Transparency and Accountability: What you thought

Apr 20, 2009

We received some fascinating responses to the question about the link between transparency and accountability. Most people thought that more  transparency could lead to greater  accountability, but that this was by no means an automatic process. A number of political/contextual factors play a role in whether this happens or not.

Here are some of your responses:

Tiago Peixoto (Participatory Budgeting Facebook group quoted an extract from a paper by Daniel Kaufmann

“A logical extension of furthering local community participation is to devolve entirely some functions of government service provision – e.g. decentralization. By making officials accountable to local citizens who are in a better position to evaluate the level and quality of services delivered, a decentralized system allows reliable information concerning performance to be generated and utilized for enforcement. Reciprocally, local citizens are better informed about supply conditions, budgets and expenditures for local services, thus reducing the information asymmetry between clients and officials that is largely responsible for corruption.”

He also argues that  well implemented Participatory Budgeting practices generally have transparency as a byproduct of the participative process. He gives section B, “Indirect Effects on Participatory Budgeting” of the following paper as an example:

Ana Quiros  (of CISAS in Nicarague argued that it may be easier to find a correlation the other way around. Their work in Nicaragua to shows that with less participation comes less transparency.

Alicia Mandaville of the Millenium Challenge Corporation ( asked about a 3rd link to reductions in incidents of corruption. Her office (MCC) is trying to sort through ways of estimating the return on investments in governance and accountability mechanisms.

Geir Sundet (Accountability Tanzania Project) referred us to a piece that he wrote for Twaweza, the Hivos hosted initiative in East Africa:

” The potential of public information campaigns and citizens agency have been recognized for some time and considerable resources have been channeled into attempting to replicate earlier successes, particularly in the last 5 years. Still, there has not been the dramatic duplication in success stories that one might have expected. Note, for example, that 4 of the 5 cases cited in this brief note, had already started ten years ago.

Why has it been so hard to replicate these well designed and effective interventions? Any deep-going analysis of this question but a few observations will be provided:

  • There has been a tendency to underestimate the complexity underlying the above successes. Simply providing information or facilitating report card exercises is not likely to have much of an impact unless it is informed by the local institutional and political context. Simply placing information on a notice board, for example, is not likely to have much of an impact if the information is not understandable to the intended audience (see, for example, Mushi et al 2005).
  • There has been a tendency to focus on starting new initiatives, “pushing money out the door” at the expense of follow up and careful reporting and assessments of experiences. Two results of this has been uncritical reporting of success and poor learning.
  • Success seems to be more likely to be forthcoming when bottom up demands for change or action are formally or informally linked up with top-down enforcement from official authorities—in creating an overall ecosystem of change. Particularly Supreme Audit Institutions have proved to be good, strategic allies of citizen groups (see for example cases cited by Ramkumar and Krafchik 2007).”

Dedi Haryadi  (Forum for Popular Participation in Indonesia) wrote about research that they did that found no empirical facts that participation lead to more transparency in the local budget processes and allocation. Three factors were responsible for this: 1) “participation” failed to create strong public demand for transparency, 2) the way CSOs  advocate for participation is too technocratic and not political enough in nature, and 3) participation failed to overcome persistent information assymetry in the budget process.


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