Archive for the ‘Anti-corruption General’ Category

Some social media and technology approaches from the TI movement

9 May 2011

After a long hiatus in posting here, it’s finally time to pen some thoughts again on social media and technology use in the fight against corruption.

In the past 1 ½ years or so I have worked extensively with the fast growing number of Transparency International Chapters operating so-called Advocacy and Legal Advice Centres (ALACs) in more than 45 countries. These centres typically operate toll-free hotlines, encouraging citizens to report corruption. They then provide free advice and support to people to empower them to address their grievances. Depending on context, this may consist in awareness raising, basic orientation on how to report public corruption, support for example in helping file access to information requests, more advanced legal advice or, in a few cases, legal representation. Using the case-files and the datasets on corruption generated through the citizen complaints (almost 100.000 in 46 countries to date), they also push for key legislative changes and as well as the proper application of existing rules (often a key concern).

In the last few months, I have begun to sense an accelerating uptake of social media tools to take this work to scale, reach more people and extend it to particular contexts such as election monitoring. Not all of the following examples are directly related to the legal advice work TI does, but in one way or another they all aim at engaging people in our work. Of course, while I am focusing on examples from within TI, there are many many more inspiring examples out there from across the global transparency movement. Global Voices’ Technology for Transparency is a great place to start exploring them. Also, I think @georg_neu might soon post here on his impressions from the Transparency Camp with lots of more great ideas and projects.

So here’s  some of the stuff TI Chapters are currently working on. To be sure, this does not pretend to be a complete list – it’s really more a collection of examples that I came across in the last months:

Online citizen corruption reports

While ALACs have been receiving complaints online for years now, in many contexts this is becoming a more and more important channel for citizen engagement against corruption (the stunning growth of ipaidabribe.com seems to point in this direction, too). In TI, the importance of “online” as an engagement channel is increasingly reflected in the design of ALAC and related webportals. More and more, these go beyond offering a simple complaints form and seek to provide routine advice and orientation concerning official redress mechanisms. See for example TI Russia’s askjournal.ru site and TI Hungary’s five-step interactive guide to understanding if a complaint may be related to corruption and whether they can potentially assist with it.

The Guatemalan election monitoring platform

The Guatemalan election-related complaints platform

A more recent approach that a number of TI Chapters are beginning to use in a number of places is Ushahidi based SMS and online reporting of corruption and related abuses. TI Panama’s mipanamatransparente.com platform (mentioned a while ago on this blog) was originally conceived to enable investigative journalist to identify important cases of abuse to then report on. [Update: read about a recent case here]. Now, the Chapter is in the process of establishing additional capacity to provide legal advice and other types of support to those reporting corruption, looking at closely integrating this with the existing platform. In Guatemala, Acción Ciudadana and their civil society partners have begun to use Ushahidi combined with a traditional hotline as part of their election monitoring initiative. TI Macedonia, one of the Chapters who pioneered legal advice services in the TI movement, is also about to launch a similar platform for corruption reporting online. The beta can already be accessed here.

Citizen reports: Taking support and advice to scale

FixMyStreet Georgia

FixMyStreet Georgia

One of the key challenges in helping individuals and communities address corruption and related issues is scale – many people are suffering from corruption and its effects. Unfortunately, time and resources limit the possibility of engaging directly with everybody affected. However, it’s key to engage many more people in identifying and solving problems. This is where TI Russia’s online approach comes in. Realising that many concerns can be potentially resolved by people themselves, they are piloting a site in the city of Vladimir that aims at crowd-sourcing not only the reporting of problems, but also solutions. On Cormap (see an explanatory presentation here), citizens report problems such as defunct street lighting, illegal waste dumping etc, point out who’s responsible and suggest solutions on a public portal, providing an incentive for the public authorities to respond. Another great example in a similar vein is TI Georgia’s local implementation of the FixMyStreet platform. They also run an excellent blog on corruption issues in the country.

Using technology for transparency

One of those in the TI movement who’ve been interested in using technology for transparency for a while are Poder Ciudadano in Argentina. Their Money and Politics platform enables citizens to access previously impenetrable datasets on the funding of parties and election candidates. Recently, they’ve been co-hosting a Hackathon event, engaging programmers and data experts to develop a tool that would make datasets about government spending on official advertising more transparent to the public. I am quite excited to hear about the results, and I am following them on Twitter to learn more. In the Slovak Republic, the TI Chapter also does amazing work, making datasets, rankings and comparisons on local government transparency available in an attractive and easily accessible way. Another great project of TI Slovakia compares data on government spending with information about the contractors.

Facebook, Twitter et al.

Facebook too is increasingly used by TI Chapters to promote citizen engagement against corruption online. TI Papua New Guinea’s ALAC page is a great example, and our colleagues from TI Bosnia and Herzegovina, recently told us that Facebook is becoming the most effective channel to publicise their legal aid services. Here are a number of other TI Chapters on Facebook, whose groups I really like: Peru (check out their lupita.pe anti-corruption campaign blog, too) , Ireland and Lithuania. And, of course there’s a growing number of TI Chapters raising awareness about corruption and engaging people on Twitter. Here’s a list of tweeting Chapters.

[Update] I just saw the ALAC in Argentina use Twitter to solicit complaints. Probably not the first time it happened, but the first time I am seeing it live!

@poderciudadano Recibimos denuncias sobre violencia electoral: 0800-222-2684 o skype (usuario:centroalac) http://ow.ly/4QlKo #elecciones2011

Some thoughts on future steps

While not all strictly related to the legal advice centre work that I am mostly involved in, I do see these examples of technology and transparency initiatives as closely related. For one, I think there’s huge potential for integration for on and offline tactics. When making public information more transparent and accessible, the “report abuse” button ought to be right next to it! Whether it’s TI, another civil society organisation or a capable public administration (even better!) that then accompanies people who want to take action, the point is this: When we raise awareness, making more information more easily accessible and, based on this, people actually want to act, that’s when there is an opportunity for concrete change.

On the other hand, technology for transparency projects often have a crowd-sourcing element built in from the start. Offline tactics such as providing legal advice can benefit from that too. In particular the idea of platforms that enable people to help one another is quite intriguing. According to context, the technology used will vary, but a whole different scale of reach and impact in terms of empowerment becomes possible at a relatively low cost. This will not make the contribution of the ‘experts’ obsolete in any way. Rather, it will help them understand and focus on those concerns of strongest public interest in changing the systems that permit corruption, while empowering a greater number of people to resolve their own grievances.

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.

Fight Against Corruption and Rule of Law Threatened by Twitter?!

17 March 2009

Not in the grand scheme of things, we don’t think. But consider this piece from the NY Times webpage:

And on Monday, defense lawyers in the federal corruption trial of a former Pennsylvania state senator, Vincent J. Fumo, demanded that the judge declare a mistrial after a juror posted updates on the case on Twitter and Facebook. The juror even told his readers that a “big announcement” was coming Monday. But the judge decided to let the trial continue, and the jury found Mr. Fumo guilty. His lawyers plan to use the Internet postings as grounds for appeal.

So much for Twitter and possible unintended consequences in the fight against corruption. Not a good reason to ignore the potential of this technology to create transparency though, is it?

Three-piece update on a busy week in the fight against corruption

20 February 2009

This week has been a pretty busy one for global anti-corruption activists. On Tuesday, Transparency International honoured two investigative journalists, David Leigh of the Guardian(UK) and Roman Shleynov of Novaya Gazeta (Russia). David and Roman are the recipients of the 2008 Integrity Awards. The winners of the Integrity Awards are extremely brave individuals who often accept great personal risk to expose corruption, as Georg sadly had to highlight a short while ago. This is what TI says:

Transparency International’s (TI) Integrity Awards honour the work of these courageous individuals and organisations that make a real difference in the fight against corruption. From accountants and public prosecutors to government officials and pharmacologists, their backgrounds may be diverse, but the message is the same: corruption can be beaten.

TI’s 2008 Integrity Awards pay tribute to two remarkable investigative journalists, David Leigh and Roman Shleynov, whose untiring determination to expose corrupt dealings in the face of formidable odds serve as inspiration to the anti-corruption movement.

Integrity Awards 2008
Huguette Labelle, Chair of TI with Integrity Awards 2008 winners David Leigh and Roman Shleynov (left to right)

A slideshow with photos from this year’s ceremony can be viewed here.

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