Global RTI Index: Study’s Goals Clarified

19 November 2012

By Sheila Coronel

Coronel is the Toni Stabile Professor of Professional Practice, and Director, Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism, Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University

Helen Darbishire and Toby Mendel make interesting points but seem to misunderstand the intent of my paper, “Measuring Openness: A Survey of Transparency Ratings and the Prospects for a Global Index.”

(The Darbishire/Mendel commentary is here.)

A bit of background might help. The paper was commissioned by the Open Society Foundations in late 2011 with the specific task of addressing the question, Do we need a Global Right to Information Index?  This was a question that OSF staff had been debating among themselves as well as with other right-to-information activists. The study was intended primarily to inform the discussion on that issue within OSF.

The paper’s ambitions were modest and stated clearly on the first page: To survey what’s out there and examine whether a new RTI Index made sense. The critique misreads the paper’s intent. So let me clarify. The study was not intended to:

1) provide a critique of existing indices;

2) compare the relative merits of the existing ratings and to privilege some over others; or

3) criticize the laudable efforts of many who have undertaken to measure transparency, however broadly and vaguely defined.

The paper took a democratic approach, recognizing the work that has been done in this field, including the governance ratings, which may not focus as squarely on right to information and therefore be dismissed by transparency advocates. I thought that despite the methodological issues associated with their indices, the governance community’s pioneering efforts to rate government openness deserve acknowledgment.

To accomplish the goal of the paper, I asked representatives of various RTI groups whether a new Global RTI Index would be useful, what constructing a hypothetical Index would entail, and what it should include.

A careful reading of the paper would show that I was not comparing existing ratings to the “straw man” of a super index. My paper reflected the opinions of those I interviewed: Some of them saw the usefulness of an index with 600-800 indicators; others envisioned something more modest. I was surveying points of view, not endorsing them.

The last part of the paper suggests ways to move forward by having a conversation on how the gaps in the research can be addressed. We hope the conversation that the paper has opened and Darbishire and Mendel took up can continue and broaden to include other colleagues.

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