TAI Weekly

TAI Weekly | July 26, 2017
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In case you missed it…

TAI’s “weekly” is an informal recap for TAI’s donor members 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. The weekly is in no way an update on individual grantee activity and content is not a reflection of TAI member views or thinking. 

Photo: Unsplash

Citizen power is increasingly to the fore in governance discussions these days. From corruption to improving air quality, citizen actions go far beyond the act of voting. Drawing on real world examples, the Open Government Partnership’s Paul Maassen describes a number of paths by which civil society organizations are pushing policy action.

One such path is that of watchdog – a task made all the harder in fragile state contexts. Yet not impossible. In Afghanistan, civil society watchdogs are hard at work, including helping resolve the case of two applicants who waited more than 12 months to receive their high school diplomas.  In Timor Leste, Luta Hamutuk has built a track record of effective government monitoring and engagement.

How do we honor the complexity of perspective in governance challenges in such challenging contexts? To improve learning around peace building in Colombia, Democracy International is launching a multiyear Complexity-Aware Monitoring and Evaluation project. Meanwhile Transparency International’s new reporthighlights three cases of independent monitoring at the intersection of security and governance in Afghanistan, Guatemala and Palestine.

Much citizen monitoring focuses on public service delivery.  Is provision of such services the key to state legitimacy? ODI have released a working paper developed to support the World Bank 2017 World Development Report that draws on analysis of public perceptions of service delivery to describe “how political actors gain the trust, confidence, and consent of those they seek to rule.”

Font choice can be a sensitive topic, as TAI experienced through its recent rebranding efforts, but who knew it could also prove critical to the investigation of corruption allegations? See this case from Pakistan, where senators are also calling for a new law to foster across the board accountability of institutions

Continuing the corruption theme, the BBC picks up Global Witness reporting that more than 20% of the DRC’s mining revenue is being lost due to corruption and mismanagement. Problems are also prominent in Tanzania where debates are raging and offer a live case study in the political economy of mining reform. Meanwhile, US officials said they plan to confiscate $144 million in corrupt assets of Nigerian oil executives found in the US.

Financial authorities have been waking up to corruption losses and being a vehicle for illicit flows. Last week we referenced increased demands of UK tax authorities for info from their counterparts around the world. This week it is the Italian tax police asking Swiss authorities for information on Italians who deposited 6.7 billion euros in the country (an investigation that started over a fraudulent system used to transfer money offshore). Such vigilance can pay off – the Icelandic revenue authority has recovered $4.9 million on outstanding taxes thanks to information from the Panama Papers

That asset retrieval would not have been possible without the pioneering work of journalists, but how do we sustain a healthy media landscape? Omidyar Network has released Inflection Point, a comprehensive study on growth, impact, and threats to independent digital media in Latin America.

There is no shortage of media scrutiny of the White House, of course, but much remains hidden. The Sunlight Foundation takes stock 6 months into the Trump presidency and hints that this administration is “transparency allergic.”

We might find more encouraging steps at subnational level. Philadelphia’s former mayor Michael Nutter reflects on how to utilize data on the city level. It is not just about data driven decision making, but openness helps rebuild relations with citizens.

Not that we should discard the value of business applications either. ODX, a public-private partnership that helps Canadian companies engage with open data, released an Open Data Blueprint that examined how municipalities and companies used open data to achieve commercial results. Among the recommendations, the report encourages all stakeholders to consider the open data environment as a supply chain. Similarly, lessons from Airbnb and Uber show that Platform-centric models allow governments to roll out different open data initiatives at different times, but entrepreneur Marquis Cabrera advises keeping the data sets connected for more powerful analysis on the back end. Advice for governments: “I regularly find myself stressing the importance of thinking as a market maker rather than as a service provider. Governments have always been market makers but when it comes to technology, they often take the service provider approach.” 

New insights from Stefaan Verhulst and the GovLab team indicate what works in the data for impact space. “The growing enthusiasm surrounding open data gives rise to several questions about open data’s unique features to foster change. Can it truly improve people’s lives in the developing world — and, if so, how and under what conditions?”

Worried about your own personal info? Nesta examine what conditions allow people to control their data with their DECODE project. Also focusing on the individual user, open government scholars apply a scenario-based design approach to validate existing user-centric requirements and to identify new requirements. They argue that this approach can help governments and designers to produce open data platforms that better meet citizen user needs. 

But how does data fuel social justice movements? Dustin Kramer reflects on use of budget info in a mass-based advocacy campaign. Broadening to technology writ large, Hilary Martinez details the Philippine experience and argues that digital technology platforms that support citizen participation can increase transparency and accountability in local governance systems. However, a reviewof Making All Voices Count projects on ICT enabled accountability in health shows the limits to what technology can deliver.

Pushing the boundaries of such technology, China is investing heavily in artificial intelligence with the aim to control the sector by 2030. That may add another crease in the brow of Elon Musk who has been telling US state governors that AI is the biggest threat to humanity. It’s likely those same politicians are already relying on automated bots for their next campaign, but Tim Wu argues such bots are a threat to democracy. How do we protect ourselves? Ben Shneiderman suggests a National Algorithms Safety Board that would create a standard definition of harm, investigate harmful algorithms, decide who is responsible, and assign penalties.

Undoubtedly some donor practices make life harder for the groups they are funding, but TAI members hopefully feel they are aware of and seeking to avoid these typical traps. For large bilateral donors some of the same issues can apply. Charlotte Petri Gornitzka, Chair of the OECD Development Assistance Committee is arguing that the aid system needs an updates. She discusses how the DAC must evolve to stay relevant, especially emphasizing self-assessment and transparency.

To conclude, USAID hosted an “Unreasonable Goals” Summit based on the SDGs. We’d rather hoped this might offer a set of counter points to be tracking vs current SDG targets. It turns out to be a compilation of positive innovations that might be scaled to bring us closer to achieving each SDG. What’s the example to deliver on SDG 16? A familiar suspect in Colab.

Of potential interest…

On the calendar…

High Level Political ForumJuly 10-19 (New York City)
International Observatory on Participatory Democracy (IOPD), July 16-19 (Montreal)
What we can learn from the Natural Resource Management coalition? Liberia case study – USAID and Accountability Lab, July 19 (conference call, 9am EST)
Africa Open Data Conference, July 17-21 (Accra)
OGP Subnational Pioneers – Stories to Watch, July 10, 5-7pm EST (Washington, DC)
The Demand Side of Evaluation: The Commissioner/Funder Perspectives, July 20 (Washington, DC)
ODI in conversation with Rajiv Shah August 16 (London, live stream available)
MERL Tech September 7-8 (Washington, DC)
Data Transparency 2017 Conference, September 26 (Washington DC) – US focus
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)
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)