TAI Weekly | March 6, 2018
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In case you missed it…

The Oscars celebrated the masters of sensory deception this past Sunday, but Robert Kaplan worries that the same skills that enable us to experience the parting of the Red Sea or King Kong on the Empire State Building are now deployed in journalism for purposes beyond entertainment. “The digital age, originally sold to us as empowering, could yet become the greatest threat to free thought and democracy in history.” In this context, mainstay platforms, such as Twitter, have to face up to their weaknesses. Chief Executive Jack Dorsey admits they “didn’t fully understand the real-world negative consequences” from manipulation. No surprise that Alex Cole of aid group IREX calls on philanthropy to do more about fake news globally.

The call for increased funder attention also applies to the spreading use of automated decision making – one recommendation of a new Omidyar Network and Upturn report (see more under TAI Spotlight). The authors highlight important issues around public scrutiny and building in appropriate transparency and accountability safeguards and note that scrutiny does not have to be sophisticated to be successful. Investigative journalism can go a long way.

On that front, the last TAI Weekly was immediately outdated as disturbingly a third journalist was murdered this year – for investigating alleged tax fraud involving businessmen connected to Slovakia’s ruling party. Read his final stories as compiled by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.

Transparency International is among those calling for greater civic engagement in response to such attacks. Their new blog series documents the trend of growing authoritarianism and clampdown on free media in Eastern Europe. Heading still further east, watch one take on Central Asia at the crossroads that highlights the struggles of civil society likely tests of openness and accountability to come.

More encouragingly, Zimbabwe, a country with a history of authoritarian rule, has seen some civil society successes, particularly in its efforts to use data as a convincing argument for transparency and equality in the diamond-mining business.

In other Southern African news, the ANC congratulates and endorses President Cyril Ramaphosa’s cabinet reshuffle. Will new faces encourage steps towards more government transparency and accountability?  In Nigeria, Lagos Governor Ambode is under pressure to make his budget data more available for public appraisal and scrutiny. He may want to consider the gender implications of his process and turn to the new Oxfam guide to gender-responsive budgeting.

Policy makers in West Africa writ large might want to take a look at the OECD report on illicit financial flows in the region that refreshingly attempts to go beyond the traditional focus on measuring the scale of the problem and look more qualitatively at the nature of criminal economies.  The extent of such practices worldwide continues to be revealed. This week U.K. firms are in the crosshairs, after being accused of being the conduit through which Russian accounts of the Danish Bank, Danske, laundered money, while new investigations into the illicit coal trade demonstrate the ease by which North Korea uses shell games to get around sanctions.

Returning to themes of digitization, transparency and privacy, the Indian Supreme Court will now begin to hear a case on Adhaar, the controversial nationwide biometric registration program – you may recall that the Attorney General contends that privacy is not a fundamental right.  While not focusing only on digitized approaches, the International Development Research Center (IDRC) does argue that proper birth registration systems should be the foundation for gender equality because it is the key to social services and legal protection, as well as smart and responsible planning.

Could more public-private collaboration help advance id issues? NYU GovLab offers five arguments as to why there should be data-collaboration between private and public sectors: mutually improved situational awareness, knowledge creation and transfer, mutually increased access to information, better prediction and forecasting, and better impact evaluation.

As a reminder of the impact data can have on accountability, Open Society Foundations offer a timely insight into the work of grantees in South Africa. The Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR) and Legal Resources Center (LRC), a leading South African public interest law firm, are among those harnessing information and deploying strategic litigation to push for accountability for education provision.

Going further to the grassroots, the work of CEGSS in public health in Guatemala reinforces the value of data and points to the most positive relationship between community generated evidence and responsiveness from authorities. As documented in the latest Accountability Research Center case use of alternative methods to collect evidence, such as ethnography and audiovisuals, makes data more accessible to the general public, which may prompt more effective in supporting civic action strategies to engage with authorities. Time to invest more in citizen data gathering skills?

What of better donor responsiveness? Kevin Bolduc explores how OpenNotes have led patients to feel better about their doctors and asks if the same might work for grantees and funders. Is there an equivalent record to be the focus for transparency? How much does frank feedback on grant decisions get shared anyway?  Don’t hesitate to let us know what you think could work as TAI focuses more on grant making practice in 2018.

Finally, we are entering annual report season (TAI’s own coming soon), but it is encouraging to see attempts to consider the utility of these documents – make them a more lively read and a source of learning, not just compliance. This is something our members wish to prioritize judging by conversations at last week’s retreat. See how much you think Global Integrity and Open Contracting Partnership make the mark – more inspirational than not.


TAI spotlight

Full three days in Paris reviewing TAI’s 2017 work, planning for 2018 and a learning day on using evidence to inform grantmaking.


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