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Elison, extremely well-said. It's a timely reminder of the two types of humility that we need: humility about outcome (in terms of the limits of what transparency can achieve) and humility of knowledge (about what we know about those whose interests we claim to represent, an issue I touched on in an earlier blog post).

This requires realism about initiatives and actors (such as the SEC, INGOs, CSOs etc), yes. But it also requires innovation. In this, I don't think Michael Jarvis goes far enough in his comment: we need to be innovative in developing capacity-building tools; however, we need to be innovative in our methodologies for working out what we do and don't know, on the back of which we develop those tools. And while we're stuck in a mode that uses limited economic and political analyses, instead of getting real data from the ground on the basis of mixed quantitative and qualitative methods, our approaches are bound to be broad-brush in the way that you describe.

I was wondering what people's experience with 'transparency portals' are? Countries like Liberia, Nigeria and Timor Leste have website where certain contracts and other information are disclosed. However, often these portals are not actively used by CSOs or citizens. What are the challenges? How can these portals be made more helpful?

Transparency is not an end in itself. This is true. Nonetheless, I do not think that all is lost in terms of the goal that NGOs and international organizations are trying to achieve. Light drives away darkness, exposes the rot that is hidden. It is in the dark that vermin like cockroaches thrive. When light is shed in the hiding place of the vermin, the vermin can be killed/ dealt with.

Thus, even though transparency is not the finishing line, it is a vital part of the, if not the heart of the bigger picture. Accountability of governments to their people is required in all sectors, there are countries that do not have extractives industries and their governments are not exempted from being accountable to their people. I think, to use an expression that you used Elison, the initiatives such as EITI and PWYP need not be thrown out with the bath water. Perhaps, the challenge is to remodel the initiatives to fit the purpose in the developing world.

I fully agree with Elison that the framing needs to be around resources as opportunities and how best to maximize the benefits for current and future generations.  Transparency then becomes one (important) tool in that process. Putting key documents and process details in the public domain is one way to reassure citizens that those vital decisions taken - from decision to extract, to license and contract award through to how revenues are collected and spent -are done for the collective interest as best known at the time.  However, what is often missing are the loops linking transparency to understanding/acting on that information and ensuring repercussions when failings are found.  That requires capacity building across the range of relevant stakeholders and demonstrating the relevance of why management of this sector should matter to individual citizens.

I agree with your point that the local populations should be at the center of these initiatives.  What kind of organizing needs to happen to ensure inclusion?