For years, campaigners have lauded the benefits of transparency as a policy solution to corruption. That message was gradually refined as researchers noted that transparency was effective as an anti-corruption tool only if it led to increased accountability, and that this only happened in conditions where the overall institutional environment was conducive.
More recently, open data – data about the activities of governments and public officials which can shine light on whether they perform their duties with integrity – has again been paraded as the variant of transparency that will make all the difference.
Again, it quickly became clear that open data only helps detect and deter graft in certain conditions: first, the data must be good quality, second, there must be a group of interested and informed users, and third, there must be a way of getting the results heard, investigated, and acted upon. If open data is to work as a global anti-corruption tool, that implies a major effort to improve the quality of data that governments publish, empower actors to use the data to uncover misconduct, and then lobby governments and donors to listen to and act on the findings.