so vast, and the need to deliver high-impact services is so urgent, that the drive to create a social movement to build shared prosperity must enlist people with every type of skill – marshalling all of the many kinds of expertise that drive the private sector as well as the public, academic, social and philanthropic realms.

“We need everybody,” as World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim has passionately argued. “We need writers who can write about this. We need engineers. We need doctors. We need lawyers. We need artists. We need everybody who can capture the imagination of the world to end poverty." There’s a role in development for public-spirited people from every profession who seek to contribute to the cause.
 
Take It On: Enlisting In The Development Cause



Deep legal knowledge and deft legal reasoning are certainly part of the skill set needed to eradicate poverty and promote development. That’s because “you can’t have justice without advocates for justice,” as the Justice Community of Practice at the World Bank Group recently learned from the leader of an energetic initiative to link public-spirited legal practitioners with the nonprofit and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that need their skills.

The legal acumen that helps for-profit law firms succeed in the marketplace is often sought by nonprofits, human-services groups and human-rights advocates. Lawyers' skills can often make a crucial difference for organizations that deal with social prorities – whether it’s by tackling complex challenges like protecting refugees or defending prisoners of conscience, or by pursuing routine tasks like negotiating an office-space lease or reviewing an employment contract.

Matching the needs of social organizations with the capacity of lawyers who have a bit of time to commit to pro bono publico ideals – and thus to “strengthen the global pro bono community” for the long term – is the goal of PILnet, the Global Network for Public Interest Law. PILnet president Edwin Rekosh recently told the Bank’s justice-focused group that “promoting voluntarism among lawyers” often starts with the simple question, “Do you care about doing something good with your free time?” If so, “What do you care about?”

Lawyers within some of the world’s largest international law firms, in particular, often find that they have some spare capacity when they're in-between client assignments. Putting those flexible hours to good use for a pro bono client can both satisfy the lawyers’ altruistic aspirations and reflect well on their firms’ commitment to devote time and talent free of charge to worthy social causes.


Pages