Harvard Awarded $8.1 Million for Transparency Research

5 August 2013

Harvard University researchers have been awarded $8.1 million for a five-year project to research the impact of community transparency and accountability initiatives on health and other social sector outcomes, beginning in Indonesia and Tanzania.

The Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University announced that it received the grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Department for International Development in the United Kingdom.

According to a press release, the research will involve several “firsts.”

“This research marks the first time local civil society organizations (CSOs) in multiple countries will work together to design a new accountability intervention that builds upon their deep knowledge of the local communities to be studied,” the press release says. 

Also, “This is also the first time a rigorous, randomized control trial study on a transparency and accountability intervention will be performed in more than one country simultaneously. In addition to measuring the direct impact of the transparency intervention on governance and health care, the project will explore the resulting actions triggered within the community. Such information promises to allow researchers to better define the various microdynamics affecting the success or failure of the intervention and inform the second phase of research.”

The announcement elaborates:

A collaboration between the Ash Center and the nonprofit Results for Development Institute, the project will explore the conditions through which enhanced accountability efforts can improve governance broadly and result in more reliable health care service delivery in particular. The project will evaluate interventions in 200 communities in both Indonesia and Tanzania with plans to expand to other countries as the study progresses.

 “We see great promise in investigating critical questions about whether transparency and accountability interventions improve health outcomes and under what conditions,” said Courtney Tolmie, senior program director at Results for Development Institute. “Our hope is that the resulting actionable evidence will serve as a valuable tool for practitioners, researchers, and other stakeholders working to improve health, accountability, and citizen participation.”

“This project is designed to shed light on the creative ways in which transparency can empower local communities to improve health information to improve the public services they receive and, ultimately, public health outcomes,” said Archon Fung, the project’s principal investigator and the Ford Foundation Professor of Democracy and Citizenship at Harvard Kennedy School. “We hope that our approach of combining rigorous qualitative field research with randomized controlled trials will create a greater insight into the impact of transparency policies and the mechanisms that produce that impact.”

The transparency component of the project, a spokeswoman for the effort told FreedomInfo.org “refers to community-based organizations identifying problems with services and spending, disseminating that information across communities, and translating it in such a way that communities and citizens can choose to take this information to inform social actions to improve health, education, and other services.”

The groups and communities together will create the information, the spokeswoman said, adding further, “At this point, we do not have a specific plan to evaluate the availability of information, although this could come up in the process of community groups collecting information (for example, they may look for budget data at the health clinic level and find that it is not available).”

The London-based donor collaborative, the Transparency and Accountability Initiative, has coordinated the project’s planning.

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