At Transparency International, we are working hard to get a couple of pilots on using mobile phones in anti-corruption work out this year. Related to this, I just came across this very useful Sida report (thanks @hajovanbeijma from Text to Change): The Innovative Use of Mobile Applications in East Africa (download from here).
A couple of really promising initiatives looking at citizen to government accountability in East Africa are mentioned, such as Twaweza in Uganda that plans to track school attendance, the Budget Tracking Tool and BungeSMS in Kenya, and the Kenyan government offers an SMS service through the Office of Public Communications for citizens to send information, suggestions or complaints. However, especially as initiatives in areas such as health abound, projects and tools to improve transparency and accountability are still struggling.
Johan Hellström gives a good analysis of the key challenges with the use of mobile phones in governance initiatives. He highlights this interesting point:
A challenge that is a bit more sector specific has to do with the mobile industry itself. The sector is highly competitive and privatised with profit as the primary focus. If a non profit service is launched it is usually being implemented as part of corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs in the entertainment, sports, housing, health, education and environment sectors, i.e. sectors with maximum reach out, good for marketing purposes and with few political hurdles. Good governance on the other hand is a public good. How does one attain a balance between the two? Today there are few innovative business plans that brings the two worlds together and therefore social and governance applications end up low on the priority scale of operators. Further, public service is a long term commitment, there are no quick fixes which a pilot can fix.
And the report also mentions, albeit very shortly, one of the issues I have found crucial when discussing possible implementations such as reporting instances of bribery through mobile phones. In governance related applications, anonymity and privacy is often of high importance given that in most countries bribery is an act of crime.
One of the first solutions that I know of providing the opportunity to complaint on crime in general and bribery cases in specific comes from Panama. Have a look at: http://www.mipanamatransparente.com. The project is being implemented by the Panaman chapter of Transparency International and the International Centre for Journalism amongst others.