Accountability and open government [podcast]

Side by side photos of Rakesh Rajani and Martin Tisne

In the latest edition of Development DrumsRakesh 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.

10 thoughts on “Accountability and open government [podcast]”

  1. I am training for a marathon and took advantage of the hours of running to listen to all of Development Drums. I really like the long format – think you’re right and it’s a niche, and while I probably wouldn’t read that long an article, a podcast means you can do other things while you’re listening.

  2. Keep the long format Owen. You are careful in your subject choice such that they merit some depth, and this is from someone who is just a dabbler in development. I think you have a great style and wouldn’t feel bad about talking too much- you have valueable insights.
    I confess that I like a bit of substance (still listen to econtalk having dropped freakanomics) and so may not be representative. But do you really want to compete with CGD’s wonkcast – time to dig into things properly is where you differentiate your profuct compared to (very good) journalist like Lawrence M.
    Oh, and thanks for all your efforts.

  3. Hi Owen I like the one hour length. This one has crept to nearly 1:15. Two reasons a) I often listen to development drums and LSE podcasts on a journey that lastst half an hour or so. If one can break them up in to 2 chunks that works well, for LSE’s which are usually 90 minutes long that means three chunks which means I start to forget the first one before I have finised the last! b) I sometimes also listen while trying to run 10ks. Now in theory I am trying to keep to 50 minues for that, so with warm up and down that makes an hour podcast about perfect. With a 1:15 podcast I can slack off a bit.
    Of course content is important too! Just sayin.

    1. Chris

      Yes, that’s right – and I fear the next three episodes (already recorded) are also pretty long. I am going to try to get them down to 45 minutes in future, provided I can do so without losing too many nuances. The 80:20 principle and all that … But you’ll have to run some half marathons for the next three.


  4. I have been privileged to be part of the Democracy, Good Governance and Accountability team that has been trained for those causes. The partnership is between the Government of Uganda, FSK and ACFODE, in Uganda, involving eleven districts. Through the training we have had we have had there was an opportunity to interact with grassroots representatives who expressed concerns about accountability issues that were lacking. Through the questionnaire we administered I found that communities were yearning to express their dissatisfaction on issues of governance but lacked avenues of their expression.
    DEVELOPMENT DRUMS is one way that those local voices can be heard. I hope that there can be a way that it can be localised to accommodate those grassroots voices.

  5. Owen, I agree with the above that an hour is perfect and that the podcasts are great for runners! But I wouldn’t try to artificially cut 15 min out for the sake of it. And I wouldn’t worry about turning into an over-verbose Radio 4 presenter. I think you strike a good balance between ‘that’s interesting, tell me more’ and then ‘polite devil’s advocate’ when you want to challenge your interviewees more on certain points. Thanks and keep up the good work.

  6. Pingback: This week in Transparency and Accountability | open up

  7. Hi Owen
    The long format works well for me because (like Robb) I enjoy getting into the substance and don’t have enough time in the day to do all the reading that I would like to. I agree with Stephen – don’t be fussed about artificially shaving time off. For me, I would prefer a 1:15 min Development Drums on a meaty topic to four or five shorter podcasts. Am also happy with the balance in your role. 
    Keep ’em coming.

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