The call for an international set of guidelines came from many quarters between 2008 and 2010, but was largely driven by concerns raised in international fora by civil society, member states, development partners, and the private sector. These concerns primarily pertained to food security (and specifically food price spikes) and access, and rights to land and other resources by small, medium and large scale producers as they impact investments in food production systems.
One of the more notable concerns driving the development of the Guidelines was related to large scale land acquisitions (including what some organizations may sometimes refer to as “land grabbing”). Through a technical process FAO developed the initial draft of the Guidelines, and then initiated a process of input and consultation over two years before the document was given to the UN Committee for World Food Security (UN CFS) for negotiation.
As the subject of land rights can be very political (no international guidance can address the plethora of land challenges from Latin America to Africa to Asia and beyond with one-solution fits-all-problems), and civil society organizations, member states, and the private sector often have different views and needs in achieving their respective objectives, you can imagine it was not an easy task for CFS to agree to a set of guidelines.
An active player in the transparency space, the World Bank just released its fifth Access to Information (AI) Annual Report. The report presents the evolution and progress of the Policy on Access to Information (the Policy) since it was launched on July 1, 2010, provides a variety of statistics, and highlights a range of transparency activities carried out in fiscal 2015. Since 2010, the Bank has pushed the frontiers to disclose more information and twice revised the Policy to keep abreast of evolving public demand—in 2013 to clarify declassification of certain Board transcripts, and in 2015 to align the treatment of the documents and records of the Board of Governors with the treatment of those of the Executive Directors. The following are select highlights from the past five years.
Enhanced information access. The Policy has provided the public with access to a broad range of historical and current information on operations, research, corporate matters, and Board decisions. The Bank has also received and responded to more than 3,000 access to information requests. The number of requests declined from 700 in 2010 to 474 in 2015, due to the Bank’s proactive and systematic efforts to disclose information online. The main entry points to the Bank’s wealth of information are the Projects and Operations portal, which provides detailed information on lending operations, and the Documents and Reports repository, which contains more than 200,000 documents that are freely accessible to the public. Further, the Archives Holdings website offers a growing collection of digitized records dating to the 1940s.
Governance structure and appeals. The Policy has established two robust bodies to manage the appeals process—the AI Committee and the external AI Appeals Board. A new chair of the AI Committee was appointed last fall, Stefan Koeberle, Bank director of strategy, results and risk. In 2015, the membership of the AI Appeals Board was renewed with the selection of a new member and the re-appointment of two previous members. The number of appeals submitted to these bodies has been low, possibly indicating that proactive disclosure and the system for responding to requests are working well. The appeals mechanism ensures that the Bank implements the Policy effectively.
The notion of the “public sphere” is useful worldwide to consider how citizens can and do articulate demands to the market or to states. The public sphere is generally conceived as a place (figurative or literal) in which citizens can share information, debate issues and opinions, and restrain the interests of the powerful elite. This space is critical to the formation of public will and the transmission of it to official authorities.
In contrast, the Panopticon is a design for a prison or jail which allows watchmen to observe all inmates at all times without the inmates knowing whether they are being observed or not. The idea has been used to discuss online privacy, as individuals are often unaware of how governments and companies collect and use the information they gather about them online. Moreover, the revelation that governments and companies work together to “spy” on citizens, as revealed by Edward Snowden revived the concern that a modern-day panopticon might be possible.
But these concepts raise another important question: How can the public sphere, which aims to limit excess power, continue to function if the state is monitoring citizen activity? Much of the information that is collected and tracked online is willingly shared by individuals as they search the internet, use mobile apps, and contact friends and family. This activity is vital to the future of a public sphere around the world, but it also allows governments and companies to intrude in our private lives.
Silvio Waisbord explores these two evergreen, yet very immediate concerns. He argues that while digital technologies have improved the capacities of states and companies to track human activity, digital media can also be used for democratic purposes.
Technology for Transparency: Cases from Sub-Saharan Africa
Harvard Political Review
Over the last decade, Africa has experienced previously unseen levels of economic growth and market vibrancy. Developing countries can only achieve equitable growth and reduce poverty rates, however, if they are able to make the most of their available resources. To do this, they must maximize the impact of aid from donor governments and NGOs and ensure that domestic markets continue to diversify, add jobs, and generate tax revenues. Yet, in most developing countries, there is a dearth of information available about industry profits, government spending, and policy outcomes that prevents efficient action.
Popular Uprising against Democratically Elected Leaders. What Makes it Legitimate?
In the last five years, democratically elected governments in countries as diverse as Guatemala, Bulgaria, Venezuela, Ukraine, Thailand, Macedonia, South Africa, Spain, Iceland, Hungary and presently governments in Moldova, Brazil and Poland were all challenged and some of them forced to step down by mass-based popular uprisings. If it had not been for the strategic weakness of the Occupy movement, the United States might have also seen toppling of its own democratically elected leaders closely tied to business elites. This might still happen. If Donald Trump wins the presidential election and attempts to implement some of his most outrageous campaign promises popular uprising may be in the making sooner than we think. When is people rising against their own government legitimate? A number of Western philosophical treaties, historical practice and agreements, including declarations of people’s self-determination rights stressed the moral and legal permissibility, and even necessity, to rise up against abusive regimes.
A remarkable debate on transparency and open government took place on March 15, 2016 at the Reynolds Journalism Institute and the Truman School of Public Affairs at the University of Missouri, Missouri, USA. The issue was: Is American Government too open? Professor Bruce E. Cain of Stanford University argued that “Yes, American Government Is Too Open”, and Professor Charles Lewis of American University, Washington DC, argued that “No, American Government is Not Too Open”. You can watch the debate here.
It is a rich and illuminating exchange, and one that the two professors somehow manage to keep civil. I watched the debate online but in what follows I draw from the written commentary submitted by both professors, and I try to focus on the universally applicable points that each one made.
Despite global commitments to and increasing enthusiasm for open data, little is actually known about its use and impact. What kinds of social and economic transformation has open data brought about, and what is its future potential? How—and under what circumstances—has it been most effective? How have open data practitioners mitigated risks and maximized social good?
Even as proponents of open data extol its virtues, the field continues to suffer from a paucity of empirical evidence. This limits our understanding of open data and its impact.
Over the last few months, The GovLab (@thegovlab), in collaboration with Omidyar Network (@OmidyarNetwork), has worked to address these shortcomings by developing 19 detailed open data case studies from around the world. The case studies have been selected for their sectoral and geographic representativeness. They are built in part from secondary sources (“desk research”), and also from more than 60 first-hand interviews with important players and key stakeholders. In a related collaboration with Omidyar Network, Becky Hogge (@barefoot_techie), an independent researcher, has developed an additional six open data case studies, all focused on the United Kingdom. Together, these case studies, seek to provide a more nuanced understanding of the various processes and factors underlying the demand, supply, release, use and impact of open data.
After receiving and integrating comments from dozens of peer reviewers through a unique open process, we are delighted to share an initial batch of 10 case studies, as well three of Hogge’s UK-based stories. These are being made available at a new custom-built repository, Open Data’s Impact, that will eventually house all the case studies, key findings across the studies, and additional resources related to the impact of open data. All this information will be stored in machine-readable HTML and PDF format, and will be searchable by area of impact, sector and region.
According to the press statement announcing the report, the…
…report says that while the internet, mobile phones and other digital technologies are spreading rapidly throughout the developing world, the anticipated digital dividends of higher growth, more jobs, and better public services have fallen short of expectations, and 60 percent of the world’s population remains excluded from the ever-expanding digital economy. According to the new ‘World Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends,’ authored by Co-Directors, Deepak Mishra and Uwe Deichmann and team, the benefits of rapid digital expansion have been skewed towards the wealthy, skilled, and influential around the world, who are better positioned to take advantage of the new technologies. In addition, though the number of internet users worldwide has more than tripled since 2005, four billion people still lack access to the internet.
In what follows, I am going to discuss a small part of the report that I am particularly interested in. And that is the vexed subject of internet governance. As we all know by now, the dream of the founders of the internet was that it would be a libertarian paradise and a virtual monument to a transcendent cosmopolitanism: a truly free and borderless world. Sadly, all kinds of companies and governments are turning the internet into something else entirely. How to govern the internet is now a bone of discord.
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
Transparency, Accountability, and Technology
The recently launched Sustainable Development Goals have kicked off a renewed development agenda that features, among other things, a dedicated emphasis on peace, justice, and strong institutions. This emphasis, encapsulated in Goal #16, contains several sub-priorities, including reducing corruption; developing effective, accountable, and transparent institutions; ensuring inclusive, participatory, and representative decision-making; and ensuring access to information. Indeed, the governance-related Goals merely stamp an official imprimatur on what have now become key buzzwords in development. Naturally, where there are buzzwords, there are “tools.” In many cases, those “tools” turn out to be information and communications technologies, and the data flows they facilitate. It’s no wonder, then, that technology has been embraced by the development community as a crucial component of the global accountability and transparency “toolkit.”
Freedom in the World 2016
The world was battered in 2015 by overlapping crises that fueled xenophobic sentiment in democratic countries, undermined the economies of states dependent on the sale of natural resources, and led authoritarian regimes to crack down harder on dissent. These unsettling developments contributed to the 10th consecutive year of decline in global freedom.
It is now the second week of 2016 and many people are working (or struggling) to follow through on their New Year’s resolutions. Whether they have decided to run a marathon, travel more, or save money, many people endeavor to create positive, new habits while shedding existing habits they think are less positive. These resolutions, though, tend to last one or two months, fading into the backgrounds of their consciousness as spring arrives.
It’s a typical combination of the planning fallacy, unrealistic optimism, and a bit of self-regulatory failure.
And this sort of challenge is not specific to New Year’s resolutions or even to issues pertaining to individuals. City councils frequently draw up budgets that are too lean, road construction frequently lasts much longer than expected, and advances in technology often require much more investment than planners expect. So what’s at work here? Why is it that people have a hard time judging the amount of time, energy, and resources that a project will take?