ICT and accountable governments

14 July 2010 by

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)

Advertisements

Mobile phones and governance

14 June 2010 by

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.

eGovernment means citizen engagement

7 June 2010 by

I just came across Tiago’s tweet that linked me to the announcement of how the UN eGovernment Survey 2010 will be modified to stay up-to-date with the ongoing development in ICT. eGovernment and thus the relation of citizens with their governments is a becoming more and more important in fighting corruption.

One of the trends is of course Open Data, a very exciting discussion on governments opening up their data for common use, with some governments such as Norway and the UK having recently announced to go ahead.

This way. The other one is how citizens are being engaged and motivated to participate in these processes. This trend and opportunity is maybe even more important, with it being the only way governments and how services are provided can be held to account outside of elections.

In the words of Haiyan Qian, Director of the Division for Public Administration and Development Management at the United Nation’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA):

“We want to see governments engaging citizens actively, not passively. Gathering citizen feedback is not enough. Citizens need to be drawn into decision-making and monitoring to help governments boost transparency and accountability, and reduce corruption.”

A great example for social media enhancing dialogue between public works and citizens can be found on SeeClickFix in fixing a dangerous pedestrian crossing. Some call this citizen engagement even the next internet boom of Government 2.0, as it redistributes “governance to the hands of citizens”.

So far, I haven’t paid much attention to the survey. If the UN finds a way of integrating citizen engagement into the measurement of effective and successful eGovernment, I maybe should.

Developing Hyper-Local Integrity Systems to fight and prevent corruption

11 March 2010 by

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 by

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 by

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 by

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?

Improving access to cleaner water

5 October 2009 by
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 by

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 by

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.

clip_image0022

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.