Case Studies of Transparency Policies in Public Service Provision
As ambitious data and information disclosure initiatives are launched with aspirations of creating transparency, participation, collaboration, and accountability, investigating and assessing the impact of these initiatives is critical to assess if investments are being made in the right set of tools to achieve the intended set of outcomes. Making information publicly available through openness initiatives is the beginning, not the end of a results chain that links openness to better governance and development outcomes, and requires looking at a number of issues. Whether openness leads to accountable governance depends on the kind of information that is released. Transparency initiatives could release a goldmine of information in various formats, and of tremendous interest to academics, businesses, and other communities, but if this is not information that enables scrutiny of the decision-making, budget allocation, expenditures, performance, contracting, or other such functions of government – it will have little bearing on improving accountability.
Yet, the information that extracts accountability for expenditures and performance, that enables corruption to be exposed, is precisely the information that is particularly prone to being kept hidden, or released in un-usable and incomplete formats. So, the kind of transparency regime matters. Transparency systems that are mandatory and demand-driven - such as those relying on Right to Information laws – rather than voluntary and supply-driven, might be stronger because they create a legal obligation to both proactively, and on request, release the information necessary to monitor public finances and performance. The larger governance ecosystem also matters. Transparency policies will achieve little if the political system does not create the incentives for officials to be sanctioned when corruption is exposed, for service providers to be penalized when poor performance or absenteeism is revealed, or for safeguards or structural reforms to be adopted when evidence of systemic governance problems emerge. While more recently, much attention has been placed on the capacity of citizens to use information, and on the role of media and civil society groups as intermediaries to make information more accessible, the extent to which the political space exists for them to exert influence and effect change will determine the efficacy of their role. The brief cases developed here look at some well-known examples of transparency to assess their impact on accountability outcomes, and the factors that determined how effectively they achieved their objectives.