It is close to six months since the largest open government jamboree to date – the Open Government Partnership (OGP) Annual Summit in London last autumn. Since then the membership of the OGP continues to grow – up to 63 countries. And now a new set of regional meetings are scheduled for May through August. Open government junkies can boost their air miles accounts with a hectic world tour from Indonesia to Ireland to Costa Rica. Such gatherings should offer useful space for reflection. So what is happening on the ground?
I was intrigued by Kerala's Akshaya program. Kerala is uniquely, a most decentralized state, the only one of 17 in India to enact the Right to Public Services and, to open citizen service centers called Akshaya, run under the oversight of panchayats, 3-tier local self-governments, in 14 districts set within a 2 km radius of households. Akshaya was designed in its first phase in 2003 by the Kerala IT Mission to improve e-literacy in underserved areas and, in its second phase to provide a platform for government to citizen services through a public-private partnership. Over 60% of Kerala's 33 million citizens have been served by 2070+ Akshaya centers run by private entrepreneurs who collectively earn 30 million INR a month, creating employment for over 20,000 individuals. (For more details, see Akshaya Overview and UNDP Report on Akshaya).
Taking politics seriously
The idea political incentives play a powerful role in development—creating opportunities for change in some contexts, frustrating efforts in others—is not a new one. For many years now, academics and aid agencies have acknowledged that the uptake and impact of best practice reforms depends, in part, on the incentives of leaders and citizens, on formal and informal institutional arrangements, on historical legacies and structural drivers. And as a result, many aid agencies have made efforts to “take politics seriously.”
The post-conflict literature amongst practitioners (including the Bank’s WDR 2011 and the OECD’s INCAF) has increasingly focussed on the role of ‘inclusive enough’ political settlements as a precondition for political stability and economic growth. What does this mean? Can an understanding of political settlements help mould the Bank’s responses to moments of crisis in our client countries or inform our “business as usual” operations in countries where the seeds of future violence are apparent or looming? How do we recognize tenuous settlements, where grievances are likely to lead to an outbreak of, or return to, widespread conflict?
The WDR 2004 report certainly puts politics centre stage. Ten years on, the picture remains the same: where there’s any form of accountability relationship, there is some form of politics. A key insight of the WDR 2004 report was the trio of accountability relationships for service delivery and demand for improvement involving citizens, service providers and the government.
Some 1.5 billion people live in fragile states, “a group of countries at the bottom that are falling behind, and often falling apart” (The Bottom Billion, Collier, 2007). These states are marked by repeated cycles of violence, and weak institutional capacity and an inability to deliver basic services to their citizens.
On Friday last week I attended the final session of the United Nations Open Working Group – the body tasked with putting together global development priorities to replace the Millennium Development Goals. The session covered rule of law, along with peace and governance.
- Law and Regulation
We are curating a new monthly series on Digital Gov in developing countries seeking fresh perspectives and insights into the policy, institutional, and technical dimensions of using technology and public management to make services work for businesses and citizens.
Over a cup of tea, on a January afternoon of freezing rain, Emily, who works on Digital for the US Government, and I met to exchange perspectives on what it takes for governments to get digital right. Although our contexts are vastly different, we agreed that there remain similar pain points in the developed and developing world. In the first edition of the Digital Gov. blog, we consider factors common to good digital service delivery.
Sometimes, development approaches work. Policies are adopted, implemented, and – perhaps not perfectly, but overall – have the expected effects. Sometimes, they don’t work. Policies are debated and delayed for years. They are undermined during implementation, are quickly back-tracked in the face of stronger-than-expected opposition, or are implemented, but end up triggering negative and unexpected consequences. There are also constraints related to fiscal resources and capacity. However, political economy dynamics often play a decisive role with regards to whether these constraints are addressed, or conversely, remain in place.
King James had it right early on. “All Treasurers, if they do good service to their masters, must be generally hated”, he remarked after he couldn’t protect his own treasurer Lionel Cranfield from being thrown into the Tower of London in chains. Cranfield had made too many powerful enemies by opposing an expensive war the treasury couldn’t afford. His many successors through the ages can probably relate without too much difficulty.