Building and Empowering a Global Practitioners Community

11 May 2016

By Nikhil Dey and Aruna Roy

The authors lead Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), India. The following article, reprinted with permission, is among 18 articles commissioned by the Transparency and Accountability Initiative, a consortium of funders. The entire collection is here.


From its initial local struggles to the building of a national campaign—which ultimately fueled a broad-based people’s push for a new law—India’s Right to Information (RTI) campaign has increased the participation of India’s citizens in the country’s democratic processes. The law is widely used, helping the movement sustain itself in the face of trenchant and powerful opposition. The outcome goes much beyond the law—it has changed citizen-state relations by democratizing governance.

Other recent areas of progress include: (1) social audits in the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act—deepening and institutionalizing the concept; (2) spreading social audits to other areas; (3) building janata (“people’s”) information systems, and not being content with management information systems; and (4) raising the need for a comprehensive, bottom-up accountability law.


Perhaps the biggest challenge today is to establish the functional connection between transparency and accountability, and start making modes of accountability more tangible and real. Others include

  • defining the progression from the right to information to the right to demystified usable information;
  • internalizing the rights-based framework of information access;
  • expanding use of the RTI and T&A platforms by the poor and marginalized—establishing and activating the intrinsic connection between the right to know and the right to dignity;
  • institutionalizing T&A in public sector delivery (building “people’s” information systems, instituting mandatory disclosure of information rather than just open data, and institutionalizing social/public audits); and
  • mediating the contradiction between independence and accountability. How do you make independent commissions accountable?

Technology is a double-edged sword that can be used for empowerment on the one hand, or centralization of power on the other. In both cases it may seem that transparency and accountability are being advanced. An important question is, who does technology serve? This needs to be studied and understood, because far too often technology is presented as benevolent aid and even a game changer by technocrats, whereas most often the mandate is political.

Potential Areas for Future Multidonor Collaborations

Looking at these processes in terms of tangible achievements and time lines (for the purpose of evaluating progress) runs completely counter to the organic nature of these processes. India’s RTI would have never taken off if it had been donor driven, due to the burden of donor requirements relating to reporting, documenting, evaluation, and analysis. The RTI law campaign was free from all these expectations and time lines, enabling people’s power to define the campaign.

What sorts of strategic collaborations with multidonor networks would therefore be fruitful?

  • Supporting a means to ensure that even small T&A efforts in different parts of the world are understood and shared in a community of practitioners from around the world. This would give practitioners an opportunity to learn from each other, but use local wisdom to contextualize the relevant needs.
  • Disseminating knowledge of social audits, which have appeal and relevance across the world. Donor collaborations can facilitate the process of people visiting areas where such initiatives are taking shape to forge knowledge sharing. This could include supporting a series of workshops on the meaning and scope of social audits and people-centered mechanisms of grievance redress (the “Janta Information System”).
  • Building a global discussion platform where regional and international meetings of activists are held, wherein activists set the agenda of what donors should do, rather than vice versa, and in which the role of donors would be to observe the discourse.
  • Helping create a community of T&A practitioners to (1) serve as a solidarity network for supporting local efforts and sustain sharing of knowledge through exposure visits, workshops, and discussion forums; and (2) protect local T&A initiatives by galvanizing international pressure. A collaboration of donors and activists could also build an alternate people-centered vocabulary of words like accountability, transparency, participation, governance, and good governance that have been otherwise co-opted by a techno-management-oriented donor leadership.
  • Establishing a 1 percent norm for funding for transparency and accountability in all social sector programs, to make people’s participation and monitoring sustainable.
  • Endorsing a charter that lays down the minimum principles of T&A that should apply to donor funding itself.
  • Endorsing a charter that lays down principles of T&A that should be a minimum set of demands on government, extractive industries, other businesses, security establishments, and so on. The minimum principles of T&A adopted by the Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India, to be applicable to its public programs in rural areas is one such example that can be built upon.
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