Evidence vs Democracy: what are we doing to bridge the divide?

Originally Authored by Jonathan Breckon and Anna Hopkins on 

People are hacked off with politicians. Whether it’s hurling abuse at MPs outside the House of Commons, or the burning barricades of Gilets Jaunes in Toulouse, discontent is in the air.

The evidence movement must respond to the ‘politics of distrust’. We cannot carry on regardless. For evidence advocates like us, reaching over the heads of the public to get research into the hands of elite policy-makers is not enough. Let’s be honest and accept that a lot of our work goes on behind closed doors. The UK’s nine What Works Centres only rarely engage with the public – more often with professionals, budget holders or civil servants. The evidence movement needs to democratise.

However, the difficulty is that evidence is hard work. It needs slow-thinking, and at least a passing knowledge of statistics, economics, or science.  How on earth can you do all that on Twitter or Facebook?

In a report published today we look at ‘mini-publics’ – an alternative democratic platform to connect citizens with research. Citizens’ Juries, Deliberative Polls, Consensus Conferences and other mini-publics are forums that bring people and evidence together, for constructive, considered debate. Ideally, people work in small groups, that are randomly chosen, and have the chance to interrogate experts in the field in question.

This is not a new idea. The idea of a ‘minipopulus’ was set out by the American political theorist Robert Dahl in the 1970s. Indeed, there is an even older heritage. Athenian classical democracy did for a time select small groups of officials by lot.

It’s also not a utopian idea from the past, as we have found many promising recent examples. For example in the UK, a Citizens’ Assembly on adult social care gave recommendations to two parliamentary Select Committees last year. There are also examples of citizens contributing to our public institutions and agendas by deliberating – through NICE’s Citizens Council or the James Lind Alliance.

We shouldn’t ignore this resistance to the mood of disaffection. Initiatives like the RSA’s Campaign for Deliberative Democracy are making the case for a step-change. To break the political deadlock on Brexit, there has been a call to create a Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Stella Creasy MP and others. And there are many hopeful visions of a democratic future from abroad – like the experiments in Canada and Australia. Our report explores many of these international examples.

Citizens can make informed decisions – if we allow them to be citizens. They can understand, debate and interrogate research in platforms like mini-publics. And they can use evidence to help make the case for their priorities and concerns.

Our message certainly isn’t that this is an easy task. That’s why we take a critical look. There are two major challenges that mini-publics must confront: firstly, they need to move out of small niche political science circles and enter the mainstream. Secondly, they need to get smarter in their use of experts and evidence. It is no longer acceptable to rely on single views. Mini-publics should draw on systematic reviews that look at all the available evidence, presented in a fair and accessible way, rather than rely on experts alone.

Evidence vs Democracy draws out key lessons for both the evidence movement and for organisers of mini-publics. In this blog our partners at Carnegie Trust and Newcastle University highlight what we’ve learnt about how mini-publics can have real impact on policy.

There are no simple solutions to the current discontent. But facing these challenges – and getting out of our comfort zones – is the only way we’ll shape an evidence movement, and a democracy, that’s up to the task.

The original article can be accessed here

Listening to the people who think we are wrong

Authored by Larry Kramer on the 10th of January 2019

Among the most corrosive developments of recent years—one that predates the election of Donald Trump—has been a breakdown in our ability to debate and reason with others with whom we disagree. The term du jour, “tribalism,” replaced the earlier “polarization” precisely to capture the added ingredient of animosity that has made even conversation across partisan divides difficult. Mistrust and hostility have been grafted onto disagreement about ideas.

Political scientists differ about how widespread the phenomenon is—some seeing it shared broadly across American society, while others believe it confined to activist elites. I lean toward the latter view, though the disease seems to be spreading awfully fast. The difference hardly matters, because activists drive and shape public debates. And, either way, the resulting take-no-prisoners politics threatens the future of democratic government, which presupposes disagreement and depends on willingness to work through and across differences from a sense of shared community.

We need to do better.


I was a law professor before coming to the foundation. Asked about the educational mission of law school, most of my former colleagues would probably say something about learning fundamental legal concepts, coupled with the analytic moves needed to “think like a lawyer.” But I have long believed that the most important skill we teach young lawyers is how to appreciate an opposing argument in its strongest light: how to hear it with tolerance and see it as it appears through the eyes of the person making it. Put simply, we help law students understand how an argument that seems completely wrong to them can seem right and reasonable to someone else.

Let’s call that “listening with empathy.”

Learning to listen with empathy matters for a number of reasons. An advocate needs to see an opponent’s argument in its strongest light, not only to counter the position effectively, but also to fully understand his or her own position—its weaknesses as well as its strengths—and so be properly prepared to defend it. Nor is this the only reason, because adversarial advocacy is only part of what lawyers do. Most legal work involves bargaining among conflicting interests and finding ways to settle disputes. Good lawyers know how to negotiate and cooperate; they know (in the phrase made famous by Roger Fisher and William Ury) how to “get to yes”—something made vastly easier if one fully and fairly comprehends both sides of an issue. There is a reason lawyers have historically constituted such a disproportionate share of our legislators and executives, and it’s not because they know how to argue. It is because they know how to find common ground.

Not that compromising is always the right thing to do. Without doubt, there are matters of principle too important to relinquish, and instances in which an adversary is too inflexible or too extreme to accommodate. In today’s public discourse, moreover, outright fabrication has become, if not quite acceptable, increasingly common. But one cannot know if or when these are the case unless and until one has examined the other side’s position honestly and confronted the weaknesses in one’s own position fearlessly.

There is no contradiction or incompatibility between caring passionately about an issue and taking the time to understand an opposing argument…

And why not do that? There is no contradiction or incompatibility between caring passionately about an issue and taking the time to understand an opposing argument, and nothing about doing so necessitates changing one’s mind or position. If that becomes more likely as a result of listening with empathy—or, more realistically, if doing so makes one more disposed to find ground for mutual accommodation—that’s a good thing that has happened for the best possible reason, namely, a fair and rational assessment of the strength of the respective claims.

Listening with empathy is not the unique province of lawyers. It is not a specialized skill, nor something that requires extensive technical training. It is a mental discipline that calls for self-conscious effort, but that anyone can adopt. I say self-conscious, because attending dispassionately to ideas we abhor is neither easy nor natural. It requires discipline and self-honesty: an exercise of mental muscles that, like any muscle, need regular use to stay fit and strong. But if we are to make progress as a society, few things are more important than keeping these particular muscles healthy—and this is true whether what’s at stake is naming a falsehood, prevailing in a contest of will or political power, or finding room to compromise. In every case, taking the time to make sure we understand the best version of our opponents’ position will not only make us more effective, it also will likely lower the temperature and increase the chances of reaching a suitable outcome. Indignation and outrage may still be called for on occasion, but if we listen to each other attentively and fairly, the situations in which that turns out to be true are likely to be fewer, and more appropriate.

Listening with empathy is, for all these reasons, a responsibility shared by every citizen in a democracy. But, most especially, it is a duty for the political, social, and intellectual leaders whose behavior is supposed to model expectations for the rest of us.


Yet as tribalism has intensified and spread, listening this way has all but disappeared from today’s social and political discourse. We have increasingly become a society in which no one listens to the other side, not really. We do not ignore each other exactly; people on different sides of issues pay attention to opposing viewpoints. What we do is worse. We scoff and sneer and insult each other. We treat people whose ideas differ from ours in ways that make understanding seem like the last thing we care about. Then we surround ourselves with people who think like we do and luxuriate in our shared anger and contempt. For all the talk of “filter bubbles” and “echo chambers” on social media, these are hardly limited to the internet. And our leaders are failing worst of all.

Three techniques in particular pervade the practice of paying heed to an opposing argument without condescending to meet it:

  • First, there is the “straw man” method—a tried and true practice that involves taking the weakest or most extreme or least plausible argument in favor of a position and acting as if it were the only argument for that position; a variation of this method takes the most extreme and unattractive advocates for a position and treats them as typical.
  • Second is the practice of attributing bad motives to one’s opponents. Those employing this approach assume that people who take a contrary position know in their hearts that they are wrong and make the arguments they do for some inappropriate reason, such as racism or self-interest, that makes it easy to ignore what they have to say.
  • Third, a relatively new entrant, is what might be called the identity excuse: “We don’t need to listen to them because they are [blank].” Then fill in the blank with whatever identity you think warrants dismissal: a white male, a Black Lives Matter supporter, a Trump voter, a Democrat, the oil industry, a union, someone who received money for their work, and so on.

Often these moves come in combination, for they are easily blended. What they share in common is that all become pretexts not to address the merits of an argument one dislikes.

You undoubtedly will have noted the absence of examples in this description of techniques. That was intentional on my part, because I don’t want disagreement over my particular picks to distract from the central point, which is that use of these dodges has become commonplace. Instead, I invite you to think of your own examples—confident that no one will find this difficult. Now, a tougher challenge: see if you can produce a second set of examples, but this time coming from people with whom you agree. If you cannot do so, you are not being honest with yourself. Because while blame may not be shared equally, people on all sides regularly use these devices to counter arguments they reject; and if one side has been worse than the other, still both have been bad enough.

I accept that it may be a lot to ask elected officials or candidates for office to always stick to the merits this way, especially now that political campaigning has become a continuous activity. It may be a lot even to ask of journalists, ensnared as they are in their challenged industry’s competitive fight for survival. It is not, however, a lot to ask of people working in philanthropy, who benefit from all those advantages that supposedly make us independent. With access to any intellectual resources we need, freedom to choose our issues and pursue them over whatever time frame we like, and no need to worry about attracting customers or alienating voters, what possible excuse is there for funders to take shortcuts or fail to engage substantively with people who take opposing positions?

The answer may be none, but we are part of the same society, immersed in the same culture, and it would hardly be shocking if we fell victim to the same provocations and frustrations. In fact, listening to discussions and presentations at conferences and in meetings, including in my own organization—listening to my own conversations, for that matter, my voice included—I fear this is exactly what is happening.

One very public sign is the favorable reception accorded in philanthropy to Anand Giridharadas’ provocative new book, Winners Take All. To the apparent delight of foundation staff across the country who are avidly reading and sharing the book, Giridharadas takes a group of highly visible philanthropists out to the woodshed for a good old-fashioned spanking. This has made him an industry darling and go-to headline speaker.

Giridharadas’ thesis is straightforward: A new generation of philanthropists that earned its wealth through market activities is engaged in a misguided effort to address social ills through the same mechanisms, when it should be asking more fundamental questions about the system that produced its wealth in the first place. I happen to agree with this view, which is why I have in speeches and writings questioned the mania for impact investing, and why the Hewlett Foundation is actively exploring how to supplant the reigning neoliberal philosophy that Giridharadas derisively labels “MarketWorld.”

Unless we can hear our opponents and make them feel heard (and they us), we stand little chance of maintaining our democracy.

Yet while I share Giridharadas’ outlook, his presentation of it has conspicuous shortcomings. Giridharadas overstates the importance of the philanthropy he criticizes, which is really a quite small part of the field, while overlooking hundreds of funders and thousands of NGOs doing valuable and important work even by his standards. He offers no evidence for the improbable claim that these market-oriented philanthropic interventions have blunted the prospects for more radical reform—a failure better attributed to opposition from a rather large and effective conservative political movement. And he ignores both the difficulty of articulating a suitable alternative to neoliberalism—which is considerable—and a substantial literature critical of the more conventionally liberal solutions he periodically offers in asides.

But these failings are not the reason I find the book’s uncritical approval by people in philanthropy so disheartening. The chief problem—and the reason I mention the book here—is that at no point does Giridharadas make a serious effort to understand the arguments or reasoning of the people he is criticizing. Instead, he has written a 263-page putdown that could serve as a textbook for the avoidance techniques described above. In Giridharadas’s telling, the inhabitants of MarketWorld believe as they do for flimsy, straw-man reasons; or because they are privileged (mostly) white elites; or because they are intellectual cowards, conning themselves into believing they are doing good when really they are just self-interested.

Would that it were so simple. In truth, much can be said for the neoliberal system that Giridharadas dismisses, which has undeniably played a crucial role in lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. And while that system may have run its course, understanding why—and, more important, figuring out what should replace it—is a complex matter that requires more than a contemptuous backhand. Sharing Giridharadas’ position, I might be able to make the arguments for him. But I should not have to—and neither should those he is attacking or those who support them. Asking people to listen with empathy means asking them to view opposing arguments in their best light, not to generate the arguments themselves or imagine what they might be.

If you already agree with Giridharadas’ thesis, you may find the book fun to read. He is a talented writer—skilled at ingenuously mocking his targets and using rhetoric to drum up a very pleasurable sense of indignation. But you won’t actually learn anything. If you disagree with him, you will find a caricature of yourself, a funhouse mirror version that never attends in a serious way to the underlying beliefs that animate you. But you won’t learn anything either. And if you are new to these debates, you will learn that the author is really angry about a world view he thinks self-evidently wrong, but you won’t learn anything about why he is right, why the people he criticizes are mistaken, why they might nevertheless believe as they do, or what the substantive arguments are on either side.

It’s easy to preach to the choir, and even easier to be part of it. It’s easy to surround ourselves with people who think as we do and to dismiss everyone who disagrees as stupid or corrupt. It’s especially easy to act this way when our political leaders—led or goaded by the president, with his outsized megaphone—relentlessly fan the flames of discord and contempt. Adopting a tribal mindset when everyone else seems to be doing so is more than just easy. It’s satisfying.

Which makes it all the more important not to fall prey to this way of thinking. We must instead discipline ourselves to argue with opponents empathetically, and not only because this could make our efforts to overcome them more effective. We must do it because, unless we can hear our opponents and make them feel heard (and they us), we stand little chance of maintaining our democracy—not in a society as complex and diverse as this one, comprised of people with so many different, intensely-held interests and passions and beliefs.


The best way to develop the discipline needed to listen empathetically is simply to do it: to make ourselves hear and earnestly engage our critics’ best arguments. Going to the gym can feel like a chore, but we do it anyway to stay healthy. So, too, listening with empathy. To that end, the staff of the Hewlett Foundation will spend focused time in the coming year hearing from—and listening to—people who question our work and our strategies.

We’ll begin by dedicating a week to studying the underlying psychology of tribalism, its consequences for how we reason, and what we can do to overcome it. In the months that follow, each program will then invite speakers who fundamentally disagree with the program’s strategies to present their reasoning and arguments. Afterwards, the team will hold a second meeting on their own to discuss what they heard and what they learned.

The staff of the Hewlett Foundation will spend focused time in the coming year hearing from—and listening to—people who question our work and our strategies.

For this to work, much depends on finding the right speakers. We want people who disagree with us in ways that are meaningful and challenging, but not outlandish or wholly implausible. Were we funding historical work on World War II, I would not invite a Holocaust denier. There is no point in having someone whose position is wholly at odds with proven facts and expert consensus. The same will be true, frankly, for climate denial. Inviting speakers whose views fly in the face of a consensus supported by overwhelming evidence fairly interpreted would be counterproductive and would, most likely, just confirm the sense some have that spending time listening to opponents this way is pointless.

But neither will it serve our purposes to hear only from speakers whose disagreements with us are peripheral or incidental, and so unthreatening. The trick is to identify genuinely challenging positions—which may be to our left, to our right, or both—and then see what we learn by grappling honestly and conscientiously with people who advocate them. It will be up to each program to do this for itself, but I trust them to identify the points of greatest vulnerability in their thinking, and I believe they will learn just by asking the question.

The exercise will be a start, but it can’t be a one-time occurrence. We need to cultivate a regular practice of engaging with people who think we are wrong as part of our ordinary operations. That I went to the gym a few years ago won’t keep me healthy today; I need to keep exercising. This is, if anything, even more important when it comes to justification and analysis. Arguments and ideas and ways of attacking and defending them are continually evolving, and it’s necessary to remain actively engaged with the full range of thinking in a field to remain effective.

Central to the process of rational argument is the idea of skepticism—skepticism about our own self-evident truths most of all.

We live at a time when many of our most cherished values are under attack or eroding (a painful reality highlighted by just how tired and banal that observation sounds). Among the most endangered ideals are a cluster of principles associated with the Enlightenment philosophy that inspired the founding of our nation and have exemplified it at its best: toleration, rationality, freedom of conscience and the free exchange of ideas, belief in empiricism and reason. Central to these principles, and to the process of rational argument itself, is the idea of skepticism—skepticism about our own self-evident truths most of all. John Stuart Mill put it thus in On Liberty:

“Complete liberty of contradicting and disproving our opinion is the very condition which justifies us in assuming its truth for purposes of action; and on no other terms can a being with human faculties have any rational assurance of being right.”

Living that paradox as regular practice can be difficult, especially in challenged times like these. It’s so much easier to take shortcuts, to stop asking, to believe what we want to believe and surrender to the myriad ways our minds are programmed to be irrational. But (another cliché) no one said it would be easy. And for those of us privileged to work in philanthropy—privileged to steward resources, with the responsibility to use them as best we can to make the world a better place—taking the more demanding path is an inviolable duty.

Original post available here

Regional Media Award: Finalists taking on accountability in Africa

The 2018 finalists for the Southern African Media Award in Social Accountability Reporting have been announced. The award, in its second year, is hosted at the annual Highway Africa conference in partnership with the Partnership for Social Accountability (PSA) alliance. The award recognizes that communication and information flows are necessary factors to strengthening social accountability practice. Media are a tool to disseminate and distribute news that do not only inform the general public of current events, but also investigate issues that affect the state of the nation.

Journalism however can be a challenging endevour, especially when dealing with the management of public resources. With shrinking civic spaces and various issues that threaten the well-being of individuals who dare to report on social accountability issues, the PSA alliance deemed it necessary to introduce an award for regional media in order to promote social accountability reporting and coverage in the region.

The aim of the award is to promote high-quality investigative reporting on issues of social accountability, specifically on HIV / Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) and food security in Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia. The 1st Southern Africa Media Award in Social Accountability was presented in 2017 during a gala awards dinner held at the 21st annual Highway Africa conference, the world’s largest gathering of African journalists, at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa.

The PSA alliance is planning on presenting their second award at the 2018 Highway Africa conference gala dinner to be held at Rhodes University, South Africa. Three awards will be offered to the successful entries for 1st, 2nd prize and 3rd prize (USD 450 for 1st prize • USD 200 for 2nd prize • USD 100 for 3rd prize).

The three final stories in the running for the awards inspire us all to be much more vigilant about issues concerning the management of resources, but not only that, they also provide valuable information that could be used by other social accountability actors to advocate for change. The award is to honor the work that these journalists do and show the appreciation for the information and knowledge they distribute to their respective communities. Here are details of the stories selected as finalists – these are in no particular order – the winner will be announced at the gala event on the 29th November:

  1. The harm being done to young girls in the Nsanje district in Malawi as a result of sexual rituals was investigated by journalist Josephine Chinele in her report in the Sunday Times. Her story included information from the District Hospital, youth in the area and the district commissioner. The full article authored by Josephine Chinele is accessible on https://www.times.mw/sexual-ritauls-put-nsanje-girls-in-harms-way/
  2. Food security is a serious challenge in most African countries. Derrick Chityamba produced a news report investigating the management of initiatives targeting farmers in Zambia. The government implemented a project which aimed to assist local and small business farmers to better access their supplies. To partake in the programme, farmers had to contribute a fund to the government and then receive a card which, once activated, would allow them to procure their supplies from the supplier of their choice. The delays in the roll-out of the project highlights issues with the activation of cards, farmers not being able to procure the resources they need and missing their farming seasons. The news report talks to various stakeholders including farmers, government officials, farmer’s association, and suppliers to understand how these problem affect those involved and the plans to mitigate the challenge. The news report can be accessed below:
  3. This news report investigated by Winston Mwale started when community members in Malawi reported suspicious activity to the government officials and requested assistance. The community members suspected the foreman of a construction company that was hired to build a maternity ward at a local clinic of embezzling the resources to build his own house. They were mainly concerned for the integrity of the structure of the buildings that were supposed to be constructed. The reporter interviewed a number of individuals who reported seeing the foremen moving material and human resources from the clinic to his site. The foreman and the company denied the accusations, however, stating that there was no misuse of resources and ensuring the community that the structure at the maternity ward was not going to be compromised. The reporter also interviewed an ActionAid representative who works with the community to empower them to monitor the use of public resources. He stated that it was a progressive step, because the community was able to monitor the problem and followed the necessary steps to ensure accountability. The full news report can be accessed below:

In its inception, the Partnership for Social Accountability (PSA) alliance ensured that media was one of their five target groups, as well as a beneficiary. The PSA is a partnership between ActionAid International, PSAM, ESAFF and SAfAIDS, who were awarded a tender by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) to implement the first three-year phase (2016-2019) of a public resource management (PRM) project in Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania and Mozambique.

The main aim of the project is to “to improve public service delivery in agriculture (food security), and health (HIV/AIDS, sexual and reproductive health and rights). This is done through strengthening the oversight and social accountability roles of five target groups in the SADC region, specifically: selected parliamentary committees, relevant government departments, issue-based civil society organisations (CSOs), smallholder farmer organisations, and the media”

Exploring the role of digital civil society portals in improving Right to Information regimes

Originally authored by By Silvana Fumega and Fabrizio Scrollini and published by the U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, Chr. Michelsen Institute (U4 Issue 2018:1)

Over the past two decades, advances in information and communication technology (ICT) have transformed the way people access and interact with the information that governments produce and hold. The development of online platforms, which enable users to submit requests for information under right to information legislation (RTI), is one of many examples of these changes. This paper presents an analytic framework to explore how RTI online portals impact RTI regimes, while reviewing the experience of five civil society portals in developing and developed countries. We argue that these civil society-led portals have affected in a positive way these RTI regimes. However, further research about the influence of these platforms (and the whole RTI regime) in transparency and accountability is needed.

Main points

  • Civil society RTI portals can positively influence the way public RTI oversight institutions function
  • The portals enabled a new type of civil society actor to emerge. Donors could consider supporting these types of projects to encourage the further development of this new type of organisation
  • Supporting dialogue between NGOs and government in developing official portals can ensure that citizen-oriented logic is maintained in official RTI portals

The full article and report are accessible here

Participatory Budgeting: Spreading Across the Globe

Originally authored by   Brian WamplerMichael TouchtonStephanie McNulty on March 29, 2018

Executive Summary

Participatory Budgeting (PB) is spreading quickly and now exists in environments that are very different from Porto Alegre, Brazil, where it began, including places as diverse as New York City, Northern Mexico, and rural Kenya. It is increasingly used as a policy tool and not as a radical democratic effort, which was its original purpose. PB also now exists at all levels of government around the world, including neighborhoods, cities, districts, counties, states, and national governments, although it is most widely implemented in districts and cities. Many donors and international organizations support PB efforts, as do non-profit advocacy organizations in countries that use PB.

PB is rapidly expanding across the world because many of its core tenets appeal to many different audiences. Leftist activists and politicians support PB because they hope that PB will help broaden the confines of representative democracy, mobilize followers, and achieve greater social justice. PB is also attractive within major international agencies, like the World Bank, European Union, and USAID, because of its emphasis on citizen empowerment through participation, improved governance, and better accountability.

Governments, donors, and activists hope that PB will produce social change on different levels. First, it is hoped that PB will produce attitudinal and behavioral change at the individual-level, including among citizen participants, elected officials, and civil servants. PB advocates hope that PB programs will induce broader support for democratic policy-making processes, help build social trust, and build greater legitimacy for democracy. Second, PB advocates hope that PB will have spill-over effects that produce broader changes in four general areas, listed below.

  • Stronger civil society
    • PB creates a stronger civil society by increasing CSO density (number of groups), expanding the range of CSO activities, and promoting new partnerships with governments.
  •  Improved Transparency
    • PB improves transparency by generating greater citizen and CSO knowledge, allowing for more oversight and monitoring, and increasing the efficiency of budget allocations.
  • Greater accountability
    • PB improves governance and accountability because citizens are more likely to be aware of their rights and government activity through PB. Government officials will then respond to citizens’ demands and collaborate in pursuit of shared interests.
  • Improved Social Outcomes
    • PB improves social outcomes through improved governance, newly-empowered, better-informed citizens, as well as through the allocation of public-works projects that focus on the needs of underserved communities.

This report, written in 2018, is published at a time of dynamic change in the PB field. We acknowledge that there are books, and articles with important insights that we were unable to include in this synthesis. It is our hope that this report will aid citizens, governments, practitioners, and donors as they contemplate how PB programs may improve the quality of democracy, service delivery, community trust, and well-being. We thank David Sasaki, the Hewlett Foundation, and the Omidyar Network for their support throughout the process of developing this report.

Original post and report can be accessed here

Ten Years of Aid Transparency – Fulfilling the Dream of Accra

originally published By Owen Barder, Vice President at the Center for Global Development, Director for Europe and a senior fellow, and Gary Forster, Chief Executive Officer, Publish What You Fund


Aid and development transparency has come a long way in ten years. In this, the first of a two-part blog series, we look back at the origins of the aid transparency movement. We reflect on the original vision of those who conceived the idea, and the journey to date including some of the successes achieved along the way.

We would like to start with a huge thank you to all of the incredible technocrats, bureaucrats, big thinkers and hard workers who contributed to the design, launch and initial success of the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) and to the broader aid transparency movement. If we’ve missed you out or misinterpreted your role please forgive us and know that we’ll be forever grateful for what you all, together, achieved, and continue to achieve.

Championing aid transparency

The landmark agreement on aid effectiveness, in Paris in 2005, acknowledged that foreign assistance is far more effective when it backs a developing country’s own priorities, uses country systems, focuses on results, and is accountable to the local population. A small but vocal group of reformers, mainly in the UK, began to point out that none of this was possible unless everyone could see what happens to aid. Judith Randel and Tony German, the founders of Development Initiatives (DI), were among the earliest people to highlight this, long before it became widely accepted.

It soon became clear that there could be a broad coalition for aid transparency. Champions included those who wanted to build support for aid in donor countries, because citizens would trust aid more if they could see where it went; those who believed that governments and parliaments needed more information about aid to manage their public services efficiently with scarce resources; those who believed the aid system was wasteful or corrupt, who wanted to use the sunlight of transparency to disinfect; those who believed that the costs of coordination and planning were being driven up by the lack of easily accessible information for donors and others in the aid industry; and those who believed that with more information, evidence and analysis could make aid work better.

Many of the most vocal activists were deeply frustrated that developing country governments and their people get so little information about what was being done in their country. There was a huge amount of evidence from decades of work in aid effectiveness about the impact of aid at best having less impact than it should or could be, and at worst undermining the very institution and process that really will cause change. There was also a constant stream of examples about wasteful duplication and overlap, because nobody knew where aid was being spent and for what purpose – ranging from water points in Tanzania to vaccinations in Indonesia

All these different views converged on the same goal: to get as much information about aid as possible published, in a way that all these different constituencies could use. But how could we do that without giving priority to one or other of these views, and so risk splintering the coalition?


The open data standard

That was partly what led us to the open data standard. Our idea was that information should be published once, minimising the burden on donors, and then used in many different ways for all these multiple purposes, all of which were valid. We wanted transparency to be agnostic about how the information would be used. If donors were asked to provide information for particular constituencies for particular purposes, they would have too much power to decide who and what should get precedence; but an open data format would make the same information easily available to everyone, without having to justify themselves to governments.


The road to Accra

The Accra meeting in 2008 was the obvious time to launch an initiative. It was the next in the series of meetings on aid effectiveness, and an emerging theme for the meeting was that “ownership” had to mean more than government. The meeting in Accra promoted the view that for aid to be effective, it had to address the priorities of, and be accountable to, the citizens and civil society of the countries to which it was given. And we argued that this was possible only if those citizens had access to information about how that aid was being used.

Looking back on the big aid effectiveness agreements, you could say that Rome was largely about efficiency, Paris was largely about value for money and Accra was about power. But it is difficult to persuade those who have power to share it with those who do not. Our aim was to smuggle in transparency as a technical-sounding change with longer-term implications for the balance of power in aid. It is difficult to argue against aid transparency: there are few publicly-defensible reasons to keep aid information hard to find and impossible to make much sense of.

We all knew that aid transparency would not, by itself, make aid better, still less reduce poverty or change the balance of power; but we all believed it could catalyse wider changes that would.

Publish What You Fund, founded by Martin Tisne,emerged mainly from a group if people from a variety of different backgrounds, all of whom saw aid transparency as a means to an end. The arrival of Karin Christiansen brought a fresh dose of energy born from years of working with ODI in Ministries of Finance on aid flows and budgets, coupled with newly learnt campaigning skills from ONE.

The team at DI was already immersed in development data, the team at DFID was looking for something specific to announce in Accra that would make a real difference to country ownership and aid effectiveness, and began initial advocacy and technical work on the open data standard that would become IATI.

As the rain beat down on a corrugated iron roof during the rainy season in Addis Ababa, Owen produced a first draft of a declaration to be made in Accra, and worked with colleagues at DFID and DI to refine the details and get donors onside. Romilly Greenhill, then at DFID, stewarded the draft through the UK government and she and DFID colleagues then worked tirelessly to build support from other donors. DFID deserves considerable credit for their leadership across the aid sector to build the coalition for aid transparency. Karin galvanised developing countries, civil society and open government campaigners.

The idea was enthusiastically embraced, at a memorable sundown meeting on the beach in Accra, and then in the halls and communiqué of the formal conference.


Turning the vision into reality

Once the open standard had been endorsed in Accra, the hard work began of giving substance to the commitment, and continuing to broaden support. A huge part of the vision, energy and technical know-how was provided by the heroic efforts of Simon Parrish, who had joined DI from DFID’s information systems team. Simon died far too young in 2016; but even then it was clear what a difference he had personally made to the world. None of this would have happened without his kindness, his common sense way of deploying his expertise, his integrity and his patience.


Our vision was an open data standard, easy to access, free to use, that would underpin any conversation about aid. There would be a single version of the truth, shared between governments, civil society and citizens. A bit like accounting standards, the aid information standard would vastly reduce the costs of collecting, publishing and using information about aid. The information costs that made it hard for aid to be accountable, coordinated, complementary, and efficient would be swept away as more and more of the international development community adopted IATI. Or so we hoped.


Ten years on

A huge amount of progress has indeed been made over the last ten years. The establishment of the original, agreed IATI Standard provided a foundation on which organisations could publish a range of aid and development data. Publication rates have increased with more than 800 organisations publishing data on IATI by July 2018, encompassing more than one million activities. Organisations have adapted their internal systems to track and report on the necessary budget and activity-related information and have reported better internal communications and clearer understanding of their own success (or otherwise) in achieving project objectives.

As the advocacy organisation for aid and development transparency, in October 2011, Publish What You Fund piloted the Aid Transparency Assessment to assess ‘what good transparency looks like?’ among major bi-lateral aid and development donors, namely information that is detailed, timely, comprehensive and comparable. This was later developed into the aid transparency index. The launch of our fifth Index in June 2018 illustrated just how far we’ve come with 93% of the 45 donor organisations featured in the Index now publishing in the IATI Standard. Of these organisations, 50% publish their aid data monthly, up from 25% in 2016.


The next challenge

Although publishing timely data is, of course, to be applauded, it is not enough in itself. To be of value, it also needs to be comprehensive and cover all aspects of aid and development projects, including, but not limited to, financial and performance-related data.

The aid and development effectiveness movement has had an uphill struggle in recent years, and this has made the context for transparency in this area more challenging. To help fulfil development needs and ambitious global objectives, such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and an estimated global aid and development finance gap of $2.5 trillion, now more than ever, more and better aid and development finance is required. This is especially true at a time when some donors’ budgets are being reduced.

One of the chief highlights of the 2018 Index was the strong performance of development finance institutions (DFIs): with the Asian Development Bank (AsDB) taking the top spot and DFIs dominating the ‘very good’ category overall, underscoring that organisations operating with different business models can still do so transparently. Nevertheless, the involvement of a growing number of diverse aid and development actors, including DFIs and others from the private and humanitarian sectors, presents a transparency challenge.

Publish What You Fund, therefore, continues to urge organisations – in the private and public sectors – to share detailed, timely, comprehensive and comparable data so this can happen. Only when the missing pieces of the data transparency jigsaw are provided can open data be used and transformed into the life-changing first step required to make aid and development activities more effective and hold organisations and donors to account for significant and lasting change.

We applaud the fact that unprecedented amounts of timely, open and comparable data are now made available by most major international donors. But it is only when this information is accessed and put to use by donors, government representatives and civil society, will the original promise of the aid and development transparency movement be truly fulfilled.

Short-Changed: How the IMF’s tax policies are failing women

Originally published here

In recent years the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other multilateral institutions have placed an increased emphasis on gender inequality and the need to address it. This trend has peaked since the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were agreed by the international community in 2015. Yet so far, its approach has been largely instrumental, promoting gender equality as a vehicle for achieving increased economic growth, and proposing simplistic solutions like facilitating women’s access to paid jobs. The IMF – like other institutions – has failed to acknowledge that the macroeconomic and tax policy advice it gives to countries reflects and reinforces patriarchal power structures, entrenching, rather than transforming, gender inequality.

Macroeconomic policies, such as taxation, can play a central role in transforming gendered power relations and challenging patriarchal structures and institutions, by facilitating systematic investments in public services, infrastructure and social protection. This should form part of wider strategies to meet national, regional and global commitments on women and girls’ rights, including tackling economic inequality and violence, and the financing of wider development.

Gender responsive tax and expenditure policies should be at the heart of the IMF’s efforts to tackle gender inequality, but they currently are not. In its 2018 publication, How to Operationalize Gender Issues in Country Work, the IMF has recognised for the first time that its macroeconomic policy advice may have ‘differential gender impact[s]… that could exacerbate gender inequality’. However it has not yet effectively systematised the process of investigating the gendered impacts of its policy advice at country level. The guidance note doesn’t mention tax as an area where there are differential impacts, nor has it put forward any guidance on what the alternative policy advice might resemble.

Macroeconomic policies, including taxation and spending, are neither gender neutral nor apolitical. In fact, decisions around how resources are raised, managed and allocated are inherently gendered and political. This is both in terms of who makes the decisions and the ways they impact upon particular countries and groups of women and girls within those countries. In this way, tax is a profoundly feminist issue.

This briefing argues that the IMF must urgently analyse the differentiated impacts of its tax policy advice on men and women, particularly women living in poverty. We believe the IMF should switch its focus away from largely regressive indirect taxes, such as

Value-Added Tax (VAT), towards more progressive taxes that are directly linked to income and wealth, such as Personal Income Tax (PIT), Corporate Income Tax (CIT), Capital Gains Tax (CGT) and Property Tax.

If the IMF was to make its tax policy advice consistent with an objective to reduce gender inequality, then advice should be grounded in evidence for taxes which will be gender-just and progressive and play the most meaningful role in redistributing wealth to ensure the rights of all women and girls are fulfilled. Progressive taxes ensure that individuals as well as businesses with higher incomes pay a higher share of their income or profits in tax. Because gender discrimination means that women generally earn less than men and have less profitable and productive enterprises, a progressive system of taxation would prevent women on low incomes from being locked into, or pushed further into, poverty because of heavy tax payments. It would also support the fulfilment of their wider social and economic rights by funding quality, gender responsive public services, infrastructure and social protection.

Summary recommendations to the IMF and national governments

  1. The IMF and national governments should contribute towards the creation of an enabling macroeconomic environment for women’s rights by adopting an evidence-based comprehensive approach to defining, identifying and addressing how its taxation and wider policy advice impacts upon different groups of women.
  2. Minimise and mitigate the regressive impacts of indirect taxes such as VAT and taxes on the informal economy, and commit to pursuing a progressive, gender-just approach to tax that effectively redistributes wealth and contributes to the achievement of women’s rights by taxing those with the most ability to pay.
  3. Commit to ensuring that tax revenue is allocated and spent in order to meet global commitments on women’s rights, including women’s economic rights and ending violence against women and girls, and that this is done in a way that is democratic, transparent and accountable.

Who are ‘the people’? – Making citizen participation models work for poor and marginalised groups

Authored by  on the 17th Sep 2018

Citizen participation in local governance

Many countries are now embracing participatory local governance models – various forms of state decision-making processes that mandate local representatives to include and consult with citizens. These provisions are increasingly enshrined in policy and law, as many countries pursue ambitious decentralisation agendas. They can take a wide variety of forms, such as:

  • public consultations on local development plans
  • town hall forums to share information or receive inputs during annual budget-making
  • open local government meetings that permit citizen observation and Q&A sessions
  • allowing civil society representatives to shadow financial audits of government offices or projects.

Barriers to participating effectively

This trend shows enormous promise, and is a celebrated success of proponents of inclusive governance practices. However, most of these citizen participation opportunities involve at least some notable barriers to entry. Participating effectively in these spaces may require:

  • overcoming social norms around the public role of women, minorities, and youth
  • defying class hierarchies
  • understanding complex local government processes
  • finding free time to prepare for and attend meetings
  • taking risks to challenge public leaders.

These factors make it more likely that citizens with greater resources, privilege, and social status are more likely to dominate these spaces.

The will of the people?

The views and priorities articulated in citizen participation spaces are often interpreted as the voice of ‘the people’ and this is a problem. Development priorities requested by citizens become ‘people’s plans’, and financial allocations advocated by citizen groups become ‘people’s budgets’. But in many cases, these might be better labelled ‘the plans of dominant class people’ or ‘men’s budgets’.

The questions we must address are: who is speaking for ‘the people’ in participatory governance models, and whose views are standing in for the views of ‘the public’?

These questions were central to the study tour CARE Bangladesh hosted in July, on the JATRA project funded by the World Bank’s Global Partnership for Social Accountability (GPSA), for 25 participants from 12 countries in the Local Governance Initiative and Network (LOGIN).

Establishing pro-poor and gender equitable citizen forums

The analysis and mapping process, described in the first blog in this series, is used to categorise hamlets and neighbourhoods into three categories: primary elites, secondary elites, and excluded or marginalised areas. CARE facilitates the creation of a citizen forum in each union, made up of representatives of poor households and vulnerable groups, half of whom are women.

Citizen forum members are nominated from each of the areas identified in the third category of communities – those who are not from primary or secondary elite areas. These communities are most often landless and dependent on large land-holders for temporary labour opportunities. They are often characterised by being in more remote locations, having fewer and worse roads, longer distances to travel to schools and health facilities, and poorer sanitation.

Representatives from these areas rarely run for office or win elections, resulting in their under-representation in decision-making spaces. However, CARE has worked in many of these areas progressively for more than 10 years, especially investing in ‘natural leaders’ from among poor households and women’s solidarity groups, building up a cadre of socially-aware and publicly active citizens prepared to take on roles in the citizen forums. In this sense, JATRA’s citizen forums benefit from long-term investment in social capital among marginalised groups.

Using citizen forums to make law a reality

The citizen forums are then supported by CARE to play a critical role in preparing poor and marginalised communities to claim their rights and maximise the participation spaces available to them. Many of these opportunities were established by the country’s 2009 Local Government Act, which decentralised more planning and decision-making to the lowest level of elected government and created a legal framework for citizen voice and public transparency.

Among other provisions, the Local Government Act 2009 mandates local councils to hold two rounds of public planning and budgeting meetings in each fiscal year (in each ward): the first to consult community members on local priorities, and the second later in the year to share a progress update on implementation and expenditure. The act also requires local councils to include members of the public in each of their mandated sectoral standing committees, with quotas for women, which have a role in planning and overseeing key local services.

Citizen forums in action

Since the enactment of the law, CARE Bangladesh has focused on helping poor and marginalised citizens to make the most of the provisions of the law. Throughout the programme cycle, the citizen forum became a central vehicle for this.

CARE trained citizen forum members on the act, its provisions, and the various ways local governments are required to consult with, include, and respond to citizens.

We also trained citizen forums on the process for Bangladesh’s annual planning and budgeting cycle: how much money local governments receive for which purposes and how to analyse the best opportunities for influence.

Citizen forum members then work with their home communities to prepare for public budget meetings, to foster interest, to build confidence by explaining government processes, and to help communities plan their shared priorities and select their spokespersons.

Making strategies, solving problems, ensuring accountability

In the JATRA project, CARE then supported citizen forum members to prepare for and take up seats reserved for the public on prominent local government committees. This means they have a say in strategy-making and problem-solving on issues related to health, education, local sanitation, nutrition, women’s rights, disaster risk reduction, and more.

CARE also trained citizen forums to conduct social audits, run community score card processes, and participate in Union Parishad evaluations. During social audits, the forum establishes a social audit committee of poor citizens and guides this committee through a structured review of an unsatisfactory public infrastructure project.

These social audits have resulted in greater accountability measures for contractors, the commitment of additional funds to upgrade facilities, and creative solutions for persistent problems like annual flooding in important public places.

Community score cards are used by citizen forums to assess the effective allocation and use of annual local council budgets, grading the use of the budget against the plan and against the Union’s sectoral priorities. After consulting with their home communities, citizen forum members participate in the Union Parishad annual evaluation and give a red, yellow, or green rating for each councillor on their performance against a set of key indicators. Councillors strive to improve their ratings, and can be seen deliberately taking actions to improve year on year.

Participation of marginalised groups

The work of the citizen forums has stimulated broad participation from people from poor households and from women in annual planning and budgeting meetings.

Prior to the project these meetings were either not happening at all or achieving close to the legal minimum of 5% of citizens attending. By the end of the project more than 12% of the total voting population of each area were attending these public meetings, with the increase being driven by greater interest from marginalised communities and poor women. Although many women in rural Bangladesh claimed that attending meetings related to the local government’s budget is a man’s responsibility, by the end of the project nearly half (49.6%) of the attendees of open budget meetings in the project area were women.

Demonstrable influence of marginalised groups

Since the projects began, representatives of poor households and neighbourhoods have put forward a significant number of well-developed and well-evidenced proposals to local government, many of which have been funded and implemented.

By 2017, 56% of the demands or issues raised at public budgeting meetings in the project area came from people from poor and excluded communities, 20% of which were placed by poor and marginalised women.

Changing long-standing social norms

Through their work, citizen forum members develop regular face-to-face relationships with elected representatives and local elites, a rarity for anyone from their communities. During the study tour, one long-serving Union Parishad chairman directly credited his local citizen forum for upending the class-based social norms that were preventing people from their communities from approaching and making demands of their local governments.

Community members from poor areas now feel they have allies with access to government and are more willing to approach their Union Parishad members directly or with the support of their citizen forum. Local leaders are increasingly receiving feedback from typically-overlooked constituents and have begun to recognise this group as an organised political force that they must be accountable to.

The new visibility and consolidated voice of the poor is shifting Bangladesh’s elite-driven politics and centring the voices and priorities of previously-excluded people. CARE has found that citizen forums are an effective vehicle for pro-poor and gender equitable participatory local governance when they are:

  • specifically designed to be representative of their own particularly marginalised areas and groups
  • supported to become experts on local government processes in their areas
  • promoted to seize citizen participation opportunities themselves
  • focus on mobilising, organizing, and building the skills of their own communities

The voice of ‘the people’ is then amplified from those at the margins.

Original publication can be accessed here

Learning to learn

By Rachel Mwila originally published in the Zambian Governance Foundation August 2018 Newsletter

How do you know you are learning? Should organizations learn? How do organizations learn? These are some thought provoking questions about learning that we were faced with at a Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) workshop for the Social Accountability Monitoring (SAM) community recently organized by the Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM).


Learning is revolutionary and dynamic thus there is always something to learn. Individuals and organizations should never stop learning as learning allows growth, improvement of quality of work and services. It is important that as organization continue to implement their work learning should also be documented and incorporated. However, why learn? Organizations need to learn more than ever as they confront mounting forces such as intensifying competition, advances in technology and shifts in customer preferences. Peter Senge in the Fifth Discipline wrote, learning organizations are “ organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expensive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free and where people are continually learning how to learn together”.


Learning cannot happen independent of implementation thus the need for the creation of a Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) framework. The purpose of having a MEL framework is for knowledge generation, tracking progress, accountability and sharing information. However, this is only possible if organizations ensure that their organization culture and Theories of Change support learning. Management in organizations should also create space for learning; this can be done through having open reflection for all members of staff. MEL must be aligned to the goals of the organization and integrated throughout the entire programming circle with clear divisions of labour. To implement MEL organizations should also ensure that data collected is controlled for quality assurance that ensures accuracy, credibility and supports decision making in the organization. There is need to create the demand for MEL in organizations. This can be done through ensuring that senior management buy into the ideal of MEL and ensure resources are allocated to it. There is also need to ensure that MEL is clearly included in funding proposals to ensure it is allocated resources. Organizations can also create MEL champions who can spearhead and oversee all activities related to MEL and ensure that it is practiced in the organization. Organizations can also create or join learning communities and evaluation associations.


Additionally, for organizations to learn they must be able to document their work and practice good knowledge management. Knowledge Management (KM) focuses on the various management processes that facilitate finding, identifying, capturing, creating, storing, sustaining, applying, sharing and renewing knowledge to improve an organisation’s performance. Organizations need to adopt an adaptive way of thinking and working especially those working in the social accountability sector given that the sector is constantly changing. The adaptive strategies mean responding to change, lessons and adjusting plans/methods in order to be effective. This simply means organizations need to ensure that they are able to document their work so as not to lose sight of where they are coming from and where they wish to be. Actively managing knowledge can help organizations increase their chances of success by facilitating decision-making, building learning environments by making learning routine and stimulating cultural change and innovation.


By proactively implementing KM systems, organizations can rewrite the old saying “change is inevitable, growth is optional” to “change is inevitable, growth is intentional”. (Smith and Lumba, 2008).




A number of multistakeholder initiatives (MSIs) have brought together governments, civil society organizations (CSOs), and private sector firms to hash out a variety of difficult governance issues. Initiatives such as the Open Government Partnership, the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, and the Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency work to encourage transparency and accountability reforms in a rapidly expanding number of countries around the world.

But while the breadth of these MSIs is inarguable, how deep do reforms really go? What tangible changes are they driving at the country level? These are some of the questions that Dr. Brandon Brockmyer of the Accountability Research Center has been investigating. We recently spoke to Brandon about his research.

IBP: Can you give us a quick outline of your findings in terms of the effectiveness of MSIs?

Brandon: Overall, what I found is that global MSIs are quite good at encouraging participating governments to proactively disclose information about their activities and performance, even in cases where governments are disclosing this information for the first time. However, MSIs are notably lesseffective at encouraging participating governments to become more responsive to requests from citizens for information that they are not already publishing. This allows governments to retain control of the agenda, deciding what information to disclose.

MSIs help to improve proactive government transparency when two core conditions are in place: First, nongovernmental actors (i.e., civil society and the private sector) must be treated as full and equal partners in MSI decision making and implementation. Second, participating civil society organizations must have the technical expertise to steer disclosure in the right direction, as well as the resources to regularly attend meetings.

IBP: One of the interesting findings is that it seems MSIs are quite effective at advancing transparency, but broader improvements to accountability so far have been more elusive.

Brandon: Currently, global MSIs are designed to tackle transparency directly, while most of these initiatives address accountability only indirectly. This approach seems to assume that there is a straightforward, linear relationship between the two. I think my research findings support a more general consensus emerging in the field that transparency gains alone are unlikely to drive gains in accountability. Disclosed information needs translation, aggregation, benchmarks, and simplification to be useful to potential users. Demands for greater accountability require collective action that can be difficult to organize, especially given that civil society groups vary across regions, sectors, and funding levels and often have different priorities when advocating for government action. And even if these groups can come together to make coherent demands, citizen voice alone may not be an effective channel for changing the incentives of public sector actors, or for gaining greater influence over public resource allocation.

If global MSIs want to tackle the challenge of accountability more directly, their activities probably need to be more purposefully embedded within existing national pro-accountability coalitions. I think this could be done in several ways:

  1. Pro-reform actors—national and local civil society groups, government reformers, and international NGOs that are already invested in the MSI approach—could expand processes for civil society consultation and participation beyond political and economic centers.
  2. National MSI agendas need to be customized so that they resonate with broader civic and social constituencies.
  3. Since MSIs are voluntary, reformers need to petition independent audit institutions, ombudsmen, courts, and legislatures to monitor and support compliance with MSI guidelines and respond with inquiries and sanctions when problems are uncovered through these processes.
  4. If MSIs succeed in facilitating disclosure, newly released information needs to be embedded into existing channels of public discourse and decision making.

IBP: Many of IBP’s civil society partners are also trying to push their governments to improve transparency and accountability. Did you find any evidence where CSOs were able to use MSIs to advance their agendas?

Brandon: Yes, but it really depends on the specific agenda. CSOs that are already working toward greater government transparency will often find natural allies in the government and private sector by engaging with global MSIs. In these cases, MSIs offer a powerful way to advance their agendas. However, for those CSOs that value transparency primarily as a tool for advancing a broader social or environmental agenda, participation in a global MSI may be a costly distraction. In fact, I found that participating governments sometimes use MSIs to “openwash”— that is, to project a public image of transparency and accountability, while maintaining questionable practices.

IBP: IBP engages with initiatives like OGP and GIFT, particularly at the global level, while at the same time supporting many local CSOs at the national and local level. What insights do you have about bridging these big global movements with the nitty-gritty challenges that CSOs face on the ground?

Brandon: I think it’s critical that CSOs considering engaging with global MSIs have a realistic sense for how MSI activities and outputs might fit into their own broader reform strategies. Conversely, it’s equally important that global MSI architects work to tailor activities and outputs to fit the needs of pro-reform actors in participating countries.

IBP is well placed to inform both sides of this equation. IBP can educate CSOs about how global MSIs work, so the CSOs can make informed decisions about whether to get involved. If CSOs decide to participate, IBP can also serve as an invaluable resource for effective strategies and tactics for using global MSI processes to achieve their domestic goals. Simultaneously, IBP can use its influence within these global initiatives to advocate from a CSO perspective for MSI membership rules, events, and training opportunities are optimally geared toward producing the types of transparency and civic participation that CSOs identify as critical for their broader reform strategies to work. Nevertheless, it’s also important to remember that the reform process is likely to unfold somewhat differently across various contexts. As a result, IBP can guide MSIs toward offering participating members a more useful toolkit, but MSIs must still avoid being overly prescriptive.

Admittedly, this is a tough balance to strike. But by embracing the fact that not every global MSI will be a good fit in every context, IBP can help global MSIs improve their credibility, and help national and local CSOs avoid pointless opportunity costs.

“These materials were developed by the International Budget Partnership. IBP has given us permission to use the materials solely for noncommercial, educational purposes.” Original article can be found here https://www.internationalbudget.org/2018/05/multistakeholder-initiatives-accountability/?utm_source=Master+List&utm_campaign=5213845fc0-03_15_2018_IBP_Newsletter_English_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_5799ba65dd-5213845fc0-221019005