Unfortunately, you know at least one story about an official in your government that was involved in bribery, extortion, embezzlement, nepotism, cronyism, electoral fraud, influence peddling, or some other form of corruption. Does it have to be that way? In principle, no. In all honesty, we can’t promise you that having an open government will root out all corruption, but we can guarantee that in an ideal open government that manages an ideal country that has ideal citizens, there would be no corruption… hypothetically. The relevant question then is, how does becoming an open government create more accountability and reduce corruption? Well in fact it does do that, and here’s how.
To begin with, an open government has integrity in its actions and is really good at managing its information. These are the foundations upon which government accountability is built and corruption is reduced. Now just to be clear, integrity in this context means that an open government follows the rule of law and that it works to establish a culture of integrity amongst its representatives and employees. This integrity pervades all aspects of an open government which reduces corruption and creates internal accountability, where government holds itself accountable. Information management on the other hand is dull and uninteresting in the same way that Clark Kent is dull and uninteresting: underneath that pair of nerdy glasses, it has superpowers. Information management enables the information that government collects and creates to become available to you. With no information management – or even poor information management, the road stops here with no accountability and very little reduction in corruption.
So, there are four types of transparency, and an open government supports all of them. The two primary forms are proactive dissemination and reactive disclosure. Proactive dissemination is when your government makes information publicly available for everyone to see. Reactive disclosure is when your government releases information upon request – for example, under Freedom of Information laws. Both of these forms of transparency rely on information management to get the job done. Together with holding open meetings and protecting whistleblowers, all four types of transparency have the possibility of creating external accountability – or accountability to citizens through the publicity cycle. Here’s how it works: a journalist or watchdog group gets data from the government, analyzes it, and finds something wrong. They publicize this and you get angry about it. When you demand that the government do something about it, they do! They maintain their integrity by calling for an investigation and then enforcing the law that was violated or punishing the corrupt officials.
And THAT! is how open government leads to more accountability and less corruption.
This last point is known as deterrence theory, and it works as well for accountability as it does for making sure no ones uses nuclear weapons! For more information on corruption than you probably ever wanted to know, see Corrupt Cities: A Practical Guide to Cure and Prevention.