This post originally appeared on the World Bank website.
How can governments ensure that they get their money’s worth when they embrace open government reforms?
Ongoing research suggests that open government reforms—those that promote transparency, participation, and accountability—may lead to better development outcomes if properly implemented by governments. However, governments must navigate the myriad of initiative options as they strive to improve citizens’ quality of life and achieve the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Without a rough idea of the potential costs and benefits different reforms might offer, how can governments allocate their resources efficiently?
Multiple stakeholders are collaborating to answer this question. The Research Consortium on the Impact of Open Government commissioned a study to determine the financial costs associated with particular open government initiatives.
Governments globally are operating within an increasingly resource constrained environment. The pool of limited development resources is expected to shrink as low and middle-income countries will need to move beyond “billions of dollars of official development assistance to trillions in investments” to meet the demands of the future. Prioritizing low-cost, high return reforms is essential to achieving progress on the SDGs. That’s why knowing the potential costs of open government reforms is crucial.
Costing Open Government Reforms
The multi-stakeholder commissioned study, conducted by Results for Development Institute (R4D), will generate a framework to better understand the costs of specific open government reforms. Improving governance is not as straightforward as building a school or a health clinic. Though governance reforms can often seem abstract, it is possible to identify discrete programs and initiatives that can then be costed through well-established methodologies. This costing study will help pioneer these methods in the open government field.
To assess the cost of specific reforms, the study breaks down each of the key processes into costing activities, such as fixed costs, equipment, salaries, daily allowances. Primary and secondary research is then conducted to determine the costs of each item. If precise figures are not available or can only be estimated, cost ranges are identified. By identifying the major drivers of costs by mapping out key actors and processes associated with open government reforms, the methodology aims to put a price tag on reforms.
To develop the costing framework, researchers are conducting two ongoing case studies: Ukraine’s Open e-Procurement System, ProZorro, and the Dominican Republic’s 311-type system, EDE Este.
Once finished, the costing framework will be made freely available for governments and other interested parties to cost out specific open government reforms under consideration. It will also position this framework as an accessible, “do-it-yourself” (DIY) tool that can be utilized by generalists — including officials in low and middle-income country governments — seeking to understand the full costs of starting and sustaining open government reforms over time.
Being Open about Openness
Financial transparency is important not only in terms of understanding value in monetary terms; it also underscores the very nature of open government reforms. Everyone has the right to know the costs associated with reforms before they are implemented. Clarity about the use of public funds can help ensure that public officials can be held accountable for effectiveness and efficiency. It can ensure greater integrity with public spending, and may foster trust between governments and citizens.