TAI Weekly

TAI Weekly | May 8, 2018
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In case you missed it…

Has the human rights movement failed? That may sound dramatic, but Samuel Moyn draws attention to the risk of being too niche and failing to connect to inequality and its attendant impacts. Does the transparency and accountability movement risk facing similar irrelevance? Best ask ourselves now, and also take on the challenge laid down by David Booth who cites donor-supported efforts for transparency and accountability as a “prime example of imposing irrelevant and inappropriate solutions.” Reflecting on governance programming, he sees some donor progress on the “iterative adaptation” but far less on “problem-driven” practices. Are we caught up in a self-serving cycle of providing governance advice?

The tension of OECD-led transparency demands also came to the fore this week as the UK (somewhat unexpectedly) voted to require corporate transparency in its 14 Overseas Territories over complaints of many leaders in said territories. Five years since former Prime Minister David Cameron promised a clampdown on tax avoidance, advocates welcomed the move. Duncan Hames encapsulated their case: “Without leaks like the Panama Papers and Paradise Papers, it is increasingly clear that only public registers can provide the accountability to expose corrupt individuals seeking to hide their identities and sources of wealth.” For Zosia Sztykowski of DFID-funded Open Ownership, this is just a step to help populate a searchable global beneficial ownership registry. “The more data we link, the fewer places there are left for money launderers to hide.” Though hide they will – where will money flow now and what will be the next set of tactics to hold asset holders to account?

What lessons can we glean from this campaign success?  David McNair shares three – dream big, be vigilant and tackle structural issues.  Tax Justice Network remarks that amid the celebration, we need to acknowledge that the UK created these tax havens in the first place. Why is Canada lagging on the corporate transparency front? Its Finance Minister blames parallel regimes governing private companies at different levels. Will beneficial ownership transparency translate to improved tax revenue collection in poorer countries? Not necessarily as per our latest blog and policy brief with ICTD. For more tax stories, here’s a helpful roundup.

TAI has been talking to various consortia of investigative journalists in recent weeks and so we’re glad to see an OECD report highlighting the effectiveness of their models for anti-corruption work. There may be a practical benefit to their approach too – “journalism’s lone wolves” are vulnerable to violence and harassment. The best defense? Collaboration, according to the OCCRP. Stella Roque and Anne Marie Hammer lay out what more the EU could do to protect journalists.

The media are not the only ones at risk from fighting corruption, so what safeguards can be set in place? Masood Ahmed’s four takeaways from a conversation with Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s former Finance Minister and anti-corruption advocate: do not do it alone; systems and international institutions are necessary; and do not disregard the personal dimension. Potentially helpful tips for Liberia’s new President George Weah, who vows to improve transparency in the public sector during his term, and for Angola’s President Lourenco who has taken some encouraging steps, but may yet still be replacing one entrenched set of family interests with another. He may get pushed by the IMF, who continue to take a more aggressive position on fighting corruption as outlined by Christine Lagarde.

Angolan opposition parties recommend Mr. Lourenco to commission an independent audit of the country’s debt. Such a move would likely be welcomed by International Budget Partnership who are asking “do multi-stakeholder initiatives deliver on accountability?” They may yield transparency, but not necessarily accountability says Dr. Brandon Brockmyer of the Accountability Research Center (check out his paper building on past TAI-commissioned research). He advises CSOs to “have a realistic sense for how MSI activities and outputs might fit into their own broader reform strategies.” Food for thought for Opentactics.info, an initiative by and for open government influencers seeking to foster multi-stakeholder collaborations.

Data is necessary for achieving the SDGs. So why is the development sector lagging?  Why is the level of investment not matching the value of data? Jenna Slotin suggests that data’s impact is slower to surface and policymakers seek immediate results. Which speaks to policymakers’ failure to assess the value of data relative to other priorities. So how do you measure the value of data? The Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data unpacks five methods. Spoiler alert: All are insufficient in influencing policymakers. Publish What You Fund meanwhile suggests, as in the case of IATI, that it is because information is not formatted in a way that suits recipient countries’ needs. DFID’s take – build the capacity of decisionmakers to use evidence. What have they learned? Isabel Vogel and Mel Punton share the summary, but the main message is that capacity building alone is not sufficient.

On the learning front, we have picked up some gems on how the philanthropy sector can do better: Grace Nicolette’s reflections on what “new power” means for the philanthropy sector, what “scaling up interventions” means in practice, why the sector should embrace the “known unknowns”, and recommendations on how to better support the capacity  building of social change leaders, movements and civil society in a time of disruption. And for grantees – win supporters (and funders) by using data to demonstrate impact in grant proposals. Alas, there may soon be fewer dollars to fund proposals as restrictions in giving in 40% of countries surveyed for the Global Philanthropy Environment Index are hindering philanthropy’s growth.

Media’s struggles with declining trust extend to online communities – that’s according to the latest report by the Knight Foundation, and that’s bad news for real democracy, says Emma Daly of Human Rights Watch. Trump’s “fake news” mantra certainly doesn’t help (check out this report for more information). So how to address fake news and rebuild public trust in media? Lisa Armstrong summarizes seven ways from spending time in the community to not hiding behind the data. All potential steps toward the practice of “extreme transparency” – Michael Blanding details how news organizations are opening up their processes in producing their stories.         A useful prompt for CSOs (and funders), too?

Long Read of the Week: Examining Civil Society Legitimacy

By Saskia Brechenmacher and Thomas Carothers

Series of Carnegie essays from activists working across the Global South on their efforts to establish and sustain the legitimacy of their work, including being “radically collaborative”.  

Listen of the week: Should philanthropy be doing better? Alliance Audio.

Podcast tackles challenge for foundations to be more transparent, trusted and effective.

TAI spotlight

A reminder that OSF has published its grants database – dig in!

Kathy Reich of Ford’s BUILD Initiative talks about a vision for the philanthropy sector and highlights racial equity, collaboration, flexibility and learning as critical to reaching the sector’s goals

Matthew Burnett and Tom Walker discuss why small data from within the justice system can make a big impact

How does Amandla.mobi harness technology to mobilize civic action in South Africa?

  • Read our blog:

The Transparency and Accountability Landscape Continues to Shift. So, What Are We Doing Differently in 2018?

Dig into our 2018 work plan (and meet the TAI team)!

How do TAI donor members engage with evidence to improve development/grantmaking practice? We’ve been busy last week, with Megan Colnar (OSF) and Joseph Asunka and Alfonsina Penaloza of Hewlett Foundation visiting us at the Open Gov Hub to talk about the challenges and practices

Of potential interest

Blockchain To Solve Bahamas’ ‘Major Workforce Waste’

 Bahamas’ first use of blockchain seeks to solve the country’s labor problem

Bots and Trolls Elbow Into Mexico’s Crowded Electoral Field

The scary spread of misinformation and disinformation ahead of Mexico’s July elections.

Blockchain: The Ultimate Solution?

In a refreshing step back from all the hype, a MERL Tech London 2018 participant reflects on doubts raised around the application of blockchain. 

How Artificial Intelligence is Transforming the World

Brookings paper recommends 9 steps to maximize AI benefits while protecting human values. 

Public Consultation on Measures to Further Improve the Effectiveness of the Fight Against Illegal Content Online

The European Commission collects evidence on its measures to fight illegal content online