TAI Weekly

TAI Weekly | January 23, 2018
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In case you missed it…

 As more and more of our individual data is hoovered up by private sector companies (starting with the obvious tech giants), management of data privacy concerns necessitates a three-way conversation between citizens, government, and the big platforms. The Economist argues it is time for “a new set of laws to govern the ownership and exchange of data, with the aim of giving solid rights to individuals.” It’s hard to disagree and some will be cheered by the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation that comes into effect in May.

In the meantime, what is the most common tool for personal data protection? Popups presenting individuals with choices on what and how their data can be used. For Tom Steinberg, this may not be the best solution. Instead, it’s time for personal data representatives – third parties trusted to make decisions for us over our personal data. It seems the time is right to think radical. This could be part of the rethinking of government roles and responsibilities being pushed by Geoff Mulgan and the Nesta team. If government’s broken – let’s fix it.

Talking about data privacy, a new report from law firm Mishcon de Reya claims that transparency asks are dangerously overriding individual privacy concerns in the context of tax avoidance and beneficial ownership.  The authors argue the Common Reporting Standard “raises serious risks for financial privacy and creates the danger that information will fall into the wrong hands.” They extend the argument to beneficial ownership registers. Expect pushback from champions of disclosure, including Jake Bernstein whose newly reviewed book Secrecy World is our long read of the month. Joe Kraus of The One Campaign might have something to say, too, as he recounts the progress made over the past five years during which “we’ve moved closer to a world in which beneficial ownership transparency is the accepted standard.”  

Norwegians may also disagree with the lawyers. Their track record of tax transparency dates to the 1800s – everybody’s total income and tax are publicly disclosed every October. (One caveat introduced in 2014 – you are notified who is checking in on you, unless it is media who are guaranteed anonymity). Marius Bakke from the Norwegian Embassy in the UK argues this culture of transparency results in a “flatter and more equal pay structure.”

What about company disclosures versus individuals?  In the UK, large businesses are required to publish their tax strategy annually, but a majority of FTSE 50 companies have failed to do so to the disappointment of Paul Monaghan.  Perhaps discussions around the upcoming Tax and SDGs conference will encourage more positive public pronouncements. Pressure from the finance industry could help so it is cheering to see the world’s largest money manager join the ESG bandwagon and ask CEOs to assess how they do good for society. Of course, the industry has now partnered for 15 years in releasing tax payments in the extractives sector – the Publish What You Pay team reflects on the learnings from EITI.

As those involved in EITI soon realized, tax payments are but one part of the puzzle. Much of the detail is in the contractual details. In one more illustration, Vietnam’s state-owned coal and mining giant Vinacomin is facing allegations of wrongdoings involving USD 658 million.

Meanwhile, the collapse of Carillion – UK’s second largest construction firm – and the difficulty in obtaining data in contracts awarded, has prompted calls for the UK government to create a full and open electronic registry for public contracts. Kudos to Open Contracting Partnership and OpenOpps for highlighting the data of what value they have been able to curate in the absence of that comprehensive database. Plus, here’s a longer but in-depth read on why Carillion failed and what it means for private sector involvement in public service delivery. 

The number of the week – 10. The Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency developed ten Principles of Public Participation in Fiscal Policies. Check out the helpful guide for various approaches to integrate civic engagement in fiscal policies. Pair it up with this reflection on how to respond to second generation accountability assumptions and approaches.

Canada, who is Lead Co-Chair of OGP for 2018-2019, is setting an example. Their interactive data visualization tool makes data on government spending, employees and results publicly accessible.  In Australia, a citizen embarked on a personal project on financial and political transparency using open data.

For those looking to emulate these examples, perhaps a guide for developing open data standards would help? ODI is running such project. Open Knowledge International also released the Open Data Handbook. Ricardo Alanis of Civica Digital, however, offers an interesting take – open data standards implementation and evaluation should not feel like either a pass or fail. He argues, “not being able to comply an open data standard with our data sources is not failure, but a challenge for us to implement a new path to get there.” Read the rest of the blog to understand his growth mindset and the “power of yet” when it comes to open data standards.

Of course, data standards such as IATI have helped buoy progress towards a “permanent culture of transparency” in the philanthropy sector as detailed by Janet Camarena of the Foundation Center. She pinpoints ten trends reinforcing this cultural shift, including foundations leveraging the SDGS to increase transparency, increased willingness to publicize pain points and not just success, and recognition that transparency improves grantmaking.

It was encouraging, too, to see the heads of two of the biggest US foundations (and both TAI members) come out with their take on the state of philanthropy and their approaches to difficult contexts. Ford Foundation President Darren Walker shared details of adaptations to meet their commitment to justice “FordForward,” while Larry Kramer reflected on changes in the landscape and strategic adjustments for 2018. Stay tuned for more details from our member programs and TAI plans for 2018 in weeks to come.

On the flip side, could more CSO transparency encourage more Asian philanthropy?  Trust in potential grantees is seemingly the barrier to giving more according to the Center for Asian Philanthropy and Society.

Having just finished our Learning, Monitoring, and Evaluation plan, we were glad to read Nicole Anand’s take on finding ways to build impact through others and the challenge of measuring the value of support provided.  Highly relevant for a collaborative like TAI.  

We also appreciate the commitment to learning of the Open Government Partnership team.  Renzo Falla discusses why so many OGP commitments fail. 17 reasons are surfaced but the main culprit? Capacity, specifically, insufficient funding and technical capacity. How to close the implementation gap? Regional peer exchanges may help, though for some types of commitments, navigating privacy concerns may need more attention as suggested in a new collection of case studies from China and elsewhere.

To end this issue, here’s outgoing DFID chief economist Stefan Dercon’s 700-word summary of the top ten thinkers on Development. See if you made the list.


TAI spotlight

  • What Counts? Grappling with the Many Layers of Identity | William + Flora Hewlett Foundation – Layers of identity can disadvantage life outcomes. Prithi Trivedi makes the case for the need for aggregable demographic data (at the same time recognizing limitations of data) to inform philanthropic efforts

Of potential interest…