Governments are often responsible for providing a wealth of public services including education, health care, utilities, and regulating businesses and land development. How government budgets and decisions are made, however, can sometimes be a black box. To address this lack of transparency, and to develop more accountable public systems, freedom of information laws have been passed in more than one hundred countries.

To investigate whether citizens can access public information and exercise their rights, MIT GOV/LAB is partnering with civil society to determine the success or failure rates of information requests at local government offices. To test existing laws, we are gathering data on whether and how requests are granted, to what extent the information provided is helpful or usable, and how government employees react – friendly or hostile – to these types of requests.

We are also interested in better understanding from a local government’s perspective why information is provided or withheld. In other words, how do bureaucratic norms and culture influence officials’ behavior and attitudes on transparency and information provision. To date, we have partnered with Twaweza to conduct this research in East Africa and are exploring new partners in South and East Asia.

A researcher visits the teaching district office in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Photo credit: Michelle Cerna.