TAI Weekly

TAI Weekly | August 9, 2017
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In case you missed it…

TAI’s “weekly” is an informal recap on news, research, and events relevant to our four work streams: data use for accountability, taxation and tax governance, strengthening civic space, and learning from improved grant making. It goes to our mailing list and website every Wednesday morning. The weekly is in no way a reflection of TAI member views or thinking. 

Photo: Unsplash

It’s hard to know whether to be encouraged or discouraged when a media source like Fast Company picks up on growing civic space concerns (glad to see the tech innovation crowd alerted, but suspect it’s indicative of growing scale of the problem). Highlighting the Civicus Monitor, Ben Paynter describes the shift towards repressing dissent worldwide. The trend may be escalating since the onset of the Trump Presidency – Erin Rubin notes Vietnam’s intensified crackdown reflective of Trump’s lack of emphasis on rights and decision to drop the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal. Meanwhile, companies may be adjusting their approaches, too. Apple has followed competitors and caved to pressure, removing virtual private networks from its machines sold in China, so making it harder for users to circumvent censors. 

How are citizen attitudes shifting in response to crackdown? In Zambia, half of the population is not happy with their democracy – and this is a big change. Could this tie to governance failings? Recent Afrobarometer reports continued support among surveyed Zambians to democratic ideals, but 2 out of 3 respondents believe that official corruption has increased and 70% expressed dissatisfaction with the government’s efforts to address corruption. 

Talking of Africa data points, the Code team offer an inside view of sharing and learning at the second  Africa Open Data Conference (AODC) in Accra, July 17-21. Given much talk of an open data revolution, hopefully attendees were reading the new GovLab paper examining open data in developing countries, what works and how. It includes an interactive “Periodic Table of Open Data’s Impact Factors” to assess the enabling and disabling factors, while noting the demand for data coming from both government and non-government actors.  No time to read the full report? This Huffpost blog reminds us of the potential benefits from aiding disaster relief to voter turnout, as well as the potential to improve governance. The Open Government Partnership can help create some real world examples, such as this case from Indonesia where village women generate data using accessible technology to push to improve public services. 

Given the AODC focus on sustainable development data, attendees may also have interest in the new 2017 Global Report of the SDG16 Data Initiative, launched at the High Level Political Forum. The report highlights some clear limitations to the available data. We have potential to learn from applications of open data for food security – openAIR’s post explores the governance frameworks and impact of accessible agricultural data.

Debates on data governance for country by country reporting continue – building on last week’s blogs, Transparency International EU make the case for how bank reporting data can show shifts in tax behavior (though do we really know what drove those changes?) Amid such discussions, a new report on hidden costs of open data is very timely. The report flags risks that will resonate from the CBCR debates, such as users experiencing “transaction costs” when it comes to working in specialist data formats that need additional skills, training and software to use.

As it stands a flood of beneficial ownership open data would be a nice problem to have – transaction costs or no. There is at least a positive trend. Representatives of government bodies, civil society, the private sector and media from Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria converged on Ghana to address the issue in a workshop tagged “Supporting New Beneficial Ownership Transparency Champions.” Meanwhile, in the US, a number of prominent US senators are joining the push to crack down on kleptocrat-friendly shell companies – even if there is no prospect of public registries. Mark Hays of the NGO Global Witness attests, “The US is actually one of the easiest and most popular places to form a shell company without disclosing its ownership.”

Elsewhere, Global Leaks emails are embroiling Gulf states in Malaysia state development fund concerns over misappropriated $4.5bn, and Interpol is among those designing the EU backed Enhancing Africa’s Capacity to Respond to Transnational Organized Crime – ENACT – a 3 year program that will create five regional observatories across the continent to monitor trends. The program designers may want to ready Charles Kenny’s take that you can’t blame intractable poverty all on corruption, some may just be bad luck.

Is the oil industry the most corrupt in the world? National Public Radio’s Scott Tong explains why it might be, and how Trump’s poor transparency requirements makes matters worse. In past Weeklies we’ve mentioned Tanzania’s extractives sector specifically as the living case study of political economy influencing legislation – read NRGI’s analysis of the country’s new laws. Will they mean Tanzania can collect more taxes? Firms will continue to exploit the international system. This week it was revealed that Nike increased the profits it holds offshore to $12.2 billion.

All TAI members care about building a practitioner relevant evidence base for programming on transparency and accountability, but do we really want to look inside the evidence “sausage factory”? Read an inside take on an EGAP “metaketa” process. Recent EGAP field experiments demonstrated that distributing information to voters that differed both positively and negatively from prior held beliefs about politicians had null results on voting behavior – information in and of itself does not lead to political accountability. This would not shock those attending the recent CGD RISE conference discussing experiments in provision of information on school performance. Researchers found information improves outcomes when it improves accountability, and that requires designs that consider the realities of current accountability e.g. who has power and why.  

Just as academics may be less incented to share projects with null findings, so funders may keep critical evaluations quiet. Yet Jennifer Glickman of the Center for Effective Philanthropy urges philanthropists to circulate their evaluations more broadly – it can strengthen funders work. One useful complement to (or component of) is evaluation are results stories.  In this video, John Trybus lays out 5 building blocks to for nonprofit storytelling to the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Do we still rely on technology to facilitate information sharing for accountability? The Global Partnership for  Social Accountability just hosted an event drawing on the learnings of the Participatory Budget Project and highlighting the value of tech, data and partnerships to reaching meaningful impact. It will be interesting to compare their outcomes with the ON/Hewlett commissioned review of what next generation of participatory budgeting practice could be. In another instance, Streetlives is a new community-built platform allows people to easily find, rate, and recommend social services. Being tested in New York City, the hope is to replicate elsewhere. The app is specifically targeted to people who are homeless or in poverty.

The artificial intelligence debate continues, with a very timely set of papers from Web Foundation on AI implications, algorithmic accountability and personal data in low and middle income countries. For a full review of how AI is affecting lives in 2017, look back to the opening talk of the AI Now Initiative by co-founders Kate Crawford and Meredith Whittaker from last month (all talks now available online). 

You would expect a donor collaborative to champion collaboration, but now it seems we can also claim its good for your future job prospects (and your kids’). Claire Miller and Jess Bidgood of the New York Times argue that collaboration, empathy, and problem-solving are the most important skills to teach today’s youth – skills that machines can’t easily replicate.


Of potential interest…

Should nonprofits be louder and prouder on their differences to for profit enterprises? Some new consumer research suggests that the public is still skeptical when it comes to for-profit social enterprise and continue to prefer to donate to nonprofit ventures.

Does the Trump era necessitate philanthropy step in to “save democracy”? Gary Bass and Mark Rosenman weigh in. 

French sub national open data government funding awards include support for open contracting (in French)


Beach long reads?

The Divide: A Brief Guide to Global Inequality and its Solutions -Jason Hickel (a challenge to optimistic

views on poverty reduction)

How not to be wrong – Jordan Ellenberg (we’re determined to get to this one this year)

Homo Deus – Yuval Noah Harari (if you are in a philosophical frame of mind)

#republic: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media – Cass Sunstein (why we need to save the public sphere)

Grave New World: The End of Globalization, the Return of History – Stephen King (globalization as political choice) 

The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics – David Goodhart (to scratch that itch to understand Brexit, Trump) 

The Ideas Industry: How Pessimists, Partisans and Plutocrats are Transforming the Marketplace of Ideas – Daniel Drezner (corporatizing policy development?)

Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life – Adan Greenfiled (who really benefits from our growing tech dependence?) 

The Despot’s Accomplice: How The West is Aiding and Abetting the Decline of Democracy – Brian Klaas (pushing to rethink Western approaches)


On the calendar… 

The plight of land and indigenous rights activists – what can be done? (Johannesburg), August 7. Contact CIVICUS for more information

ODI in conversation with Rajiv Shah – August 16 (London, live stream available) 

MERL Tech – September 7-8 (Washington, DC)

Nonprofit Management Institute – Leading Change in Turbulent Times -Sept 12-13, (Stanford, CA) 

Data Transparency 2017 Conference – September 26 (Washington DC) – US focus

10th West Coast Conference on FCPA Enforcement and ComplianceSept 26-27, (San Francisco) 

7th Financial Transparency Conference – October 24-25 (Helsinki)

GPSA Citizen Action for Open, Accountable and Inclusive Institutions– Global Forum, October 31 – November 1, 2017 (Washington, DC)

6th Asia Pacific Summit on Anti-Corruption Compliance and Risk Management – Oct 31-Nov 1, (Singapore) 

Feedback Lab Summit – November 2-3 (Washington, DC)

OGP Summit side-event: Academic Conference on Open Government– November 17-18 (Buenos Aires) 

Open Government Partnership Americas Regional Meeting– November 21-22 (Buenos Aires) 

Open Contracting 2017 – November 28-29 (Amsterdam)


The TAI Weekly will be taking an August break – back with a bumper edition on Tuesday, September 5 to aid your transition back from any holidays.