Transparency, open data and e-government

Many approaches to addressing corruption in service delivery focus on transparency to move away from opaque dealings to provide public scrutiny. Generally, transparency mechanisms in service delivery fall into two categories: top-down and bottom-up initiatives.

Top-down transparency initiatives

Top-down transparency mechanisms refer to processes institutionalised by government or service providers to make information accessible to citizens.  

Among top-down initiatives, open data is gaining popularity as a means of addressing corruption challenges in public services. Open data refers to the publication of data online by governments to allow third parties to analyse and use the data for various purposes, including but not limited to anti-corruption work. Published data can range from information on the location of public services, government service performance statistics, to public transport timetables, government budgets, public contracting and procurement processes, and environmental monitoring data.[1] While open data enables third parties to analyse a wide range of government datasets to detect corruption vulnerabilities, all datasets are not relevant to anti-corruption work and can only have an impact on corruption if skilled intermediaries access, interpret and work with the datasets published.[2] In Russia, for example, the GosZatraty project runs the Clearspending website, which monitors over 12 million contracts using open government data, and has so far helped flag more than 4 million procurement violations.[3]

E-governance is also increasingly promoted as a tool for improving transparency in public service delivery and reducing corruption. E-governance refers to mechanisms that aim to make government processes and information about processes available to service users in electronic or digital form, using information and communication technology (ICT). There is a broad consensus that e-governance can help address corruption by automating and streamlining government processes, restricting officials’ discretion and the need for citizens to negotiate with gatekeepers to access key services. It can also be instrumental in monitoring public officials and enhancing the effectiveness of internal and managerial control over corrupt behaviours.[4] E-government has been shown not only to reduce problems with bribery[5] but also to increase trust in government services.[6]

E-procurement is also gaining momentum as a means of preventing and reducing opportunities for corruption in the different stages of the public procurement process. This is expected to improve market access and competition, promote integrity, reduce information costs, facilitate easier access to information, and increase transparency and accountability. Albania, Georgia and South Korea have improved their procurement systems and reduced the opportunities for corruption by publishing information on procurement online, standardising and streamlining processes, and facilitating control and oversight over the procurement cycle.[7] However, while promising, the introduction of e-governance and ICT is not a silver bullet to address corruption and may also not be equally effective on all types of corruption. Evidence from Bangladesh indicates that such approaches can be effective to address petty corruption involving street-level bureaucrats and reduce the need for citizens to interact with public officials to access public services, but less so for dealing with grand corruption involving higher-level officials.[8]

At the point of service, making information accessible to service users can also contribute to better and more accountable service delivery. As a type of contract between a public agency and the public, citizens’ or service charters are formal documents produced by a public agency to inform citizens how an agency or institution works, what kind of services are provided, where and who to contact to obtain such services, what the costs of these services are, as well as what complaint and redress mechanisms are in place.

Bottom-up transparency initiatives

Bottom-up transparency initiatives refer to transparency mechanisms that, while not institutionalised by governments or service providers, empower citizens to make processes more transparent. Participatory diagnostics of services through the use of citizen report cards, for example, provide citizens with a means of evaluating the way a service is being delivered and assess its reach and quality.

The use of ICT for these initiatives can also have a significant effect on corruption in service delivery.[9] This can involve soliciting citizen input to improve public services and tapping citizens’ potential to help deliver better services at a lower cost. This is expected to increase transparency and accountability in government agencies by raising the level of participation available to citizens in the processes of governing. For example, ICT can facilitate participatory budgeting initiatives and empower citizens to co-decide on how to spend part of a public budget, as per the experiment in 1989 where it was used for the first time in the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre for the municipal budget.[10] ICT can reduce the need for citizens to interact with public officials to access public services, give a voice to citizens and provide feedback mechanisms to track satisfaction, identify problems and improve service quality.

Using ICT to monitor public service delivery in Uganda

The iParticipate Uganda project, implemented since 2011 by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), uses ICT to catalyse civic participation and democracy monitoring in Uganda. The project involves capacity building sessions and awareness raising activities on how Ugandan citizens can effectively use different ICT for social accountability, including monitoring and demanding quality public services. In 2014, CIPESA worked with the Northern Uganda Media Club (NUMEC) to document service delivery failures as a result of donor aid cuts to the Peace, Recovery and Development Plan (PRDP). As part of this work, dialogue between community members and duty bearers has been promoted through community debates, radio talk shows and social media on how to improve service delivery for people living in post-conflict communities.[11]



Iñaki Albisu Ardigó; Marie Chêne


Matthew Jenkins

Contributing experts:

Umrbek Allakulov (Water Integrity Network)

Shaazka Beyerle (US Institute of Peace)

Simone Bloem (Center for Applied Policy)

Claire Grandadam (Water Integrity Network)

Jacques Hallak (Jules Verne University – Amiens)

Mihaylo Milovanovitch (Centre For Applied Policy)

Muriel Poisson (International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP-UNESCO)

Juanita Riano (Inter-American Development Bank)

Marc Y. Tassé (Canadian Centre of Excellence for Anti-Corruption)

Vítězslav Titl (University of Siegen)

Davide Torsello (Central European University Business School)

Patty Zakaria (Royal Roads University)



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