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Public Engagement

#6 from 2012: Opening Government Data. But Why?

Anupama Dokeniya's picture

Our Top Ten Blog Posts by Readership in 2012

Originally published on July 19, 2012

Even as the language of ‘Open Government’ has picked up steam over the past couple of years – driven initially by the 'Obama Open Government Directive', and further boosted by the multi-lateral Open Government Partnership –  the use of the term has tended to fairly broad, and mostly imprecise, lacking a shared, consistent definition. As Nathaniel Heller of Global Integrity, a key player in the OGP, cautioned in a recent blog: “The longer we allow ‘open government’ to mean any and everything to anyone, the risk increases that the term melts into a hollow nothingness of rhetoric.”

In a recent useful piece, Harlan Yu and David Robinson, draw a distinction between “the technologies of open data and the politics of open government,” suggesting that ‘open government data’ can be understood through two lenses – open ‘government data’ or ‘open government’ data. The first approach reflects an emphasis on deploying the functionality of new information technologies to put government datasets in the public space in a way that is amenable to re-use, and can be tied to a range of outcomes – among other things, improved delivery of services, innovation, or efficiency. The second approach prioritizes a mode of governance characterized by transparent decision-making - particularly on issues of public interest and critical for public welfare – and the release of government data (and information in other formats as well) as furthering this goals of transparency.

TEDxSendai - Engaging Differently

Maya Brahmam's picture

TEDxSendai allowed us to engage differently with a broader public around a key development topic. We thought the TEDx approach was worth exploring for several reasons:

  • The TEDx platform – licensed by the TED Conference – has great presence and a great community of people who are interested in new ideas.
  • The World Bank’s own move to open data, knowledge and solutions aligned well with the “ideas worth spreading” philosophy of TED events.
  • TEDx’s multidisciplinary approach allowed us to engage with different voices and more creatively with a broader audience.

Quote of the Week: Nandan Nilekani

Sina Odugbemi's picture

"Well, I think the way I see it simply is in the private sector the number of people you're to come into is much less. You convince your management team, your board, your investors, your analysts and you go and do something, go in new direction, buy a company, whatever.

In the public space, you are answerable to a lot more stakeholders, the government, parliament, bureaucracy, activists, journalists, the judicial system, the investigators. So I think what I learned is the amount of time you are to invest in evangelizing and consensus building is hugely more in the public space. And crafting a strategy which is sort of acceptable to everybody really takes a great deal of time. And that's where the big difference to me between the two worlds."

 

-Nandan Nilekani, Author of Imagining India and Co-founder of Infosys

-As quoted in an interview on Fareed Zakaria GPS, July 1, 2012

Framing Climate Change

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

It’s environment week, kind of. Tuesday was World Environment Day and tomorrow is World Oceans Day. Both days were institutionalized through United Nations resolutions to draw attention to the environment and the threats it is exposed to. For communicators in development, climate change is one of the most relevant issues. Communication scholars also have thought a lot about how to effectively communicate climate change. I am not quite sure, however, whether the two sides are working together. Let me therefore discuss how framing can influence our understanding and acceptance of climate change.

Matthew Nisbet from American University has written an interesting article on “Communicating Climate Change: Why Frames Matter for Public Engagement”. He argues that the enormous divide between the factual reality of climate change and citizens’ perception is partly due to the way interest groups have been framing the issue. He identifies a number of frames that are being used in the public discussion (p. 18):

The Critical Publics of the International Investigator

Sina Odugbemi's picture

International investigators are the anti-corruption sleuths who work in many international institutions. Their job is to investigate corrupt practices within and around the projects funded by their institutions that are being implemented in different parts of the world. They have to be hard, tough and clever. Because of that they may frighten the people who know about what they do and might come under their gaze. But can they be successful as lone rangers? Do they need friendly, collaborative publics? It is easy to think that they don't; but it turns out that if they really want to be effective there are publics that they need to have with them one way or another.

Dissemination vs Public Engagement; in Other Words, Are You Serious?

Sina Odugbemi's picture

'Ha, I almost forgot; we need a dissemination strategy for the report. Get somebody to sort that out. Meeting adjourned.'

You guessed right: the statement above usually occurs at the end of a long meeting discussing 'substance'; then somebody realizes that if the department/organization has spent all this money on this piece of research, it might be a good idea to get somebody to 'disseminate' it.

Usually, they have not given the matter serious thought. They have not answered basic questions.

Congress Shall Make No Law

Shanthi Kalathil's picture

Quick: can you list all the freedoms guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment?

If not, you're not alone. Apparently sparked by the fact that only one in twenty-five Americans can name all five freedoms listed in the First Amendment, the 1ForAll initiative aims to build support and awareness of the First Amendment among American youth. Its website notes that it intends to provide educational materials for teachers, hold events and engage the public through a variety of media.

Provoking Exit, not Loyalty, in Post-Conflict States

Sina Odugbemi's picture

You know the usual story: a political community is sundered by ethnic or sectarian conflict, things fall apart; after a hot season or two of killings and mayhem peace is negotiated, and the domestic political process resumes. The international community insists on elections. They are held in a rough and ready manner, a faction wins and forms a government. Then what happens? The winners start using the powers of the state to smash opponents anew and entrench themselves in power. Very often, the winners do this just because they can. I call them the new authoritarians. They have learned nothing and forgotten nothing. 
 

Do Ordinary Indians Care about Their Right to Information?

Fumiko Nagano's picture

India’s 2005 Right to Information Act (RTIA) was described earlier on this blog by my colleague Darshana Patel, who saw first-hand some of the innovative efforts by district governments in the state of Maharashtra to implement the RTIA. She concludes her post with a caveat: legislation is important, but it is the actual use of it that leads to its effectiveness—and that use depends on public awareness.

This important point, among others, is discussed in detail by Alasdair Roberts of Suffolk University Law School in his informative paper, “A Great and Revolutionary Law? The First Four Years of India’s Right to Information Act.” The paper examines the progress to date in the implementation of the RTIA. Comprehensive and ambitious, the RTIA is hailed by enthusiasts as a legal measure with a “revolutionary” potential. However, the results of numerous studies including two recent large-scale assessments of the state of the RTIA reveal that the task of implementing the law is not without major challenges. According to Roberts, at the root of the difficulties are: “uneven public awareness, poor planning by public authorities, and bureaucratic indifference or hostility.” The first and third factors are the ones that I found more interesting for the purposes of this blog, and in this post I will focus on the issue of public awareness.

The Politics of Non-Transparent Aid Flows

Sina Odugbemi's picture

My attention has been tickled by the news that at the recent High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Accra, Ghana, donors apparently agreed to launch an initiative known as the International Aid Transparency Initiative. Under the initiative, according to the DFID press release on the subject, donors have agreed to give:

- Full and detailed information on all aid in each country affected
- Details and costs of individual projects and their aims
- Reliable information on future aid to improve planning by recipient governments.

I hope the initiative will be seriously implemented. But it will not be easy. And the main reason it will not be easy is that the instinct of the technocracy that dominates every aspect of international development is to be non-transparent.