Bad Governance Close to Home – A global perspective

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Alan Hudson, Executive Director – May 18, 2017

For those of us working on governance and corruption and based in Washington DC – a few blocks north of the White House at the OpenGov Hub – the last few months have been a bit of a bombshell, with the firing of the Director of the FBI just the latest episode in the continuing saga. The election of President Trump and the first 4 months of the new administration have exposed and exacerbated governance challenges in a country that prides itself as being a beacon of democracy – a shining city upon a hill, as President Reagan put it – and whose actions, in many ways continue to set, for better or worse, the tone for the rest of the world.

As our Annual Report noted, organizations such as ours, with a focus on governance and an emphasis on learning and adaptation to grapple with political changes, need to think seriously about how to respond to the new and emerging challenges. At Global Integrity, we – credit my predecessor, Nathaniel Heller – have never just pointed the finger at bad governance in poor countries. We’ve also: shone a light on bad governance in rich countries; highlighted the role that rich countries, including the USA, sometimes play in perpetuating bad governance in poor countries; and, championed progress that countries – rich and poor – have made in addressing governance challenges and supporting others to do so.

As such, we are perhaps relatively well-placed to respond to the new political context; we’ve never taken the view that governance challenges are something that exist only beyond the borders of the USA. But working out how we can most usefully contribute to defending democracy and tackling corruption requires more than that. Part of our thinking on this is to consider whether there are approaches that we take in other countries that could be usefully applied closer to home. These might include:

  • Integrity Assessments: We’ve long been known for the systematic and rich analysis of governance and integrity in countries around the world. This has included work at federal level in the USA, assessments across the 50 states of the USA with the Center for Public Integrity, and our Africa Integrity Assessments work. We could conduct this sort of assessment at federal level in the USA again (see here for our 2011 scorecard for the USA), with the methodology revamped to reflect our new strategy with its focus on the use of data.
  • Treasure Hunts for Fiscal Governance: Our work in Mexico provides an innovative methodology for: exploring whether it is possible for citizens to follow the money so that they can understand how public resources are spent; generating insights about how policy and practice needs to change to enable people to follow the money. We could apply this in the USA, perhaps at state or city level, potentially building on the work of the Volcker Alliance.
  • Money in Politics: In 2015, working with the Sunlight Foundation and the Electoral Integrity Project, we did a multi-country analysis of campaign finance regulation, reviewing what laws were in place, and whether they were enforced. This included analysis of the USA; not a beacon of effective campaign finance regulation. Again, we could take this work further domestically, perhaps at state level, using our international experience and data to support the work of organizations focused on money in politics.
  • Learning Journeys: We are currently working with a number of civil society organizations in Africa and Asia as  they – with funding from Making All Voices Count – try out innovative ways of engaging with their governments. We play a learning support role, helping these organizations – through one-on-one support, and collaborative learning – to sharpen their effectiveness by making cycles of data-driven politically-savvy learning-by-doing more central to their ways of working. We would be happy to work with US-focused organizations in a similar way; learning along together to sharpen our collective impact.

Over the coming months, we’ll be reaching out to US-focused organizations who are in the frontline of addressing domestic governance challenges to explore whether and how we might support their work, bringing to bear our experience of working on governance around the world and connecting that to their experience, expertise and networks in the US. This will likely include organizations such as the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation, the National Institute for Civil Discourse, the National Institute for Money in State Politics, the Center for Responsive Politics,, Common Cause, Open the Government and the Project on Government Oversight — along with many others that work relentlessly, each with their own distinctive lens, to address governance challenges in the US.

Last but not least, we are in discussion with the Sunlight Foundation about working together – leveraging the OpenGov Hub’s resources and networks – to support US-focused journalists and organizations by bringing to bear experience, insights and lessons from other countries that have addressed similar governance challenges to those the US is currently facing. Such an initiative might focus on issues including conflicts of interest, data integrity, press freedom, judicial independence or closing civic space. It might also draw on the vast experience of democracy promotion organizations such as the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute (both also members of the OpenGov Hub network) in countries around the world.

Our thinking is that placing the US experience in the wider global context, sharing lessons across borders, bringing together US and internationally-focused champions of open government, and facilitating joint strategizing about how best to address governance challenges, might usefully support efforts to resist and counter domestic governance challenges. The challenges are many. We don’t pretend to have the answers, but we are keen to play our part by supporting and strengthening the efforts of those organizations at the frontline of addressing them. Let us know if you’d like to talk. We’re keen to listen.

Alan Hudson
Executive Director

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