Suggested Citation. MIT GOV/LAB Research Brief. 2018. “Testing Access to Information in Kenya with Mystery Shoppers.” Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Governance Lab.

Results have been internally replicated, but may undergo further revisions. MIT GOV/LAB reserves all rights over data, methods, and results for publication.

Summary

All citizens need information to support their families and livelihoods—whether it’s information on starting a business, school pass rates, doctor’s fees, or water access. Moreover, access to public information, such as government plans, budgets, and activities, is crucial for citizens to hold government accountable for providing basic services. The national government of Kenya passed the Access to Information Act in 2016, meant to enable citizens to act on their right to information enshrined in the 2010 Constitution. Using a ‘mystery shopper’ methodology, MIT GOV/LAB partnered with Twaweza East Africa to assess how well Kenya’s Access to Information Act is currently known and followed at the local level. The experiment allowed us to capture a baseline of how local governments respond to citizen requests, which can inform forthcoming regulations and implementation of the law.

Key Takeaways

What percentage of information was fulfilled?
  • Kenyan researchers made information requests at 315 local offices in 45 out of 47 counties across Kenya.
  • Of those requests, 11% were fully processed, 26% partially processed, and 63% denied.
  • Partially- and fully-processed requests were answered verbally 26% of the time and directed to answers on websites 24% of the time. Information was provided in the most accessible formats, hard copy or via email, in only 38% of cases.
  • When requests were fulfilled, 84% were answered in English only.
  • In some cases, government officials reacted to information requests with suspicion, hostility, or with demands for identification or personal information.
How was information received?

Featured research project: Tsai, Lily L. and Alisa Zomer. “Evaluating public information provision and government transparency using a mystery shopper methodology.” Work in progress.

Partner: This research collaboration was undertaken with Twaweza, a civil society organization that works on enabling children to learn, citizens to exercise agency and governments to be more open and responsive in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda (www.twaweza.org).

For more on the research partnership and process:MIT GOV/LAB Learning Case. 2018. “Navigating Access to Information with Twaweza and MIT GOV/LAB.” Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Governance Lab.