In the latest edition of Development Drums, Rakesh Rajani and Martin Tisné discuss accountability, open government and development. The episode explores the idea of openness – meaning more than just transparency but also the mechanisms by which citizens can hold their governments to account. Rakesh talks about his own work as the leader of Twaweza, which seeks to promote citizen agency in East Africa, and Martin about his work at the Omidyar Network supporting initiatives to promote accountability and transparency. They also talk about the work and future direction of the Open Government Partnership, which they both helped to establish.
This theme of the relationship between citizens and states is continues in the next episode of Development Drums, in which Duncan Green talks about his book, From Poverty to Power. (This episode will be online next weekend.)
It is a theme of both discussions that change happens mainly from within, and that it comes about from shifts in relationships of power and accountability. Rakesh and Martin discuss the role of information and transparency in supporting citizen agency, while Duncan looks more broadly at the role of active citizens. In both cases, I was struck by how important these relationships between citizen and the state seem to be, and yet how little we seem to know about what, if anything, can be done to accelerate change. The role of outsiders is particularly uncertain, and there are considerable risks that well-intentioned efforts might be not only unsuccessful but harmful.
An idea which emerged strongly from both discussions is that industrialised countries may make their most effective contributions not through financial support but through their role in sharing knowledge, ideas, innovations and in helping to establish and reinforce norms and standards. This suggests that there may be potential in the Open Government Partnership, a voluntary coalition of 55 governments launched in 2011.
Development Drums does not aim to compete with mainstream media coverage of development issues. Instead of breezy overviews and summaries, Development Drums tries to take advantage of the podcast format to discuss issues in depth and at length. I know that this will not appeal to a lot of people, but I hope there is a niche audience which is willing to invest time in really getting to grips with a subject. The fact that some episodes have been downloaded 70,000 times suggests either that there is an audience scattered around the world wanting to listen to an in-depth discussion of questions in development, or that a lot of people do not know how to unsubscribe from podcasts in iTunes. I am conscious that these long discussions can be rather slow moving – especially as I seem to be turning into an even more verbose version of Jim Naughtie – and I’d welcome feedback about whether you find these discussion too long and whether there are ways to make Development Drums more compelling and useful.