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This is a cross-post by Duncan Edwards from the Institute of Development Studies. Duncan and I collaborated on some sessions for the Open Development stream at September’s Open Knowledge Conference, and we are working on a few posts to sum up what we discussed there and highlight some lingering thoughts on open development and open data. This post was originally published on the Open Knowledge Foundation blog on October 21, 2013

by Duncan Edwards

I’ve had a lingering feeling of unease that things were not quite right in the world of open development and ICT4D (Information and communication technology for development), so at September’s Open Knowledge Conference in Geneva I took advantage of the presence of some of the world’s top practitioners in these two areas to explore the question: How does “openness” really effect change within development?

Inspiration for the session came from a number of conversations I’ve had over the last few years. My co-conspirator/co-organiser of the OKCon side event “Reality check: Ethics and Risk in Open Development,” Linda Raftree, had also been feeling uncomfortable with the framing of many open development projects, assumptions being made about how “openness + ICTs = development outcomes,” and a concern that risks and privacy were not being adequately considered. We had been wondering whether the claims made by Open Development enthusiasts were substantiated by any demonstrable impact. For some reason, as soon as you introduce the words “open data” and “ICT,” good practice in development gets thrown out the window in the excitement to reach “the solution”.

A common narrative in many “open” development projects goes along the lines of “provide access to data/information –> some magic occurs –> we see positive change.” In essence, because of the newness of this field, we only know what we THINK happens, we don’t know what REALLY happens because there is a paucity of documentation and evidence.

It’s problematic that we often use the terms data, information, and knowledge interchangeably, because:
Data is NOT knowledge.
Data is NOT information.
Information is NOT knowledge.
Knowledge IS what you know. It’s the result of information you’ve consumed, your education, your culture, beliefs, religion, experience – it’s intertwined with the society within which you live.

Data cake metaphor developed by Mark Johnstone.

Understanding and thinking through how we get from the “openness” of data, to how this affects how and what people think, and consequently how they MIGHT act, is critical in whether “open” actually has any additional impact.

At Wednesday’s session, panellist Matthew Smith from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) talked about the commonalities across various open initiatives. Matthew argued that a larger Theory of Change (ToC) around how ‘open’ leads to change on a number of levels could allow practitioners to draw out common points. The basic theory we see in open initiatives is “put information out, get a feedback loop going, see change happen.” But open development can be sliced in many ways, and we tend to work in silos when talking about openness. We have open educational resources, open data, open government, open science, etc. We apply ideas and theories of openness in a number of domains but we are not learning across these domains.

We explored the theories of change underpinning two active programmes that incorporate a certain amount of “openness” in their logic. Simon Colmer from the Knowledge Services department at the Institute of Development Studies outlined his department’s theory of change of how research evidence can help support decision-making in development policy-making and practice. Erik Nijland from HIVOS presented elements of the theory of change that underpins the Making All Voices Count programme, which looks to increase the links between citizens and governments to improve public services and deepen democracy. Both of these ToCs assume that because data/information is accessible, people will use it within their decision-making processes.

They also both assume that intermediaries play a critical role in analysis, translation, interpretation, and contextualisation of data and information to ensure that decision makers (whether citizens, policy actors, or development practitioners) are able to make use of it. Although access is theoretically open, in practice even mediated access is not equal – so how might this play out in respect to marginalised communities and individuals?

What neither ToC really does is unpack who these intermediaries are. What are their politics? What are their drivers for mediating data and information? What is the effect of this? A common assumption is that intermediaries are somehow neutral and unbiased – does this assumption really hold true?

What many open data initiatives do not consider is what happens after people are able to access and internalise open data and information. How do people act once they know something? As Vanessa Herringshaw from the Transparency and Accountability Initiative said in the “Raising the Bar for ambition and quality in OGP” session, “We know what transparency should look like but things are a lot less clear on the accountability end of things”.

There are a lot of unanswered questions. Do citizens have the agency to take action? Who holds power? What kind of action is appropriate or desirable? Who is listening? And if they are listening, do they care?

Linda finished up the panel by raising some questions around the assumptions that people make decisions based on information rather than on emotion, and that there is a homogeneous “public” or “community” that is waiting for data/information upon which to base their opinions and actions.

So as a final thought, here’s my (perhaps clumsy) 2013 update on Gil Scott Heron’s 1970 song “The Revolution will not be televised”:

“The revolution will NOT be in Open data,
It will NOT be in hackathons, data dives, and mobile apps,
It will NOT be broadcast on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube,
It will NOT be live-streamed, podcast, and available on catch-up
The revolution will not be televised”

Heron’s point, which holds true today, was that “the revolution” or change, starts in the head. We need to think carefully about how we get far beyond access to data.

Look out for a second post coming soon on Theories of Change in Open, and a third post on ethics and risk in open data and open development.

And if you’re interested in joining the conversation, \sign up to our Open Development mailing list.

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Here’s a recap of my panel talk at the Engineers Without Borders, Canada, Annual Policy Forum. (A summary of the wider discussions on Open Government and Community and Economic Development at the Forum is here)

Slide01Open data are having some impact as seen in 4 key areas (according to what I heard at July’s International Open Government Data Conference). These are:

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

Open data should be part of the public’s right to information, not a service that government can decide whether to provide or not. Open government should include open attitudes, open ways of being, not only open data and use of technology. It should be inclusive and seek to engage those who do not normally participate, as well as those who are already active. It should go further than data about public services and also encompass those aspects that may be uncomfortable and politically charged.

Slide04

Opening data is only a first step – and there are still big gaps. ‘Open’ does not automatically mean accessible, useful, relevant or accountable. Although new ICTs offer huge potential, focusing too much on technologies and data can marginalize a range of voices from the current discussion about (and implementation of) open government initiatives and processes. Much about these processes is currently top down and focused at the international and national levels, or sometimes district level. Community level data would be a huge step towards local accountability work

Slide06We can address the gaps. First we need to understand, acknowledge and design for the barriers and/or challenges in each particular environment, including the barriers of ICT access for some groups; e.g:

  • lack of connectivity and electricity
  • cost of devices, cost of connection
  • lack of time and resources to participate
  • low education levels, low capacity to interpret data
  • power and culture, apathy, lack of incentives and motivation, lack of interest and/or fatalism, disempowerment
  • poor capacity and/or lack of interest by duty bearers/governments (or particular individuals within government) to respond to citizen demand for services or transparency/accountability

We also need to support:

  • consultations with and engagement of citizens in different places, different sectors, economic levels, etc., from the very beginning of the open government process
  • better understanding of what is important to citizens and communities
  • generation of awareness and demand, better local ownership, expectations of responsive government
  • champions within local and national government, strengthened capacity and motivation to collect and share data; strengthened coordination
  • space for dialogue and discussion among citizens, communities, civil society organizations and governments

Slide10Government responsiveness matters. A lot. So when working in open government we need to ensure that if there are ways to input and report, that there is also responsiveness, willingness on government side and the right attitude(s) or it will not succeed.

Open Data/Open Government portals are not enough. I’ve heard that donors know more about the open government portal in Kenya than Kenyan NGOs, Kenyan media and Kenyan citizens.  It’s important to work with skilled intermediaries, infomediaries and civil society organizations who have a transparency mandate to achieve bigger picture, social motivation, large-scale awareness and education, and help create demand from public. But these intermediaries need to strive to be as objective and unbiased as possible. If there is no response to citizen demand, the initiative is sunk. You may either go back to nothing, increase apathy, or find people using less peaceful approaches.

Great tech examples exist! But…. how to learn from them, adapt them or combine them to address the aforementioned barriers? Initiatives like Huduma, U-Report, I Paid a Bribe have gotten great press. We heard from Ugandan colleagues at the Open Knowledge Festival that people will use SMS and pay for it when the information they get is relevant; but we still need to think about who is being left out or marginalized and how to engage them.

Slide08We need to also consider age-old (well, 1970s) communication for development (C4D) and ‘educación popular’ approaches. New ICT tools can be added to these in some cases as well. For example, 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.  The development of ‘critical consciousness’ and critical thinking should be a key part of these processes.

Existing successful social accountability tools, like community scorecardsparticipatory budget advocacysocial auditsparticipatory videoparticipatory theater and community mapping have all been used successfully in accountability and governance work and may be more appropriate tools in some cases than Internet and mobile apps to generate citizen engagement around open data.

Combining new ICTs 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, ‘educación popular’ approach to open data could 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. Involved and engaged media or “data journalists” can help to bring information to the public and stimulate a culture of more transparency and accountability. Responsiveness and engagement of government and opportunities for open dialogue and discussion among various actors in a society are also key. Community organizing will remain a core aspect of successful civic participation and accountability efforts.

[Photo credits: (1) Phone charging in a community with limited electricity, photo by youth working with the Youth Empowerment through Arts and Media (YETAM) program in Senegal; (2) Youth training session during YETAM project Cameroon, photo by me (3) Gaps in open data and open government work, diagram by Liza Douglas, Plan International USA; (4) Local government authority and communities during discussions in Cameroon, photo by me; (5) Youth making a map of their community in Cameroon, photo by Ernest Kunbega]

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Everybody loves memes and those who work in or care about international development are no exception. One meme that popped up early 2010, is the oft-quoted “there are more mobile phones than toilets.” Apparently, the origin of the phrase was the India census. Subsequently, the statistic was used to raise a point about water and sanitation in India by a UN institute. It was picked up in a New York Times article and became generalized to “more people have [access to] mobile phones than toilets” and “there are more mobile phones than toilets” and other variations.

This simple idea has captured the hearts and minds of many development and technology practitioners and theorists the world over. The phrase has become a staple illustration for those who are looking at the potential of mobiles to change the world. But there is more to it than simple ‘access.’ We need to think beyond access.

What is missed in this meme’s beautiful simplicity is that the mobile access/mobile phones referred to are not necessarily equally distributed. A recent blog post by Marc Bellemare refers to a study he worked on (with Ken Lee) called “Look Who’s Talking: The Impacts of the Intrahousehold Allocation of Mobile Phones on Agricultural Prices.”

“…mobile phones do not seem to be the household public good many development practitioners think they are. In other words, policies designed around the distribution of mobile phones to households (rather than individuals) might contain the seed of their own failure if the intrahousehold [use] of technology matters.

Moreover, after a referee asked us to look at whether major household surveys asked about mobile phone ownership at the household or individual level, I was surprised to find that many of those surveys only collect information on the former.

So if there is one thing I would like our article to change, it’s the kind of data that are collected: We should really collect information on individual rather than on household mobile phone ownership.”

The GSMA and Cheri Blair Foundation study on women and mobiles found that women lag behind in mobile phone ownership in many African, Latin American, Middle Eastern and Asian countries. Women are even further behind in terms of access and use of the Internet.

At the practitioner level, assuming women everywhere can access and use mobiles and Internet can make a project run into problems, as described in this quick video.

In some places where women’s literacy and numeracy skills are quite low, projects designed to share or collect information by mobile can run into additional challenges as related below.

Girls themselves in some places note that despite their interest, boys will physically fight them to access available computers or mock girls who want to learn.

The existence of open and available spaces and platforms (whether virtual or physical) doesn’t automatically mean they are  “accessible” to everyone, including in many cases, to women and girls.

As wonderful as the idea of ‘open’ is (and don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of ‘open’), ‘open’ can still exclude. Even in purposefully open spaces and frameworks like the Open Knowledge Festival, women lag behind in terms of papers submitted for presentation and women speaking on panels. We lag behind slightly less in terms of doing the legwork of organizing, which shouldn’t surprise anyone.

At the Beyond Access Conference put on by IREX yesterday, I had the opportunity to facilitate a discussion session on Women and ICTs where we got into some of these issues and talked about how libraries can help. The panelists included Thinley Choden from the READ Bhutan project, Danica MacAvoy from Clinton Global Initiative, and Marieme Jamme of Africa Gathering. The session space was filled with engaged and insightful folks who shared their valuable ideas and experiences as well, including:

  • Numbers that showed the big access gap between men and women.
  • Access is not the only measure, however – as the conference notes we need to go “Beyond Access” to look at use, purpose, and many other aspects.
  • Safety is the number one reason that girls and women give for not accessing ICTs.
  • Libraries are often seen as knowledge centers and conceived of as more reputable spaces than Internet cafes for girls and women to frequent.
  • Librarians and community facilitators at library spaces can serve as mediators to help ensure that access to equipment and other materials is equally open to all.
  • Women mentors and role models, eg., female librarians, are an important way to encourage girls and women to spend time at libraries or to be more confident in accessing information and communicating through technology.
  • One of the most important things a library can do is create safe space for girls and women to gather and discuss issues of importance to them.
  • Depending on context, in some places this needs to be a physical space; in others situations, a virtual space can work.
  • Men and boys play a big role in advocating and encouraging girls and women to access information, to communicate, and to come together and participate.
  • If offered space and opportunity, women and girls (and anyone else) can teach themselves to use new technologies.
  • Libraries will be most successful for women and girls if they facilitate access and sharing of information that is relevant and in demand by women and girls, not what outsiders think should be in demand.
  • Low information access is holding back girls and women from advancing in careers such as ICTs and coding, because up-to-date books are not accessible in many places.
  • Supporting people to ‘join the global network’ through uploading information about themselves and their lives can serve as a tool by which community and personal projects can be examined, discussed and shared.
  • What a library is and what one looks like will vary according to context and culture; the key is having a physical or virtual safe space where information and communication can take place.

So even if there are more mobile phones than toilets, the conversation can’t stop there. We still need to talk about access, and we need to go “beyond access” too, as this great gathering yesterday so aptly noted.

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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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I’ve been told that mention of the term ‘governance’ makes people want to immediately roll over and fall asleep, and that I’m a big weirdo for being interested in it. But I promise you governance is *so* not boring! (I’m also fairly sure that whatever my teacher droned on about as I slept through my ‘Government’ class senior year of high school was not ‘governance’.)

If you get excited about the concepts of ‘open’ or ‘transparent’ or ‘accountable’ or ‘sustainable’ or ‘human rights’ or ‘politics’ then you need to also get pumped about ‘governance’ because it includes elements of all of the above.

I am just back from a week-long workshop where, based on our different practical and strategic and thematic experiences, internal and external evaluations and reviews of good practice, videos and documents from other organizations, input from children and youth in several countries (and with the support of a fantastic facilitator), several of us from different Plan offices worked to define the basic elements for a global program strategy on Youth, Citizenship and Governance (to be completed over the next several months).

At the workshop, we got a copy of A Governance Learning Guide, which I’m finding very useful and am summarizing below.

Why is governance important?

Our focus is on children and youth, but many of the reasons that governance is important for them extend to governance overall.

From Plan UK’s Governance Learning Guide, chapter 1.

So what exactly do we mean by the term “governance”? 

In our case, we link governance work with our child-centered community approach (a rights-based approach) and in this particular strategy, we will be focusing on the processes by which the state exercises power, and the relationships between the state and citizens. We have separate yet related strands of work around child and youth participation in our internal governance structures (here’s one example), effectiveness of our institutional governance overall (see this discussion on International CSO governance, for example), and the participation of children and youth in high level decision-making fora.

Our concept of governance for the youth, citizenship and governance strategy is based on the following governance concepts*:

Accountability and responsiveness.  This includes formal government accountability as well as citizen-led accountability. Opportunities for children and youth to participate in formal accountability processes are often limited due to their age — they cannot participate in elections, for example. Citizen-led accountability can open new opportunities for children, youth and other more marginalized groups to hold those in power more accountable.

‘People no longer rely on governments alone to improve governance. All over the world we are seeing experiments in ‘participatory governance’. People and organisations are grasping the opportunities offered by decentralisation and other reform processes to demand more of a say in the public policy and budget processes that affect them. These ways of holding the state to account are often called ‘social accountability’. Examples include participatory budgeting, monitoring electoral processes, using online and mobile technology, and citizen evaluation of public services. These forms of citizen engagement and social accountability are particularly promising for young people, who often face challenges in getting their voices heard in formal policy and governance processes.’ (from the call for submissions for the Participatory Learning and Action Journal (PLA) special issue on Young Citizens: youth and participatory governance in Africa, published in December, 2011)

Accountability is also linked with openness and sharing of information such as local government budgets and plans (this is also referred to as ‘transparency’). Responsiveness, in our case, refers to ‘the extent to which service providers and decision makers listen, meet and respond to the needs and concerns of young people.’ Responsiveness includes the willingness of those in power to engage seriously with young people and a government’s commitment to ‘be responsive’ to the issues raised by citizens, including children and young people. Responsiveness entails also the administrative and financial capacity to respond concretely to a population’s needs, rights and input.

Voice and participation.  This refers to the capacity of young people to speak, be heard and connect to others. Voice is one of the most important means for young people to participate. Within the concept of ‘voice’ we also consider voice strategies for raising and amplifying voices, capacity to use voice in a variety of ways to bring about change, space to exercise the raising of voices, and voice as a means to participate and exercise citizenship rights. (We consider that every child has citizenship rights, not only those who hold citizenship in a particular country). It’s also important to qualify the use of the term participation. In the case of young people’s participation in governance, we are not referring to the participatory methods that we commonly use in program planning or evaluation (we are also not discounting these at all – these are critical for good development processes!). In governance work, we are rather taking it further to refer to the meaningful inclusion of children and young people in decision-making processes.  

Power and politics. These are key in governance work. It is essential to be aware of and understand politics and power dynamics so that children and young people (and other oft-excluded groups) are not overlooked, manipulated, intimidated or disempowered.

Image captured from Plan UK’s Governance Learning Guide, chapter 2 page 14.

A key question here is what children and young people are participating in, and what for. Another important question is where are children and young people participating? Is it in special events or spaces designated just for them or are they participating in adult spaces? How does the place and space where children and young people are participating impact on their ability to influence decisions?

It’s important to note the 4 types of power that are typically considered in power analyses (from VeneKlasen, 2007): power over (domination or control), power within (self-worth), power to (individual ability to act, agency) and power with (collective action, working together). These need to be analyzed and understood, including their social, cultural and historical factors that create and sustain different power dynamics in different situations and spaces.

Capacity. We refer here to the capacity of both decision-makers and young people. Decision makers need to have the ability to perform their duties and ensure services are delivered. This, in our case, includes the abilities of decision makers to interact, engage and listen to children and young people and to take them seriously and to be responsive (see above) to their views, needs and rights. Young people also need to have the capacity to hold decision makers to account and to express their concerns and their views, including the views of other children and young people who may be excluded and marginalized from the decision making process or from participating fully. Information literacy and the capacity to access, interpret and analyze information is a critical skill for children and young people.

Interactions between children and young people and decision makers. These spaces encompass critical aspects of participation, power and politics. An example of a space for interaction would be where children and young people, local government and school leaders come together to discuss budget plans and available resources for school infrastructure. These spaces are shaped by a number of factors, including social, economic, cultural ones. They are also not free of personal agendas, desires, intentions and prejudices. It’s critical to remember this in governance work – ‘tools’ and ‘mechanisms’ are not enough. (ICT4Governance and Tech for Transparency friends, I’m looking at you! Though I think most of us see this point as ‘beating a dead horse’ by now.)

From Chapter 2 of the Governance Learning Guide by Plan UK

*Summarized from Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 of Plan UK’s extremely useful and easily downloadable A Governance Learning Guide. The guide also has a number of practical use cases on different governance initiatives as well as an extensive section on additional resources.

Here’s a follow-up post (since governance is so clearly *not* boring and I’m sure there is high demand for more!) called 15 thoughts on good governance programming with youth.


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Does ‘openness’ enhance development?

This was the question explored in a packed Room 3 (and via livestream and Twitter) on the last day of the ICTD2012 Conference in Atlanta, GA.

Panelists included Matthew Smith from the International Development Research Center (IDRC), Soren Gigler from the World Bank, Varun Arora from the Open Curriculum Project and Ineke Buskens from Gender Research in Africa into ICTs for Empowerment (GRACE). The panel was organized by Tony Roberts and Caitlin Bentley, both pursuing PhD’s at ICT4D at Royal Holloway, University of London. I was involved as moderator.

As background for the session, Caitlin set up a wiki where we all contributed thoughts and ideas on the general topic.

“Open development” (sometimes referred to as “Open ICT4D“) is defined as:

“an emerging area of knowledge and practice that has converged around the idea that the opening up of information (e.g. open data), processes (e.g. crowdsourcing) and intellectual property (e.g. open source) has the potential to enhance development.”

Tony started off the session explaining that we’d come together as people interested in exploring the theoretical concepts and the realities of open development and probing some of the tensions therein. The wiki does a good job of outlining the different areas and tension points, and giving some background, additional links and resources.

[If you’re too short on time or attention to read this post, see the Storify version here.]

Matthew opened the panel giving an overview of ‘open development,’ including 3 key areas: open government, open access and open means of production. He noted that ICTs can be enablers of these and that within the concept of ‘openness’ we also can find a tendency towards sharing and collaborating. Matthew’s aspiration for open development is to see more experimentation and institutional incentives towards openness. Openness is not an end unto itself, but an element leading to better development outcomes.

Soren spoke second, noting that development is broken, there is a role for innovation in fixing it, and ‘open’ can contribute to that. Open is about people, not ICTs, he emphasized. It’s about inclusion, results and development outcomes. To help ensure that what is open is also inclusive, civil society can play an ‘infomediary‘ role between open data and citizens. Collaboration is important in open development, including co-creation and partnership with a variety of stakeholders. Soren gave examples of open development efforts including Open Aid Partnership; Open Data Initiative; and Kenya Open Government Portal.

Varun followed, with a focus on open educational resources (OER), asking how ordinary people benefit from “open”. He noted that more OER does not necessarily lead to better educational outcomes. Open resources produced in, say, the US are not necessarily culturally appropriate for use in other places. Open does not mean unbiased. Open can also mean that locally produced educational resources do not flourish. Varun noted that creative commons licenses that restrict to “non-commercial” use can demotivate local entrepreneurship. He also commented that resources like those from Khan Academy assume that end users have a computer in their home and a broadband connection.

Ineke spoke next, noting that ‘open’ doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Sometimes power relations become more apparent when things become open. She gave the example of a project that offered free computer use in a community, yet men dominated the computers, computers were available during hours when women could not take advantage of them, and women were physically pushed away from using the computers. ‘This only has to happen once or twice before all the women in the community get the message,’ she noted. The intent behind ‘open’ is important, and it’s difficult to equalize the playing field in one small area when working within a broader context that is not open and equalized. She spoke of openness as performance, and emphasized the importance of thinking through the questions: openness for whom? openness for what?

[Each of the presenters holds a wealth of knowledge on this topic and I’d encourage you to explore their work in more detail!]

Following the short comments from panelists, the room split into several groups for about 15 minutes to discuss points, tensions, and questions on the concept of open development. (See the bottom of the wiki page for the full list of questions.)

We came back together in plenary to discuss points from the room and those coming in from Twitter, including:

  • Should any research done with public funds be publicly open and available? This was a fundamental values question for some.
  • Can something be open and not public? Some said that no, if it’s open it needs to be public. Others countered that there is some information that should not be public because it can put people at risk or invade privacy. Others discussed that open goods are not necessarily public goods, rather they are “club” goods that are only open to certain members of society, in this case, those of a certain economic and education level. It was noted that public access does not equal universal availability, and we need to go beyond access in this discussion.
  • Is openness fundamentally decentralizing or does it lead to centralization? Some commented that the World Bank, for example, by making itself “open” it can dominate the development debate and silence voices that are not within that domain. Others felt that power inequalities exist whether there is open data or not. Another point of view was that the use of a particular technique can change people without it being the express intent. For example, some academic journals may have been opening up their articles from the beginning. This is probably not because they want to be ‘nice’ but because they want to keep their powerful position, however the net effect can still be positive.
  • How to ensure it’s not data for data’s sake? How do we broker it? How do we translate it into knowledge? How does it lead to change? ‘A farmer in Niger doesn’t care about the country’s GDP,’ commented one participant. It’s important to hold development principles true when looking at ‘openness’. Power relations, gender inequities, local ownership, all these aspects are still something to think about and look at in the context of ‘openness’.

The general consensus was that it is important to fight the good fight, yes, but don’t lose sight of the ultimate goal. Open for whom? Open for what?

As organizers of the session, we were all quite pleased at the turnout and the animated debate and high level of interest in the topic of ‘open development’. A huge thanks to the panelists and the participants. We are hoping to continue the discussions throughout the coming months and to secure a longer session (and a larger room) for the next ICTD conference!

Note: New Tactics is discussing “Strengthening Citizen Participation in Local Governance” this week. There are some great resources there that could help to ground the discussion on ‘open development’.

Visit the ‘does openness enhance development’ wiki for a ton of resources and background on ‘open development’!

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