An effective, dynamic civil society needs basic information to hold people to account, tackle vested interests and drive change. If you are trying to get potholes fixed, a school funded or expose corruption you need to know what rules apply, what’s been done and who is in charge. But in many countries it isn’t possible for regular people to find this basic information about how their country works. If available at all it is trapped on paper in remote libraries in capital cities – indeed this was the case in the UK until recently (and still is for some core civic information).
The internet is a great way of unlocking information about public services, legal and administrative frameworks and making it easy to access for regular people who want to change their communities. Indigo with our partners has funded loads of projects like this, starting with They Work for You in 2007 through to projects like Lungisa this year. We are now helping brilliant people transfer approaches from one country to the next. But when we stand back from individual grant making we are concerned that a better strategic picture is needed to ensure that opportunities are not missed. Indigo wants to discuss a more methodical approach to help people makes decisions about where to act next – both actors and funders.
Transparency and accountability stack
Indigo’s ‘transparency and accountability stack’ we floated in 2012 is cited as a core component of today’s ODI/Web Foundation Open Data Barometer by Tim Davies. A ‘stack’ would be a list of legal and administrative information required to enable civil action, in order of local priority to get online in a usable form. A stack should be organic and changeable but inspire and support action. The stack will be different for each country and almost no countries will have a complete stack.
What is in a stack?
There could be an endless list of things in a stack – but a ludicrously long list of unachievable information to get online is more burden than help – a stack would be a selection of the urgent, important and feasible civic information. Some examples of what might be in a stack:
Constitution or founding treaty
Laws – civil, criminal, administrative, common law and case law
Office holders, elected and un-elected and their declared financial interests and details of election
Debates in parliament
Taxation and expenditure
Public services – who is in charge, responsible and how are they funded
Who owns and benefits from companies, charities and trusts
Operation of the courts – judicial personnel, case load, schedules and results – and wider judicial system
Military, police and security force governance structures and appointments
Each of the above applies at both a national, in-country regional and local levels. To get to a usable transparency and accountability stack, a process is needed to sharpen a list to the urgent, important and feasible.
How might people arrive at a stack?
Well, we aren’t sure how people might arrive at a stack. We would hope to see a civil society exercise where people hammer out something quick, pragmatic and dirty, involving governments if they wish. That could be or feed into some OGP process or more likely a grass roots style event bringing together civil society activists and web people. Or just a discussion online that starts with an empty google spreadsheet that evolves into a stack. The focus should be on reaching a list quickly, that can then be put out for comment to change rather than a drawn out turgid process to bind everyone into a stack. Indigo is prepared to put some seed-funding in our normal way (largely small grants to smart people in sub-Saharan Africa) and would be interested to hear proposals.
More broadly, Indigo believes that the next target for the data movement and our partner grant makers should be to work with in-country activists and governments to understand the basic nature of this accountability stack in country contexts. And to use this to inform future funding of transparency and accountability projects.