Author Archive

Going Local at Transparency Camp 2011

11 May 2011

How can the third Transparency Camp be so local and so international at the same time?

So far, I have always tried to join via live stream, or through the tweets, but nothing like being there. With me being in Washington now, I was quite excited about joining for real!

It was great to see that the Transparency Camp went international!

Not only because I was really happy to meet some of my old Transparency International colleagues from Slovakia, Georgia, Lithuania and Argentina and learn about their latest projects! But also to get to know about new initiatives that look into transparency and ways of including citizens in what’s happening in their countries.

Pedro of Ciudadano Inteligente presented his suite of really nice projects in Chile: Acceso Inteligente provides an easy way to make access to information requests to multiple government institutions through one platform; and Vota Inteligente, a project that follows up on a platform developed to inform voters during the Chilean elections and transformed into monitoring the congress. Another useful project of visualising corruption cases in India can be found here. I felt these international perspectives weaved in quite well with the domestic experiences.

Going local

But the trend during this year’s camp was a clearly a greater focus on local issues.

Looking at how to create greater integrity and transparency on a local level has been an issue I’ve been interested for a while. It was too bad that only one person from a municipal government was present. But he was warmly welcomed!

Here’s my take on why that local has become a trend. What do you think?

1) I felt that there is a disillusion with regards to transparency efforts on a federal level, especially with the cuts in the budgets for data transparency and government accountability programs. The city and state level provide new playing ground.

2) The local level is of course where problems become most evident. You see the road in front of your building every day. By the way, why is it that roads are the pars pro toto for localness?

A great example for a city that has really embraced a digital strategy engaging with its citizens is New York – from a @311NYC Twitter account to all sets of public data!

Another one, especially relevant for anti-corruption initiatives, is the Philly Watchdog anti-corruption iPhone initiative in Philadelphia that allows to report fraud of public officials.

Here’s a great summary by Alex Howard of how local governments have been using technology in government.

3) The fact that problems are most evident, makes them easily actionable. Here’s something actually everyone can engage in somehow.

This seems to be the reason why City Camps became quite successful. At the Transparency Camp I first heard about them, but I love the concept and it’s what I have thought about when talking about hyper-local integrity systems. Through such a system which would be supported heavily by data, technology and social media solutions and platforms, all actors in a community will be able to engage collaboratively in and for their local community. Ideally, these systems will include key projects providing transparency of community-relevant information by the local administration and services, facilitating public monitoring of services and complaint mechanisms, as well as citizen fora and reporting to discuss issues relevant to the community.

Basically it means, let’s get the people together to talk, discuss and find solutions together.

Looking at the case of Alexandria, VA, it became obvious that working together is crucial. In an interesting session on local government  transparency, Craig Fifer of the City of Alexandria, VA provided some insights on difficulties of local government collaboration with SeeClickFix, and highlighted the need for self-owned monitoring systems, as they would provide a better integration with already existing municipal classifications and categories. But of course, often, civic engagement is needed first to make sure municipal governments actually start acting on it. So, as Craig said, the potholes are there anyways. Better have them reported!

Finally, a big thanks to Sunlight Foundation and the amazing team. A great weekend!

Also, I loved the pleasant pops. Too bad I couldn’t eat more than one at a time…

Photo credit: (CC BY-NC-SA) Sunlight Foundation

The importance of access to conversation

6 February 2011

For a while now I have felt that social media has been too often reduced to a mere tool in an arsenal of communication channels.

But in fact, it is a much more intrinsic part of society and political culture.

Clay Shirky has written a great piece titled The Political Power of Social Media in Foreign Affairs that expresses this much better. Here is a quote of what he calls the environmental view of social media:

Political freedom has to be accompanied by a civil society literate enough and densely connected enough to discuss the issues presented to the public. In a famous study of political opinion after the 1948 US presidential election, the sociologists Elihu Katz and Paul Lazarsfeld discovered that mass media alone do not change people’s minds; instead, there is a two-step process. Opinions are first transmitted by the media, and then they get echoed by friends, family members, and colleagues. It is in this second, social step that political opinions are formed. This is the step in which the Internet in general, and social media in particular, can make a difference. As with the printing press, the Internet spreads not just media consumption but media production as well – it allows people to privately and publicly articulate and debate a welter of conflicting views.

A slowly developing public sphere, where public opinion relies on both media and conversation, is the core of the environmental view of Internet freedom. As opposed to the self-aggrandizing view that the West holds the source code for democracy – and if it were only made accessible, the remaining autocratic states would crumble – the environmental view assumes that little political change happens without the dissemination and adoption of ideas and opinions in the public sphere. Access to information is far less important, politically, than access to conversation. Moreover, a public sphere is more likely to emerge in a society as a result of people’s dissatisfaction with matters of economics or day-to-day governance than from their embrace of abstract political ideals.

Adding on to this more general observation on social media, I’d also like to highlight his thoughts on the so-called conservative dilemma. He wrote, before this weeks events on Cairo’s Tahrir square unfolded:

The dilemma is created by new media that increase public access to speech or assembly; with the spread of such media, whether photocopiers or Web browsers, a state accustomed to having a monopoly on public speech finds itself called to account for anomalies between its view of events and the public’s. The two responses to the conservative are censorship and propaganda. But neither of these is as effective a source of control as the enforced silence of the citizens. The state will censor critics or produce propaganda as it needs to, but both of those actions have higher costs than simply not having any critics to silence or reply to in the first place. But if a government were to shut down Internet access or ban cell phones, it would risk radicalizing otherwise pro-regime citizens or harming the economy.

Well, this is exactly what happened in Egypt. Overwhelmed, the regimes desperate actions of trying to shutting down the Internet and restricting cell phones only legitimated the protests. It also becomes clear that it is not social media as a tool, or catalyst as many observers have commented, that made the Egyptians stand up, but it being embedded in growing space for conversation in the country. And a growing opportunity for discussion, a building block in the forming public sphere of people that are striving for a democratic and accountable government.

This wish for access to conversation is why people brought their families with them when going on the streets.

(Original graph via Danny O’Brien, update at Huffington Post]

Making the Invisible Visible: Corruption Vs. Technology

7 December 2010
At the last International Anti-Corruption Conference we had a great session (in my view anyways) looking at how to get data, what to do with it and how to make it accessible and transparent. And finally, how to make it useful to engage citizens and government.
Together with Hernán Charosky of Poder Ciudadano I organised a session on making the invisible visible:

How we use theoretical information and collected data is key. To target interventions to support citizens and to make strong arguments in a competitive media environment, we need to use our data to help create meaning – to help tell stories. We can use interactive info graphics, mapping tools and other technologies to reach new audiences and strengthen advocacy strategies.

We believe that presenting information and visualising data can be an incredible tool to understanding corruption and its impact on people’s lives. In our session we would like to find out how we can improve engaging with citizens and [game-changers] using existing and new technologies.

This was part of the People’s Empowerment session that tried to showcase and connect a wide range of initiatives that have demonstrated their impact in empowering people.
Here are the notes that I used to present the session:

As you probably can’t read my scribbles, here’s a short transcription:
1)
How much is one trillion dollars?
It’s US$ 166 per person.
X number of schools.
A road around the equator.
12 Zeros.
Fund the military of NATO countries.
2) The session will show you the power of data and information.
3) It willl show you how to get data hiden on local government websites, and make it accessible and attractive for making change.
4) It will make the step from technology and information > to citizen participation!
>>> Information is power. We’ll show you how to use it.

In terms of outputs, these are the tweets that I did during the meeting, enriched by some additional links. I hope they are useful for some of you.

Getting ready for technology & information Vs corruption session at 2pm w @poderciudadano @diegocasaes @techtransparent @newtactics #14iacc
Stephy @newtactics started presentation – showing the power of information to engage citizens. Great example “Political Nascar#14iacc
Now focusing on exploring data. Examples by @sunfoundation , New York crime data, and water polluters in the US
Now getting to action #14iacc: Adopt a Chevron Board Member
Next examples for succesful visual-based advocacy are Moroccan Sniper and Exxon Secrets #14iacc
Tools to do visualisations: DataViz, ManyEyes, Gapminder #14iacc More info at www.tacticaltech.org
Next in the session Making the Invisible Visible: www.dineroypolitica.org uncovering money flows in politics by @poderciudadano #14iacc
Important: once you have unlocked the data, keep it open! #opendata #14iacc
#frustrating #irony in a session of visualisation, the beamer shuts down
Within the framework of the conference, the workshop was a great success in my view. A lot of people, and a lot of questions on how to get the data, how to use it, and how to make information activism work for organisations that have traditionally published long reports (have a look at TacticalTech’s guides).
The success was because Stephanie and Marek from Tactical Tech, Hernán from Poder Ciudadano and Gonzalo Iglesias of Garagelab, as well as David Casaes of Esfera Publica representing the Technology for Transparency Network that did such a great job in presenting and discussing the issues and responding to the questions. Big thanks.
By the way, check out the new Technology for Transparency Network pages. The new categories introduced give a much better access to the projects.
What other examples for powerful and actionable visualisations do you have?

Making friends with ONO

25 November 2010

On Monday, Tactical Tech invited to their ONO party in Berlin (at the great space of the Open Design City at the Betahaus in Kreuzberg), the presentation of their new programme Survival in the Digital Age.

It is a series of animated films created to raise awareness about the digital traces we leave behind. Its main aim is to engage people in better understanding the information and communications technologies they are using, so that they can decide when and if they want to take risks.

The series’ hero is ONO, a robot (picture) and I like him. He doesn’t look like James Bond, but he’s quite a star in these great short videos. I’d love to see him as an agent for all the activists out there that try to change the world for good, and use technology in their work.

For those who have been following this blog, I really believe that technology and new media are changing how we fight against corruption. We have seen major developments over the last couple of years, more and more citizens are starting to develop tools, engage in platforms and share their observations on how the systems of bribery and nepotism affect public services and their lives.

But too often, and I hear this in my work very regularly, security for the activist, the person who shares their observation, and the people we stand up for, is not an issue that is high on the agenda. Too often I hear people saying: “I am not a technical person.”

Meaning actually only one thing: “I don’t feel responsible.”

Well, I think it’s time for us to start being responsible.

By the way, it was nice to see that the example for sensible information being handled by activists were related to a corruption scandal. Very pointed!

Oh, and find out how to organise a party on your own!

Have the rules changed? A brief look on what has happened since the 13th IACC

4 November 2010

Are citizens changing the rule of the game?

This year, the International Anti-Corruption Conference has not only a session, but a whole stream focussing on a wide range of initiatives that put the citizens at the centre of the fight against corruption. A “Paradigm Shift”, as the conference calls it. The special sessions run under the title Changing the Rules of the Game, and looks at how people are mobilised, ways of supporting victims, witnesses and whistleblowers, and how to connect these [game]changers.

This blog has been started 2 years ago, for the 13th International Anti-Corruption Conference, as part of a session entitled “ACOUNTABILITY 2.0 : Using Social Media in the Fight Against Corruption“. It proposed to:

…demonstrate how social media is used to advance corporate social responsibility, government accountability and political integrity and human rights (and) provide a platform to share practical experience with these tools with a broader governance and anti-corruption audience and inspire a discussion on how social media tools can be best appropriated for the fight against corruption.

Ellen Miller of the Sunlight Foundation and Julian Assange, of Wikileaks, present on the panel back in 2008, definitely have changed the rules of the game. Sunlight Foundation has developed a series of amazing tools to make government more transparent, and thus, in a way, of how citizens experience politics. And Wikileaks has challenged questions of secrecy of information as never seen before through the publication of classified information on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

I think we’ve come a long way since then. Since 2008 we have been increasingly experiencing fascinating implementations, many of which bottom-up by citizens who had some technical knowledge and the passion to develop tools that would provide greater transparency and lessen the opportunities for corruption.

Some of the trends in Information and Communication Technology that have fostered this development are mapping and location technologies, the increase in mobile phones and the development of simpler interfaces to develop these platforms. Have a look at the Technology for Transparency Network that provides a great resource for analysing and categorising these initiatives.

For example mapping technology, such as Ushahidi, has sparked a series of projects crowdsourcing monitoring from elections to acts of crime. One of the ideas that Transparency International has been working on is to engage citizens in monitoring development projects through a so-called “social monitoring” tool we called Collocal – at one place. A first pilot project has just been launched for the city of Vladimir in Russia.

Other examples range from online to offline, from visualising financial flows in Argentina, Dinero y Politica, to great project I Paid a Bribe.com in India, and from observing legislative processes in Chile and Guatemala to gathering expressions that describe corrupt behaviour. You’ll find some more mentioned on this blog.

Last year, Mary Joyce did a great job of highlighting the fact that “every citizen is a monitor” in a presentation to TI chapters. It is this active role of citizens and this empowering quality of social media that has inspired many to believe in a new wave in the fight against corruption with a focus on citizens. A great discussion can be read in this NewTactics dialogue on how to empower citizens, held this summer.

Yet, much remains to be done. The key questions to ask when looking at developing new projects should be: What information should be publicly available (and is not)? What could citizens do amd how could they engage in holding their leaders to account? What are issues that concern citizens the most? What are interests and drivers of relevant communities and groups of audiences?

It also has become evident that many of these tools have not yet made it into the anti-corruption mainstream and need to be broadenend in scope to become effective. While many platforms are developed to have greater transparency in politics, the concrete focus on reducing corruption and using this information for sustainable change in politics is often forgotten. The anti-corruption movement needs to link up more strongly with the transparency and Open Data movement to take full advantage of the synergies of bringing knowledge (some good examples presented by Ronny Patz at PDF Europe last month).

So looking at the last couple of years, have the rules changed for good? Are the corrupt more likely to be exposed because citizens monitor them with tools based on new technologies?

I think so. But I see a lot of opportunities to do much more.

What do you think?

By the way, find all information on the 14th IACC here, and follow on Twitter the conference through the hashtag #14iacc and @14iacc.

Blog, tweet and film the 14th IACC

13 October 2010

Here’s a post  that I am cross-posting from the Space for Transparency blog. I am really looking forward to working with some great people joining me for a small team of people that will cover the discussions at the 14th IACC and see how we can engage more people in the conversations happening!

So if you are reading this and you are interested, please feel encouraged to apply.

Also in the next couple of days, I’ll be giving a little look back on what has happened in this field since the 13th IACC two years ago. I think we’ve come a long way!

And I want to share with you of course what discussions are to be expected at the 14th IACC.

So, some exciting days ahead. Stay tuned.

Blog, tweet and film the 14th IACC

Are you a journalist or a professional blogger? Are you young – and we actually have a broad definition of young here? Are you working in an Asian country?

Then it would be great to have you join me to form a small team of journalists and bloggers that will cover the 14th International Anti-Corruption Conference in Bangkok, this November, 10-13!

Under the motto “Restoring Trust: Global Action for Transparency” the conference will address the key challenges in fighting corruption, identified as peace and security, transparency and accountability in the natural resources and energy markets, climate governance, an accountable corporate world, and reaching the Millennium Development Goals.

I will be leading this social media team with the objective to open up the conversations during the conference inviting interested people around the world to join the discussions. By blogging about new approaches and ideas presented, tweeting the most relevant thoughts, and video-interviewing the most interesting participants, we want to encourage everyone, who could not be at the conference in persona, to follow the conference and chip in with their thoughts and viewpoints. Hopefully, we will be able to make sure that more people can contribute to the exchange on the most challenging issues in the fight against corruption.

So:

It would be great to meet you in Bangkok!

The Internet: A tool for action

15 September 2010

Today, I arrived in a rainy Vilnius, just a bit sunnier than rainy Berlin, where I left early this morning. I’ll be participating in a session on Internet Governance and the Wider World at the Internet Governance Forum.

So far, together with many people around me, have probably seen the Internet as a given. I haven’t really thought about what internet policy and governance means for reducing corruption, and the work of the organisation I work for, Transparency International.

Let’s take this opportunity to think about it for a moment. These are really just a first take on the issues at hand, so I’d very welcome your thoughts (and resources) on this:

First, the key concept of transparency – fundamental for the governance of any organisation – comes into mind. It is elementary that accountability relationships and decisions structures are transparent. Participation is very closely linked to transparent and accountable governance.

Transparency, as often discussed on this blog, has proven to be very powerful anti-corruption tool. It reduces the opportunities for corruption. Information, such as government information becomes available to citizens who on this basis are empowered to monitor what their elected leaders are doing all day long, and hold them accountable. The development of the Internet has been a key driver in this change.

The Internet: more than a central library. A place for action.

Thinking of the most relevant internet’s services and issues arising out of them, when looking at the needs of the fight against corruption, I’d like to start by listing the following:

Reliability: The reliability of the service is crucial to depend on the Internet as a tool, not only as a space to share information and entertainment, but even more so when looking at its potential to serve as a working and decision making environment for governments and businesses.

Security: The issue of security refers to both the information being provided, as well as the users that navigate the Internet. Aren’t we all too familiar with viruses, spam, and un-welcome programmes that find a warm new home on our computer?

Independence, openness and access to information: An independent Internet is needed especially when being faced with issues of censorship and arbitrary access to information. Too often, corrupt activities are hidden away from the eyes of the public already, when sites are being blocked. Participation, as mentioned above, requires citizens to be able to access an open and neutral space to access information. Governments are increasingly building walls, as the Economist wrote last week, to control what their citizens can read.

Privacy, Confidentiality, Anonymity: Providing your personal details on Facebook is one thing. Every one can decide how much to share. Through its Advocacy and Legal Advice Centres in over 50 countries around the world however, Transparency International is increasingly working with citizens who have experienced bribery themselves, who are witnesses of corrupt behaviour. Bribery, even when forced to in order to survive or access an elementary service, is illegal in most countries. For these whistle blowers to come forward, issues of privacy and anonymity are of utmost importance. Sometimes it even affects their lives, as violent action has shown in cases when corrupt interests have been touched. Some of chapters know very well that some of their email correspondence is being read by the government.

Whistleblowing can be a powerful tool to combat corruption that has occurred in a company or the government. The web service Wikileaks for example is such a platform that provides exactly this: an anonymous space for whistle blowers to share information they think should be public. Yet, it relies on a complicated structure to ensure this works relying on the leadership of some governments such as Sweden and recently Island, that have moved forward with developing very strong legislation to incentive such tools.

To summarise these thoughts, let me express it like this:

The Internet should to empower citizens to demand a more transparent, accountable and finally better government.

We have to make sure they don’t pay for it because they are using the Internet to do so.

I’d love to hear your thoughts: Where do you see internet governance becoming relevant for fighting corruption? Which are the most crucial services the Internet needs to provide, to ensure, for people to use it to their most?

Online dialogue on Empowering Citizens to Fight Corruption

25 August 2010

[Photo: Youth festival organised by Transparency International Bangladesh]

I wanted to invite you to join me at an online dialogue on Empowering Citizens to Fight Corruption from August 25 to 31, 2010 to fight corruption on all levels organised by New Tactics and Shaazka Beyerle of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC).

The dialogue will…

…explore how campaigns have empowered and mobilized citizens to counter corruption in their communities. Citizens working together are gaining powerful results. This is a space to learn about and share experiences in these kinds of campaigns as well as share your ideas, resources, and stories.

Though not widely known, over the past 10 years there has been a grass-roots, bottom-up “eruption against corruption” to borrow a popular slogan from the Fifth Pillar movement in India. Citizens can and are fighting to curb corruption in their communities and countries. They are organizing and strategically using nonviolent actions such as: civil disobedience; petitions; vigils; marches; sit-ins; Right to Information laws, demanding information; monitoring/auditing of authorities, budgets, spending and services; social networking and blogging; coordinated low-risk mass actions; creation of parallel or independent institutions; social and economic empowerment initiatives; street theatre; songs; humor; and public pledges.

Join the discussion here.

Not all of the discussion will focus on technology based-tools and 2.0, but the discussion will definitely give a great insight into powerful examples of campaigns and how citizens have been empowered. Both areas are increasingly closely linked. No social media campaign without a personal element. No campaign without an opportunity for citizens to become active and take part.

Now, this is actually a good moment to refer to a great post by Ken Banks at Kiwanja where he quotes Bill Easterly on how students might help end poverty. He says:

Don’t be in such a hurry. Learn a little bit more about a specific country or culture, a specific sector, the complexities of global poverty and long run economic development. At the very least, make sure you are sound on just plain economics before deciding how you personally can contribute. Be willing to accept that your role will be specialized and small relative to the scope of the problem. Aside from all this, you probably already know better what you can do than I do.

I think this is great advice.

ICT and accountable governments

14 July 2010

Mobile phone

I wanted to share with you the latest issue of the ANSA-Africa Newsletter looking at “the ability of Information and Communication Technology to empower civil society and force governments to be accountable.” The edition was the outcome of a workshop held in October 2009 in Johannesburg.

It includes a nice feature by Samantha Flemming looking at “Local government, social media and responsibility”. It will be useful to monitor the example of the South African Cabinet who has initiated a Local Government Turnaround Strategy aiming at involving citizens in local governance.

Carmen Alpina introduces a tool to promote local government budget accountability online in Kenya, a platform developed by the Social Development Network (SODNET). The online budget tracking tool allows communities to monitor the performance of central government, parliamentarians and local authorities in budget expenditure and disbursements, mainly by covering various funds, the Constituency Development Fund, the Local Authority Transfer Fund, the Youth Enterprise & Development Fund and the Economic Stimulus Package. Unfortunately, the platform at www.opengovernance.info is currently unavailable.

You can download the newsletter here.

(Thx @Katrinskaya for the link)

Mobile phones and governance

14 June 2010

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.