Archive for the ‘Discussion’ Category

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

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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]

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.

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.

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.

Developing Hyper-Local Integrity Systems to fight and prevent corruption

11 March 2010

The Technology Transparency Network (Disclosure: I am on the board of advisors) is a mapping project looking at about 40 case studies in developing countries that aim to promote transparency, accountability and civic engagement. Adding to the really good review of the first set of projects by David Sasaki, I would like to focus in this post on the aspect that many of the projects assessed are very local in nature. By this, they effectively empower citizens to take action locally to hold their leaders to account.

Local communities

The fact of operating mainly in a local environment provides some really nice advantages.

Let’s look at the Kibera Map. This project shows really well how local ownership by citizens could be used to hold local leaders accountable, for example through monitoring infrastructure or waste removal as David suggests. This kind of citizen monitoring can reduce corruption and ensure that allocated monies actually arrive where they should. It would be interesting to look more in depth at how basic services such as health, education or water are delivered to a community.

kiberaI am not an expert in education, but from a users point of view I would be interested in comparing the amount of schools that exist in a certain neighborhood with other neighborhoods. Or in trying to match up the budget dedicated to these schools with what actually arrives (especially when we look at the corruption taking place in this sector as analysed in a recent TI report). This could be simply by using a picture of the school building, or of learning materials available contrasted with what should be there in terms of money, materials and teachers.

I feel that the great thing about maps in this hyper-local context is that they really spark the imagination of what one could monitor, map and measure (The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) gives a nice overview of using participatory mapping for development in this publication). Sithi.org in Cambodia, a map-based visualization of human rights violations and related news in Cambodia, and Kubana.net in Zimbabwe are promising example for how various local or national stakeholders can collaborate.

Local accountability

But monitoring can also be applied to politicians and other public office holders. A great and straight forward idea is to do this by comparing what a politician promises, and what he delivers (good examples for this are the platforms Mumbai Votes and Praja). But I really like the idea of adopting a politician and blogging about what he does. It brings the relationship with your local politican to a personal level, away from public profiles and official party channels. It’s a simple action that can be done by every citizen and that increases accountability. The wiki page Adote um Vereador gathers these personal blogs in Brazil.

Guatemala Visible is an excellent project that allows for very concrete and timely limited political engagement by citizens beyond the major elections (which are indeed very important and well represented in the sample by the excellent projects of Vota Inteligente from Chile or the many national Ushahidi implementations). It sheds the light on the very important, but yet too often overseen processes of the instatement of government institutions and powerful public officials by the elected politicians.

As highlighted in the project idea of Ishki.com, “conversations among friends and family frequently turn into complaint circles with long lists of frustrations directed at the local and national governments, unresponsive banks, damaged roads, and corrupt officials”. Unfortunately the related complaint brockerage site is not online anymore.

But technology such as forums can serve these local needs very well, as seen in the community forum bringing residents together to protest against construction of a waste incinerator in Guangzhou, China.

public commentary in Guatemala

public commentary in Guatemala

The power of twitter lies in its networking function probably more so than in creating lasting platforms as the case study #InternetNecesario shows. Twitter and SMS distribution services could create hyper-local news pages connecting local media and investigative journalism with citizens needs and political engagement, a concept that is increasingly being implemented and gaining attention in developing countries. Two excellent examples are Frankfurt Gestalten in Germany, and London’s King’s Cross.

Accountability Chain

Overall, many of these local projects work because they are local. Outreach to citizens can be done with limited resources and a small amount of staff. But to become sustainable, they might need to grow beyond their initial audiences and stakeholders and try to find ways to involve and collaborate with all members of the accountability chain – local politicians, local administration, local businesses, local NGOs and the people living in these communities. By becoming more inclusive, they will be much more powerful to create lasting and sustainable good governance.

Transparency International has developed the National Integrity System Assessment approach, providing a framework to analyse both the extent and causes of corruption in a given country as well as the effectiveness of national anti-corruption efforts. The assessment is part of TI’s holistic concept to tackle corruption, making use of the concept of the National Integrity System – the principle institutions and actors that contribute to integrity, transparency and accountability in a society.

The future may very well lie in these action-orientated Local and “Hyper-local Integrity Systems” where citizens monitor and engage with their local environment, controlling institutions and holding their local administration accountable.

What are your views? Do you know of any other similar projects?

I am also cross-posting this post at Space for Transparency.

Research on cases of civic action and citizen participation

28 January 2010

I would like to share with you this announcement for a research project carried out by Shaazka Beyerle, Senior Advisor with the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict. You may remember her presentation at the 13th IACC in Athens when this blog was started:

“For the first time, an in-depth, international research and book project is documenting and studying cases of citizen participation and nonviolent civic action to fight corruption, in order to identify general lessons learned and best practices. The focus is on what people – organized together, exerting their collective power–are doing to fight corruption either at the local or national levels.

The project is examining the skills, strategies, objectives, and demands of nonviolent civic campaigns and movements, rather than the phenomenon of corruption itself, or the conditions under which it occurs.

DO YOU KNOW OF CASES OF CIVIC ACTION CAMPAIGNS/MOVEMENTS AND CITIZEN PARTICIPATION TO FIGHT CORRUPTION?

Please contact Shaazka Beyerle directly at: sbeyerle(at)nonviolent-conflict.org. This announcement is NOT a call for proposals, papers or researchers. Click Beyerle_Call-for-cases2010 for additional information, including research definitions and examples of civic action to fight corruption from around the world.”

Here is some work Shaazka did on related issues that you may find useful:

Dissecting Transparency Projects

20 January 2010

I would like to present the Technology for Transparency Network

a new interactive website and global network of researchers to map online technology projects that aim to promote transparency, political accountability, and civic engagement in Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, South Asia, China, and Central & Eastern Europe.

For me, the network launched yesterday will be a great opportunity to connect the many examples and innovative solutions that have emerged over the last couple of years, and bring us a step closer to find effective and sustainable means to empower and give voice to the people themselves.

I am very grateful to have been invited to advise on this network in such a selected group of colleagues and am sure that all of you following this blog will find valuable information, great ideas and discussion over the coming months.

Change agents versus change networks

7 October 2009

The first session of this year’s Socialcamp in Berlin kept me busy thinking for the whole weekend. Coming from the challenging experience of reaching sustainable change when working with organisations in Africa, Tobias Eigen from Kabissa was looking at questions of the drivers of change, and how to identify these “Change Agents”.

This let me to remember one of the principles of the power of internet, which is that everybody, from Kinshasa, to Berlin, to Port Moresby, can make a difference, can engage and has the opportunity to be an agent of change. While this was true before the internet as well, and limitations of connectivity still exist, the opportunity to scale this engagement has increased exponentially.

Go change the world. Now.

Go change the world. Now.

Now this obviously doesn’t mean that every idea will change the world, but what I find most interesting and exciting is that by simply doing something such as sending a text message, posting an idea or a comment, taking a picture and sharing it, he can be part of a changing world.

In short, this is citizen engagement. How this can be a key factor for influencing the fight against corruption in the future, I have described on this blog and also here.

The concept that was floated during the discussion is the one of a Change Network, in a way taking the concept that every one can be a change agent and planting this person into a societal context. I think the concept of one person driving change is, on a general level, somewhat of a myth. The person is always embedded in a network that reflects, adapts and catalyses the ideas and concepts of change. This does not limit itself to its immediate group, but also to the community or society surrounding.

And without this networks, the change will not happen.

While preparing this text, Patrick Meier from iRevolution did a great summary on the discussion on crowdsourcing and I would like to quote his words which fit quite well here:

We credit the crowd because no one person lives in a vacuum and comes up with innovative ideas that are completely independent from their interaction with the outside world.

This is also true when you think of how dependent change becomes if it is only focussed on one person, rather than a network. It is a challenge the fight against corruption has experienced much to often when having to rely on political will to change the status quo. Once a government changes, all advancements may stop, just because this change was based on only one person.

The question is whether a Change Network can be institutionalised.

I am split on this with my thoughts, but I believe that there needs to be the liberty to engage and create a culture of engagement and action without having to organise everything (and this coming from a German), and let allow that even from slactivism eventually comes true engagement and activism. I like the idea of a possibility for change at every movement. Providing space for the individual to do something and let the network surrounding it create the change. Not everything will be, or want to be NGOised.

What do you think? Is this concept useful?