With the ink barely dry on the Sustainable Development Goals, naturally the just-completed Open Government Partnership annual summit focused on how greater openness can accelerate progress toward the goals.
The open government agenda is most closely linked to the ambitious Goal 16 on Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, which among other targets includes the objective of ensuring “responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels.” Though progress in this area is maddeningly difficult to quantify, evidence increasingly shows that participation, the next transparency frontier, matters to development outcomes. Making the target explicit, it is hoped, will galvanize efforts in the right direction.
There are many issues one could propose to tackle with citizen engagement strategies, but to narrow the topic of discussion, let’s consider just one: enabling smart growth in the world’s exploding cities and megacities.
Public Integrity and Openness
The World Bank Group sees the pillars of a more open and citizen centric government--transparency, citizen participation, and collaboration--as strategic priorities in its work on governance because they suggest concrete ways to promote shared prosperity. Having made significant strides to increasing openness in the Bank's own work, we seek to build on this progress to support client governments in their own efforts to make the development process more inclusive.
The World Bank’s “zero tolerance” policy on corruption makes clear how thieves and embezzlers will be dealt with, if they are discovered. But what about before corruption actually occurs—how should the Bank go about preventing fraud and corruption in the first place?
The divide between prevention and enforcement shapes the World Bank’s fight against corruption in ways both subtle and profound. Enforcement is easier to conceptualize; it is tangible. Someone commits fraud or corruption, by siphoning Bank funds away from their intended purpose. When the Office of Suspension and Debarment slams a company with a sanction, we can quantify the effect.
Prevention, on the other hand, is a slippery idea. It evades definition. Quantifying how much fraud a policy prevents relies on counterfactuals, making it far more difficult to pin down. This means, for better or for worse, innovations and efforts towards the prevention perspective may lag behind enforcement.
Open governance is about ensuring that citizens are able to engage with their governments and that those governments are then willing and able to respond to citizen demands. This, in turn, should lead to socially-inclusive economic development and more effective and efficient service delivery, improving the lives of citizens. But how can citizens fully hold their governments accountable without access to—and comprehension of—government data?
The real challenge for fostering open governance lies in promoting transparency among the various sources of funding that make up a country’s public investment portfolio. Without a clear breakdown of their governments’ resources, citizens cannot engage in informed policy or decision-making discussions.
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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.