Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Access to information in the Maghreb – some lessons

15 December 2008

Last Friday, I attended a colloquium on the state of access to information in four countries of the Maghreb, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria and Mauritania. The two-day event organised by Transparency Maroc and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation on 12-13 December, brought together experts, journalists and heads of the main human rights organisations in the region. The issue of access to information is fundamental in fighting corruption, as Transparency International states on the website:

The right to demand information is fundamental to building trust among citizens and the state. It is a right that acts as an instrument to allow citizens access to fulfill other cultural, economic and social rights such as the right to education, to food, to work, to self determination.

When citizens are denied their right to know, corrupt officials can act with impunity. When the media cannot report the facts due to government control or censorship, this right is further harmed and opacity strengthened.

Interestingly, technical solutions addressing and using information that is already publicly available strategically, as rare as it might yet be in the region, have barely been mentioned. It became visible in the responses to a comment on the value of technical solutions to facilitate access to information made by Jaco Du Toit, in charge of Communications and Information for the Maghreb region at the UNESCO in Morocco. There still exists a fear that technical solutions will not facilitate, but hinder access to information by producing too much text and information, and exclude the non-literate and poor, being especially challenging when looking at countries with a high numbers of analphabetism, for example in Morocco.

However, besides giving citizen the possibility to access information from the next internet café 24/7 rather than travelling to the next municipality, the contrary would be true regarding the non-literate in the population, as technology would allow and facilitate people who can not read, to access information or undertake administrative procedures via icons and visual elements.

The web also reduces arbitrariness in administrative process, as can be seen in an example from the regional capital Fez, where all costs and requirements regarding services such as birth certificates can be reviewed via the web. The project ACK Journal by Transpareny International in Russia aims at gathering all information on administrative processes, and user experience to increase transparency and knowledge about any requirement and current law, and therefore reduce corruption.

As discussed and mentioned by various attendees, citizen can be empowered through the right to information and by giving access to information. Trust is a crucial factor in politics. Let the citizen use the tools making information easier accessible, some of them that may still need to be developed. Let them decide how they want to hold their authorities accountable. Have a look at the work of the Sunlight Foundation (also presented on this blog) to see some concrete examples.

Of course, the Tunisian example discussed during the workshop shows another critical issue: access to information is of no value, especially for the media, if there is no freedom of expression.

One the key questions is however, what to do when information is not available, and where legislation has not yet passed the necessary laws? Some ideas could follow the concept to show the lack of information and highlight where it either should be available by law and is not, or building up pressure on the type of data that is most urgently needed.

Blogs and tweets inform and help during Mumbai attacks

30 November 2008

The tragic events in Mumbai last week highlighted again how susbtantially the media landscape has changed in the recent past. Literally within minutes after the beginning of the terrorist siege, twitter users, bloggers and flickr users began reporting the events as they unfolded. Established national and international news media quickly began featuring the content provided by private individuals in their own reporting. This Wired blog post has some of the most interesting examples of social media tools used to provide first-hand accounts of the events, including the already prominent flickr collection by Vinu. Gaurav Mishra has written an extremely informative and balanced account on the use and impact of social media tools during the days of the siege. He suggests that while Twitter was used heavily to send first-hand news, there was somewhat less original citizen reporting through blogs than could have been expected.

The horrific violence perpetrated against the people of Mumbai and their visitors in the attacks brought out the best in people as well: empathy and the desire to help others in the wake of terror. As pointed out by Asfaq Tapia, volunteer spirit and social media complemented each other in this situation to deliver critical information faster and more comprehensively than traditional news and rescue services could:


Blogging from Buenos Aires

27 October 2008

Hello Folks!

Sorry for not having been able to contribute to this blog till now, but we are about to meet in Athens and I am looking forward to it!

I am sure we will be discussing interesting topics at the panel and that all our experiences from different countries will help us to develop more and better work back home.

I wanted to present one blog I’ve been managing lately: Latinoamérica por la Transparencia (only Spanish!). It was built as a “making of” for TILAC’s Regional Programme on Anti-Corruption Conventions. This time we used the traditional way of “journey diary” to tell the readers what was going with the project in the countries we were visiting. I´ll be talking about it a little bit on our panel.

And… here is a personal note… on Wednesday my colleague and I won an award for Plaza Pública the Blog we manage at Clarín newspaper. It is a two-year old blog on citizen participation. Although now a days it is not very active, we are very proud of the prize because this means that citizen activism is gaining a place in the cyber space!

See you in Athens!

New contributor Florencia Bianco

16 October 2008

We also have had the chance to invite some members of Transparency International’s national chapters around the world to the workshop to explore together possibilities on how to apply social media tools and concepts to the fight against corruption.

I am welcoming Florencia Bianco who is Director of Communications at TI’s Argentinean chapter Poder Ciudadano, responsible for institutional communications, press work, as well as the news agency Infocívica that distributes news from NGOs and social issues to the media. She is the first to start sharing her thoughts in the run-up to the conference.

Changing the fight against corruption

2 October 2008

One of the key questions of the workshop will be how social media can change the way we fight corruption. We’ll have some interesting answers and examples, but as a general note a couple of directions can be distilled already.

Fighting corruption becomes:

1) Collaborative and crowd-based. It is much easier to link up with people and groups working on the same issue, and gather them in a bigger anti-corruption movement. But this is only one aspect to it, as it also has an effect on joining up with individual activists, a task usually difficult for bigger organisations, as well as for people to organise themselves. The dream is the old metaphor of the many little fish that eat the big fish. Also crowdsourcing as a tactic can be one of the options, especially when looking at datasets made available under the umbrella of transparency or interpreting data collectively (as an example see how asks their users to match up each speech with video footage), or in investigative journalism or for community-based reporting, as reflected by the NY Times and the People, Spaces, Deliberations-Blog.

One of the consequences, overseen sometimes, is that organisations will loose control over how people organise themselves and communicate externally, but also internally.

2) De-centralised. De-centralised action and organisation forms will be developed where necessary. One example is how global protests where organised on 4 February under the moto “A Million Voices Against FARC” via Facebook. Manifestations were organised all over the world. Especially under restrictive regimes, where civil society is challenged when organising itself, social media can be used to organise, meet virtually and work together without being together. Google maps can be used as a great tool to track and plan actions.

3) Empowering. Social media can empower people that want to change things. It becomes bottom-up by giving voice to the people affected most. By contributing their experience, easily done via blogs, twitter, or a wiki, they can become part of the movement and give faces to the issues. I have referred to this in my previous post.

Some of the traditional limitations of the fight against corruption that lie within the political environment of a country, such as a restricted civil society, can be overcome using social media. While knowing that new limitations such as lack and cost of access to the internet and mobile devices remain.

Corruption Perceptions Index 2008 going social?

23 September 2008

Today, Transparency International released its 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). In its visual appearance it is as all indices a simple table. Asking myself how the score relates to each country’s rather complex national reality, and therefore how the CPI, measuring only public sector corruption, could be complemented with additional information, I came up with a couple of ideas related to how the information is presented.

As a first step, improving the visualisation of the data can make it more accessible. So here’s the CPI as a world map. The Tactical Technology Collective has developed a nice guide on how to visualise information for advocacy. But better, make it an interactive google map. And the final step should be to use the crowd to enhance the information that is available in the map contributing real-time information – national news stories, bribing experiences and the like.

Secondly, you can explain the data with a press release. But you can also explain it with a youtube-video. Automatically the video relates to others on similar issues. Additionally viewers can comment on it, add their own videos, and engage into a conversation.

No research stands alone and needs to be seen in context with other data. The World Freedom Atlas, developed by Zachary Johnson at the University of Wisconsin, provides an interactive visualisation tool for world statistics on issues of freedom, democracy, human rights and good governance. Other examples of great presentation of information in world maps can be found developed by Maplecroft and, “as you’ve never seen it before”, on the Worldmapper website. In a future post I’ll share more interactive and social mapping projects.

But in the end, does a table, a statistic, or a number mean much to people? It works well for academics and rankings are great for the media. And it is of course a question of how to measure corruption in the first place (see the Users’ Guide to Measuring Corruption by Global Integrity, or the Mapping of Corruption and Governance Measurement Tools in Sub-Saharan Africa, by Transparency International), by the way to be discussed at the 13th IACC as well.

But on the other hand it has not much to do with what happens on the streets, in hospitals or in public institutions. An index meaningful to people needs to be connected to their lives and realities. More tools that combine facts and personal experience, as well as engage people in a conversation need to be developed. This will allow us to gain a more comprehensive picture of what is it exactly we are dealing with when we want to fight corruption.

Stakeholder Relations 2.0

22 September 2008

Here’s something very interesting I came across on the iMiners blog that in turn pointed to a post on the IR Web report. Here’s what they write:

BROADRIDGE Financial Solutions Inc. (NYSE: BR), the giant investor communications and brokerage outsourcing firm, plans to connect every US company and every shareholder in a massive social network that could rival Facebook in terms of members. […]

The move by Broadridge comes after the SEC adopted changes to its rules in February designed to encourage the use of electronic shareholder forums by public companies and their shareholders. The SEC sees online forums as a way to improve communication between shareholders and companies and cut the number of shareholder proposals submitted for inclusion in annual meeting proxy statements.

iMiners conclude the following from that:

The SEC’s encouragement of companies using new technologies to facilitate communications is finally starting to take off, and we think that in the not too distant future shareholder forums will become standard on many company IR websites (at least for those companies not afraid to embrace new technologies, and not afraid to have a dialogue with shareholders).

UPDATE 23/09: ..As I continued browsing to look for more information on investor relations 2.0 I found another great post that puts all this nicely into a broader context.

This illustrates a number of issues we’ve discussed upon developing the workshop programme and sparks a few further thoughts (and I would expect us to debate those fervently).


Just a quick link, with some relevance for the social media a-c agenda

16 September 2008

thrown by our colleague alan, this link points to the Bank’s interest in projects linking ICT and governance. could be a good opportunity for anti-corruption csos in francophone africa to partner in going mobile. it’s posted on frontline sms’ webpage, an interesting tool that has already been applied promisingly by a number of ngos in the broader governance field for election monitoring, e.g. in Nigeria and Zimbabwe. some general background on mobile election monitoring is available here. it will be very interesting to see what the potential of this technology is with regard to mobilisation against corruption, and – dare we hope – its prevention.