Archive for the ‘From the field’ 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.

Advertisements

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)

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.

Basic concepts, easy solutions

20 April 2009

I would like to share with you two interesting initiatives that highlight one point I wanted to make for a longer time now.

My point is about easy solutions. And basic concepts.

Sometimes the easy solutions are the best ones. Solutions where not much programming is needed to make it an effective online tool. A clear concept that can be put in practice easily can remove one of the biggest hurdles existing for some practitioners, and especially in NGOs with limited resources: Dealing with the internet and the complexity of not being able to programme and manage a website by yourself.

Blowing the whistle

This is why I like the following case. It’s the concept of simple transparency of information and explaining how things have to work put into practice. On a web page that basically displays a word document, listing the three key points, some PDF documents and the relevant phone numbers. And that explains what whistle blowing is, and how and where to do it.

Have a look at the new page on Blowing the Whistle on Waste & Fraud in Government, put in place by the State of Illinois.: www.whistleblower.illinois.gov

Accessing information

The other example I wanted to include here is a nice project called the Question Box, addressing one of the key concerns for using online tools: illiteracy (also nicely presented here, and discussed here). One box per village. The concept is a call center, to connect to the internet.

How it works

How it works

Maintaining the infrastructure might not be easy, but electricity can come from solar cells and the used technology is basic enough to be repaired easily. Again, easy concept. Easy solution. And many ideas coming into mind when thinking about accountability, access to information and citizen engagement in governance.

Online debate on Election Monitoring

21 January 2009

Here’s an interesting question for everyone working on transparency, accountability and corruption: How can election monitoring contribute to promoting democracy, human rights and good governance?

The question is posed by the New Tactics in Human Rights Project and the discussions on this and other questions can be accessed here.

Elections are an ideal opportunity for looking into how social media concepts can be used to support a fair and democratic process of choosing a country’s government. Lack of transparency goes hand in hand with opportunities for fraud and undue influence, from the very practical measure of excluding electoral observers, to the more complex uncertainty about the amounts of monies spent in the campaign. Already, a range of tools are used to monitor elections and election day irregularities.

Let me just give you two examples:

  1. A very nice one, is the iChoose Election Observer, a complaint database developed by Transparency Maldives, fulfilling two objectives: to facilitate the reporting of election-related complaints to the proper authorities on the one hand; and to monitor how these complaints are being processed on the other.
    It shows a very practical way of on election day monitoring, engaging citizens, combining text messaging, social media (a facebook group ), and a very effective way of making fraudulent action transparent.
  2. The second example is a project called Base de Datos de Publicidad Oficial (Data base of Official Publicity) by Transparency International’s national chapter in Argentina, Poder Ciudadano, that lists the money spent by the government to the media on advertising. The main part of the project is a searchable data base including the allocation of official advertising since 2000 for all channels, such as radio, TV, cinema, newspapers etc.

The New Tactics in Human Rights Project promotes tactical innovation and strategic thinking within the international human rights community, by promoting the use and sharing of as wide a range of tactics as possible. One of its tools are debates held online, open for everyone for discussion.

Transparency International has initiated a project on political finance and campaign financing in Latin America, now being adapted to other regions.

But, as one discussion entry rightly states,

“Election observation should (…) not be a one-off event. Institutions and organisations should make a firm commitment to stay involved, not only by observing consecutive elections, but also by staying engaged in between elections.”

And I would maybe add, every citizen needs to stay engaged in between elections, holding their leaders accountable.

Promoting anti-corruption in Egypt

12 January 2009

How to promote anti-corruption activities and transparency in countries with challenging political environments for civil society organisations and journalists such as the Middle East?

Again, the internet is one of the most promising channels, according to Hany Ibrahim from the Development and Institutionalization Support Center DISC, as he states in an article just published on PoliticsOnline titling In Egypt, Fighting Corruption through Internet.

The organisation has developed an interesting website called Nazaha meaning “Transparency and Integrity” aiming at raising public awareness about corruption. The website, available only in Arabic,

provides downloadable tools for journalists, members of elected Local Councils, and NGO’s leaders, enabling them to investigate, uncover, and fight corruption. Moreover, the website monitors and documents corruption cases circulated by 23 (party, state-run, and independent) newspapers. The documentation is divided into seven categories: (1) corruption in health sector; (2) corruption in housing; (3) corruption in primary education; (4) corruption in higher education; (5) corruption in transportation; (6) corruption in supplies; and (7) corruption in local administrative units. The documentation is necessary for analysis of the data and interpretation of the causes and effects of corruption on the life of the people, particularly the poor and the marginalized.

A similar concept is followed by a project undertaken by Transparency International’s Moroccan chapter under the name Observatoire National de la Corruption.

These examples show that sometimes very easy concepts such as gathering and documenting relevant information already available in the public sphere, such as newspapers and news magazines, in one place, preferably available online, as well as providing key advocates with materials may they need to make their case, can be incredibly powerful.

Documenting and categorizing corruption cases is important. But making them public by matching and mapping them in an easy and accessible fashion should be the next important step to identify hotspots of corruption in a given country. Public monitoring, including by the affected citizen, will be the most effective process to effect change on public institutions.

Sri Lankan editor and Integrity Awards winner shot dead

9 January 2009

The assassination of Sri Lankan journalist Lasantha Wickramatunga comes as a shock to the anti-corruption community. Wickramatunga was editor of the Sunday Leader and winner of Transparency International’s 2000 Integrity Award, awarded to honor his fearless efforts in exposing corruption in Sri Lankan politics.

Sanjana Hattotuwa from Vikalpa, a citizen journalism initiative located in Sri Lanka, posts an interesting comment on ICT for Peacebuilding (ICT4Peace) stating that:

It’s really horrible that it takes an event of such a tragic nature to propel our work higher in this list [top 100 list on YouTube amongst Reporter’s Channel worldwide], but it does also demonstrate once again that short videos on YouTube in particular, and online video in general, can be a powerful platform for activism and advocacy. (…)

Vikalpa’s YouTube Channel channel reaches and generates far more people and interest respectively than its website, which gets around 350 readers on average a day. This is significant in a country that does not enjoy good bandwidth (most of the viewers and readers are from Sri Lanka). It suggests that online video – especially short videos – can be and are re-distributed, cross-featured, emailed the links to, embedded, downloaded and copied and if their license allows it, re-worked and re-edited to create viral campaigns, including those on social networks such as Facebook and Myspace, that can meaningfully strengthen real world activism and advocacy against violence.

These observations are very relevant when looking at supporting, recognising and advocating for the work anti-corruption activists all around the globe, but also, when looking at covering corruption by activists such as the series of YouTube-videos on police corruption in Morocco show (see example).

Sunday Leader Editor in Chief Lasantha Wickremetunge murdered – English, documentary by Vikalpa.

A video on the 2000 Integrity Awards ceremony will be available on YouTube shortly and integrated in this post [Unfortunately we couldn’t make this available as digitalizing the VCR was not possible for an affordable amount].

For more information see TI’s international press release, the press release of TI’s chapter in Sri Lanka, as well as a feature by the BBC.

Some observations on Morocco

20 November 2008

Until end of December, I’ll be working in Rabat, Morocco for Transparency International’s national chapter Transparency Maroc. The chapter also runs the Observatoire de la Corruption, a project that, in short, monitors national news stories on corruption to identify key areas where the national integrity system fails, and makes recommendations on how corruption in different sectors can be tackled.

It would be interesting to look at how this work can be improved by using social media concepts and during my stay here, I’ll be trying to come up with some ideas.

But let me first give you a couple of initial observations on the environment civil society groups are working in Morocco, especially as we haven’t talked so much about the practical challenges yet.

Generally, of the Kingdom’s about 34 million inhabitants, more than 7.3 million, about 20 percent, have access to internet, a number that has been growing quite strongly over the last couple of years. Morocco is therefore the country with 3rd most internet users on African soil. Surprisingly, penetration with fast DSL connection is quite well, especially in cities. The maybe even more important number however, is the amount of internet cafés, with about 10,000 licenses. Internet cafés constitute places where especially the younger people meet, personally or over the internet to skype and talk via messenger. Facebook is the main social network used. A great place to initiate discussions, even on social or political issues!

Internet café in Rabat, city centre

Internet café in Rabat, city centre

Digital activity is growing. Numbers of Moroccan blogs are estimated to be between 10,000 and 30,000. The non-profit organisation Tanmia.ma has developed a website for Moroccans to share their podcasts and support the use of new technologies by the Moroccan civil society.

But here’s the other side, while internet access is generally considered to be fairly open and unrestricted (see the country analysis by the OpenNet Initiative), there have been a couple of incidents over the last year, such as the two-year prison sentence against Moroccan blogger Mohamed Erraji, accused of having insulted the king, that was eventually overturned by the court of appeals in September (read the background in French and English). Another one was a fake facebook profile of the King’s younger brother developed and published by Fouad Mourtada.

Interestingly, the prior incident made an US internet marketing company, SEO 1 Services, suspend its decision to open an office in Tangers, North-Morocco, showing that there might even be an economic impact of restricting freedom of opinion and expression, as well as freedom of press.

By the way, an interesting overview of digital activism in Morocco (and other countries) can be found at: http://www.digiactive.org/topic/morocco/ gathered by DigiActive, a volunteer organisation dedicated to helping grassroots activists around the world use the Internet and mobile phones to increase their impact. Talking about mobile phones and interesting numbers, 50% of the population have one in Morocco. I’m about to get mine tomorrow.