ICTs for Government Transparency


The Role of ICTs in Transparency Projects

"Why use ICTs in my transparency project?"

What is the point of adding the 'e' to transparency: what particular value can information and communication technologies (ICTs) offer your transparency project? There seem to be four main contributions that ICTs can make, listed below. You can use these as a design checklist to identify what ICTs could offer your project:

i. Process improvement

All of this increases the audience for transparency-related data. Public servants who feel that information about their performance is available to a broader audience may start to act more honestly or efficiently.

ii. Improved information

By digitising underlying transparency-related data, ICTs can offer a range of improvements to the way in which information is handled:

iii. Automation

ICTs can automate public service processes that were previously under the control of (fallible, corruptible) humans. Examples include automating the identification of staff due for retirement, and handling of tenders and determination of bid winners. Removing human control can reduce opportunities for corruption, and enable ready publication of process outcomes making those outcomes more transparent.

iv. Disintermediation

Public servants and other middlemen are often able to be corrupt and self-serving because they are gatekeepers: standing between clients (e.g. citizens, entrepreneurs) and the public data or services those clients want or need. ICTs can 'disintermediate' - i.e. knock out the human gatekeeper and provide the client with direct access to online data or services. Examples include giving citizens direct access to government procedural information; giving government staff direct access to workflow details about personnel processes; and giving suppliers direct access to tender information. By disintermediating the human gatekeepers, ICTs therefore remove their capacity to demand 'rents' (i.e. bribes) in return for access.

But .

Truly holding public servants to account, making government more open, and removing corruption requires more than just ICTs. They are a useful tool. They are not a magic bullet. To work effectively, they must be used as part of a wider, integrated package of measures on transparency or corruption. That wider package may well include legislative change, restructuring, review of incentives and disincentives, etc. Without this, ICTs alone are like applying a sticking plaster to a haemorrhage: better than nothing but unlikely to achieve very much.


Page Author: Richard Heeks. Last updated on 19 October, 2008.
Please contact richard.heeks@manchester.ac.uk with comments and suggestions.