Since its global launch in 2012, CoST has gained valuable experience in implementing a multi-stakeholder approach that encourages disclosure of information on public investment in infrastructure. CoST’s objective is that the information disclosed will empower and enable stakeholders to hold decision-makers to account. Originally launched as a three-year pilot in 2008, CoST can now draw on nearly eight years of hands-on experience.
CoST’s International Secretariat commissioned this Strategic Review (SR), to help identify how CoST can significantly scale up its impact. The team was required to review all key aspects of the CoST programme, including; vision, delivery model. governance arrangements, financing, partnerships and sustainability.
The review aimed to provide evidence-based answers to the following three key questions:
I. How can CoST significantly increase its global impact? Can its current programme delivery model achieve that increase? And if not, what changes could be made?
II. To what extent does CoST’s current delivery model enable it to catalyse systemic change and institutionalise transparency and accountability?
III. What should the objectives be of a significantly more ambitious CoST programme?
In the short period since its global launch, CoST has been able to demonstrate some impressive achievements. It has identified savings totalling US$8 million in public infrastructure and helped establish legal mandates for disclosure in four countries. Seven new countries joined the programme during the period. Time and cost overruns on public works contracts (e.g. roads, schools) have been highlighted, leading to a diagnosis of underlying causes. Training and awareness workshops have led to increased media demand for transparency and accountability. And greater involvement by civil society organisations in the public infrastructure procurement process has served to maintain pressure on procuring entities to improve their data management and working practices. The review team believes that the CoST initiative is based on a fundamentally sound premise and is achieving improvements in transparency while facilitating an enhanced sense of accountability in many of the PEs with which it works.
The survey results highlighted the immense store of goodwill that CoST enjoys. Many people associated with CoST support its aims and appreciate the hard work, commitment and integrity that have been invested in the initiative since its earliest days. The findings have, however, highlighted some areas of concern that need to be addressed. Chief among these is the need to raise CoST’s profile. Many are concerned that CoST has a good story to tell, but that the message is not getting out. It is doing a good job, but is operating in most cases in what remains a very limited space. To fulfil its potential, it needs to move to a new level, while continuing to build up what will in time become an evidence base capable of demonstrating its impact in a more compelling manner than is currently possible. To varying degrees, each of these concerns has previously been raised in earlier reviews, to which reference is made in this report.
The question facing CoST’s senior management at this juncture is therefore this: Should CoST continue with its current delivery model, and trust that evidence of its achievements will in time gradually increase and become more widely appreciated; or should it take a more proactive stance, built around increasing CoST’s ‘reach’ to a wider and more varied group of participants, while at the same time disseminating information about CoST far more widely than is currently the case.
When compared with the pace at which other transparency initiatives such as EITI began to make an impact, CoST is still at a relatively early phase in its development. As such it still needs to be allowed further time to test and refine its approach in different contexts, to consolidate its position, and to increase its footprint where its benefits have been demonstrated at a pilot level.