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Has the Potential of ICTs to Reduce Conflict in Africa been Over-Hyped?

CGCS's picture

//Rasna Warah, journalist and independent researcher, analyzes key themes and conclusions emerging from a July 2014 workshop on the role of ICTs in statebuilding and peacebuilding in Africa.

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) and new media have often been viewed as a solution to Africa’s myriad problems, including poor governance, conflict and poverty. From the M-Pesa mobile banking system in Kenya to the aggressive adoption of e-governance in Rwanda, the role of ICTs in improving Africa’s economy and governance systems cannot be underestimated.

However, while innovations and the use of ICTs on the African continent are on the rise, they have not necessarily reduced the threat of conflict. Evidence of a direct correlation between increased ICT penetration and innovations and peace and stability on the continent is sketchy at best, and quite often anecdotal, based usually on the innovators’ own assessment of the technology and its impact. For example, the Ushahidi platform, which has been praised internationally for allowing conflict-prone countries to track sites of violence and conflict within a region, and which played an important role in identifying areas of conflict during Kenya’s 2008 post-election violence, has not helped the country to significantly reduce the prospect of future conflict. On the contrary, the country has witnessed increasing terrorism-related violence and insecurity in recent months. Such innovations point to the fact that innovative technology by itself cannot reduce conflict if the social, economic and political conditions in a country are not conducive to peace and stability. It also shows that when the “hardware,” such as the police force and security and intelligence services are substandard, no amount of technology can prevent the threat of violence, conflict or insecurity.

Stretching the Frontiers on Fiscal Openness Initiatives

Massimo Mastruzzi's picture

The recent Open Government Partnership (OGP) regional events in  Bali and Dublin have provided a fertile opportunity for participating countries to showcase their performance in advancing open data reforms and for newer members to learn from their peers. The positive energy and participation at these events was a reminder of the strides achieved in recognizing the importance of open data as a precondition for better development outcomes. This was particularly relevant in the field of fiscal openness where an increasing number of countries demonstrated how they are taking actions towards improving transparency in financial matters.

The fiscal openness working group (FOWG) - a partnership between the Global Initiative on Fiscal Transparency (GIFT), the OGP Secretariat and the Governments of Brazil and Philippines - – provided a good opportunity to review the results achieved so far. It produced a background paper that reviewed the status of fiscal commitments. The following highlights stood out in helping us gauge the extent to which fiscal transparency principles are being operationalized in the OGP context:

What are the Limits of Transparency and Technology? From Three Gurus of the Openness Movement (Eigen, Rajani, McGee)

Duncan Green's picture

After a slightly disappointing ‘wonkwar’ on migration, let’s try a less adversarial format for another big development issue: Transparency and Accountability. I have an instinctive suspicion of anything that sounds like a magic bullet, a cost-free solution, or motherhood and apple pie in general. So the current surge in interest on open data and transparency has me grumbling and sniffing the air. Are politicians just grabbing it as a cheap announcement in austere times? Does it contain some kind of implicit right wing assumptions (an individualist homo economicus maximising market efficiency through open data)? And is there any evidence that transparency actually has much impact on the lives of poor people (after all, the proponents of transparency and results-based agendas are often the same organizations, so I hope they are practicing what they preach….)

I put these fears to three transparency gurus, and here are their fascinating responses, striking in their quality and level of, well, openness. It’s a long read, but I hope you’ll agree, a worthwhile one. Think we’ll just stick with comments on this one – doesn’t feel like a vote would be useful (but let me know if you think otherwise)

Need to Know: Why Open Data is for Everyone

Roxanne Bauer's picture

The International Finance Corporation hosted a ‘Hard Talk’ on Tuesday, February 25, 2014 entitled ‘Presumption of Openness: Can Open Data Contribute to Economic Growth and Prosperity?’ Rufus Pollock, Director and Co-founder of Open Knowledge Foundation, and Gavin Starks, CEO of Open Data Institute, provided insight as guest speakers about what constitutes open data, how it contributes to economic growth, and the ways in which it can contribute to The World Bank Group’s twin goals of poverty eradication and shared prosperity.

Open Data

Essentially, open data is both a concept and a category of data.  It is the idea that some data should be freely available to everyone to use and repurpose without restrictions from copyright, patents, or other controls.  It is defined by three characteristics: (1) ease of access to data, (2) ability to reuse and share data, and (3) universal participation- anyone can use the data.  As a category of data, open data refers to data— big and small— that are comprised of anonymous and non-personal information and to content, such as images, text and music.

In terms of poverty reduction, both Pollock and Starks believe that the potential benefits of open data are numerous and powerful. As urbanization, globalization, and fragmentation all continue to shape societies, they argue that data can help governments, the private sector, and communities to be more efficient, resourceful, and effective.

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Twitter Angling For More International Users
Tech President

“Twitter is following Facebook and Google's lead in creating an avenue for feature or "dumb" phone users to access their service, even without an Internet connection. They have partnered with the Singapore-based company U2opia Mobile, Reuters reports. Chief executive and co-founder of U2opia Mobile, Sumesh Menon, told Reuters that they will launch the Twitter service next year. U2opia Mobile already helps more than 11 million people access Facebook and Google Talk through their Fonetwish service without using data.”   READ MORE


Open government data emerging, trust in government declining
Internet Policy Review

“The use of open government data has declined since last year, a new study by the Initiative D21 and the Institute for Public Information Management (ipima) reported at a press conference in Berlin today. According to the fourth edition of the eGovernment Monitor, the number of users of eGovernment services in Sweden in 2013 was 53 percent, compared to 70 percent in 2012. On average, the decline was as high as 8 percent in those countries that were monitored. Numerous data breach scandals and the revelations about pervasive surveillance were obvious reasons for the heightened caution, the researchers wrote in their summary.”   READ MORE
 

Transparency & Social Accountability: Where’s the Magic?

Kate Henvey's picture

Are citizens receiving the greatest development impact for their development dollar? This is the basic principle at the heart of International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), a voluntary, multi-stakeholder initiative that seeks to improve the transparency of aid, giving citizens in developing and donor countries the information they need to hold their governments to account for use of those resources.

Last week, as Publish What You Fund (PWYF) released their second Aid Transparency Index (ATI), which assesses adherence of the world’s major donors to their IATI commitments, the question turned from one of how institutions performed on the index to one of how aid transparency enables effectiveness, accountability and social change in real terms.

Kicking off the conversation, Duncan Edwards of the Institute of Development Studies challenged the basic assumption that because better data/information is accessible, citizens, governments and institutions will use it in their decision making processes. The common narrative in open development projects is flawed, Edwards claims, it simply cannot be proven that to “provide access to data/information –> some magic occurs –> we see positive change.” 

AidData, along with several other voices, countered that while open data is certainly not sufficient to provoke positive change it is a necessary baseline to catalyze better development outcomes. 

Transparency can only lead to greater social accountability if citizens understand what data means and if there is genuine public debate about a country’s development spending. The panelists at the October 24th Brookings Institution launch of the 2013 ATI report suggested how transparency can catalyze positive change:

Weekly Wire: the Global Forum

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

'Many vested interests benefit from a lack of open government'
Public Leaders Network 

“In the first of a series of interviews with speakers and attendees at the Open Government Partnership (OGP) summit 2013, we talk to Professor Jonathan Fox, of the school of international service, American University, Washington.

He will moderate a session in which the founding eight OGP countries will present their two-year national action plans as well as reflect on their first progress report from the OGP's independent reporting mechanism. The OGP was launched in 2011, and is aimed at making governments more transparent and accountable.”  READ MORE
 

Weekly Wire: the Global Forum

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Google's uProxy: A Peer-to-Peer Gateway to Internet Freedom
Mashable

“In parts of the world where repressive governments control the Internet with unassailable firewalls, netizens don't see the same web that people in other countries can.

Now, Google wants to give people in these countries a tool to circumvent those invisible barriers, and defeat censorship. Called uProxy, it is meant to be an easy-to-use, peer-to-peer gateway to the open Internet. With uProxy installed, somebody in Iran could use a friend's Internet to connect with him or her.” READ MORE
 

Weekly Wire: the Global Forum

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Trading Privilege for Privation, Family Hits a Nerve in South Africa
The New York Times

“Regina Matshega was gossiping with a neighbor over a fence between their shacks in the Phomolong squatter camp last month when a very unexpected sight suddenly popped into view: two ruddy-cheeked white South Africans, a man and a woman, with two towheaded toddlers running at their heels.

‘I couldn’t believe my eyes,’ Ms. Matshega said. ‘What are white people doing here? They live in the rich places. They never come this side.’”  READ MORE
 

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