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What Can We Learn from Eight Successful Campaigns on Budget Transparency and Accountability?

Duncan Green's picture

Over the last couple of years, the International Budget Partnership has published a set of fascinating case studies of campaigns on issues of government accountability, budget transparency and access to information. I finally sat down and read them all recently (the summer lull is a wonderful thing). What conclusions do they draw (see end of post for links to the case studies)?

As always, good case studies endorse some of your thinking, but also add some new ideas and insights (at least for me). The common ground is that multi-pronged approaches and alliances have more impact. Successful campaigns often work across multiple layers of government (village, district, state, federal), using multiple strategies (research and insider advocacy, street protest, media). The most effective alliances often bring together unusual suspects (eg radical grassroots CSOs and nerdy thinktanks in the Mexico subsidies campaign).

Three Harmless Words

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

"Freedom of Information. Three harmless words. I look at those words as I write them, and feel like shaking my head till it drops off my shoulders. You idiot. You naive, foolish, irresponsible nincompoop. There is really no description of stupidity, no matter how vivid, that is adequate. I quake at the imbecility of it. Once I appreciated the full enormity of the blunder, I used to say - more than a little unfairly - to any civil servant who would listen: Where was Sir Humphrey when I needed him? We had legislated in the first throes of power. How could you, knowing what you know have allowed us to do such a thing so utterly undermining of sensible government?"

CommGAP Launches "Accountability Through Public Opinion"

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

CommGAP is delighted to announce the publication of its third edited volume, "Accountability Through Public Opinion: From Inertia to Public Action." The book is edited by CommGAP's Program Head Sina Odugbemi and Taeku Lee, Professor of Political Science and Law at the University of California, Berkeley. Authors from development practice and academia discuss in 28 chapters how citizens can hold their governments accountable, and how genuine demand for accountability can be created.

The idea for the book was born at a CommGAP workshop in 2007 in Paris on "Generating Genuine Demand with Social Accountability Mechanisms." A few years later, we proudly present a compilation of essays that are relevant for current events in the Middle East and in North Africa as much as for any efforts to strengthen citizen's agency vis a vis their governments.

Teaching a Culture of Transparency

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

Access to Information is a big topic these days. It is for the World Bank, with its own ATI strategy kicking in this week, on July 1. It's a big topic elsewhere too: The Philippine Congress just killed a Freedom of Information Bill, the Parliament in Liberia is taking up it's review of a Freedom of Information Act after a two year hiatus, and the New York Times reports on the positive effects that India's Right to Information Law has on the poorest castes.

Legislation, however, is only one side of the bargain. As we have argued many times on this blog, legislation could be mute if there is no culture supporting the law. If governments don't want to reveal information, how is a law going to make them? If citizens don't want to request information, how is a law going to encourage them? It's not only about transparency legislation, it's also about a culture of transparency.

Beware the Carrotmob

Naniette Coleman's picture

"It is true that economic and social objectives have long been seen as distinct and often competing.  But this is a false dichotomy; it represents an increasingly obsolete perspective in a world of open, knowledge-based competition. Companies do not function in isolation from the society around them."

Michael Porter and Mark Kramer, "The Competitive Advantage of Corporate Philanthropy"
Harvard Business Review, 2002

Please, hold the door, the Carrotmob is coming. If you are among the un-indoctrinated, please allow me to introduce you to the Carrotmob. “Carrotmob is a type of consumer activism in which businesses compete at how socially responsible they can be, and then a network of consumers spends money to support whichever business makes the strongest offer.” According to Brian Byrnes, regular contributor to CNN.com and author of “Argentine 'Carrotmob' stick up for green business” they are a global movement that is built on the 'carrot-or-the-stick' concept. Carrotmob rewards -- rather than punishes -- small businesses for employing sustainable practices. Essentially, a Carrotmob is the opposite of a boycott.”  Although the Carrotmob operates in the commercial sphere, they are working to increase, so called, public goods with other stakeholders in their community. Activities like those undertaken by the Carrotmob are an example of creative coalition building and help to begin to address one of the challenges of fostering a collective identity, maintaining both internal and external political efficacy.

Of Pork, Sausage, and Media Laws

Silvio Waisbord's picture

Watching media law sausage being made is not only ugly. It also raises questions about the conventional apoliticism and technical distance of international aid (an issue that Sina brought up in his last blog entry, and the subject of Sue Unsworth’s smart article that he sent).

Consider what happened in the last months in Argentina. On October 9, Congress passed a new media law, which was immediately approved by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. The law is almost identical to the bill sent by the President’s office. The bill replaced the 1980 law that was passed during the last military dictatorship, which had been amended several times since the return to democracy in 1983.