Emerging Voices features contributions from scholars and practitioners highlighting new research, thinking, and approaches to development challenges. This article from Alicia Phillips Mandaville, managing director of Development Policy at the Millennium Challenge Corporation, is part of an ongoing Development Channel series on global justice and development.
Quality of governance matters for development, human rights, and economic growth. The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), where I work, puts this principle into practice, and relies on public data to assess anti-corruption efforts, democratic rights, administrative capacity, and rule of law when making decisions about which countries to aid abroad. Using independently published data makes U.S. foreign assistance more transparent. But finding reliable governance indicators that are both actionable and standardized across countries is a difficult task. For decades, there has been an information gap between the civil society actors who have dedicated their professional lives to quantitatively measuring governance change over time – and the governments, development organizations, and private sector actors who want to use this data to inform their investments.
A meeting at the Open Gov Hub last month was an important first step toward closing this gap. Nearly forty government, NGO, media, and private sector colleagues -- people from every region in the world who either create, use, or fund data on quality of governance – met to address the need for coordination. Importantly, the meeting was driven by members of the governance data community, rather than by a multi-lateral institution.
At the meeting, it became clear that all participants were hungry for a forum in which data producers and users could collaborate to make global governance data both more useable, and more used. Acknowledging that better coordination would serve all parties involved, meeting attendees are now working to establish a “Governance Data Alliance.” This alliance represents an important opportunity to enhance everyone’s understanding of governance in the world by addressing gaps in where and how it is measured.
For the past decade, MCC has used third-party policy indicators to inform the selection of countries for grant assistance, and has specifically relied on the Worldwide Governance Indicators’ (WGI) Control of Corruption indicator. This indicator aggregates information from up to twenty-one independent sources. The final score is a weighted combination of data on everything from citizen perception of corruption, to expert assessments, to surveys of businesses. Critically for MCC, WGI covers all low income and lower-middle income countries, and is updated annually. As a result, it is the best available measure we can use.
However, as an aggregate, the WGI indicator does not necessarily highlight what MCC most wants to know about corruption, including information about specific government efforts to combat it, or individual’s and organization’s direct experience with it. Now, with the Governance Data Alliance, MCC can communicate this desire for new tools and specific indicators to the broader governance data community, and together we can develop methods of using and capturing that data.
Corruption is by definition hidden from the public view, and will likely remain an elusive quality to measure. But now, with this knowledge gap out in the open, we can begin to have more practical conversations with experts from around the world about plausible ways to measure corruption. Whether you value governance for its impact on individual rights, economic growth, or fundamental stability, last month’s quiet two-day gathering should be celebrated as an important step toward elevating governance on the global development agenda through measurement.