Greetings from El Salvador!
To paraphrase and expand on a theme we often heard from Sen. Paul Wellstone, we all do better when all the world’s nations improve their democracies and when more people benefit from more responsive and accountable governments.
I’m here on a professional leadership exchange program funded by the U.S. Department of State and implemented by Partners of the Americas. The Legislative Fellows exchange program takes midcareer professionals and sends them abroad to learn about advocacy and government work, focusing on themes of transparency and accountability.
Today was my first day at work at ISD, Inciativa Social para la Democracia. The organization promotes civic engagement and government reforms toward greater transparency.
I’m working on a project with Saul Hernandez, the director of the Transparency and Anti-Corruption programs at ISD. El Salvador passed a Freedom of Information Act in 2011 and the government is in the process of implementing the law. ISD is monitoring the implementation and offering guidance to government agencies and municipalities that have to comply with the law. They are also engaged in public outreach to help people know about the law, and use it effectively.
My work in El Salvador will focus on the new Public Information Act in two ways: with the University of El Salvador and with the public outreach campaign.
The University of El Salvador is required to comply with the law, but has been slow to implement it. And to be fair, in nations and cultures new to open processes, it takes time to gather the information and to organize and present it in a helpful way . I intend to use the University of Minnesota (where I served six years as a regent) to show how a higher education institution can organize their information and disclose it to the public, including an analysis of the University websites that offer access to their data, and the University’s annual accountability report. I will compare that with the information that the University of El Salvador shares, and will develop a proposal for a web portal for UES to comply with the new law and to develop an accountability report.
The other part of my work here will include time observing ISD’s citizen engagement program for the Public Information Act.
I am excited about this work. It gives me a chance to explore higher education and transparency issues, and also citizen engagement. I’ll give more updates here on my reflections on transparency in government, and how a government or government entity (like a university) can use public disclosure of information to build trust and confidence in its work.