Right to Information – Master key to good governance

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Access to Information UNDP Practice Note

Posted by rtiact2005 on June 17, 2006

Access to Information
UNDP Practice Note

It is the position of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) that democratic governance is central to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and that access to information is a prerequisite "for ensuring the voice and participation necessary for a democratic society." The Access to Information Practice Note provides "a strategic framework for the support UNDP provides to access to information." The publication is designed primarily to assist UNDP governance practitioners in understanding UNDP's support for work in efforts to provide access to information.

Part I: UNDP and Access to Information
This section of the publication describes what UNDP means by "access to information", introduces a conceptual framework for information and communication, and describes how UNDP can make a difference in this area. The conceptual model introduced is based on three interrelated principals: transparency; active participation; and responsiveness / accountability. The publication describes how each of these elements are strengthened by particular types of access to information, and how they work together to bring forward democratic governance.

Part II: Practical Guidance for Programming
The second section provides practical guidance for how UNDP can offer support in increasing access to information. Primary areas of support suggested are:

  1. Strengthening the legal and regulatory environment for freedom and pluralism in information
  2. Supporting capacity strengthening, networking and elevation of standard of media at national and local levels to promote the exchange of independent and pluralist information
  3. Raising awareness on rights to official information and strengthening mechanisms to provide access to information
  4. Strengthening communication mechanisms for vulnerable groups

Also included in this section are some general guidelines for effective programming in access to information:

  • establishing a baseline;
  • reviewing access to information proposals; and
  • partnerships.

Click here for access to the full document as a PDF in English, French, Spanish, Arabic or Russian.

Click here to read a summary of UNDP's 2004 Right to Information Practical Guidance Note.

Publisher: United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
Cost: Free download.
Date of publication: October 2003
Number of pages: 19
Language(s): English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Russian
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
Oslo Governance Centre
Inkognito gt. 18
0256 Oslo, Norway
Tel: +47 22 12 27 00
Fax: +47 22 24 20 65
UNDP website

Source: Message from Elizabeth McCall to the Communication Initiative, December 18 2003.

Placed on the Communication Initiative site August 21 2005.
Last Updated August 21 2005.

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Right to Information Practical Guidance Note by Andrew Puddephatt Published by UNDP

Posted by rtiact2005 on June 17, 2006

Right to Information
Practical Guidance Note
by Andrew Puddephatt
Published by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in July 2004, this 39-page guidance note was written to assist UNDP programme offices in the design and implementation of right to information programmes.

The guidance note is a building block in the development of UNDP’s Access to Information ‘tool kit’ of which the Access to Information Practice Note, the Guide on UNDP and other Actors’ Engagement in Access to Information and the Practical Guidance Note on Civic Education are corner stones.

From the Executive Summary
In the last decade, governments around the world have become increasingly more open. By 2003, over 50 countries had comprehensive laws to facilitate access to official information and more are enacting such legislation. Governments increasingly recognize the importance of access to information for enhancing democratic engagement, building confidence in government institutions and strengthening their credibility and effectiveness. However, in many States, including democracies, people are still routinely denied access to information that should be in the public domain. Only 30 of the countries in which UNDP is present have laws requiring the disclosure of government records.

This Practical Guidance Note aims to:

  • Heighten awareness and knowledge within UNDP country offices (COs) on right to information generally and right to information legislation specifically;
  • Assist COs by providing practical information and guidance for right to information legislation programming;
  • Signpost additional resources, sources of expertise and further reading.

Chapter one explains what is a right to information and why it is important, particularly the contribution right to information legislation can make to creating a more open and democratic society, challenging corruption and enhancing transparency and poverty reduction (achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Information can empower poor communities to battle the circumstances in which they find themselves and help balance the unequal power dynamic that exists between people marginalised through poverty and their governments. This transparent approach to working also helps poor communities to be visible on the political map so that their interests can be advanced.

UNDP can play an important role in promoting right to information in a number of ways including levering its relationships with host governments; acting as a catalyst for change by supporting different right to information initiatives; identifying opportunities for constructive intervention in the debates and discussions that are likely to be taking place; using its own global expertise and experience of working on democratic governance issues; and meeting the commitments set out in its own Information and Disclosure Policy (IDP).

Chapter two focuses on promoting the right to information in different contexts. While demand for right to information legislation may be fuelled from different concerns or contexts (i.e. political transition, corruption concerns, environmental concerns, external pressures for economic reform) the role of civil society organizations, including the media in articulating that demand and contributing to its realisation in actual legislation is all important. UNDP can support campaigns for a right to information by raising awareness on the importance of right to information legislation; supporting activities that feed local civil society initiatives into wider debate; and providing space for dialogue between civil society organisations (CSOs) and public officials.

Chapter three explores the content of right to information legislation particularly the legal guarantees provided in it and the scope of the legislation. These aspects significantly influence the extent to which the legislation can contribute to creating an open and democratic society, challenging corruption and reducing poverty. The legislation must meet minimum international standards which are described in this guidance note among these include the principle of maximum disclosure, limited exceptions for withholding information and the establishment of effective and efficient appeals mechanisms.

Chapter four focuses on implementation considerations – right to information legislation will be completely ineffectual without measures and mechanisms focused on implementation. Building public awareness on the right to information, promoting an informed civil service on the implications of the legislation through specific capacity development activities, encouraging cultural change within the civil service built on the premise that official information belongs to the people, developing an efficient and well organized information management system and establishing an effective regulatory machinery including the courts and an information commission or ombudsman are key in this regard.

The final section of the paper, chapter five, signposts additional resources and further reading.

Click here for this resource in PDF format.

Click here to read a summary of UNDP's 2003 Access to Information Practice Note.

Publisher: United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
Cost: Free
Date of publication: July 2004
Number of pages: 39
Language(s): English
Elizabeth McCall, Civil Society / Access to Information Adviser
Oslo Governance Centre
Democratic Governance Group
Bureau for Development Policy, UNDP
Inkognitogate 18
N-0256 Oslo, Norway
Tel: +47 22 12 27 03
Fax: +47 22 12 27 01
UNDP website

Source: Email from Elizabeth McCall (UNDP) to The Communication Initiative on August 4, 2004.

Placed on the Communication Initiative site August 19 2004.
Last Updated August 19 2004.

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