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Technology and Transparency

Shanthi Kalathil's picture

Say you're a civil society activist who uses online and mobile technology as a tool for greater accountability. Wouldn't you want to be able to call up a map of the world and easily find examples from other countries that might also be relevant for your work?
 
Turns out, you can. Recently, at the Internet at Liberty 2010 conference co-sponsored by Google and Central European University, I heard a presentation from the Technology and Transparency Network, which is an initiative of Global Voices and Rising Voices.  Click on the link, and you'll see that the Technology and Transparency Network's home page is a map of the world, where you can zoom in on individual projects in countries like Mexico, Sudan, Uganda, Cambodia and Hungary. 

But the site aims to do more than simply map technology-enabled transparency tools. It seeks to document and evaluate these case studies, using a standard methodology. This, I think, is where the real value added lies. We've all heard about the various examples of interesting technology-enabled governance and accountability work going on around the world; what we hear less about, unfortunately, is whether or not these projects are successful (and indeed, how to gauge this question), what makes them so, and what about them might be replicable/scaleable. I look forward to the results of this evaluative process as they become available, as well as to more information about the process used to come up with the standard evaluation methodology.
 
Technology for Transparency's site itself raises these questions for discussion: "Can these projects be evaluated individually for impact, or should they only be seen as part of a larger accountability ecosystem? Does citizen participation in such projects lead to greater overall citizen engagement and more widespread demand for accountable public institutions? Do public institutions change their policies and behavior based on the input from citizen-led initiatives? To what extent does the usage of technology tools drive action around transparency?"
 
These are all exactly the types of questions we should be asking and refining, as we study, sponsor, and engage in these initiatives. For instance, I don't think we can assume that public institutions change their policies/behavior based on input from citizen-led initiatives. I do think it takes a particular combination of circumstances for this to actually happen, and I'd like to better understand what those circumstances are.
 
If you have an example of a case you'd like to add to the database, there's a way to do so on the Network's website, as well as other ways to participate. Please check it out; the more data examined, the richer the analysis and output of the project, and the more knowledge we'll all be able to bring to bear in increasing transparency and accountability around the world.
 

 

Photo Credit: Flickr user kiwanja

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Comments

Recently, Planning Commission of India, the apex planning body, decided to seek suggestions from the public in formulating its next five year plan. The concerns of the impact of citizen participation on the policies and functioning of public entities is very valid. It needs to be seen if the public really has a say in such matters.

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