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Data Vs. Corruption: Insights from the Frontlines
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Photo: by TAI

Finding ways to strengthen the use of disclosed information is a shared priority for TAI’s six donor members. Eager to move beyond generalities, one thread of inquiry has been to look at lessons learned from past investments involving data, the subject of a new TAI report. Another has been to examine barriers to data use in the specific country and sectoral contexts with an eye to insights of broader relevance.

We’re excited to share headline findings from the first of those in country explorations focused on the use of anti-corruption data in Nigeria.

Our Process and Methodology

Guided by the TAI secretariat, our members undertook a combination of desk research grantee survey, and in-country consultations centered on convenings in Lagos and Abuja. Inputs from over fifty Nigerian organizations, including civil society organizations, media houses, and some government officials, created a deeper understanding of the challenges to access, analyze, and utilize datasets that can support anti-corruption research, investigation advocacy, litigation and sanctioning. Thank you again to all those who shared their stories, expertise, and ideas. Our new Data vs Corruption brief captures some of what we learned but here are some of the headlines.

Some of our headline findings are:

1.Data availability and accessibility

Anti-corruption data remains hard to come by, and despite the passage of a Freedom of Information (FOI) law in 2011, is difficult to solicit. This is partially due to uneven implementation of the FOI, but also systemic problems: the lack of technical capacity in government to collect and share data in an open format, and the politicization of data in Nigeria disincentives government officials to disclose, let alone overcome these technical difficulties. This hasn’t held back anti-corruption activists, who find increasingly creative methods to find and make sense of information.

2. Data quality

Poor data quality, and not considering the user when developing a data portal, is another challenge facing grantees. CSOs must first identify a source of useful data, a challenge on its own, and then make sense of data that may be outdated or incomplete (inconsistent with other government datasets, or requiring additional data for proper analysis), opaque (methodology not reported or not disaggregated to a useful degree) or presented in an inaccessible format (such as PDF).

3. Data analysis and uptake

The deficit of hard skills necessary to overcome quality issues and turn data into knowledge is widespread, equally plagues government and civic actors. The poor design of data portals, reflecting the scarcity of UX expertise, compounds this, making quality issues a serious roadblock to fully realizing the potential of data disclosure. There are “islands of excellence” who offer their expertise & insight for the good of the field – while this is useful, it is not a substitute for broader skills development. Identifying better ways to leverage the complementary skills and roles of stakeholders (ranging from grassroots groups to investigative journalists) could help make the anti-corruption movement significant than the sum of its parts.

4. Data-Driven collaborations

Silos between professional users of data do exist – often, CSOs lack the time and capacity to broker trusted relationships with unfamiliar actors. For example, the burgeoning data science network isn’t well-connected to the anti-corruption community, which would likely aid in data analysis. However, there are ongoing, meaningful partnerships (such as between journalists and CSOs) that are worth building on and trying to foster. Additionally, while hard-earned, building constructive relationships between CSOs and government officials is worthwhile and can help spark a culture shift towards openness.

Cross-cutting insights

Donors have a vital role to play in strengthening the anti-corruption ecosystem; in particular, they can foster information sharing and connect their grantees (plugging information and awareness gaps) and use their convening power to bring grantees together to share insights, learnings, and stories about their work and its impact.

What next?

Over the next 18 months, TAI members plan to test approaches to boost the use of a specific dataset through targeted interventions. We’ll be enlisting a learning partner to help us learn from each pilot – what’s working in Nigeria, what we’re learning more broadly about data for accountability, and if those insights are indicative of challenges accountability actors face in other countries. Keep your eyes peeled for more updates on that in the coming months.

Please share your thoughts, comments, and reflections to us on contact@transparency-initiative.org.

Download the Data vs Corruption Brief