Transparency and accountability initiatives in the extractives sector

Question

What is known about the impact and effectiveness of transparency and accountability initiatives which aim to make the extractives sector more transparent? What knowledge gaps exist for future research?

Summary

Research on the impact and effectiveness of transparency and accountability initiatives (TAIs) targeted at the extractives sector is hard to come by. With the exception of some more systematic evaluation of the impact of multi-stakeholder initiatives, in particular the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), the existing evidence is weak. Indeed, beyond the EITI-focussed literature, the emphasis tends to be on the perceived challenges and risks associated with TAIs, accompanied by some anecdotal evidence of purported success. There is also some discussion of the factors which are considered to be conducive to such success. Given these gaps in the existing literature, this helpdesk report firstly looks at the strength of the evidence base generally, with some discussion of the inherent challenges of measuring impact in the field. It then goes on to present the limited evidence of impact and effectiveness of initiatives involving a range of different actors. In doing so it adopts a broad definition of TAIs which includes both supply and demand side interventions which are considered to play a role in supporting accountable natural resource governance. Finally, the report provides a selection of potential areas for future research which have been suggested by various commentators. It should also be noted that, because of the international attention it receives and the treatment it is afforded in the literature, EITI features prominently in this helpdesk report.

Key findings

Whilst there is some consensus on what good natural resource governance looks like, there remains little understanding of the factors that contribute to positive outcomes. Instead, most TAIs in the extractives sector are based on the assumption that making information about revenue flows more transparent enables citizens, governments and other stakeholders to use the information to hold government to account. As a result, “impact” tends to be measured in terms of compliance with standards or changes in procedures at the organizational or institutional level, rather than broader development or governance outcomes. Yet, while there is some evidence that TAIs in the extractives sector (in particular the EITI) can contribute to greater transparency, the question of whether this leads to more accountability, or to broader governance, social and development outcomes remains largely unanswered. Indeed, unpacking the assumptions behind this causal chain is increasingly recognised as critical for understanding the impact of TAIs more generally. Moving forward, it is therefore considered critical to make a clearer distinction between short term outcomes (transparency), intermediate outcomes (e.g. participation and accountability), and long term outcomes (social and developmental gains). More also needs to be done to understand how contextual factors affect the interaction between these different outcomes.

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Suggested citation

McDevitt, A. (2017). Transparency and Accountability in the Extractives Sector. K4D Helpdesk Report. Brighton, UK: Institute of Development Studies.