Using open aid data for accountability in Benin and Tanzania

This post was originally published on the Open Data Charter website, written by Elise Dufief, Research and Monitoring Manager at Publish What You Fund

The government of Tanzania announced in August that it was withdrawing from the Open Government Partnership (OGP) process. This was seen as a dramatic turn of events by some as the previous administration was regarded as a champion of transparency reforms. For others, it highlighted some of the challenges of international transparency initiatives and potentially offered an opportunity to reflect on how these initiatives could better respond to domestic issues and put citizens’ needs at their heart.

Earlier this year, I travelled to Tanzania and Benin and conducted interviews with representatives from government, donors and civil society organisations to investigate some of these issues. I looked into the opportunities and barriers for open aid data to be used as an accountability mechanism for partner country citizens. We at Publish What You Fund published a discussion paper earlier this month detailing the findings of our work.

Publish What You Fund, among other organisations, has argued that the public disclosure of information on development activities by major donors is an essential and necessary step to increase aid effectiveness. Substantial progress has been made at the international level through initiatives such as IATI and individual efforts of some major donors and governments to publish more and better quality development data. However, transparency alone is not sufficient as this information also needs to be used to promote accountability to local actors and respond to citizens’ needs.

We are also not the only ones reflecting on this. Organisations such as Oxfam and Open Contracting are also trying to find a constructive and collaborative way to move the transparency agenda forward and shed light on the necessary conditions for data to be used for accountability.

The new framework developed by Liz Carolan of the Open Data Charter, alongside the Transparency and Accountability Initiative, also helped shape our thinking on the matter. That study found 5 steps connecting open data and accountability: data production, sharing and processing, use and action. We proposed two additions to it: an initial step of identifying information needs and mapping potential users; and to also implement feedback mechanisms once data is made available to create a circular and iterative process from transparency to accountability.

Additionally, five key findings emerged from the interviews conducted in Benin and Tanzania:

1.There is a clear and repeated need for more high quality information on aid and development finance.

This was articulated clearly by donor country offices, government representatives and civil society organisations. Recent efforts to provide more information should be sustained and respond to these needs where possible.

2. International donor-led initiatives are not yet meeting country-level needs.

Tanzania’s withdrawal from the OGP is a manifestation of this. More attention needs to be paid to the national context and dynamics at play between different actors. This would help to identify where and how transparency and open data can help to improve development outcomes and accountability to citizens.

3. Both the development and data landscapes are fragmented and this is increasing.

The international development landscape increasingly involves more actors, more diverse flows and varied interests and objectives. In the absence of effective coordination, this complexity is reflected on the governance of data at country-level, also impeding its potential users.

4. A lack of trust in open data and its applications impedes its use as an accountability tool.

Data accuracy issues aside, examples from Tanzania and Benin demonstrated that more openness and transparency is sometimes met with fear of criticism and misinterpretation of the data. These are serious concerns that should be addressed. Shrinking civil society space and legislative restrictions to the access and use of this information, however, do not appear as viable solutions; they rather contradict the stated aim of the open data agenda.

5. With publication comes responsibility.

All actors have a responsibility to go beyond mere publication to make data truly accessible, usable and used. This requires putting people at the heart of transparency initiatives. It is only by working towards the identification of their needs, understanding their concerns and actively seeking their feedback that adequate responses and meaningful change will be implemented at country level. Data alone does not bring change. People do.

You can read our discussion paper ‘With Publication Brings Responsibility: Using open data for accountability in Benin and Tanzania’ here.

Tanzania

With Publication Comes Responsibility: Using open data for accountability in Benin and Tanzania – A discussion paper

What is being spent, in which sector and where? What did development cooperation activities set out to do and what did they achieve? These are the sort of questions that are asked of people and organisations engaged in aid and development work. Historically, a lack of transparency in the development sector made it difficult to answer these questions. In the last decade, however, things have started to change. International donors and national actors have begun publishing open data that is unprecedented in its detail and scope. However, to date there are only anecdotal examples of the way this data can be and is being used for accountability and little evidence that it has made a difference to development outcomes.
This paper combines primary research from Benin and Tanzania with secondary research on the use of open data for accountability to explore what happens at country-level once it is published: who is interested in using it, how and what for? If the data is not being used, what are the obstacles and how can they be overcome?

Download With-Publication-Brings-Responsibility-A-discussion-paper-1 – published by Publish What You Fund


A brief presentation on experience drawn from social accountability monitoring exercise in the Iringa District Council, Tanzania

One of the government’s obligatory responsibilities is to provide quality socio-economic services to it’s people – the citizens. Other responsibilities include that of ensuring peace and order is maintained among its people in the country. Due to the magnitude of the government’s roles, with limited financial resources, there are NGOs like TACOSODE which assist the government in fulfilling its obligation of providing social services to the people. TACOSODE has also equipped people in its project areas to perform social accountability monitoring especially in health services provision. The basis on which people undertake social accountability monitoring is their participation in identification, planning, monitoring and evaluation of the services provided. This participation makes them understand health requirements and therefore what, and how much, services they need. Unfortunately, this project is only implemented in 5 wards and in 10 villages. This presentation examines and compares situations in TACOSODE served villages and those villages that are not served by TACOSODE in the Iringa District Council.

You can download the full presentation made by Tacosode at the PSA annual workshop held in January in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.


Appetite for accountability in Tanzania: Translating election-time signals into accountability values

Article orignally posted here

In most countries with multi-party systems an election year presents (at least the possibility) of new opportunities and excitement: will the balance of power shift? Will newcomers and new ideas, at the sub-national and national levels, come to the center stage? Prior to the general elections in Tanzania in 2015, popular opinion among certain groups suggested that this might be the election when opposition parties could gain control of the executive. And although the ruling party (CCM), which has been in power since independence, maintained its grip on power, it was, by many accounts, the closest election in Tanzanian multi-party history.

Twaweza partnered with the Governance Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to ask how do ordinary Tanzanian citizens see politics and government?

For full results as well as comparison between the regions studied, and a discussion on what the results might mean, please read the attached brief.