Often an essential part of a successful advocacy campaign is generating attention in the media. While the task of regularly updating WASHwatch will likely be reserved to a niche group of policy analysts and campaigners with an interest, be it personal or professional, in WASH policy, knowing whether or not a government is spending 0.5% of GDP on sanitation is of much broader interest.
I would argue that most governments, and most organisations for that matter, tend towards secrecy unless forced to do otherwise. Even freedom of information legislation, a major win for transparency advocates, often only requires governments to disclose information after an official request has been made. There is a strong push from open access advocates for governments to disclose by default; however, the organisational culture of governments throughout the world remains one of secrecy. In order to ensure that quality information about the sector is regularly disclosed, WASH advocates must increase the demand for information about the sector and this can be accomplished by mobilising the media.
How Can WASHwatch help?
After CSO meetings or Multi-Stakeholder Quarterly Forums, partners should put out press releases presenting their conclusions concerning scores awarded to governments and the rationale for the agreed upon scores. If there was a debate over a score, the media could be used to increase awareness of the chronic lack or inconsistency of information and mobilise support for increased transparency.
If no information was available, the media could be used to demand data full stop. Journalists can use WASHwatch to identify gaps in available data and begin to ask questions about why governments have failed to follow through on commitments.
Finally, WASHwatch can be used by just about anyone with a twitter account, blog or facebook page to help generate demand for better information – by sharing a link to your country page, or tweeting a low score at a government minister.
How can we know whether there is a national sanitation policy if governments don’t publish it? How can we be sure that governments are spending 0.5% of GDP on sanitation without clearly identified budget lines and how can we know if there are separate budget lines if we can’t access the budget?
It goes without saying that transparency is essential to monitoring government policy; however, transparency is often in opposition with the organisational culture of the government. Advocacy is needed, demand for more data must be created and the media is essential in generating demand.
This assumes a political context relatively accepting of media criticism. How might this change in a country where there is little political space for campaigning? How might you alter the narrative to be more appropriate in a more restrictive political environment?