Each month, People, Spaces, Deliberation shares the blog post that garnered the most attention.
For July 2014, the featured blog post is "World Bank’s Four Year Access to Information Policy Update."
It’s been four years since the World Bank enacted its Access to Information Policy, and to mark the occasion this blog post covers the facts, figures, and developments that has made this Policy a success. Read the blog post to learn more!
Access to Information
Each month, People, Spaces, Deliberation shares the blog post that garnered the most attention.
Solutions Oriented Knowledge-Sharing
Making information and data freely available and usable enables citizens to engage with service providers to participate in development decisions. But is this enough?
Proactive disclosure of better data and information are prerequisites to enabling citizens, governments and institutions to make informed decisions. In order to help countries utilize the open initiatives and build client demand for increased openness, the World Bank organized local workshops and public forums in South Asia and East Asia since 2012, using the twinning approach of access to information and open data. This was an opportunity to connect local citizens and stakeholders to national and global data and knowledge, further providing the public with information needed to influence development at the local level. The World Bank interacted with civil society organizations, research and academic institutions, media, and government, among other stakeholders, providing a forum for discussion, debate and the exchange of information. Access to Information broadens the conversation among multiple informed stakeholders and creates opportunities to find and deliver innovative local solutions to long-standing development problems.
It’s a sign of the times that we had the first digital media academy at the World Urban Forum this year. Digital media has come a long way and is here to stay. Its effects have been transformational in many areas of communications – print journalism, book publishing, and marketing & advertising. Now, learning is seeing itself transformed by the same technologies that offer reach, scale, and interactivity at a price tag that’s hard to beat.
I was invited to share my experience in promoting the WBG’s first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on climate change, as I had created the communications strategy and overseen its launch, which was heavy on social media and reach to the developing world. I was inspired by earlier campaigns and also by the TED organization’s single-minded approach to branding. See attached presentation for details.
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
Are citizens receiving the greatest development impact for their development dollar? This is the same question I asked when the Publish What You Fund Aid Transparency Index was released in October 2013.
This week I found myself asking the same question as the 2013 World Bank Access to Information Report was released, highlighting how the Bank’s Access to Information Policy has provided the framework for the institution to emerge as a global leader in transparency and openness.
“Of course, data and knowledge are not an end in themselves,” President Jim Kim noted in the opening message of the report, “ultimately the true test of our effectiveness is how we use this evidence to change the lives of over a billion people in extreme poverty.”
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
Transparency for what? The usefulness of publicly available budget information in African countries
“Advocacy and civil society groups around the world are increasing their calls for governments to publish budgets and expenditure reports, not least in Africa, where budget transparency remains low by global standards. However, while governments are often praised internationally for the number and type of budget documents they release, less attention is given to the content of these documents and whether they allow for meaningful budget analysis. This note considers whether the budget documents released by African governments are sufficiently comprehensive to answer basic questions about budget policy and performance.” READ MORE
Five steps to more meaningful youth engagement
Global Development Professionals Network Partner Zone
“Today's young leaders are taking on a variety of meaningful and dynamic roles in development organisations. As board members, lobbyists, activists, entrepreneurs, designers, experts, trainers, and researchers, youth are driving their own destinies by taking part in decisions that affect them and their communities. For example, Restless Development, an international youth-led development agency, supports a project in which local young people lead action research aimed at finding solutions to complex challenges in the turbulent Karamoja region of Northern Uganda. These young researchers have produced several excellent products, including Strength, Creativity, and Livelihoods of Karimojong Youth.” READ MORE
The UN has long espoused the promotion of transparency and access to information as core elements of human rights and anticorruption efforts. In 1946, UN Resolution 59(I), adopted in the very first session of the General Assembly declared: “Freedom of information is a fundamental human right and is the touchstone of all the freedoms to which the United Nations is consecrated.” Subsequently, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights included the freedom of information as an intrinsic component of the freedom of expression. The UN Convention Against Corruption requires signatories "to take measures to enhance transparency in public administration,” And the 2000 Millennium Declaration, the preamble to the 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) declared the resolve to “ensure freedom of the media to perform their essential role and the right of the public to have access to information.”
So, the prominent references to transparency and right to information in the recently released report of the High Level Panel (HLP) of Eminent Experts on the post-2015 Development Agenda is not remarkable or surprising in itself. But both the language – the report calls for a “transparency revolution” and a “data revolution,” and the framing – the report proposes that good governance and transparency be included as core targets, suggest that there is an impetus for accelerated efforts in this area.
Any inclusion of transparency in the post-2015 MDGs will only be a logical complement to other global dynamics and the deepening of the information age. On the one hand, whistleblowers, wikileaks, and global media have harnessed the inexorably unshackling power of technology to bring issues of secrecy and transparency to the center of popular consciousness. On the other hand, and perhaps as a reaction to these forces, governments are launching various initiatives to demonstrate their commitment to the principle of transparency.
India’s 12th Five Year Plan (2012-2017) talks of challenges emanating from the economy’s transition to a higher growth path, the structural changes that come with it and the expectations it generates. One pertinent challenge in India, in the context of economic growth at the rate of 8%, is the extent of progress towards the multi dimensional process of inclusive growth. Without doubt, the latter should result in lower incidence of poverty, significant improvements in health care, universal access for children going to school and increased access to skilled development.
These parameters are more critical for an estimated 833 million people in India who continue to live in rural areas and a very large proportion of whom, both men and women, are either wholly or significantly still dependent for their livelihood on farm as well as non-farm activities. A plethora of centrally sponsored flagship rural development programs such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) have been given special impetus aimed at building rural infrastructure and providing basic services with the aim of reducing poverty. These are mandated to be implemented by the provincial governments through institutions of local self governance in the gaze of the well oiled administrative district machinery and increasingly in collaboration with the civil society.
An unprecedented injection of public funds during the 12th Plan Period through decentralized governance, calls for a renewed focus on the dynamics of grassroots empowerment that could enable rural communities to access information about their rights and entitlements made available under these programmes, both by law and policy. This consequently also has implications for accountability in the reach and impact of the public delivery system that the poorest approach. The key question, thus is, what kind of an accessible communication medium, amongst today’s robust social media, should be utilized during the next four years extensively to sensitize and empower the poorest in rural areas in partnership with civil society? Secondly, what are the governance challenges that need to be identified in the above partnership to make the benefits of the envisaged inclusive growth more transparent, participatory and bottom up?
Aaron Swartz died this past January 11th. As Owen Barder noted yesterday, “He did not just campaign: he built the RSS standard which enables blogs and websites to share information, the Web site framework web.py, the architecture for the Open Library, the link sharing platform Reddit, and he helped to design the Creative Commons license. He co-founded the online group Demand Progress — known for its campaign against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)…” The list of accomplishments is long, and the end has been so sudden.
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).