More and better data is thought to be a necessary but not sufficient condition for increasing citizens’ access to that data. Likewise, increased access to more and better data is seen as a necessary but not sufficient condition for strengthening a government’s political accountability to its citizens. To date, however, there is limited understanding of exactly how, where and under what circumstances transparency and accountability initiatives lead to increased access to data and improved political accountability. Ongoing research programmes aim to address this gap.
In the meantime studies have started to identify key factors that affect transparency and accountability outcomes. Factors affecting the link between more and better data and increasing citizens’ access to that data include:
- Data quality.
- Citizens’ capabilities and needs: these depend on a society’s levels of technology, literacy, education and social capital.
- Discrimination and inequality: the potential of transparency to promote inclusion and empowerment can be diminished by persistent power imbalances blocking marginalised and disadvantaged people and groups from accessing data.
- Information and communication technologies (ICTs) have potential to bridge the gap between data and citizens but technological and human capital deficits can limit their reach.
- Info-mediaries such as the media, technology innovators, civil society organisations, and international platforms play a vital role in bridging the gap between data and citizens.
Factors shaping whether increased citizens’ access to more and better data may result in a more accountable political settlement include:
- Supply-side: the level of democratisation, political will and broader political economy and legal frameworks and incentive structures; and processes of political transition and opportunities for reform.
- Demand-side: the type of information shared, engaging citizens in the design and implementation of transparency policies; understanding the contextual triggers for individual behavioural change; supporting CSOs and other collective mobilisation strategies; and other activities by external actors.
- State-society governance processes.