Infomediaries and accountability

Question

A synthesis of what the existing evidence says (and where there are gaps) on: 1) What role might ‘infomediaries’, and specifically the media have in helping translate transparency into greater government accountability? In generating that accountability? In empowering citizens? 2) In what contexts or types of contexts do ‘infomediaries’ and media play such a facilitating role, and why? 3) What enabling factors contributed to success? 4) What role, if any, have donors had in supporting these sectors in this capacity? 5) What risks exist in this space?

Summary

The term “infomediaries” – or information intermediaries – is used to refer to actors who “synthesize, translate, simplify and direct information on behalf of others”. There appears to be strong evidence of the link between free media and better governance and government responsiveness on a range of issues (e.g. public spending on education and health). A DFID review on corruption (2015) reports a small body of evidence that finds the freedom of the press as an intermediate factor moderating the relationship between transparency and accountability.

There appears, however, to be a research gap for in-depth comparative or meta-analysis examining how, where and why the media – or other infomediaries – has helped translate transparency initiatives into greater government accountability. Nevertheless, the small but growing body of single case studies does indicate the kinds of accountability impacts that infomediaries are helping to generate. Examples include: improving people’s knowledge of key governance issues and sometimes their political participation, and catalysing changes to service delivery such as increasing school budget allocations.

Other key findings of the review include:

  • Context and enabling factors: Infomediaries are less successful in generating accountability outcomes in politically divisive and closed contexts. Oppositional or confrontational media roles may miss other key roles the media can play in creating trustworthy spaces. There is a range of enabling factors on the citizen voice and state side which affect the success of infomediary interventions.
  • Donor role: On the whole donors tend not to invest in the media for the long term, struggle to integrate the media into broader policy agendas, and lack a clearly agreed strategic framework to position media support. Some donors are looking for the right infomediaries to bridge the gap between transparency and accountability; others are focusing on strengthening citizen organizational capacities.
  • Risks: Like all governance work, media interventions can entail political risks for donors and are affected by changing political circumstances. Infomediaries have a powerful role in deciding whose voices get heard by who, and it cannot be assumed that infomediaries represent all voices from the constituency they claim to. Lastly, focusing solely on the role of infomediaries may distract from taking a more contextualised and systems view of accountability.

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Suggested citation

Carter, B. (2016). Infomediaries and accountability (GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report 1347). Birmingham, UK: GSDRC, University of Birmingham.