ICTs for Government Transparency

The Use of ICTs in Transparency Projects

This section is dedicated to the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to promote government transparency in developing/transitional economies.

It addresses a series of issues of potential interest to e-government practitioners and suggests solutions to these issues. The solutions were developed through a mix of research at IDPM, research in local partner institutions, and discussions on the egov4dev email list.

ICTs for Government Transparency is the second topic in a series of topics covered by the eGovernment for Development Information Exchange.

Why eTransparency?

eTransparency means the use of ICTs (information and communication technologies) to make public sector decisions and actions more open to scrutiny. It runs from just providing basic information about government up to enabling public control over civil servants (see Definitions).

The benefits of e-transparency are found by the Exchange to come in two main forms. There are process benefits (e.g. reducing costs for transparency; anywhere, anytime access to transparency information; and making better transparency-related decisions). And there are governance benefits (e.g. making public servants behave less corruptly; and empowering citizens).

For poor communities, there can be particular benefits of e-transparency: saving money in dealings with government, improving the equality of treatment and participation of all members of the community, and improving the planning and implementation of relevant development projects.

ICTs have a particular contribution to make because of the way they can cut costs, open up access to information, automate corruptible processes, and disintermediate corrupt staff.

Alongside the benefits, though, it must be recognised that e-transparency also brings costs (of technology, of implementation, of staff time, of training, etc.) and that there may be downsides (failure, helping to hide certain types of corruption, or helping create more computer crime).

There may also be informal benefits for those involved that have nothing to do with transparency (e.g. personal kudos, creating an appearance of doing something about corruption even if nothing is actually changing, or picking up skills to get a better job).

Despite these personal benefits, e-transparency in developing/transitional countries is generally driven from outside the public sector: by donors, by other international organisations, by voters, by taxpayers, by other external clients, or by local 'techies'.

Understanding eTransparency Projects

There are many different types of e-transparency project, and a formal classification scheme is offered by the Exchange based on the nature, role and audience for transparency.

Seventeen newly-commissioned cases of e-transparency from developing/transitional countries are provided on the Exchange. In addition to a basic list of these cases and others available online, the Exchange also offers a fully-classified list of the cases, that enables them to be accessed by type of transparency, by government sector, and by geographic region involved.

From analysing these and other cases, the Exchange explains the reasons why e-transparency projects succeed or fail. Two models for understanding these causes have been developed. The Factor Model identifies a set of twelve key factors: external drivers, internal will, overall strategy, project management, change management, politics/self-interest, design, competencies, technical infrastructure, data infrastructure, legal infrastructure, and time/money. Presence or absence of these factors will determine success or failure.

The Design-Reality Gap Model identifies a gap that exists for all e-transparency projects between the design assumptions/requirements and the reality of the client public agency.  The larger this gap between design and reality, the greater the risk that the project will fail.  The smaller the gap, the greater the chance of success.

Practical Techniques for Successful eTransparency

eTransparency projects need a good understanding of the identities and interests of all parties involved if they are to succeed. The Exchange therefore provides a guide to stakeholder mapping, based on the "DOCTORS" checklist.

Practitioners face many other challenges in trying to build successful e-transparency projects. The Exchange provides support for these challenges, including guidance on evaluating the outcome of projects, guidance on understanding why e-transparency projects sometimes fail, guidance on learning from failure, and techniques for assessment of risk in e-transparency projects.

Perhaps most importantly, practitioners want help in addressing risks: in making their e-transparency projects more likely to succeed and less likely to fail. The Exchange provides a step-by-step guide to reducing the gaps between design and reality. With the guide are a set of real-world examples.

Also presented is a set of ideas on how to address specific factors identified as important to project success and failure. This includes a specific section on tackling the resistance of corrupt staff to e-transparency initiatives.

Given the focus on developing/transitional countries, the Exchange provides a guide to some of the key challenges - especially lack of resources - facing e-transparency for poor communities, and offers ideas about possible design responses.

Training and Other Resources

In addition to the resource material provided under the three headings above, the Exchange provides: a) links to other online materials on e-transparency (including overview papers and best practice guides); and b) a training guide that shows how to use the Web resources in training sessions; for example, a half-day course for public managers on awareness-raising about e-transparency.


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