I am Assistant Professor of Government at Fundação Getulio Vargas’ Brazilian School of Public and Business Administration (FGV-EBAPE) in Rio de Janeiro (currently under evaluation for promotion). I also founded and head FGV’s Public Transparency Program, a collaboration between FGV-EBAPE and FGV’s School of Law.
My research is on comparative politics and public administration, primarily within Brazil and across Latin America. More specifically, I work on issues related to the measurement, determinants, and impacts of transparency and freedom of information policies, as well as the politics of information, privacy (anonymity, surveillance), media, corruption, and representation.
At FGV-EBAPE, I intermittently teach three courses in four different tracks:
- Comparative Qualitative Methods (academic-track MA and PhD)
- Transparency and Good Governance (academic-track MA and PhD; Master’s in Management, and Professional-track Master’s of Public Administration)
- Public Policy (Professional-track Master’s of Public Administration).
I also have extensive experience teaching courses on comparative politics and public administration at the undergraduate level.
I am grateful for the opportunity to work with exceptional students, in an institution of excellence, alongside the best Government faculty in Brazil.
Most of my research focuses on transparency. I am passionate about this field because opening up and sharing good information can improve communication, coordination, cooperation, capacity-building, and accountability. Article 19, a nonprofit, calls transparency “the oxygen of democracy”, but the axiom can be extended to the private sector and other areas of human interaction.
The questions I ask about transparency are varied: How do strong transparency policies come about? To what extent are agents complying with these policies? And how best can we evaluate the operation of transparency policies? My research and research projects span the horizons of comparative politics, public and business administration, development studies, political communication, and applied methods.
Studying transparency appeals to my interdisciplinary background and to who I am—a straightforward, earnest individual (sometimes blunt to a fault). It also seems to be a career vocation: I ran and owned a window-cleaning business during my university years (Squeaky Clean), so transparency has kept me in the business of cleaning windows, figuratively speaking. What’s more, my parents both owned their own marketing and advertising firms, so I share their obsessions with revelation and publicity, while atoning for their spins.
FGV’s Public Transparency Program and the Transparency Evaluation Network
At the FGV, I lead the Public Transparency Program (PTP) and a research project called (in aspirational fashion) the Transparency Evaluation Network (TEN). I founded the PTP in 2014 as a collaboration between the FGV School of Law and FGV-EBAPE. The PTP gauges how well Brazilian governments are complying with the country’s new freedom of information law. At TEN, we compile, develop, apply and compare public transparency evaluations from around Latin America in order to promote more reliable research on transparency, foster networks of engaged evaluators, and compare levels of compliance. We have compiled over 300 evaluations on transparency in Latin America, from 2003-19. Advert: we are looking for new partners to give continuity to the TEN project.
From August 2020 to August 2021 I will taking sabbatical leave from the FGV in order to complete a longstanding book project, Surrendering Secrecy: Transparency and Freedom of Information in Latin America (contracted by Cambridge University Press). I have already written several chapters and have a mountain of data that deserves – and on my sabbatical shall receive -finite attention. The culmination of an MA, PhD, and years of follow-up research, the book will not only advance a theory on the determinants of political commitments to transparency, but will also analyze political information ecosystems more generally, including the vastly expanding number of information ‘unfreedoms’.
Co-Chair of the 6th Global Conference on Transparency Research
Together with Michael Mohallem of the FGV Law School, I chaired the 6th Global Conference on Transparency Research, which was co-hosted by the FGV and Columbia University Global Centers | Rio de Janeiro. The Conference theme was “Measuring Transparency: Impact, Compliance, and Implementation”.
Identity-Neutrality in Freedom of Information Regimes
Since 2014, the PTP has been researching the role of identity and identity-neutrality in freedom of information (FOI) requesting processes. Under the aegis of Open Government Partnership commitments, we worked on this issue with NGOs, including Artigo 19, Abraji, and Transparency International, and also in concert with Brazil’s Federal Comptroller General (CGU). The PTP undertook several field experiments to show that public servants were not only “Googling” requesters but also discriminating based on identities. We also surveyed laws around the world to show that this phenomenon has not been addressed by most FOI regimes. A law was enacted in 2017 (13.460) that paved the way for identity-neutral requests at the federal level. We detailed this success in a policy report published by the OECD. We also recently published this research as, “Googling the Requester: Identity-Questing and Discrimination in Public Service Provision”.
Paper Projects Underway
Currently, I am involved in several research projects at different stages of data collection, analysis or writing. These include:
- Measuring ‘Wrongful Resistance’ to transparency. I am working with Marcio Cunha and Bernardo Schwaitzer, who are coding a block random sample of close to 700 appeals received by Brazil’s Comptroller General (CGU), in order to ascertain whether appeals received by the CGU (after two internal appeals) are legimately complex or simply reflect ‘wrongful resistance’, defined as resistance likely stemming from bad faith or ignorance. I organized a panel proposal for the 2020 Latin American Studies Association conference in Guadalajara that looks at questions of transparency and freedom of information. Have a look at the panel here.
- How Government-Paid Advertising Can Buy Releelection: Originally a Master’s thesis by Luis Filipe Kopp, I am now working with Elizabeth Stein (Clarkson) and Filipe to submit this research for publication. We find a strong relationship between mayoral spending on government-paid advertisements and reelection. In the Americas, only Canada has a stringent policies regulating the disbursal of money on public advertising. In Latin America, such advertising has been associated with political self-promotion, the cooptation of news media outlets, and fraudulent contracts to feed political slush funds.
- Evaluating the Transparency of Municipal Education finance in Rio de Janeiro, with Tassia Souza Cruz. Having built a database from Brazil’s 250 largest cities, we are now in the midst of data analysis, with one article already submitted and more on the way.
- Several projects we refer to as ‘sectoral transparency evaluations‘, which utilize the evaluative methods developed by the PTP. These include evaluations of interstate forums for fiscal transparency, the transparency of federal health institutions (with Tatiana Cerginer from FIOCRUZ), the transparency of nonprofit public service providers (with Rodolfo Pires – EPGE), the transparency of insurance brokers’ commissions (with Luiz Sasaki – SUSEP).
- How the Lava Jato has Impacted Transparency and Accountability Mechanisms in Latin America. This project follows up on Carlos Pereira and my 2016 article in the Journal of Latin American Studies on Brazil’s infamous Mensalão Corruption Scandal. I organized a panel on broadly the same theme, for the International Political Science Association Conference, to be held in Lisbon during July 2020.
Teaching and Mentoring
In my teaching, I focus on strengthening analytical abilities, primarily by demanding logically sound, creative written responses to weekly readings.
For FGV-EBAPE’s academic-track Master’s and Doctoral program I teach one of two Qualitative Methods courses as well as a course on Transparency and Good Governance. I have included the latests syllabi as links. For Master’s students in the Public Administration Program (MPA), my courses include ‘Introduction to Public Policy’ and ‘Transparency, Accountability and Good Governance”. Finally, on the business side I teach ‘The Politics of Good Governance in Brazil’ to students in the International Master’s of Business Administration Program (IMBA), one on “Transparency and Good Governance” for the Master’s in Management (MIM).
In advising students, I focus on fostering a respect for social scientific ‘thinking-templates’ i.e. how to think about research. I first focus on the sequencing of questions to be asked (the ‘what?’, ‘why is it important?’, ‘what has been written about it?’, ‘where are they wrong or have missed gaps?’, etc.) while iteratively moving back and forth from the operationalization of key concepts and issues of measurement. I am in constant communication with my students (who could expect less of a professional dedicated to transparency?) and have helped many gain entry into high-level academic programs abroad and publish articles internationally. Contact me for more information.
I am engaged in writing several scholarly articles with students. Below is a list of research projects completed by advisees of mine, some of which have gone on to international publication or are currently in the process:
- “Transparent Healthcare: Evaluating Compliance with Access to Public Information Laws in Brazil’s Federal Government” (Saúde Transparente: uma análise do cumprimento da Lei de Acesso à Informação nas instituições públicas federais de saúde), by Tatiana Cerginer (MPA).
- “The Perpetual Electoral Campaign: How Brazilian Mayors Secure Reelection through Government Advertising”, by Filipe Kopp (Msc). The study is currently awaiting a rewrite for submission to an international journal.
- “Who Wants to Know?” A Field experiment to Assess Discrimination in Freedom of Information Regimes, by Rafael Velasco (Msc). This study started as a study by Michener and Rodrigues Furtado, presented at APSA 2015. Velasco, in his MA, conducted a new and improved field experiment, which – once more transformed by a collective effort – was recently published as a referred article in the journal, Governance.
- “Transparency of City Councils in Brazil’s State Capitals” (Transparência das Câmaras municipais das capitais do Brasil), by Andressa Falconiery (MPA).
- “The Transparency of Brokerage Commissions in the Car Insurance Industry: A Comparative Study with Lessons from Brazil.” (Transparência da comissão de corretagem na intermediação do seguro automóvel: um estudo comparado e lições para o Brasil), by Luiz Fernando Hideichi Sasaki (MPA).
- “Transparency of Forest Governance in the Amazon: An Analysis of State-Level Compliance with Brazil’s Access to Information Law” (Transparência da governança florestal na Amazônia: uma análise de cumprimento da Lei de Acesso à Informação nos estados) by Eduardo Bizzo (MPA). Now published as a refereed article in the journal Environmental Policy and Governance.
- “Transparency in the State of Rio de janeiro: An Analysis and Recommendations.” (Transparência no governo do estado do rio de janeiro: análise e recomendações), by Fabio Siquiera (MPA).
- “Public Relations Releases and Media Coverage: A Study on Media Independence in the Cities of Piracicaba and Baurú” (Assessorias e cobertura jornalística na administração pública um estudo sobre a independência da mídia nas cidades de piracicaba e bauru), by Bruno Machado (MPA).
- “My Transparent School: A Comparative Analysis of Open-Data usage in the Basic Education Systems of Brazil and the United Kingdom” (Minha escola transparente: uma análise comparativa do uso de dados governamentais abertos na educação básica no brasil e Inglaterra), by Otavio Ritter (MPA). Now published as a refereed article in the journal Public Administration.
- “Federal University Compliance with Active Transparency Provisions in Brazil’s Access to Information Law” (Aferição do grau de cumprimento às obrigações de transparência ativa constantes da Lei de Acesso à Informação por Universidades Federais do Brasil), by Alessandra Montero (MPA). Alessandra won the “Best Master’s Thesis by UFRJ Employees” award from the UFRJ University system.
- “Implications of Brazil’s Access to Information Law in the Regulatory Sector: An Examination of The National Agency for Petroleum, Natural Gas and Biofuels” (Implicações da Lei de Acesso à Informação: os casos da Agência Nacional do Petróleo, Gás Natural e Biocombustíveis e das Agências Reguladoras Federais), by Rodrigo Mendes (MPA).
I earned a B.A. at McGill University in Montreal, during which time I spent a semester in Mexico at ITESM, Queretaro, as a full time student. After extensive travel in South America, I accepted an offer from the University of Texas at Austin because of its unparalleled resources and faculty on all subjects Latin American, as well as its location. There I completed an M.A. at the Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies (LLILAS) and a Ph.D. (2010) in comparative politics and international relations in the Department of Government.
On the Personal
A Canadian citizen from Toronto, I am also a Brazilian permanent resident married to the lovely architect, Carolina Porto Fonseca, who leads the ‘Construction in Steel’ sector for the Steel Institute of Brazil (Instituto Aço Brasil). We feel privileged to live in park-rich Praia do Flamengo, Rio de Janeiro, and to have two healthy and happy children, Arthur (6) and Lis (2). I am a sometimes blogger at observingbrazil.com, an outdoorsman, and a letter-writing enthusiast. I return back to my beloved Canada with my wife, son and daughter at least once per year.