New IDS Journal – 9 Papers in Open Government

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The new IDS Bulletin is out. Edited by Rosemary McGee and Duncan Edwards, this is the first open access version of the well-known journal by the Institute of Development Studies. It brings eight new studies looking at a variety of open government issues, ranging from uptake in digital platforms to government responsiveness in civic tech initiatives. Below is a brief presentation of this issue:

Open government and open data are new areas of research, advocacy and activism that have entered the governance field alongside the more established areas of transparency and accountability. In this IDS Bulletin, articles review recent scholarship to pinpoint contributions to more open, transparent, accountable and responsive governance via improved practice, projects and programmes in the context of the ideas, relationships, processes, behaviours, policy frameworks and aid funding practices of the last five years. They also discuss questions and weaknesses that limit the effectiveness and impact of this work, offer a series of definitions to help overcome conceptual ambiguities, and identify hype and euphemism. The contributions – by researchers and practitioners – approach contemporary challenges of achieving transparency, accountability and openness from a wide range of subject positions and professional and disciplinary angles. Together these articles give a sense of what has changed in this fast-moving field, and what has not – this IDS Bulletin is an invitation to all stakeholders to take stock and reflect.

The ambiguity around the ‘open’ in governance today might be helpful in that its very breadth brings in actors who would otherwise be unlikely adherents. But if the fuzzier idea of ‘open government’ or the allure of ‘open data’ displace the task of clear transparency, hard accountability and fairer distribution of power as what this is all about, then what started as an inspired movement of governance visionaries may end up merely putting a more open face on an unjust and unaccountable status quo.

Among others, the journal presents an abridged version of a paper by Jonathan Fox and myself on digital technologies and government responsiveness (for full version download here).

Below is a list of all the papers:

Rosie McGee, Duncan Edwards
Tiago Peixoto, Jonathan Fox
Katharina Welle, Jennifer Williams, Joseph Pearce
Miguel Loureiro, Aalia Cassim, Terence Darko, Lucas Katera, Nyambura Salome
Elizabeth Mills
Laura Neuman
David Calleb Otieno, Nathaniel Kabala, Patta Scott-Villiers, Gacheke Gachihi, Diana Muthoni Ndung’u
Christopher Wilson, Indra de Lanerolle
Emiliano Treré

 

World Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends

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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.

Pippa Norris – Making Democratic Governance Work

Here’s something new by Pippa Norris. Definitely worth reading

“Making Democratic Governance Work : How Regimes Shape Prosperity, Welfare, and Peace”

This book focuses on three core questions. Is democratic governance good for economic prosperity? Has this type of regime accelerated progress toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals, social welfare, and human development? Does it generate a peace-dividend and reduce conflict at home? Despite the importance of understanding these questions and the vast research literature generated, remarkably little consensus has emerged about any of these issues. Within the international community, democracy and governance are widely advocated as intrinsically desirable and important goals. Nevertheless, alternative schools of thought continue to dispute their consequences – and thus the most effective strategy for achieving a range of critical developmental objectives. Some believe that human development is largely determined by structural conditions in each society, such as geographic location, natural resources, and the reservoir of human capital, so that regimes have minimal impact. Others advocate promoting democracy to insure that leaders are responsive to social needs and accountable to citizens for achieving better schools, clinics, and wages. Yet others counter that governance capacity is essential for delivering basic public services, and state-building is essential in post-conflict reconstruction prior to holding elections. This book advances the argument that both liberal democracy and state capacity need to be strengthened in parallel to ensure effective development, within the constraints posed by structural conditions. Liberal democracy allows citizens to express their demands, to hold public officials to account, and to rid themselves of incompetent, corrupt, or ineffective leaders. Yet rising public demands that cannot be met by the state are a recipe for frustration, generating disillusionment with incumbent officeholders, or, if discontent spreads to becomes more diffuse, with the way that the regime works, or even ultimately with the promise of liberal democracy ideals. Thus governance capacity is also predicted to play a vital role in advancing human security, so that states have the capacity to respond effectively to citizen’s demands. The argument is demonstrated using systematic evidence gathered from countries worldwide during recent decades and selected cases illustrating the effects of regime change on development.

You can order the book here. 

Does Democracy Improve the Quality of Life for its Citizens?

In an article published in the Journal of Politics John Gerring, Strom Thacker and Rodrigo Alfaro examine the relationship between democracy and social welfare. Here’s the abstract of Democracy and Human Development [PDF]

Does democracy improve the quality of life for its citizens? Scholars have long assumed that it does, but recent research has called this orthodoxy into question. This article reviews this body of work, develops a series of causal pathways through which democracy might improve social welfare, and tests two hypotheses: (a) that a country’s level of democracy in a given year affects its level of human development and (b) that its stock of democracy over the past century affects its level of human development. Using infant mortality rates as a core measure of human development, we conduct a series of time-series—cross-national statistical tests of these two hypotheses. We find only slight evidence for the first proposition, but substantial support for the second. Thus, we argue that the best way to think about the relationship between democracy and development is as a time-dependent, historical phenomenon.

And a snapshot of the conclusion, which makes a rather timely call for expectation management regarding the short-term effects of democratic transitions:

The practical implications of this argument introduce grounds for both optimism and caution with respect to the ability of developing countries to improve their levels of human development. Realistically, countries should not expect large immediate dividends in human development to result from democratic transitions. On the other hand, given sufficient time, democracy should begin to yield important, tangible benefits to the underprivileged in society. In a world characterized by chronically short time horizons, the substantial political challenge is to allow democratic institutions the time necessary to realize these persistent but distal benefits. 

Such a cautious note should also resonate with some open government advocates who tend to overestimate the effects of reforms in the short term while neglecting long-term perspectives. 

Source: John Gerring, Strom C. Thacker and Rodrigo Alfaro (2012). Democracy and Human Development. The Journal of Politics, 74 , pp 1-17