Learning, to open governance

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By Alan Hudson — January 13, 2015.

I’m delighted to have been appointed as the new Executive Director of Global Integrity. The opportunity to take the reins from Nathaniel came as a surprise, but the opportunity – while a wee bit daunting – was one not to be missed. Over the coming weeks and months, I will be working with the team at Global Integrity to think through how we might best contribute to opening governance. To inform our discussions, I will be reaching out to a long list of individuals and organizations to get their input and feedback on my initial thinking. For now, here are some preliminary thoughts, to get the ball rolling.

My vision is of a world where resources are used effectively, equitably and sustainably to meet people’s needs. For this vision to be achieved, improving the quality of governance will be key. When governance is open – transparent, participatory and accountable – people and governments are empowered to use information more effectively to manage resources appropriately, in ways that meet people’s needs. Open governance is not a magic bullet, but greater transparency and participation can help to change the political dynamics, enabling communities and countries to escape from low accountability traps and move towards accountable, responsive and effective governance.

Global Integrity has a well-deserved reputation for the quality of its research on governance and integrity systems around the world, and for being an innovator in the open governance space. I am keen to see the organization continue to play an important role in improving policy and practice on governance – opening governance – in ways that make a real difference to the quality of people’s lives. By shaping, sharpening and promoting the open governance agenda, we can help to ensure that the key weaknesses of the governance agenda are addressed. These include a failure to navigate effectively between an inaccurate “context-is-everything” approach on the one hand, and an unhelpful one-size fits-all approach to governance reform, on the other.

Addressing this challenge requires a context-sensitive approach to understanding governance and to supporting the emergence and evolution of governance arrangements that will work in particular places, but one that holds on to the value of cross-country learning. More broadly, it requires stronger two-way connections to be made between policy on the one hand, and practical efforts to improve governance in specific country and sectoral contexts on the other. Evidence and learning – real-time action-oriented learning, as well as learning to shape advocacy and inform policy – need to be at the heart of the open governance agenda and of efforts to do development differently.

As we develop a strategy to put this into practice, I am also keen to sharpen our focus. We must build on what we already do: on our work to assess the systems that African countries have in place to prevent corruption; on our assessments of state integrity across USA; and on our work with the Sunlight Foundation and the Electoral Integrity Project on money, politics and transparency. And we should be open to working on new issues such as privacy and surveillance. But to act strategically and effectively, we need a clear focus.

These are early days, but I would like to see Global Integrity play a key role in putting open fiscal governance – a coherent and systemic follow the money agenda which joins the dots between issues, improving the analysis, informing the policy recommendations, and strengthening the advocacy – at the center of the open governance movement. This is a crucially important issue. If people and governments are not able to access and use the information that they need to follow the money, and to engage and work together to improve the allocation of public resources, then governance isn’t open.

Driving progress on this agenda will involve working closely with partners in the Follow the Money Network, including the International Budget Partnership, the ONE Campaign, Development Initiatives, and local partners around the world to understand the landscape of fiscal governance in particular places and to support efforts to improve it. This, for instance, is what we are doing in Mexico, working with local partners to develop and pilot an approach to mapping the landscape of fiscal governance and assessing the ability of citizens to follow the money. My hope is that this sort of analysis could be applied in other contexts, perhaps as part of the Open Government Partnership – see for instance, the work of the Fiscal Openness Working Group – and through initiatives such as Making All Voices Count and the Global Partnership for Social Accountability.

Next week, I will be in Berlin for discussions hosted by the Transparency and Accountability Initiative about the potential and pitfalls of using new technologies to help people to follow the money, and for a strategy meeting for members of the Follow the Money Network. These discussions will help to inform our thinking about how Global Integrity might contribute to the follow the money agenda, and to putting evidence and learning at the heart of the open governance agenda.

In the coming weeks and months, I will share our thinking as it develops. We’d really welcome your feedback. There’s not many doors at the OpenGov Hub, but if I had one, it would be flung wide open. Pop in, pull up a chair, and let me know what you think.


Alan Hudson
Executive Director

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