Has the EITI been a demonstrable success?

Study reviews institutional, operational and developmental impacts.

The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) is now a global standard for transparency in extractive sectors, but has the initiative been a demonstrable success? As this meta-study finds out, it depends on what you are looking at. Following an extensive review of EITI assessments, Rustad, Le Billon and Lujala conclude that the EITI has been most successful in reaching its institutional goals, notably by becoming a recognized brand and consolidating transparency as a global norm. The EITI has also been largely successful in reaching some of its operational goals, such as setting up standards for auditing, reporting, and civil society involvement in multi-stakeholder groups. Yet empirically demonstrating that the EITI has had an impact on broad developmental goals such as 'poverty reduction' and 'good governance' remains a challenge.

This challenge is important to policy-makers supporting the EITI, to extractive companies seeking to improve their image and impacts, and of course to local communities looking for concrete life improvements. Time may help to provide such an answer as more countries adopt the EITI. Transforming domestic and international governance through transparency is likely to be a slow process, especially when lack of accountability is deeply rooted institutionally. Future studies can also bring more precise assessments by parsing out EITI's specific contributions. Detailed comparative studies between countries offer some of the most promising avenues in this respect, not only to measure outcomes but also to identify the most decisive processes involved.

Yet, it is unreasonable to expect that the EITI in itself will be fully transformative, as many factors affect poverty levels and patterns of governance. Set-backs can also quickly arise as a result of unrelated political events. Furthermore, it is also important for evaluation studies to grasp the evolution of the EITI. The initiative is not only broadening its geographical reach but also its scope, such as through contract transparency and beneficial ownership disclosure. The EITI is thus not simply a defined standard of revenue transparency, but also a process helping to bring about new governance tools.

In sum, EITI evaluations should not only need to be clear about what outcomes they seek to measure, but also bring a degree of sophistication matching the complexity of developmental processes and transformations in resource governance.