What's the cost of open government reforms? New tool can help you find out

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Graphic: Nicholas Nam/World Bank

Advocacy around open government reforms to date has largely revolved around the intrinsic value of transparency, accountability, and participation. In a resource-constrained environment, development practitioners, policy makers, and citizens increasingly have to be more judicious. Adopting new methods or tools – such as open contracting mechanisms, open data dashboards and participatory budgeting – is not free. How can we measure the instrumental value of open government reforms? 

Information Is Power
Enter the Open Government Global Solution Group’s latest global good: the Open Government Costing Framework. Over the past year, the World Bank and Results for Development (R4D) have collaborated on  a way to estimate the actual costs of open government reforms. Drawn and adapted from costing work in the health, education, and nutrition sectors, the result is a comprehensive, do-it-yourself costing methodology and framework that civil servants, policy makers, development practitioners, and other interested stakeholders can use to determine the full economic cost of an open government reform before design and implementation .
Snapshot of a Cost Estimate Spreadsheet from the Open Government Costing Toolkit

In order to develop the framework, R4D and the World Bank applied these new costing methods to three thematically and regionally diverse case studies: the Dominican Republic’s Ede Este 311-system, Sierra Leone’s open data portal, and Ukraine’s open e-Procurement system ProZorro. The result is an actionable, user-friendly framework and excel-based tool: enter specific costs of a reform’s various processes and activities to estimate total economic costs for that particular reform. 
It Comes Down to People
While developing this costing methodology and case studies, some important issues about the costs of open government reforms surfaced:

  • Open government reforms rely on motivated volunteers. Unlike reforms in other sectors, open government reforms tend to attract volunteer labor and pro bono resources as the main agents for change. The costing analysis research done for Ukraine’s  ProZorro project found that cost savings from a reliance on volunteer labor and resources totaled more than 20 percent of the overall cost. Such volunteerism would not normally be captured in financial budgets. Estimating cost savings is important when determining which reforms to undertake – and free labor should not be taken for granted. Governments and development partners should survey both the local and international environment surrounding a particular reform to better understand the level of community buy-in and availability of volunteers to keep costs down.
  • Open government reforms are labor intensive. In all three case studies, labor costs emerged as the most expensive cost driver in all phases of the reform programs, from setup to implementation and operation. This differs from other human development sectors such as health and nutrition, where the procurement of good and services (drugs, medical equipment, fortified foods, etc.) often dominate program budgets. In preparing to adopt specific reforms, governments and development partners must acknowledge that such reforms will consume substantial staff time and most likely necessitate the hiring of additional civil servants. Yes, open government reforms are often technology- and data-centric, but  at the end of the day, these reforms fundamentally come down to human resources.
Doing More with Less
Most importantly, this costing tool is a critical first step to paving the way for rigorous, cost-benefit analyses of open government reforms . Comprehensive information on the inputs needed (i.e., human, capital, and physical resources), coupled with cost savings and impact assessment information on similar interventions elsewhere, can allow governments and development partners to estimate costs and expected payoffs upfront and choose between competing policies and reforms accordingly.
The team is considering more reforms to cost, both to further calibrate the costing tool, as well as to confirm whether the costs estimated for these reforms are broadly consistent across the board or are outliers.
Which open government reforms do you think are most in need of being costed? Share with us below.


Daniel Nogueira-Budny

Senior Digital Development Specialist

Stephen Davenport

Global Lead, Anticorruption, Openness, and Transparency

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