TAI Weekly

TAI Weekly | September 11, 2018
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  • Is big data a threat to democracy?
  • Giving away the farm (or mine) through low tax guarantees
  • Does greater accountability mean greater resilience?
  • The big picture on courageous philanthropy
  • Are you a “dynamic responder” or a “bootstrapping hustler”?
  • Why should we care for information laws and open gov risks?

In case you missed it…

Is big data a threat to democracy?

Credit: Photo by Ev on Unsplash

Is big data a threat to democracy? Christopher Wylie, data scientist and whistle-blower on Cambridge Analytica and Facebook argues yes. Juliet Samuel and Larry Dignan agree – Juliet flagging a lack of preparedness for the age of big tech, while Larry Dignan points to our complicity in the destructive power of misinformation.
Of course, some, such as Elon Musk, would zero in on AI as the real threat. Who will manage this technology that many governments don’t understand?  Governments, as well as companies, are already moving fast amid a governance gap. Can data replace the need for dialogue with citizens? Christina Larson details the situation in China that embrace data to reinforce government control and decision making. Even when AI is to be harnessed for public goods – even to reinforce accountability – there are ethical risks to be navigated as highlighted in a conversation just hosted by Center for Effective Global Action and TAI (blog forthcoming). As a useful input for that discussion, Frank Pasquale offers a welcome recap of algorithmic accountability, defining whom to be accountable for and what it consists of. While we wait for Frank’s recommendations to get reflected in policy and practice, you could just take Hannah Fry’s approach and “don’t believe the algorithm.”
Of course, big data is not the only threat to democracy. Long-standing threats still loom – not least the effects of big money. Ben Judah and Nate Sibley further highlight the role of Western professions as enablers of authoritarian influence within democracies, using their skills and expertise to help kleptocrats establish networks of influence inside democratic societies.  
Where are these kleptocrats from? Check out this chart highlighting where the world’s ultra-wealthy live (as opposed to hiding their money).


Giving away the farm (or mine) through low tax guarantees

Developing countries continue losing millions from low tax guarantees in the extractive industry. An example is Burkina Faso that missed out on an estimated $16.5m in gold mining royalties thanks to a special low tax deal its former president made with a Russian firm. Not that sweetheart tax deals are the only ways for governments to miss out on revenue. Editors of Nigerian newspaper Leadership argue that formalizing illegal mining might be the key to growing the economy. Governing laws and regulations matter for investment and revenue, too. How conducive is Tanzania’s mining framework? Amne Suedi Kagasheki’s article does a comparison of these laws with those of Cote d’Ivoire, Zambia, Kenya, Ghana, and South Africa.
The really big money is to be made in oil. So, can be helpful to know the biggest sources. Think you know the world’s largest oil fields? Test your knowledge with this word search. Spot any correlation to corruption concerns?  Kamotho Waiganjo, advocate to the High Court of Kenya, laments the imposition of a fuel tax against the backdrop of corruption scandal revelations and disenchantment with a bureaucracy that continues to serve that is ”either complicit or fundamentally incapable of dealing with the rot in government.”


Does greater accountability mean greater resilience?

CIVICUS offers early findings including examples from Learning Collaborative partners, Dejusticia in Colombia and CEGGS in Guatemala. (This reminded us of recommendations from TAI’s Distract, Divide, Detach report on different ways the transparency community can respond on closing civic space – see infographic below) 
Judith Mtsewu is optimistic for civil society resilience in Southern Africa pointing to the potential of individual giving, technology, and collaboration for the nonprofit sector. Daniel Stid emphasizes that civil society engagement on issues from education to anti-corruption has spillover benefits – encouraging processes that are the lifeblood of an engaged democracy. What about harnessing the potential of the millennial generation for social good? Yordanos Eyoel suggests the civil society sector has been inadequate in engaging millennials effectively but offers three steps to a more inclusive civil society architecture.

How can the transparency community respond to closing civic space? Click here for the full infographic and report.


The big picture on courageous philanthropy

Last week we featured new critiques of philanthropy. Seems the big players have been listening and some threads of a response are emerging. Philanthropists will have to dispel the illusion of destiny, the myth of deviance, neutrality, and sufficiency to attain courageous philanthropy – so says Grant Oliphant, President of The Heinz Endowments. Larry Kramer, President of Hewlett Foundation (a TAI member), for his part, disputes many of the prevailing narratives about philanthropy. He has previously spoken out against big bets, impact investing and risk; but here zeroes in on rejecting the notion of an unalterable power imbalance between funders and grantees. Plus he doesn’t understand why anyone would find it difficult to talk about failure (though TAI’s Story Behind the Story does flag some barriers to that dynamic).


Are you a “dynamic responder” or a “bootstrapping hustler”?

Dave Algoso reflects on archetypes of collaborating, learning and adapting drawn from a host of development projects. What could this possibly mean in practice? INASP offers an insight with its documented deep dive into adaptive monitoring, evaluation, and learning in the design of a higher education program in East Africa.
Can well-designed programs lead to greater accountability? We are always in search of real-world examples, so enjoyed Samir Garg and Suchi Pande’s note detailing ways community health workers in India can support public accountability while providing health service and education on behalf of the state.

Watch: Bruce Schneier’s tips on how governments can survive in a hyper-connected world.|Ford Foundation


Why should we care for information laws and open government risks?

How effective is FOI in establishing greater responsiveness and, eventually, transparency? Stephan Grimmelikhuijsen, Peter John, Albert Meijer, and Ben Worthy replicate previous findings with an experiment in the Netherlands pointing to increases in transparency. The strongest effect of FOI was found on proactive disclosure, something that governments are not obliged to do according to the Dutch FOIA.
Maybe Japan might benefit more from information laws; after being exposed for fake data on disability hiring. They inflated the number by 3,460 to meet a legal quota. Getting to positive impacts, the Indonesian government are happy to point to openness leading to improvements in water services, while Yamani Aiyer reminds us that superficial openness of data risks leaving citizens none the wiser about their government’s performance. She reminds us that data-driven politics is only credible if administrative data is complemented by rigorous independent studies and evaluations. Limited government appetite for dissent and critique is discouraging the creation of a more useful data-ecosystem that enables feedback.


TAI spotlight

The latest from our members from feminist open government to illiberal society

How not to do feminist open government |Hewlett Foundation
Hewlett Foundation’s Alfonsina Penaloza reflects on how not to do feminist open government and pushes one simple but compelling idea that might make for more meaningful progress. She notes that a feminist open government is what open government should be: transparent and accountable to all its citizens. 
Lessons learned from listening to our investees | Omidyar Network
Omidyar Network shares results of a survey conducted by Keystone Accountability with their nonprofit and for-profit portfolio organizations to solicit feedback from their investees. The primary aim was to better understand their portfolio’s perceptions of their interactions and learn how they could better serve them. These results have also been shared with the hope of encouraging greater collaboration and communication across the social impact community.
What is illiberal civil society? | OSF
This publication posted on OSF Voices examines the growing influence of illiberal, anti-Western and socially conservative civil society groups, popular movements and political forces in five post-Soviet states. It finds that illiberal social attitudes remain prevalent across the region. Recommendations are made on taking urgent measures to tackle corruption and improve transparency; and protecting the ability of liberal civil society groups to operate freely without intimidation.


TAI’s Lauren Keevill speaks on how feedback can change the world

In a video interview, Lauren explains the role of feedback to build strong relationships between citizens, their institutions, and states. Join her at the Feedback Lab Summit on October 4th – 5th, Washington, DC


Calls: Proposals, papers, speakers and course invites

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