World Bank Report Discusses Accountabiity, Transparency

2 February 2017

The World Bank has issued a comprehensive report on development and governance that includes an assessment of the role of transparency and the media: The World Development Report 2017: Governance and the Law. 

The report examines the relationship of transparency and accountability, identifying many intervening factors, such as power imbalances.

A section on transparency begins:


Making information available through transparency initiatives is an important first step toward increasing accountability. However, to effectively change the incentives—political costs—of those in power to adopt such initiatives, citizens need to organize collectively to amplify their bargaining power. Successful reform coalitions often involve various civil society groups collaborating with interested elites, including sympathetic government agencies such as law courts or an ombudsman’s office.

A later observation:

In other words, transparency and access to information are not effective if the pre-existing relative bargaining power of actors remains unchanged.

A section that stresses the media’s role begins:


Although transparency laws are a necessary first condition, they are far from sufficient for effectively promoting accountability. Publicity, the second condition for effectiveness, requires that the available information be made public and reach the intended actors, particularly those for whom the information matters. Publicity thus activates the potential power of transparency. However, whether information reaches the intended audiences depends on who has the incentives, the means, and the power to publicize it. Even when laws on paper support transparency, citizens may lack the incentives to pursue publication of information if doing so increases the risk of reprisal or the perception that there will be no consequences once the information is publicly available.

Later, summing up:

Transparency and accountability: Complements for policy effectiveness

The road from transparency to accountability via citizen engagement and coalition building requires an effective reshaping of the policy arena. This can be done through two entry points: enhancing con- testability and effectively changing the incentives of decision makers. In other words, transparency and access to information are not effective if the pre- existing relative bargaining power of actors remains unchanged.

Accountability is effective when citizens, acting individually in response to new information, vote out those who are politically responsible for bad policies (Khemani and others 2016). Accountability is also strengthened by collective mobilization that increases the cost of inaction for those with the authority to hold others responsible (Grandvoinnet, Aslam, and Raha 2015). As experience shows, coalitions between different groups (citizens and elites) at different levels (local, national, and international) tend to be the most effective ones to bring about change.

See commentary on the report by Will Taylor, the lead adviser on BBC Media Action’s Governance and Rights programming, by Stefan Kossoff, DFID’s governance czar, and Brian Levy of Working With the Grain.

The report was subjected to extensive review within the Bank, including criticism from superiors of the report’s authors. (See previous report.)

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Filed under: IFTI Watch


In this column, Washington, D.C.-based journalist Toby J. McIntosh reports on the latest developments in information disclosure in International Financial and Trade Institutions (IFTI).
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