Hundreds of land practitioners from around the globe gathered and came together at the 2019 LANDac Conference at the beginning of July with the purpose of looking at land governance from the lens of transformation and in particular, how to support transformation that works for people and nature. The conference delved into questions such as the long-term dynamics around land, water and food production and promising concepts and tools for building learning and knowledge building about these dynamics.
The Land Portal, along with colleagues from EITI, Radboud University, GIZ and Transparency International Sierra Leone, took it upon themselves to further investigate impediments to producing positive transformation, such as land corruption. How, in the context of short-term projects and interventions, can we build more sustainable transformation and positive change? We hosted a session on Land & The Role of the State: Increasing Transparency & Accountability to get the inputs of colleagues on the matter.
While a taboo subject just a few years ago, today corruption is largely debated in national and international forums. According to Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer, land is regularly ranked and referred to among the sectors where people are most likely to pay bribes for access to services. The main goal of this session was to gain a better understanding of how we can achieve more transparency within land governance globally. Various approaches were discussed including the underlying structural problems and reasons for lack of transparency in the land sector; the role of civil society and grassroots organizations in holding governments accountable, but also the role of donor agencies and external development interventions, and how we can share knowledge, lessons learned and data to improve our work.
A variety of viewpoints made for quite the lively discussion! Colleagues from Radboud University and GIZ, for example, reflected on how to make interventions meaningful rather than ad hoc to combat disputes and corruption. Ad hoc arbitration lacks legitimacy, they argued, and can aggravate issues for local communities because there are multiple forums where they could try to defend their rights. This creates siloes once projects are removed. Furthermore, Transparency International Sierra Leone emphasized the point that lack of transparency often co-exists with corruption, and that this lack of transparency is partly due to the fact that information about land is not easily accessible and out there in the public.
Building on this, the Land Portal brought the perspective of how open data can become a tool to increase transparency and fight land corruption. We questioned the role data services and online platforms in general can have and how this can be people centered. Although at first glance the virtual world of online communities and digital data platforms and the grounded, local realities of struggles to fight against corruption have little to do with one another, the Internet and data sharing opportunities have played a vital role in informing both local and global debates and action on land rights and governance. They inform advocacy and action, provide participatory forums for inclusive dialogue to exchange experiences and best (and worst) practices as well as the generation of new knowledge that can complement official information. Accessing, understanding and engaging with this information is what can have truly transformative effects.
It is without a doubt that the amount of data and information out there has grown exponentially over the past decade and land information is increasingly created, stored and shared as data. Over the last few decades, governments and development agencies have come far in terms of creating new data, as well as digitizing information. Donors are investing in making land data available in a digital form, although much information has yet to be digitized due to high costs. How do we ensure that this increasing availability of information translates into accessibility and “effective use” of data by all groups in society, including and especially the most marginalized? How do we ensure the availability of data democratizes the ecosystem, rather than amplifying differences and catalyzing already existing power-differences? The full potential of data cannot be realized if people are not aware and educated on how to use it to meet their goals, whatever these may be!
A strong case has now been made that open data should be part of the anti-corruption toolbox. There are a number of untapped opportunities to open data, as many examples demonstrate where data is open it can generate more research and investigative journalism. It can empower communities and inform advocacy efforts, government strategies and private sector investment. Despite this global availability of land data, especially ownership data is scattered as tracked by the Open Data Index and Open Barometer, both reporting land data continuing to be the least available category of data.
As a data platform, we at the Land Portal promote the idea of best practices for effective data use and responsible data management. In this regard, capacity development and data literacy can play a transformative role in level the playing field between developers, technologists, land users and more. We are well aware that it takes more than Open Data to fight corruption. Finally, we are also well attuned to the fact that opening up information comes with its responsibilities. One of these is that those in power can take advantage of this information. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that we open up information in ways, and at levels, which can at once empower and protect people. Opening up information can promote transparency, but much work remains to be done on empowering people’s participation.
We believe firmly that kicking off a debate around these issues can open the door and stimulate thought provoking contributions that can enrich the debate around open data as a tool to increase transparency and accountability, and therefore reduce corruption.
Join us for our online discussion on “Open Data as an Anti-Corruption Tool” from September 7th onwards!