Priceless? Estimating the cost of open government reforms

costing

Results for Development has just published “Priceless?”, a report commissioned by the World Bank that develops a new, practical framework for estimating the full (economic) costs of open government programs (full disclosure: I have been minimally involved with the project at some of its stages). The framework is used to conduct a cost analysis of two cases: i) the well-known Ukrainian ProZorro e-procurement program, and ii) Sierra Leone’s Open Data Program. The final estimated costs might surprise some, but I will avoid spoilers at this stage.

The report is authored by the brilliant Praneetha Vissapragada and Naomi Joswiak and edited by none other than Nathaniel Heller and Courtney Tolmie. While much has been written about the potential benefits of open government reforms, much less has been dedicated to their respective costs. This new publication is a welcome addition towards addressing that gap, and will be a valuable resource for policymakers, practitioners and advocates working in the open government space.

 

Could Corruption Be Good For Your Health? (or Side Effects of Anti-Corruption Efforts)

The literature on corruption is disputed territory, and one that is full of surprises. On one side, a number of scholars and development practitioners follow the traditional understanding, arguing that corruption is an evil to be eradicated at any cost. On the other, some scholars and practitioners see corruption as an “informal tax” that mediates access to goods and services in contexts of poor institutions and policies, commonly found in the early stages of development. In other words, corruption is a symptom, rather than a problem, with some even arguing that corruption may generate efficiencies in certain contexts: the so-called “greasing-the-wheel hypothesis.”

If these differences in perspective were not enough, a new paper adds more nuance to the debate and challenges conventional wisdom. Launched in 2003, the Brazilian anti-corruption program consists of a series of random audits by the federal government to assess whether municipalities effectively spend earmarked federal transfers according to pre-established guidelines. The results of the audits are then disseminated to the public, with auditors engaging with local councils and civil society to encourage them to monitor tax revenues. The program became famous in development and anti-corruption circles, in great part thanks to an earlier paper by Ferraz and Finan (2008) which found that “the release of the audit outcomes had a significant impact on incumbents’ electoral performance, and that these effects were more pronounced in municipalities where local radio was present to divulge the information.”

But if, when they know about it, citizens are more likely to vote corrupt politicians out of office, what is the effect of these audits on the quality of service delivery? This is the question that Guilherme Lichand, Marcos Lopes and Marcelo Medeiros (2016) try to answer in a new paper entitled “Is Corruption Good For Your Health?.”  Below is the abstract of the paper, (highlights are mine):

While corruption crackdowns have been shown to effectively reduce missing government expenditures, their effects on public service delivery have not been credibly documented. This matters because, if corruption generates incentives for bureaucrats to deliver those services, then deterring it might actually hurt downstream outcomes. This paper exploits variation from an anti-corruption program in Brazil, designed by the federal government to enforce guidelines on earmarked transfers to municipalities, to study this question. Combining random audits with a differences-in-differences strategy, we find that the anti-corruption program greatly reduced occurrences of over-invoicing and off-the-record payments, and of procurement manipulation within health transfers. However, health indicators, such as hospital beds and immunization coverage, became worse as a result. Evidence from audited amounts suggests that lower corruption came at a high cost: after the program, public spending fell by so much that corruption per dollar spent actually increased. These findings are consistent with those responsible for procurement dramatically reducing purchases after the program, either because they no longer can capture rents, or because they are afraid of being punished for procurement mistakes.

The paper’s final discussion is no less provocative. An excerpt below:

(…)  While the Brazilian anti-corruption program represents a major improvement in monitoring and transparency, the focus of administrative penalties and of public opinion on corruption, instead of on the quality of public services, all seem to have thrown the baby out with the bathwater. These findings suggest that policies that expand the scope of desirable outcomes beyond formal procedures, that differentiate between active and passive waste, and that support local procurement staff in complying with complex guidelines might be important steps towards balancing incentives between procuring and making proper use of public funds.

Given that many other governance/accountability interventions traditionally focus on corruption rather than on the performance of services delivered, practitioners should take note of these findings. In the meantime, the debate on corruption and development gets some good extra fuel.

You can download the paper here [PDF].


Additional resources:

Ferraz, C., & Finan, F. (2007). Exposing corrupt politicians: the effects of Brazil’s publicly released audits on electoral outcomes. Quarterly Journal of Economics. (ungated version) 

Avis, E., Ferraz, C., & Finan, F. (2016). Do Government Audits Reduce Corruption? Estimating the Impacts of Exposing Corrupt Politicians (No. w22443). National Bureau of Economic Research.

Dreher, A., & Gassebner, M. (2013). Greasing the wheels? The impact of regulations and corruption on firm entry. Public Choice, 155(3-4), 413-432.

Aidt, T. S. (2009). Corruption, institutions, and economic development.Oxford Review of Economic Policy, 25(2), 271-291.

Méon, P. G., & Weill, L. (2010). Is corruption an efficient grease?. World development, 38(3), 244-259.

Development Drums Podcast: Daniel Kaufmann and Mushtaq Khan debate the role and importance of tackling corruption as part of a development strategy.

Catching Up on DemocracySpot

CaptureOGRX

It’s been a while, so here’s a miscellaneous post with things I would normally share on DemocracySpot.

Yesterday the beta version of the Open Government Research Exchange (OGRX) was launched. Intended as a hub for research on innovations in governance, the OGRX is a joint initiative by NYU’s GovLab, MySociety and the World Bank’s Digital Engagement Evaluation Team (DEET) (which, full disclosure, I lead). As the “beta” suggests, this is an evolving project, and we look forward to receiving feedback from those who either work with or benefit from research in open government and related fields. You can read more about it here.

Today we also launched the Open Government Research mapping. Same story, just “alpha” version. There is a report and a mapping tool that situates different types of research across the opengov landscape. Feedback on how we can improve the mapping tool – or tips on research that we should include – is extremely welcome. More background about this effort, which brings together Global Integrity, Results for Development, GovLAB, Results for Development and the World Bank, can be found here.

mapping2

Also, for those who have not seen it yet, the DEET team also published the EvCaptureDEETguidealuation Guide for Digital Citizen Engagement a couple of months ago. Commissioned and overseen by DEET, the guide was developed and written by Matt Haikin (lead author), Savita Bailur, Evangelia Berdou, Jonathan Dudding, Cláudia Abreu Lopes, and Martin Belcher.

And here is a quick roundup of things I would have liked to have written about since my last post had I been a more disciplined blogger:

  • A field experiment in Rural Kenya finds that “elite control over planning institutions can adapt to increased mobilization and participation.” I tend to disagree a little with the author’s conclusion that emphasizes the role of “power dynamics that allow elites to capture such institutions” to explain his findings (some of the issues seem to be a matter of institutional design). In any case, it is a great study and I strongly recommend the reading.
  • A study examining a community-driven development program in Afghanistan finds a positive effect on access to drinking water and electricity, acceptance of democratic processes, perceptions of economic wellbeing, and attitudes toward women. However, effects on perceptions of government performance were limited or short-lived.
  • A great paper by Paolo de Renzio and Joachim Wehner reviews the literature on “The Impacts of Fiscal Openness”. It is a must-read for transparency researchers, practitioners and advocates. I just wish the authors had included some research on the effects of citizen participation on tax morale.
  • Also related to tax, “Consumers as Tax Auditors” is a fascinating paper on how citizens can take part in efforts to reduce tax evasion while participating in a lottery.
  • Here is a great book about e-Voting and other technology developments in Estonia. Everybody working in the field of technology and governance knows Estonia does an amazing job, but information about it is often scattered and, sometimes, of low quality. This book, co-authored by my former colleague Kristjan Vassil, addresses this gap and is a must-read for anybody working with technology in the public sector.
  • Finally, I got my hands on the pictures of the budget infograffitis (or data murals) in Cameroon, an idea that emerged a few years ago when I was involved in a project supporting participatory budgeting in Yaoundé (which also did the Open Spending Cameroon). I do hope that this idea of bringing data visualizations to the offline world catches up. After all, that is valuable data in a citizen-readable format.
cameroon1

picture by ASSOAL

cameroon2

picture by ASSOAL

I guess that’s it for now.

World Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends

nationalgeographic_1746433-wblive (1)

The World Development Report 2016, the main annual publication of the World Bank, is out. This year’s theme is Digital Dividends, examining the role of digital technologies in the promotion of development outcomes. The findings of the WDR are simultaneously encouraging and sobering. Those skeptical of the role of digital technologies in development might be surprised by some of the results presented in the report. Technology advocates from across the spectrum (civic tech, open data, ICT4D) will inevitably come across some facts that should temper their enthusiasm.

While some may disagree with the findings, this Report is an impressive piece of work, spread across six chapters covering different aspects of digital technologies in development: 1) accelerating growth, 2) expanding opportunities, 3) delivering services, 4) sectoral policies, 5) national priorities, 6) global cooperation. My opinion may be biased, as somebody who made some modest contributions to the Report, but I believe that, to date, this is the most thorough effort to examine the effects of digital technologies on development outcomes. The full report can be downloaded here.

The report draws, among other things, from 14 background papers that were prepared by international experts and World Bank staff. These background papers serve as additional reading for those who would like to examine certain issues more closely, such as social media, net neutrality, and the cybersecurity agenda.

For those interested in citizen participation and civic tech, one of the papers written by Prof. Jonathan Fox and myself – When Does ICT-Enabled Citizen Voice Lead to Government Responsiveness? – might be of particular interest. Below is the abstract:

This paper reviews evidence on the use of 23 information and communication technology (ICT) platforms to project citizen voice to improve public service delivery. This meta-analysis focuses on empirical studies of initiatives in the global South, highlighting both citizen uptake (‘yelp’) and the degree to which public service providers respond to expressions of citizen voice (‘teeth’). The conceptual framework further distinguishes between two trajectories for ICT-enabled citizen voice: Upwards accountability occurs when users provide feedback directly to decision-makers in real time, allowing policy-makers and program managers to identify and address service delivery problems – but at their discretion. Downwards accountability, in contrast, occurs either through real time user feedback or less immediate forms of collective civic action that publicly call on service providers to become more accountable and depends less exclusively on decision-makers’ discretion about whether or not to act on the information provided. This distinction between the ways in which ICT platforms mediate the relationship between citizens and service providers allows for a precise analytical focus on how different dimensions of such platforms contribute to public sector responsiveness. These cases suggest that while ICT platforms have been relevant in increasing policymakers’ and senior managers’ capacity to respond, most of them have yet to influence their willingness to do so.

You can download the paper here.

Any feedback on our paper or models proposed (see below, for instance) would be extremely welcome.

unpacking

unpacking user feedback and civic action: difference and overlap

I also list below the links to all the background papers and their titles

Enjoy the reading.

Civic Tech and Government Responsiveness

For those interested in tech-based citizen reporting tools (such as FixMyStreet, SeeClickFix), here’s a recent interview of mine with Jeffrey Peel (Citizen 2015) in which I discuss some of our recent research in the area.

 

Lisbon Revisited: Notes on Participation

A couple of weeks ago I attended a series of conferences in Portugal, where I had the chance to meet some of the best people working in the field of participation. It was also an opportunity to talk with a number of Brazilian observers who provided me with more of an insider’s view of how the recent wave of protests in Brazil relates to the state of participatory governance in the country.

Below is a rather chaotic list of takeaways from these days:

  • The Latin community of researchers and practitioners (mainly Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Brazilian, and French) are some of the best when it comes to participatory design. I was particularly struck by the level of work presented at the Centre for Social Studies of Lisbon, where researchers and scholars focused on the scaling up of participatory governance initiatives—that is, from local to higher levels of government (e.g. state, national). This is a tricky endeavor, as experience shows over and over again that you cannot just replicate local level participatory innovations at other levels. At the risk of stating the obvious, the formula for successful scaling up is far from being discovered. But some people are closer than others.
  • On a totally different note, mobile phones are definitely making their way into participatory budgeting. The coastal city of Cascais deployed an SMS voting system to let citizens decide on the allocation of 1.5 million Euros. The numbers suggest some success: with mobile participation the number of participants jumped from 6,000 (2012 PB) to 24,000 (2013 PB). The municipal administration has also launched a new smart phone app (FixCascais) to enable citizen reporting on problems in the municipality.

  • During the Conference of the International Observatory on Participatory Democracy (IODP), the latest book organized by Nelson Dias was launched. Entitled “Democratic Hope: 25 Years of Participatory Budgeting”, the book brings together texts by more than 40 authors from all the continents, providing an encompassing view of 25 years of PB around the world. I was happy to co-author one of the pieces with Rafael Sampaio. The subject of our article? Technology and participation, of course. The book is currently only available in Portuguese, but hopefully it will soon be translated into English.
  • Nelson Dias has also been doing some interesting research, looking at the development of Portuguese PBs over time and examining what makes some more sustainable than others. The actual impact of citizens’ input on the decision-making process emerges as the determining factor. When it comes to PB, it seems that merely consultative processes are like cigarettes: they stink and lead to early death.

New book organized by Nelson Dias, “Democratic Hope”.

On Brazil: 

  • If you take a closer look at the recent demonstrations in Brazil you will realize that some of the strongest demands refer to increased citizen participation. In Rio de Janeiro for instance, one of the demands is precisely the implementation of participatory budgeting. The Brazilian Federal Government seems to be willing to boost its support for PB.

Rio de Janeiro campaign for Participatory Budgeting.

  • Brazilian politicians start to recognize this demand for participation. And they are quickly realizing that, while they have remained analogue, society has moved on. This reflects well on an op ed by former President Lula in the NYT who argues that

(….) people do not simply wish to vote every four years. They want daily interaction with governments both local and national, and to take part in defining public policies, offering opinions on the decisions that affect them each day. In short, they want to be heard. This creates a tremendous challenge for political leaders. It requires better ways of engagement, via social media, in the workplace and on campuses, reinforcing interaction with workers groups and community leaders, but also with the so-called disorganized sectors, whose desires and needs should be no less respected for lack of organization.

  • Another article by the Mayor of Rio de Janeiro in the Huffington Post makes a similar point, highlighting some interesting numbers about the protests in Brazil:

During the recent demonstrations in Brazil, approximately 62 percent of the people were informed of the event via Facebook, a much higher rate than TV, which was first source of information to 14 percent of attendees, according to Ibope Institute. Three out of four agitators used social networks to round up support.

  • Even if most governments lag behind, there are some promising experiences. For instance, at the height of the demonstrations, Tarso Genro, the Governor of Rio Grande do Sul held a Google Hangout with citizens to listen to their demands. The number of participants: half a million.

Google hangout with 500,000 citizens.

  • Governor Genro then launched an online ideation/ranking process on political reforms.  182,000 votes were cast on over 200 proposals. Among the 10 proposals receiving the most votes? Increased citizen participation in decision-making processes.

Pair-wise voting system used on political reform consultation.

  • The Brazilian Institute of Applied Economics in Brazil (IPEA) is doing some interesting research looking at participation in some of the major federal programs in the country. One of the findings debunks the assumption that participatory processes may delay execution. Participatory and non-participatory processes perform equally when it comes to execution. The difference? Participatory processes are more innovative. More on that later.
  • The vitality of the use of social media to foster collective action in Brazil is contrasted by the demands of some segments of society to put an end to the proportional system of representation in the country. This seems, to a certain extent, rather contradictory. And here’s why.
  • Ronaldo Lemos is now officially representing the MIT Media-Lab in Brazil. This is great news. With an amazing track record, Ronaldo is also one of the people behind the Brazilian Internet “Bill of Rights”, the Marco Civil. Fruit of a truly collaborative exercise, the legislation aims to guarantee the civil rights of Internet users in Brazil.
  • While in the US some transparency advocates fear that Snowden’s leaks might have a chilling effect on the transparency agenda, in Brazil the results are somewhat different. The revelation of the NSA’s electronic surveillance of Brazilian officials has led President Dilma Roussef to consider the approval of the Marco Civil by Congress as a top priority for her Government. If approved, the legislation will be a milestone for those in the country working with technology and open government.

***

Documentary – Participatory Democracy Around the World

Via the Hunger Project blog I came across this short documentary on participatory democracy, “People Power”, produced by TV Education Asia Pacific and first broadcast on BBC World in 2004. Below, excerpts from the summary by TV EAP of each of the case studies in four countries (India, Malawi, Brazil and Ireland) and their respective videos:

  • Rajasthan, India

It’s state elections in Rajasthan and Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), a local activist group invites the people of Beawar to a public meeting where the affidavits on the local candidates are made available to the people. This process of social accountability and transparency extends beyond the political process to the village level, where the MKSS has successfully lobbied for the right to information legislation to overcome the systemic corruption in the political and bureaucratic organisations.

  • Malawi

In Malawi, Africa, people can expect to live only half as long as someone in the Western World. Since most people live in rural communities, the Village Health Service is the life line for most people. But there has been dissatisfaction with the delivery of this service. Care Malawi is piloting a local health initiative program, referred to as the Community Scorecard Project, where the running of the local health services is put back into the hands of the villagers. Here the village people meet and score the delivery of the health services and this is collated by a Village Health Council. At the same time, the Village Health Clinic does a self assessment. Interface meetings between the users of the service and the providers of the service to analyse the information and work out ways of improving the system.

  • Porto Alegre, Brazil

Porto Alegre has been acclaimed as the Brazilian city with the best quality of life for four consecutive years. The challenge is how to include the poorer people in this success. Housing is the major challenge for the City as rural people migrate to the city to seek work. The city government has adopted a program where the people participate in prioritising the City Budget. Over a year, from neighbourhood associations to people’s assemblies, up to 20,000 people have a direct say on how the city budget should be allocated. The Porto Alegre experiment is one of the best known worldwide, acclaimed for both the efficient and the highly democratic management of urban resources it has made possible. The “popular administration” of Porto Alegre was selected by the United Nations as one of the 40 urban innovations worldwide to be presented at the Second Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II), held in Istanbul in June 1996.

  • Ireland

A social and economic partnership was formed with all the stakeholders: the national government, the trade unions, the employers and the community to develop a national strategy for Ireland. The Northside Partnership was one of 11 partnerships created to translate the national strategy to the local level. This partnership identified the black spots: high local unemployment, youth leaving before they completed school and young children not going to school. Within this community, there has been an increase of over 50 per cent job creation, a series of specialised training programs and an innovate way to get children to go to school.