Posts Tagged ‘empowering citizens’

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.

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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?