When Does Transparency Improve Institutional Performance? Evidence from 20,000 Projects in 183 Countries
Feb 1, 2022
Dan Honig, Ranjit Lall, Bradley C. Parks
American Journal of Political Science
Honig, D., Lall, R. and Parks, B.C. (2022). When Does Transparency Improve Institutional Performance? Evidence from 20,000 Projects in 183 Countries. American Journal of Political Science. https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12698
Note: A version of this article was previously published as an AidData Working Paper.
Access to information (ATI) policies are often praised for strengthening transparency, accountability, and trust in public institutions, yet evidence that they improve institutional performance is mixed. We argue that an important impediment to the effective operation of such policies is the failure of bureaucrats to comply with information requests that could expose poor performance. Analyzing a new data set on the performance of approximately 20,000 aid projects financed by 12 donor agencies in 183 countries, we find that enforcement matters: the adoption of ATI policies by agencies is associated with better project outcomes when these policies include independent appeals processes for denied information requests but with no improvement when they do not. We also recover evidence that project staff adjust their behavior in anticipation of ATI appeals, and that the performance dividends of appeals processes increase when bottom-up collective action is easier and mechanisms of project oversight are weak.