The UK Department for International Development's commitment to undertake a "transparency revolution" is welcome. Their new strategy outlined yesterday Open Aid, Open Societies: a vision for a transparent world sets out a fresh set of commitments to close loopholes that allow corruption to be hidden; support efforts to make DFID’s partner governments more open and transparent, and scale up DFID’s broader support for transparency and accountability efforts.
The opening paragraph of the Secretary of State, Penny Mordaunt’s introduction, closely reflects BBC Media Action’s strategic mission in stressing that access to information is critical to enabling people to “have a say in decisions which affect our lives”. The commitment to “scale up support for a healthy, free media and civil society that can champion anti-corruption and transparency and promote debate and uptake of data” is especially welcome.
For the strategy to be effective, however, those of us working in development could learn from some of the mistakes of the past. Three points in particular stand out.
1. Access to information is not enough. For many years, it was assumed that opening up government data and other information would automatically improve transparency and herald a new era in which citizens would shine a light on poor government performance or inadequate service delivery. That was always questionable and, indeed, for some time, questioned. The data generated as a result of excellent initiatives such as the Open Government Partnership have provided immense energy and focus to transparency efforts - but translating that data into forms that are easily usable by those who most need the transparency and accountability agenda to work for them continues to be a struggle. ...