Publication Type: 
Research on the EITI
Published Date: 
December, 2016

The impact of open government: Assessing the evidence

This report reviews the empirical and theoretical literature examining the international impact of open government, and offers recommendations for policymakers and an agenda for further research on the subject. In Section I, we define the scope of our analysis, explaining what we mean by the question, “does open government work?” Here, and throughout the report, we employ a broad definition of open government, focusing on three governance processes that allow the perspectives, needs, and rights of citizens—including the most marginalized—to be addressed. They are (1) initiatives to increase transparency; (2) interventions intended to expand public engagement and participation; and (3) efforts to improve responsiveness and accountability. By whether open government “works” or is “effective,” we mean interventions that the evidence shows cause critical improvement in people’s lives (e.g. by improving health care, reducing corruption, increasing voting rates, and so on).

From an analysis of hundreds of reports, articles, and peer-reviewed academic studies discussing the effectiveness of particular programs, we derive in Section II six features of open government programs that give these reforms the highest likelihood of success. These points can be expressed as a series of questions that we argue proponents of such programs should pose.

1. Have the proponents identified the specific principals (e.g. segments of the public, civil society, media, and other stakeholders) intended to benefit?

2. Is the information revealed by the initiative important to the principals?

3. Is the information accessible and publicized to the principals?

4. Can the principals respond meaningfully as individuals?

5. Are governmental agents supportive of the reform effort?

6. Can the principals coordinate to change their governmental agents’ incentives?