Combating Corruption as a community: Lessons from applying global data norms to government dynamics

Jorge Florez
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Originally published by Open Data Charter

The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken things up for any type of development project, shifting priorities, making online the new normal, and forcing us all to be adaptive in our work and lives. The Open Government Partnership (OGP) processes and community have not been an exception. COVID-19 has meant that countries have more pressing priorities, with implications for the timing and dynamics for the design of open government commitments and the launch of action plans. It has also brought about many relevant concerns about civic space, transparency and privacy, the appropriate use of emergency and surveillance measures, and most importantly, about the role that the OGP platforms can play in helping countries to emerge from the pandemic with healthy democracies and well-functioning economies.

In this collaboration among the Open Data Charter (ODC), African Open Data Network (AODN), Latin American Open data Initiative (ILDA), International Development Research Center (IDRC), and Global Integrity fostering OGP’s thematic area on the use of open data to fight corruption, our approach left us relatively well prepared to handle the challenges that COVID-19 raised for the project. We had set out a strong learning plan that has enabled us to guide adaptations to the project while continuously engaging with our partners in target countries and co-developing tools and guidance that can be most useful to local champions aiming to use open data to fight corruption. 

Our learning plan provides a bottom-up process to generate useful evidence for the development and dissemination of learning and communication materials for the project. First, by canvassing needs and challenges at the local level; then assessing how communities of practice can collaborate across global and regional organizations with country-level partners, and finally by using this information to identify gaps and devise effective strategies to create fit for purpose tools that can support effective design and delivery of commitments.

While our overall goal of fostering sustainable initiatives to use open data to fight corruption remains the same, we have made three important changes to ensure that we can achieve these goals in the current situation:

  • Broadening our focus, from the 4 target countries to relevant experiences of success and failure in designing and implementing OD4AC OGP commitments across a wider range of countries, while paying close attention to the partners we have been working with, and providing more opportunities to these partners to have a voice in the tools and guidance that we hope can enable their work.
      
  • Strengthening the bottom-up approach of our project, paying special attention to where political, technical, and logistical challenges in the formulation of OGP commitments come from, how country-level champions try to overcome those challenges, and whether and how the support they receive from global partners helps them to actually overcome those challenges.
  • Increasing our collaboration with global partners (including OGP) to learn from their experiences and work closely with them. We expect to collaboratively develop tools and guidance that can effectively enable local partners to appropriate and use global recommendations to drive relevant reforms that go beyond transparency and can actually lead to stronger democracies that deliver inclusion, accountability and development results. 

 

 

Covid-19 and emerging findings

The open government, anti-corruption, and open data communities have been active in developing guidance, producing reports and launching initiatives to inform the work of country-level partners across the world trying to react to the COVID 19 pandemic and push for relevant reforms that can position countries better for the recovery. One such work is the open response + open recovery initiative led by OGP, which includes recommendations and guidance on relevant issues such as anti-corruption, civic space, justice, fiscal openness, and extractives industries. These recommendations (alongside others by WB, OECD, etc.) are meant to inform government action and inspire fruitful dialogue among local open government champions. 

It is not an easy path forward. In our engagement with Colombia, Chile, Kenya, and Ghana, as well as conversations with local champions aiming to drive OD4AC reforms in their countries, we are learning that too often they face challenges in using global recommendations to inform dialogue, commitments, and action that can drive significant change in governance and practice in their contexts. This happens because the guidance is generally focused on what to do, not about how to understand local problems and then explore how those transparency recommendations can help to address those local problems.

This is evident in the limited number of commitments made related to open data for anti-corruption. There is a low proportion of implemented commitments that are starred or  bring about change beyond transparency gains.

“Guidance should enable them [local reformers] to frame corruption challenges in a way that is results-oriented, that acknowledges existing practices and processes, and that enables them to build sectorial coalitions that can sustain processes of change” – Jorge Florez, Global Integrity

Our workshop, interviews with in-country and global organizations working on OD4AC commitments, and the active engagement with government and CSO representatives from the multi-stakeholder forums (MSF) has enabled us to begin to uncover challenges that they are facing in practically applying the recommendations provided by OGP and others (see here).

Some initial findings and insights, that are informing how we develop the tools and engage global actors include:

  • Despite relevant guidance on how to formulate problems and write commitments, country-level champions face challenges in using this guidance to frame issues in a way that can enable them to get active collaboration and engagement beyond MSF members and achieve the ideal of starred commitments.
  • The open government agenda does not always resonate with other relevant stakeholders, in government and civil society, which often leads to OGP processes that are not sufficiently articulated with relevant social demands and mobilization. This dynamic is made even harder to overcome due to the challenges posed by social distancing.
  • Oftentimes transparency tools take priority over governance reform processes that are needed to address local problems (i.e. revising sectoral data governance, data infrastructure, anti-corruption legislation, etc). In many cases, these transparency tools are seen as isolated products not aligned with local political and technical dynamics
  • Other times, transparency tools and participatory processes are prioritized over relevant reforms that can deliver greater dividends and are in line with the open government agenda and have the potential to be transformative. 

 

Besides, considering the current global situation, Fabrizio Scrollini (ILDA) remind us that  “we need to acknowledge that we are amidst a crisis and things are not going to get back to normal really soon. Latin America is the epicenter of the pandemic and it will take time to adjust these demands to reassign resources”.

Our project builds on a lot of prior research and guidance (such as research on challenges hindering impact of commitments in open data and on reasons for which OGP commitments fail), and on OGPs guidance on countries for the co-creation of NAPs. Our value added comes from focusing on the co-creation of commitments for a specific theme (the intersection of open data and anticorruption) and from paying stronger attention to listening  to and learning from country level champions. Open data can be an important part of efforts to address corruption challenges and challenging entrenched power dynamics, but for this potential to be realized we need to support the leadership of local reformers and provide them with all the support that we can to enable them to find creative and relevant ways to push the boundaries of open government and protect our democracies from backsliding. 

“When we use open data, we are able to keep governments accountable and ensure that these relief funds reach those who need them in the most timely manner and without leakages to fraudulent activities or other illicit use of these funds” – Leonida Mutuku, AODN, Kenya.

 

 

Our plans to address this challenge

OGP’s relevance is greater now than ever, and our work as promoting the Open Government agenda should go further, ensuring that these platforms transform the realities in the ground and truly deliver on their potential to fight corruption, make participation in public matters real, and ensure the inclusion of all in the processes and results that will help us recover from these challenging times. 

Over the coming months, we will be releasing, in collaboration with our partners, a set of tools that aim to bridge the gap between global recommendations and examples, and local dynamics and incentives. These tools will include:

  • A set of guiding questions and illustrative commitment on how to develop targeted and actionable OGP commitments for OD4AC, and
  • a tactics playbook that reformers can use as a compass to bring about transformation in their contexts that go beyond transparency for transparency’s sake.

 

Our process for developing these will include having consultations and reaching out to POCs and multi-stakeholder forums from additional countries to test the tools in practice and make them as practical as possible. While doing this we will continue exploring why country-level partners face challenges in using global guidance, and how global guidance can be improved to account for in-country dynamics.

The path forward

Crises like this pandemic is an opportunity for democratic reforms. In order to deliver these, we must make sure to revise our assumptions, learn, and adapt to support those OGP champions in the frontlines. We hope to influence how global partners work in open data, anti-corruption, and beyond, as well as provide more effective and useful support to their partners. We are currently expanding our work by reaching out to more countries, testing our tools, and collaborating with the Open Contracting Partnership to develop the guiding questions. Once the tool is developed, we hope to reach out to other partners and seek their feedback. 

“If we don’t take into account the particularities, these special things that anti-corruption history and institutions have within their own realities, we could be creating a new problem while trying to help” – Nati Carfi, ODC.

We are not planning to do this alone. If you are trying to use data to fight corruption, especially in these times of pandemic, please reach out to us at @opendatacharter and @GlobalIntegrity. We want to hear about the challenges you have faced, and how you are trying to overcome them and deliver reforms in your countries.

 

Jorge Florez
Jorge Florez
Manager, Fiscal Governance

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