We believe this is the most extensive cross-country exercise to access public budget information ever conducted. The six questions focus on three thematic areas closely related to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, maternal health, development assistance and the environment.
The three lead organisations, CLD, Access Info Europe and the IBP have worked closely with eight other international organisations focusing on the three thematic areas to develop the questions, namely the White Ribbon Alliance, Family Care International, the Averting Maternal Death and Disability Program at Columbia University, Publish What You Fund, Oxfam America, Development Initiatives, the World Resources Institute, and the International Institute for Sustainable Development. The actual requesting process was undertaken by 80 local organisations (a list is available here).
To ensure consistency of approach across the various countries, a detailed Request Protocol was developed to guide each stage of the process (available in Arabic, English, French and Spanish). The Protocol describes in some detail each step of the requesting process including how to lodge original requests, the appropriate follow-up for each possible response, and how to ensure consistent and detailed records are kept of each stage of the request process.
The exercise has generated an impressive database of information both about the three thematic areas and about the manner in which the 80 different countries process requests for information. They confirm what researchers already suspected, namely that budget transparency in countries around the world is deplorable. But they also point to a number of interesting trends and conclusions.
Some of these are rather surprising. For example, the results demonstrate quite clearly that the so-called established democracies with long-standing right to information laws perform far less well in terms of responding to requests about budget information than some of the newer democracies of East and Central Europe. Others results are more expected, for example that countries with right to information laws tend to do much better in terms of budget openness than those without such laws.
CLD, AIE and IBP, along with several of the other international organisations involved in this project, have already published a 2-page Factsheet outlining some of the key results. These organisations are currently working on a far more detailed study assessing the results from a right to information perspective, which will be published shortly.