Watson Institute for International Studies

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Stephen Kosack and Archon Fung ─ Does Transparency Improve Governance? Information, Action, and Improved Public Services

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

5 p.m.

Joukowsky Forum

There has been increasing interest in recent years in the potential of transparency — the provision of information to the public — to improve governance in developing countries, particularly public services. But numerous evaluations of so-called “transparency and accountability” (T/A) interventions intended to improve the quality of public services and governance in developing countries have yielded mixed results: some are highly successful; others appear to have little impact. We will discuss a rubric of five ideal-typical “worlds” facing transparency that helps to account for this variation in outcomes. Reform based on transparency can face obstacles of collective action, political resistance, and long implementation chains. T/A interventions appear to be more likely to succeed in contextual “worlds” with fewer of these obstacles. We find that sixteen experimental evaluations of T/A interventions are consistent with the theoretical predictions of our five-worlds rubric. We then describe a recently-begun multi-country, multi-phase research project to investigate whether, where, and why transparency leads to improved health care and health outcomes. The initial phase of the project involves two evaluations in Tanzania and Indonesia: two very different contexts that each contain multiple of our theoretical "worlds" facing transparency. These evaluations combine randomized controlled trials and intensive qualitative research to understand the impact of transparency across contexts, the various mechanisms behind any impacts, and the role of contextual factors in shaping or determining these mechanisms. The first phase results will then be tested in additional cases in a second phase of the project.

Stephen Kosack is assistant professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Archon Fung is the Ford Foundation Professor of Democracy and Citizenship at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Development and Governance Seminar