Global Integrity convened a two-day workshop Dec. 10-11 of transparency and accountability experts at the OpenGov Hub to exchange thoughts on government monitoring and accountability tools and techniques.
Our goals were to bridge domestic and international transparency and accountability groups that have had few opportunities to meet outside large conference rooms and haven them exchange thoughts on government monitoring and accountability tools and techniques developed in one area – whether the US state level or abroad – that might be applicable in the other. The gathering was one of our capstone events tied to this year’s State Integrity Investigation.
We allowed participants to break into smaller, self-selected working groups to have conversations about:
· Budgets: How do we make government budgets more user-friendly?
· Money, Politics, Lobbying: Given the necessity of money in politics, how do we manage its influence? How do we advance the lobbying reform agenda?
· Citizen engagement: How do we widen engagement and participation on reform efforts among citizens with low expectations of progress?
· Technology: What is the role of technology in strengthening government monitoring efforts?
In the process of unpacking those larger meta questions, we wanted interesting applications of tools and methodologies to be uncovered through the exchanges and that could be incorporated into the participant’s workstreams. Key among them were techniques to sharpen the results of research and advocacy efforts in different contexts. For example, how can we crystalize and communicate wonky issues of transparency and accountability into clear, pocketbook issues that affect citizens everyday? We kept returning to the powerful image of flammable tap water, which has proved useful in highlighting the effect of the lack of procurement transparency on local communities, particularly in the natural gas fracking industry in the U.S.A.
Global Integrity is trying to apply this principle in its efforts to accelerate meaningful reform around the results of the State Integrity Investigation. In the coming days we hope to build on specific issues discussed at the workshop by expand them on this blog. Stay tuned!
Failure was the main topic on the second day. Participants gathered around the table analyzed a failed project of their own and offered lessons learned.
Participants concluded that failure can serve as a powerful teambuilding opportunity. It can strengthen the organization by rallying employees around a problem that requires immediate resolution. The long-term benefits (often unperceived at the moment of failure) of bringing the organization closer can far outweigh the short-term gains from problem solving.
For those benefits to be fully realized, it helps to have an open organizational culture that encourages risk taking and collaboration while discouraging finger pointing. The private sector manages this process better than non-profit organizations and hence seems to be more effective in fostering a culture of continuous innovation.
This mini, around-the-table version of the Fail Faire was an opportunity to explore what failure means in a context of limited funding, in which resource-starved organizations are forever striving to win the affection of funders, who in turn are always pushing for neat, scalable solutions to maximize demonstrable positive outcomes. This dynamic locks organizations into a pattern that privileges finding short-term solutions over the harder job of understanding the often messy, intractable, and interconnected problems of transparency and accountability.
This is a subject that is best tackled in a separate blog post, but David Sasaki over at the Omidyar Network very effectively beat us to the task. He hones in on the crux of the issue here.
With a limited number of participants around the table, we found the conversations more relevant, the exchanges richer. Perhaps it’s stating the obvious, but the ideas, tools, lessons, and resources to be are tremendous. We hope that gatherings like this, while less flashy than big branded conferences, can help open spaces for meaningful conversation and eventual collaboration in a way that synthetic donor-funded “communities of practice” cannot. You can’t get life to bubble up by simply tossing chemicals in a test-tube after all.
— Abhinav Bahl