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Archive for July, 2012

When working with women and girls in conflict or displacement situations (actually, when working with anyone, in any situation), we often make assumptions. In this case, the assumption is that “economic opportunities for women and adolescent girls have positive roll-on effects”, according to Mendy Marsh, UNICEF’s Gender Based Violence (GBV) Specialist in Emergencies.

Slide from Marsh’s presentation.

We assume that when women and older adolescent girls have income, they are safer. We assume that when households have income, children are more likely to be in school, that they are accessing healthcare, and that they are better fed, says Marsh.

But do we know whether that is true or not? What does the evidence say?

I took an hour today to listen to Marsh along with Dale Buscher, Senior Director for Programs at the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC), talk about WRC’s “Peril or Protection: Making Work Safe” Campaign (watch the recording here).

GBV happens in all communities, including stable ones. But when situations become unstable, Marsh noted, a number of additional factors combine to make women and adolescent girls in conflict or displacement settings vulnerable to violence.

Slide from Marsh’s presentation.

These factors include:

  • Inadequate legal frameworks –eg., impunity for those committing GBV and a lack of awareness of rights
  • Lack of basic survival needs  – eg., food, non-food items, fuel, water, safe shelter
  • Lack of opportunities – eg., women’s and girls’ financial dependence, potential for exploitative work
  • Sociocultural aspects – eg., harmful practices, domestic violence, early and forced marriage
  • Insecurity – eg., flight and displacement, no lighting, no safe shelter, non-separate latrines or hygiene facilities for men, women, boys and girls, or facilities that don’t lock or are insecure; dependency on males for information

Emphasis during conflict situations tends to focus on response not prevention, said Marsh. Different agencies and sectors often work in isolation, but no single agency or sector can address GBV. It needs to be addressed across all sectors with strong community participation, including that of men and boys.

Often, she noted, livelihoods programs are brought in as a response to women’s needs and based on the assumptions above. There can be unintended negative effects from these programs and we need to be aware of them so that they can be mitigated.

Following Marsh’s introduction, Busher explained that because WRC wanted to better understand any potential unintended consequences from livelihoods programs aimed at women in conflict or displacement situations, in 2009 they conducted research and produced “Peril or Protection: The Link between Livelihoods and Gender-Baed Violence in Displacement Settings.

There is a very weak evidence base in terms of the links between gender based violence and livelihoods programming, he said.

WRC found that in some cases livelihood programs implemented by NGOs actually increased women’s and adolescent girls’ risks of GBV because of factors such as their entering the public sphere, going to market, using unsafe transportation and domestic conflict. The economic opportunities heightened the risks that women and girls faced. Providing them with income generation opportunities did not necessarily make women and girls safer or give them more control over resources.

Slide from Buscher’s presentation.

The answer is not to stop creating economic opportunities, however. Rather it is to design and implement these kinds of programs in responsible ways that do no harm and that are based on in-depth consultations with women, girls and their communities, livelihoods practitioners and GBV specialists.

Based on their research and with input from different stakeholders, WRC designed a toolkit to help those creating livelihoods programs for and with women and adolescent girls to do so in a way that lessens the risk of GBV.

The process outlined in the toolkit includes secondary research, safety mapping, a safety tool, and a decision chart.

Based on the secondary research, practitioners work with adolescent girls, women and the wider community to map the places that are important for livelihoods, explained Buscher. For example, the bus, a taxi stand, a supply shop, the fields.

Community members discuss where women and girls are safe and where they are not. They describe the kinds of violence and abuse that girls and women experience in these different places.

They identify strategies for protection based on when GBV takes place in the different locations. For example, does it happen year-round? At certain times of year? Only at night? Only on weekends?

They identify and discuss the most risky situations. Is a girl or woman most at risk when she is selling by the side of the road? Alone in a shop?

They also discuss which relationships are the most prone to GBV. Bosses? Suppliers? Buyers? Intimate Partners? Together the women and girls share and discuss the strategies that they use to protect themselves.

An additional tool identifies the social safety net that a women or adolescent girl has, considering that social networks are important both for livelihoods as well as for protection. Ways to strengthen them are discussed.

Finally, a decision chart is created with a list of livelihood activities and the information from the previous charts and discussions to determine the levels of risk in the different kinds of livelihood activities and the potential strategies for mitigating GBV.

Decisions are also made by the adolescent girls and women regarding which risks they are willing to take for which levels of livelihoods.

Marsh and Buscher concluded that safe, dignified work may be the most effective form of protection because it can help mitigate negative coping strategies such as transactional sex, child labor, pulling children out of school, and selling rations.

Livelihoods, however, should not be thought of as a little bit of money to supplement daily rations. They should be sustainable and help meet basic needs in an ongoing way; and they should lead to dignified work. The amount earned and the risks involved for women and girls need to be worth it for them, considering all the other domestic chores that they are required to do. NGOs need to consult with and listen to girls and women to better understand their needs, coping strategies.

If you’d like to learn more about the research, and the toolkit, WRC offers a free e-learning tool on how to make work safe.

You can also follow the #safelivelihoods conversation on twitter.

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This is a guest post by Roland Berehoudougou, disaster risk manager for Plan International’s West Africa Region. He explains the numerous factors that came together and conspired against the people of the Sahel, transforming the lean season into an emergency. 

Photo: Roland Berehoudougou.

When Plan International and other aid agencies sounded the alarm bells and appealed for public assistance to finance an emergency response to the Sahel Food Crisis, there were those sceptics who saw this crisis as an annual chronic food shortage which was being exploited by aid agencies to raise money.

Those skeptics were wrong.

So what is an emergency? What is a food crisis? What is involved in declaring an emergency or pronouncing a situation to be a “food crisis”? A number of issues are taken into consideration including forecast about the availability, cost of food, environmental factors and other internal and external factors which are discussed below.

The Sahel Food Crisis is the result of a complex emergency in which these factors have come together to create this food and nutritional crisis. In fact, had these not occurred then there would be no food crisis, no emergency, and no fundraising appeals.

Captured from Plan International’s Pinterest. http://pinterest.com/pin/64809682107912974/

Drought causes conflict
In the last three to five years, the people in the Sahel have been confronted with either lower than average rain, normal rainfall or excessive rainfall causing floods. As a result harvest levels have been good in some places and poor in others.

In countries of poor harvests, farmers and their families have been coping using straightforward approaches of cutting back on their expenses. In the Sahel, families sold their livestock; others sold their furniture and other possessions. After three consecutive years, their assets have been depleted and men, women and children have been looking for work to supplement household incomes.

The conflicts in Cote d’Ivoire, the Maghreb, and Libya meant that more than 200,000 migrant workers from the Sahel had to flee those countries and return home. Given the average size of families in the Sahel, about 7-12 members per family, two million people suddenly became affected and had reduced incomes.

In addition, the Malian refugees which poured over the borders into neighbouring countries are an additional stress on food insecure areas. For every one refugee, there are five animals. So if you consider 375,000 animals coming over with 75,000 refugees, for example, those animals can dry up a water-scarce irrigation dam in just few days. Yet, cattle are a lifeline and in a food crisis, they cannot be forgotten.

In addition to depriving people of a considerable source of income, the drought in the Sahel is a source of conflict. Shepherds, for example, who are forced to take their animals southward in search of pasture, come into conflict with farmers.

Cultural differences
People in the Sahel eat a different staple to what is grown outside the region and this has implications during a food crisis. Let’s take a scenario where countries on the west coast, such as Liberia or Cote d’Ivoire, may have enough food to export. However, it is not the type of food that people in the Sahel eat and they therefore won’t import it. Instead they import from one another at prevailing market rates which has a knock-on effect on availability and cost.

Market forces – influenced by global factors – dictate price. There is a common market across West Africa where traders move and sell freely. When Nigeria is buying, WFP is buying, other NGOs are buying the price increases. If you look at food prices you will see that prices this year compared to the same period last year is more than 100% in Mali, more than 70% in Burkina 42% in Niger.

So, as an NGO, Plan International had to change its strategy and approach our donors for permission to do cash-for-work or food-for-work programmes rather than waiting to do food distribution programmes after the food stock is totally depleted.

A food crisis may, therefore, not necessarily mean a shortage of food but rather the inability of a people to afford to buy the food.

Arab Spring
In addition to the complications of prolonged inconsistent harvest levels, market forces, and inflow of refugees and their livestock, the situation has become complicated by the rise of desert locusts this year.

The breeding grounds of locusts are in the border areas of Libya and Algeria. When the Gadaffi government was in office, they provided a lot of money for insect control in locust breeding grounds but since the Arab Spring and events following it the finance for the pest control has dried up. The continuing insecurity on these borders also prevents pest control activities. We are now seeing a different impact of the Arab Spring spilling into the Sahel in the form of locust swarms.

The UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) which monitors locust movement say that swarms have been sighted in northern Niger. If these swarms come southward through the agricultural belt farmers will experience yet another problem. When these clouds of locusts descend on newly planted fields, they can devour acres of crops and trees in just 30 minutes. The locust swarms have also been sighted in northern Mali but because of the insecurity, no one can go there to control the pests.

NGOs do not do pest control as it is a very costly exercise involving planes and other equipment which we do not have. This role falls to specialised agencies such as FAO and governments. This is a looming disaster.

Road to hell
To cope with the food crisis, children have left school and have taken to the road to find work to help their parents. Some girls are working as domestic help in homes, other are begging on the streets, and boys are finding work in traditional gold mining in Burkina and Niger. A number of serious hazards face these children including respiratory problems from inhalation of dust and exposure to mercury, arsenic and other chemicals used in the process.

Many children who go to work on plantations, in cotton fields and other types of farming also face risks of exploitation and potential trafficking.

Finding solutions
At Plan we are trying to address the food insecurity, in the areas we work, in a holistic way.

We are providing drought-resistant seeds, supporting the government to train farmers in drought-season activities and supporting the 3N programme (“Niger Nourish Nigeriens”). One of its principal objectives is reducing dependence on climate through irrigation and rain water collection projects.

Plan, whose core work is Child Centred Community Development (CCCD), is also empowering communities to get involved in the cereal market and beat speculators at their own game by creating community-managed cereal banks. After a harvest the price of cereal drops and farmers are forced to sell their crops at low prices to meet the schooling cost for their children and other social costs. Speculators buy the cereal and store it until food shortages kick-in around mid-year and then release the cereal at high market prices.

Plan-supported communities are doing the same thing – except that they sell at a lower price to members of their village. The income generated is used to increase the storage capacity of the cereal bank and support social infrastructures in the village such as building facilities like medical centres and schools.

We are also implementing micro-finance project for women and youth using the VSLA strategy (www.vsla.net). We have discovered that if we provide economic empowerment for women then there is a trickle down effecting benefiting children who will receive balance meals, medical care and an education. We are seeing improvements in the quality of life for families in our programme areas.

Using this approach, many villages are now being lifted out of poverty and Plan is replicating this in other areas in which we are working.

No handouts
When Plan appealed to developing nations for assistance for the Sahel Food Crisis, it was not to address an annual chronic food shortage. It was to address a complex emergency that has stretched an already stressed situation to its breaking point which in turn has put four million children at risk of malnutrition.

No one is ever happy about being in a situation to ask for help to feed their families.

Plan is using aid money in such a way so as to prevent dependency on long-term aid. The United Nations agencies of OCHA and UNDP have demonstrated that for a dollar of foreign aid spent on preventing disasters saves an average of seven dollars in humanitarian disaster response.

At Plan we are seeking to empower and support the people living the Sahel to get out of the situation themselves. We are in it for the long haul. We are working hard to make ourselves and our work redundant and build resilience in the Sahel and hope. None of this is possible without the support of governments and people from the rest of the world.

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Continue reading on Storify…

Amanda’s workshop was educational, thought-provoking, well-researched and participatory. The youth who participated in the workshop were from Bangladesh, Liberia, Haiti and across the US. They were incredibly savvy and insightful in their thoughts, analysis and comments. I learned a lot about ethical advocacy as well as about what makes a campaign or initiative interesting for well-informed, globally engaged young activists.

The rest of the workshop is captured here, including my favorite part:

The advocacy Do’s and Don’ts that participants generated during group work:

And a key take-away:

Summary of the full workshop.

Amanda’s ebook “Beyond Kony2012: Atrocity, Awareness and Activism in the Internet Age.

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English version here

A menudo, en el sector de las ONGs, se discute cómo podemos integrar de una mejor manera, las TICs en el proceso de desarrollo de las comunidades. Para mí, este video muestra una de las mejores maneras para lograrlo: contratar a personas como David.

Contratar gente joven y que provienen de las comunidades, personas que entiendan las realidades locales y que además son apasionados/as por mejorar las cosas de su entorno y tienen ganas de hacer cosas nuevas. Contratar personas no pretenciosas, personas que escuchan y que preguntan cuando no tienen la respuesta.

Hay que contratar a personas curiosas, que buscan información y están llenas de motivación propia. Aquellas que no tienen miedo al trabajo duro y que sienten la necesidad de tomar riesgos y además, no le  temen a la posibilidad de fallar. Hay que contratar gente con chispa creativa. Aquellas personas que saben trabajar en equipo, colaborar con otros y aprender de las personas a su alrededor.

Se debe contratar gente joven, que entiendan y usen las nuevas tecnologías y que pasen suficiente tiempo fuera de la oficina para saber cómo se pueden utilizar las TICs como herramienta en el desarrollo y/o en circunstancias difíciles.

Para eso hay que contratar gente como David. Pero no basta solo contratarla.

Una vez contratada, se debe asegurar que tengan las condiciones para crecer y logar su plenitud.

También se debe garantizar que tengan acceso a oportunidades, que participan en reuniones y eventos internos y externos, locales, regionales y globales para compartir sus conocimientos y así  aprender y para hacer contactos y conexiones.

A las personas como David se debe premiarlas, honrarlas y felicitarlas regularmente, aún si están muy ocupadas cumpliendo su trabajo, fuera de la autopromoción y de la política de la oficina.

Se debe asegurar que personas como David, tengan mentores y gerentes que les quiten las barreras para que puedan avanzar con su trabajo y en su desarrollo profesional. Escucharlas y respetarlas. Si, también debe cuestionárseles – pero con la certeza que ellas tienen la capacidad de inventar ideas que pueden funcionar, aún si no son las ideas que usted hubiera inventado. Los mentores y gerentes no deben sentirse amenazados por las personas como David, cuando sepan más que usted sobre algo. Todos y todas pueden aprender del uno al otro si el espacio para el diálogo es abierto y sincero.

Las personas como David son el presente y el futuro de los procesos del desarrollo.

Por las personas como David, me cuesta dar consejos de carrera a las personas en los EEUU que buscan trabajo en otros países. Preferia ver a las personas como David ocupando estos puestos.

David recién ganó el premio del Empleado Nuevo con Mayor Promesa en la región de las Américas durante los Premios Globales de Plan Internacional. Sigue a David al @2drodriguez y aprende más sobre los proyectos que esta hacienda aca: Mis Derechos Ante Desastres, en la pagina del proyecto de Facebook, o al @deantede.

(Gracias a Max Rodriguez por revisar y corregir mi traducción del post)

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In the INGO sector, we often discuss ways that development organizations can better bridge development and ICTs. If you ask me, this video shows one of the best ways to achieve it: Hire people like David.

Hire young, local folks who have spent time in communities, who understand local realities, who are passionate about helping make things better, and who are hungry to do new things that make sense. Hire people who are humble; people who listen and who ask questions when they don’t know the answer.

Hire people who are curious, who seek out information, who are self starters, and who are not afraid to work hard, to try, to take risks and to fail. Hire people with creative fire who know how to work in a team, how to collaborate with others and how to learn from those around them. Hire young people who use and understand new technologies and who spend enough time out of the office to know how they can realistically be applied to development issues in difficult settings.

Hire people like David.

But don’t only hire them.

Once you hire them, make sure that they have the conditions to thrive and achieve to their fullest.

Make sure people like David have access to opportunities. Make sure that they get to attend regional and global internal and external meetings to share what they know, to learn, and to make contacts and connections.

Notice people like David. Reward them, honor them, and congratulate them regularly, even if they are too busy getting the job done to spend lots of time on self-promotion or office politics.

Make sure people like David have mentors and managers who can take roadblocks out of their way. Listen to them. Respect them. Question them, yes, but do so with the honest belief that they have the capacity to come up with ideas that can work even if they are not the ideas you would have come up with. Don’t feel threatened by people like David when they know more than you do about something. We can all learn from each other if the space for dialogue is open and sincere.

People like David are the present and future of development efforts.

People like David are the reason I have a hard time giving career advice to folks in the US who are looking for jobs overseas. I’d rather see people like David in these positions.

David recently won the “Most Promising Newcomer” award for the Americas region during Plan International’s Global Awards. Follow David at @2drodriguez and learn more about what he’s up to at the website Mis Derechos Ante Desastres (My Rights in the Face of a Disaster), the project Facebook page, or at @deantede.

**Version Español

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I spent last week at the International Open Government Data Conference (IOGDC), put on by Data.gov, the World Bank Open Data Initiative and the Open Development Technology Alliance. For a full overview, watch some of the presentations and read the liveblog.

A point made by several presenters and panelists is that the field has advanced quite a bit in terms of getting data open, and that what really matters now is what people are doing with the data to improve and/or change things.

One of the keynoters, David Eaves, for example, commentedthe conferences we organize have got to talk less and less about how to get data open and have to start talking more about how do we use data to drive public policy objectives. I’m hoping the next International Open Government Data Conference will have an increasing number of presentations by citizens, non-profits and other outsiders [who] are using open data to drive their agenda, and how public servants are using open data strategically to drive to a[n] outcome.” 

There were some great anecdotal examples throughout the conference of how open data are having impact, especially in 4 key areas:

  1. economic growth/entrepreneurship
  2. transparency, accountability and governance
  3. improved resource allocation and provision of services
  4. connecting data dots and telling stories the public needs to know

There was also quite a bit of recognition that we need more evidence to back up the anecdotal success stories told around open data, and that it’s difficult to trace all the impact that open data are having because of the multiple and unintended impacts.

On the other hand, the question was raised: “is open data part of the public’s right to information? Because if we conceive of open data as a right, the framework and conceptualization change as do, perhaps, the measures of success.

Several panelists mentioned some of the big challenges around engaging citizens to use open data for social change, especially in areas with less resources and low access to the Internet.

If one of the key next steps is engaging citizens in using open data, we all need to think more about how to overcome barriers like language, literacy, who owns and accesses devices, low education levels, low capacity to interpret data, information literacy, power and culture, apathy, lack of incentive and motivation for citizen engagement, and poor capacity of duty bearers/governments to respond to citizen demand. (For more on some of these common challenges and approaches to addressing them, see 15 thoughts on good governance programming with youth.)

On the last day of IOGDC we had the opportunity to suggest our own topics during Open Space. I suggested the topic “Taking Open Data Offline” because it seems that often when we imagine all the fantastic possibilities of open data, we forget how many people live in remote, rural areas (or urban areas with poor infrastructure) where there is no broadband and where many of the above-mentioned barriers are very high. (See a Storified summary of our conversation here: #IOGDCoffline.)

The solutions most often mentioned for getting data into the hands of ordinary citizens are Internet and mobile apps. Sometimes when I’m around open data folks, I do a double take because the common understanding of ‘infomediary’ is ‘the developer making the mobile app’. This seems to ignore that, as Jim Hendler noted during the IOGDC pre-conference, some 75% of the world’s population is still offline.

We need to expand the notion of ‘infomediary’ in these discussions to think about the range of people, media, organizations and institutions who can help close the gap between big data and the average person, both in terms of getting open data out to the public in digestible ways and in terms of connecting local knowledge, information needs, feedback and opinions of citizens back to big data. There will need to be a wide range of infomediaries using a number of different communication tools and channels in order to really make open data accessible and useful.

Though things are changing, the majority of folks in the world don’t yet have smart phones. In a sense, the ‘most marginalized’ could be defined as ‘those who don’t have mobile phones.’ And even people who do have phones may not choose to spend their scarce resources to access open data. Data that is available online may be in English or one of only a few major languages. Most people in most of the world don’t purchase data packages, they buy pre-paid air time. The majority don’t have a constant connection to the cloud but rather rely on intermittent Internet access, if at all.

In addition, in areas where education levels are low or data interpretation skills are not strong, people may not have the skills to make use of open data found online. So other communications tools, channels and methods need to be considered for making open data accessible to the broader public via different kinds of intermediaries and infomediaries, multi-direction information sharing channels, feedback loops and combinations of online/offline communication. People may even need support formulating the questions they want answered by open data, considering that open data can be a very abstract concept for those who are not familiar with the Internet and the use of data for critical analysis.

Some great ideas on how to use SMS in open data and open government and accountability work exist, such as Huduma, UReport, I Paid A Bribe, and more. Others are doing really smart thinking about how to transform open data into engaging media for a general audience through beautiful graphics that allow for deep analysis and comparison and that tell compelling stories that allow for a personal connection.

We need to think more, however, about how we can adapt these ideas to offline settings, how to learn from approaches and methods that have been around since the pre-Internet days, and how to successfully blend online-offline tools and contexts for a more inclusive reach and, one hopes, a wider and broader impact.

‘Popular Education’ and ‘Communication for Development (C4D)’ are two fields the open data movement could learn from in terms of including more remote or ‘marginalized’ populations in local, national and global conversations that may be generated through opening up data.

I remember being on a 10-hour ride to Accra one time from the Upper West Region of Ghana. The driver was listening to talk radio in a local language. At one point, someone was reading out a list. I couldn’t understand what was being said, but I could tell the list contained names of communities and districts. The list-reading went on for quite a long time. At one point, the driver cheered and pumped his fist. I asked what he was happy about and he explained that they were reading the list of where the government would be constructing schools and assigning teachers in the next year. His community was going to get a secondary school, and his children would not have to travel far now to continue their education. Radio is still one of the best tools for sharing information. Radio can be combined with activities like ‘Listening Clubs’ where groups gather to listen and discuss. Integrating SMS or call-in options make it possible for radio stations to interact more dynamically with listeners. Tools like FrontlineSMS Radio allow tracking, measuring and visualization of listener feedback.

I lived in El Salvador for the 1990s. Long and complicated Peace Accords were signed in 1992 after 12 years of civil war. A huge effort was made to ‘popularize’ the contents of the Peace Accords so that the whole country would know what the agreements were and so that people could hold the different entities accountable for implementing them. The contents of the Peace Accords were shared via comics, radio, public service announcements, and a number of other media that were adapted to different audiences. Local NGOs worked hard to educate the affected populations on the rights they could legally claim stemming from the Accords and to provide support in doing so.

When the Civil War ended in Guatemala a few years later, the same thing happened. Guatemala, however had the additional complication of 22 indigenous languages. Grassroots ‘popular education’ approaches in multiple languages were used by various groups across the country in an effort to ensure that no one was left out, to help develop ‘critical conscience’ and critical thinking around the implementation of the Peace Accords, and to involve the public in the work around the Truth Commission, which investigated allegations of human rights violations during the war and opened them to the public as part of the reconciliation process. Latin America (thanks to Paolo Freire and others) has a long history of  ‘popular education’ approaches and methods that can be tapped into and linked with open data. Open data can be every bit as complicated as the legalistic contents of the Peace Accords and it is likely that data that is eventually opened will link with issues (lack of political participation, land ownership patterns, corruption, political favoritism, poor accountability and widespread marginalization) that were the cause of conflict in past decades.

The Mural of the People / O Mural do Povo from Verdade in Mozambique. “The marvelous Mozambican public will attribute each year the ‘Made in Frelimo Oscar of Incompetence’…  The 2012 candidates are…”

In Mozambique, 75% of the population live on less than $1.25 a day. Newspapers costing between 45 and 75 cents are considered a luxury. The 20,000 issues of the free and widely circulated Verdade Newspaper, which comes out once a week, reach an estimated 400,000 people in Maputo and a few other cities as they are read and passed around to be re-read. Verdade reaches an additional audience via Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, and a ‘Mural of the People’ where the public can participate and contribute their thoughts and opinions old-school style — on a public chalkboard. The above February 7, 2012, mural, for example, encouraged the population to vote in the ‘Incompetence Oscars – Made in Frelimo [the current government party]‘. Candidates for an Incompetence Oscar included the “Minister of Unfinished Public Works.” (More about Verdade here.) This combination of online and offline tools helps spread news and generate opinion and conversation on government performance and accountability.

Social accountability tools like community scorecards, participatory budget advocacysocial auditsparticipatory videoparticipatory theater and community mapping have all been used successfully in accountability and governance work and would be more appropriate tools in some cases than Internet and mobile apps to generate citizen engagement around open data. Combining new ICTs together with these well-established approaches can help take open data offline and bring community knowledge and opinions online, so that open data is not strictly a top-down thing and so that community knowledge and processes can be aggregated, added to or connected back to open data sets and more widely shared via the Internet (keeping in mind a community’s right also to not have their data shared).

A smart combination of information and communication tools – whether Internet, mobile apps, posters, print media, murals, song, drama, face-to-face, radio, video, comics, community bulletin boards, open community fora or others – and a bottom-up, consultative, ‘popular education’ approach to open data could really help open data reach a wider group of citizens and equip them not only with information but with a variety of channels through which to participate more broadly in the definition of the right questions to ask and a wider skill set to use open data to question power and push for more accountability and positive social change.

Related posts on Wait… What?:

ICTs, social media, local government and youth-led social audits

Digital mapping and governance: the stories behind the maps

What does ‘open knowledge’ have to do with ‘open development’?

15 thoughts on good governance programming with youth

Governance is *so* not boring

Young Citizens, Youth and Participatory Governance in Africa

A practitioners’ discussion on social accountability and youth participatory governance

Can ICTs support accountability and transparency in education?

Orgasmatron moments

Listening and feedback mechanisms

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USAID has been busy lately with a redesign and roll-out of the new USAID.gov.

You can now access first-generation interactive maps at the country level for 40 missions (see screen capture below).

Screen capture from http://map.usaid.gov/ on July 5, 2012.

In addition, as part of the USAID evaluation policy that ‘sets ambitious standards for the quality and transparency of evaluation to demonstrate results, generate evidence to inform decisions, promote learning and ensure accountability’ the page that houses the Development Evaluation Clearinghouse (DEC) has been revamped. You can now search 50 years of international aid records, submit reports, and ‘get social’ by sharing, rating, tagging and blogging. Introduction videos are available to help you get started.

Not only is there better looking and more accessible information on-line, you can get two mobile applications (available for iPhone and iPad):

  • The DEC mobile app provides access to a subset of USAID Development Experience Clearinghouse (DEC) documents (recent evaluations).
  • The Portfolio Map mobile app allows you to browse the USAID portfolio for a subset of the countries in which USAID is working, access general country overviews at a glance and get more detailed information as needed.

In other news, alongside their own new website, on June 25th, 2012, USAID together with the Department of State announced publication of USAID’s foreign assistance obligation and expenditure data for Fiscal Year 2009-2011 on the Foreign Assistance Dashboard.

As explained during the DC Technology Salon on ‘How will IATI impact international development,’ the Dashboard is the US Government’s main tool for improving foreign aid transparency. It will play a key role in US Government reporting of foreign assistance data to the international community, one of the measures agreed on when the US Government signed onto the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) in November 2011.

According to the June 25th press release, ‘the Dashboard also has budget planning data for the Department of State and USAID, as well as the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC)’s foreign assistance budget planning, obligation, and expenditure data.  Data on the site can be manually queried, filtered, and downloaded by users for further analysis.

The Dashboard is designed to allow a range of stakeholders, including U.S. citizens, civil society organizations, Congress, U.S. Government agencies, donors, and partner country governments; to examine, research, and track foreign assistance data in an accessible and easy-to-understand format. It aims to allow users to explore the impact of U.S. foreign assistance funding by country, sector, initiative, and agency by presenting data in a standard and user-friendly way.

According to USAID, ‘as the lead agency in implementing U.S. foreign assistance activities around the world, the launch of USAID obligation and expenditure data on the Foreign Assistance Dashboard represents a significant step forward in the U.S. Government’s efforts to make foreign assistance more transparent.’ (For additional discussion on this point, see the summary post from the aforementioned Technology Salon.)

The Dashboard is currently in an early stage of development. The site eventually plans for the incorporation of ‘budget, financial, program, and performance data in a standard form from all U.S. Government agencies receiving or implementing foreign assistance, humanitarian, and/or development funds.’ (See the table below for an idea of what is currently done and what is coming up.)

For more information about the Dashboard, see the Top Ten Things You Should Know page.

With all this information being made more accessible to everyone, it will be interesting to see if and how it’s used by different people and institutions for different purposes, especially in terms of improving coordination, program planning, transparency, accountability and aid effectiveness.

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