Can transparency make extractive industries more accountable?

Blog by John Gaventa at IDS: “Over the last two decades great strides have been made in terms of holding extractive industries accountable.  As demonstrated at the Global Assembly of Publish What You Pay (PWYP), which I attended recently in Dakar, Senegal, more information than ever about revenue flows to governments from the oil gas and mining industries is now publicly available.  But new research suggests that such information disclosure, while important, is by itself not enough to hold companies to account, and address corruption.

… a recent study in Mozambique by researchers Nicholas Aworti and Adriano Adriano Nuvunga questions this assumption.  Supported by the Action for Empowerment and Accountability (A4EA) Research Programme, the research explored why greater transparency of information has not necessarily led to greater social and political action for accountability.

Like many countries in Africa, Mozambique is experiencing massive outside investments in recently discovered natural resources, including rich deposits of natural gas and oil, as well as coal and other minerals.  Over the last decade, NGOs like the Centre for Public Integrity, who helped facilitate the study, have done brave and often pioneering work to elicit information on the extractive industry, and to publish it in hard-hitting reports, widely reported in the press, and discussed at high-level stakeholder meetings.

Yet, as Aworti and Nuvunga summarise in a policy brief based on their research, ‘neither these numerous investigative reports nor the EITI validation reports have inspired social and political action such as public protest or state prosecution.’   Corruption continues, and despite the newfound mineral wealth, the country remains one of the poorest in Africa.

The authors ask, ‘If information disclosure has not been enough to galvanise citizen and institutional action, what could be the reason?’ The research found 18 other factors that affect whether information leads to action, including the quality of the information and how it is disseminated, the degree of citizen empowerment, the nature of the political regime, and the role of external donors in insisting on accountability….

The research and the challenges highlighted by the Mozambique case point to the need for new approaches.   At the Global Assembly in Dakar several hundred of PYWP’s more than 700 members from 45 countries gathered to discuss and to approve the organisation’s next strategic plan. Among other points, the plan calls for going beyond transparency –  to more intentionally use information to foster and promote citizen action,  strengthen  grassroots participation and voice on mining issues, and  improve links with other related civil society movements working on gender, climate and tax justice in the extractives field.

Coming at a time where increasing push back and repression threaten the space for citizens to speak truth to power, this is a bold call.  I chaired two sessions with PWYP activists who had been beaten, jailed, threatened or exiled for challenging mining companies, and 70 per cent of the delegates at the conference said their work had been affected by this more repressive environment….(More)”.

Shutting down the internet doesn’t work – but governments keep doing it

George Ogola in The Conversation: “As the internet continues to gain considerable power and agency around the world, many governments have moved to regulate it. And where regulation fails, some states resort to internet shutdowns or deliberate disruptions.

The statistics are staggering. In India alone, there were 154 internet shutdowns between January 2016 and May 2018. This is the most of any country in the world.

But similar shutdowns are becoming common on the African continent. Already in 2019 there have been shutdowns in Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Chad, Sudan and Zimbabwe. Last year there were 21 such shutdowns on the continent. This was the case in Togo, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Ethiopia, among others.

The justifications for such shutdowns are usually relatively predictable. Governments often claim that internet access is blocked in the interest of public security and order. In some instances, however, their reasoning borders on the curious if not downright absurd, like the case of Ethiopia in 2017 and Algeria in 2018 when the internet was shut down apparently to curb cheating in national examinations.

Whatever their reasons, governments have three general approaches to controlling citzens’ access to the web.

How they do it

Internet shutdowns or disruptions usually take three forms. The first and probably the most serious is where the state completely blocks access to the internet on all platforms. It’s arguably the most punitive, with significant socialeconomic and political costs.

The financial costs can run into millions of dollars for each day the internet is blocked. A Deloitte report on the issue estimates that a country with average connectivity could lose at least 1.9% of its daily GDP for each day all internet services are shut down.

For countries with average to medium level connectivity the loss is 1% of daily GDP, and for countries with average to low connectivity it’s 0.4%. It’s estimated that Ethiopia, for example, could lose up to US$500,000 a day whenever there is a shutdown. These shutdowns, then, damage businesses, discourage investments, and hinder economic growth.

The second way that governments restrict internet access is by applying content blocking techniques. They restrict access to particular sites or applications. This is the most common strategy and it’s usually targeted at social media platforms. The idea is to stop or limit conversations on these platforms.

Online spaces have become the platform for various forms of political expression that many states especially those with authoritarian leanings consider subversive. Governments argue, for example, that social media platforms encourage the spread of rumours which can trigger public unrest.

This was the case in 2016 in Uganda during the country’s presidential elections. The government restricted access to social media, describing the shutdown as a “security measure to avert lies … intended to incite violence and illegal declaration of election results”.

In Zimbabwe, the government blocked social media following demonstrations over an increase in fuel prices. It argued that the January 2019 ban was because the platforms were being “used to coordinate the violence”.

The third strategy, done almost by stealth, is the use of what is generally known as “bandwidth throttling”. In this case telecom operators or internet service providers are forced to lower the quality of their cell signals or internet speed. This makes the internet too slow to use. “Throttling” can also target particular online destinations such as social media sites….(More)”

Assessing the Legitimacy of “Open” and “Closed” Data Partnerships for Sustainable Development

Paper by Andreas Rasche, Mette Morsing and Erik Wetter in Business and Society: “This article examines the legitimacy attached to different types of multi-stakeholder data partnerships occurring in the context of sustainable development. We develop a framework to assess the democratic legitimacy of two types of data partnerships: open data partnerships (where data and insights are mainly freely available) and closed data partnerships (where data and insights are mainly shared within a network of organizations). Our framework specifies criteria for assessing the legitimacy of relevant partnerships with regard to their input legitimacy as well as their output legitimacy. We demonstrate which particular characteristics of open and closed partnerships can be expected to influence an analysis of their input and output legitimacy….(More)”.

How to keep good research from dying a bad death: Strategies for co-creating research with impact

Blog post by Bridget Konadu Gyamfi and Bethany Park…:”Researchers are often invested in disseminating the results of their research to the practitioners and policymakers who helped enable it—but disseminating a paper, developing a brief, or even holding an event may not truly empower decision-makers to make changes based on the research.  

Disseminate results in stages and determine next steps

Mapping evidence to real-world decisions and processes in order to determine the right course of action can be complex. Together with our partners, we gather the troops—researchers, implementers, and IPA’s research and policy team—and have a discussion around what the implications of the research are for policy and practice.

This staged dissemination is critically important: having private discussions first helps partners digest the results and think through their reactions in a lower-stakes setting. We help the partners think about not only the results, but how their stakeholders will respond to the results, and how we can support their ongoing learning, whether results are “good” or not as hoped. Later, we hold larger dissemination events to inform the public. But we try to work closely with researchers and implementers to think through next steps right after results are available—before the window of opportunity passes.

Identify & prioritize policy opportunities

Many of our partners have already written smart advice about how to identify policy opportunities (windows, openings… etc.), so there’s no need for us to restate all that great thinking (go read it!). However, we get asked frequently how we prioritize policy opportunities, and we do have a clear internal process for making that decision. Here are our criteria:

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  1. A body of evidence to build on: One single study doesn’t often present the best policy opportunities. This is a generalization, of course, and there are exceptions, but typically our policy teams pay the most attention to bodies of evidence that are coming to a consensus. These are the opportunities for which we feel most able to recommend next steps related to policy and practice—there is a clearer message to communicate and research conclusions we can state with greater confidence.
  2. Relationships to open doors: Our long-term in-country presence and deep involvement with partners through research projects means that we have many relationships and doors open to us. Yet some of these relationships are stronger than others, and some partners are more influential in the processes we want to impact. We use stakeholder mapping tools to clarify who is invested and who has influence. We also track our stakeholder outreach to make sure our relationships stay strong and mutually beneficial.
  3. A concrete decision or process that we can influence: This is the typical understanding of a “policy opening,” and it’s an important one. What are the partner’s priorities, felt needs, and open questions? Where do those create opportunities for our influence? If the evidence would indicate one course of action, but that course isn’t even an option our partner would consider or be able to consider (for cost or other practical reasons), we have to give the opportunity a pass.
  4. Implementation funding: In the countries where we work, even when we have strong relationships, strong evidence, and the partner is open to influence, there is still one crucial ingredient missing: implementation funding. Addressing this constraint means getting evidence-based programming onto the agenda of major donors.

Get partners on board

Forming a coalition of partners and funders who will partner with us as we move forward is crucial. As a research and policy organization, we can’t scale effective solutions alone—nor is that the specialty that we want to develop, since there are others to fill that role. We need partners like Evidence Action Beta to help us pressure test solutions as they move towards scale, or partners like Living Goods who already have nationwide networks of community health workers who can reach communities efficiently and effectively. And we need governments who are willing to make public investments and decisions based on evidence….(More)”.

The Big (data) Bang: Opportunities and Challenges for Compiling SDG Indicators

Steve MacFeely at Global Policy: “Official statisticians around the world are faced with the herculean task of populating the Sustainable Development Goals global indicator framework. As traditional data sources appear to be insufficient, statisticians are naturally considering whether big data can contribute anything useful. While the statistical possibilities appear to be theoretically endless, in practice big data also present some enormous challenges and potential pitfalls: legal; ethical; technical; and reputational. This paper examines the opportunities and challenges presented by big data for compiling indicators to support Agenda 2030….(More)”.

Mapping the challenges and opportunities of artificial intelligence for the conduct of diplomacy

DiploFoundation: “This report provides an overview of the evolution of diplomacy in the context of artificial intelligence (AI). AI has emerged as a very hot topic on the international agenda impacting numerous aspects of our political, social, and economic lives. It is clear that AI will remain a permanent feature of international debates and will continue to shape societies and international relations.

It is impossible to ignore the challenges – and opportunities – AI is bringing to the diplomatic realm. Its relevance as a topic for diplomats and others working in international relations will only increase….(More)”.

Knowledge and Politics in Setting and Measuring SDGs

Special Issue of Global Policy: “The papers in this special issue investigate the politics that shaped the SDGs, the setting of the goals, the selection of the measurement methods. The SDGs ushered in a new era of ‘governance by indicators’ in global development. Goal setting and the use of numeric performance indicators have now become the method for negotiating a consensus vision of development and priority objectives.  The choice of indicators is seemingly a technical issue, but measurement methods interprets and reinterprets norms, carry value judgements, theoretical assumptions, and implicit political agendas.  As social scientists have long pointed out, reliance on indicators can distort social norms, frame hegemonic discourses, and reinforce power hierarchies. 

The case studies in this collection show the open multi-stakeholder negotiations helped craft more transformative and ambitious goals.  But across many goals, there was slippage in ambition when targets and indicators were selected.  The papers also highlight how the increasing role of big data and other non-traditional sources of data is altering data production, dissemination and use, and fundamentally altering the epistemology of information and knowledge.  This raises questions about ‘data for whom and for what’ – fundamental issues concerning the power of data to shape knowledge, the democratic governance of SDG indicators and of knowledge for development overall.


Knowledge and Politics in Setting and Measuring the SDGs – Sakiko Fukuda-Parr and Desmond McNeill 

Case Studies

The Contested Discourse of Sustainable Agriculture – Desmond McNeill 

Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment: Feminist Mobilization for the SDGs – Gita Sen

The Many Meanings of Quality Education: Politics of Targets and Indicators in SDG4 – Elaine Unterhalter 

Power, Politics and Knowledge Claims: Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in the SDG Era – Alicia Ely Yamin 

Keeping Out Extreme Inequality from The SDG Agenda – The Politics of Indicators – Sakiko Fukuda-Parr 

The Design of Environmental Priorities in the SDGs – Mark Elder and Simon Høiberg Olsen 

The Framing of Sustainable Consumption and Production in SDG 12  – Des Gasper, Amod Shah and Sunil Tankha 

Measuring Access to Justice: Transformation and Technicality in SDG 16.3. – Margaret L. Satterthwaite and Sukti Dhital 

Data Governance

The IHME in the Shifting Landscape of Global Health Metrics – Manjari Mahajan

The Big (data) Bang: Opportunities and Challenges for Compiling SDG Indicators – Steve MacFeely …(More)”

The Digitalization of Public Diplomacy

Book by Ilan Manor: “This book addresses how digitalization has influenced the institutions, practitioners and audiences of diplomacy. Throughout, the author argues that terms such as ‘digitalized public diplomacy’ or ‘digital public diplomacy’ are misleading, as they suggest that Ministries of Foreign Affairs (MFAs) are either digital or non-digital, when in fact digitalization should be conceptualized as a long-term process in which the values, norms, working procedures and goals of public diplomacy are challenged and re-defined. Subsequently, through case study examination, this book also argues that different MFAs are at different stages of the digitalization process. By adopting the term ‘the digitalization of public diplomacy’, this book will offer a new conceptual framework for investigating the impact of digitalization on the practice of public diplomacy….(More)”.

Participation 2.0? Crowdsourcing Participatory Development @ DFID

Paper by Anke Schwittay, Paul Braund: “Through an empirical analysis of Amplify, a crowdsourcing platform funded by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), we examine the potential of ICTs to afford more participatory development. Especially interactive Web2.0 technologies are often assumed to enable the participation of marginalized groups in their development, through allowing them to modify content and generate their own communication. 

We use the concepts of platform politics and voice to show that while Amplify managers and designers invested time and resources to include the voices of Amplify beneficiaries on the platform and elicit their feedback on projects supported via the platform, no meaningful participation took place. Our analysis of the gaps between participatory rhetoric, policy and practice concludes with suggestions for how ICTs could be harnessed to contribute to meaningful participatory development that matters materially and politically.,,,(More)”

Innovations in satellite measurements for development

Ran Goldblatt, Trevor Monroe, Sarah Elizabeth Antos, Marco Hernandez at the World Bank Data Blog: “The desire of human beings to “think spatially” to understand how people and objects are organized in space has not changed much since Eratosthenes—the Greek astronomer best known as the “father of Geography”—first used the term “Geographika” around 250 BC. Centuries later, our understanding of economic geography is being propelled forward by new data and new capabilities to rapidly process, analyze and convert these vast data flows into meaningful and near real-time information.

The increasing availability of satellite data has transformed how we use remote sensing analytics to understand, monitor and achieve the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. As satellite data becomes ever more accessible and frequent, it is now possible not only to better understand how the Earth is changing, but also to utilize these insights to improve decision making, guide policy, deliver services, and promote better-informed governance. Satellites capture many of the physical, economic and social characteristics of Earth, providing a unique asset for developing countries, where reliable socio-economic and demographic data is often not consistently available. Analysis of satellite data was once relegated to researchers with access to costly data or to “super computers”. Today, the increased availability of “free” satellite data, combined with powerful cloud computing and open source analytical tools have democratized data innovation, enabling local governments and agencies to use satellite data to improve sector diagnostics, development indicators, program monitoring and service delivery.

Drivers of innovation in satellite measurements

  • Big (geo)data – Satellites in Global Development are improving every day, creating new opportunities for impact in development. They capture millions of images from Earth in different spatial, spectral and temporal resolutions, generating data in ever increasing volume, variety and velocity.
  • Open Source Open source annotated datasets, the World Bank’s Open Data, and other publicly available resources allow to process and document the data (e.g. Cumuluslabel maker) and perform machine learning analysis using common programming languages such as R or Python.
  • Crowd – crowdsource platforms like MTurkFigure-eight and Tomnod are used to collect and enhance inputs (reference data) to train machines to identify automatically specific objects and land cover on Earth.
  • High Quality Ground Truth –Robust algorithms that analyze the entire planet require diverse training data, and traditional development Microdata for use in machine learning training, validation and calibration, for example, to map urbanization processes.
  • Cloud – cloud computing and data storage capabilities within platforms like AWSAzure and Google Earth Engine provide scalable solutions for storage, management and parallel processing of large volumes of data.

…As petabytes of geo data are being collected, novel methods are developed to convert these data into meaningful information about the nature and pace of change on Earth, for example, the formation of urban landscapes and human settlements, the creation of transportation networks that connect cities or the conversion of natural forests into productive agricultural land. New possibilities emerge for harnessing this data for a better understanding about our changing world….(More)”.