Archive for the ‘tools’ 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.

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!

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.

Improving access to cleaner water

5 October 2009
You'll still need the buckets.

You'll still need the buckets.

Corruption in the access to basic service delivery, such as water, health and education is one of the key areas that need to be tackled to improve the lives of people and their livelihood. Especially access to water is possibly the service I feel most strongly about, as the corruption in this sector can be deadly. More than 1 billion people worldwide have no guaranteed access to water and more than 2 billion are without adequate sanitation.

Therefore, this initiative reported by the German service heise.de caught my eyes, that aims at improving the provision of access to water via mobile payment and smartcards in Kenya . The project suggests paying for clean water using a mobile payment service such as M-Pesa and retrieving the water at local access points through a smartcard which uses the low-cost technology of RFID chips (Radio Frequency Identification Tags) to identify the access request and the payment.

Combining these two easy-to-use technologies, the process of delivering water to the people is made more transparent, and through circumventing potentially corrupt bureaucracies, it can become a cleaner – and corrupt-free process.

Additionally, these technologies allow to access highly useful and relevant information of when, where and how much water is being retrieved. This data should be made open and accessible. As publicly available information it can then be mapped and serve to highlight risks, deficiencies or failures in the process of providing water services to the population.

Of course, some related questions arise, such as how strongly privatised can and should the access to the basic service water be. Also issues of privacy and personal information gathered through these systems need to be handled in a responsible and open manner.

But for questions of improving transparency and reducing corruption, technology reducing intermediaries and enabling the tracking information can be very powerful.

Forestry, a sector that is not less rife of corruption, is another example where the use of RFID and the technology behind it can be beneficiary.

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.

Anti-corruption project in competition at N2Y4 Mobile Challenge

6 April 2009

One of our colleagues here at TI has prepared an exciting project for the N2Y4 mobile challenge. In a nutshell, Mosomo-health is looking to make use of mobile phones to bring together information about health-related government spending and connect this data to local knowledge about whether or not funding reaches its intended destination and actually results in on-the-ground infrastructure and public health services.

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In the interest of brevity and to encourage you to head over to the netsquared site this is an extremely abbreviated description of the idea. If you like it thus far, please register (it’s non-profit and there won’t be any spam), go straight here to look at the detailed description of Mosomo-health, give it a star rating and perhaps an additional positive comment in the comments field. If we can create enough of a buzz, then maybe, just maybe, we’ll have a chance to reach the finals of the competition and mobilise some funding to pilot the project.

To get a sense of just how worthwhile this may be, check out the last challenge-winning project Ushahidi and on the contest site.

Thanks in advance for your help in spreading the word!

And while we’re at it, TI’s new twitter has just been named Nonprofit of the Week by Nonprofitorgs. Good reason to follow both.

world map of social networks

7 November 2008

Having had a look at the powerful example of the Egyptian revolution using facebook to organise themselves mentioned on the panel and in the previous blog post, I remembered this nice map that gives an idea of the most popular social networks around the world. It also shows very well that Africa still lacks behind in many ways regarding the usage of internet and the social web, as a large number of countries could not even be included.

Map of most popular social networks - October 2008

Map of most popular social networks - October 2008