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Posts Tagged ‘transparency’

Where are the spaces for dialogue on good governance? (Image from a workshop on youth participatory governance, April 2011)

As I mentioned in my ‘governance is *so* not boring’ post, I am recently back from an internal workshop where some 20 colleagues from across the organization where I work (Plan) pulled together some basic elements for a global program strategy on Youth, Citizenship and Governance.

One of the key elements that we talked about was the importance of information literacy in citizenship and governance work, including at the level of governments, duty bearers and decision makers and of course at the level of citizens — in our case, especially children and young people. Information literacy is defined by the University of Idaho as “the ability to identify what information is needed, understand how the information is organized, identify the best sources of information for a given need, locate those sources, evaluate the sources critically, and share that information”. (I can hear my librarian friends cheering right now, as they’ve been working on this for years).

Openness as an attitude came up as something that’s important all around for good governance. This doesn’t only mean ‘open’ as a technological specification for data, but rather openness as an entire approach and attitude towards governance, citizen participation and the nature of relationships and interactions in the spaces where citizens and government overlap. We were able to link our work up very well with the concepts of open development, open government and open data; all of which can contribute to better transparency, accountability and governance and which require information literacy and a number of other skills and capacities in order to take advantage of.

My practitioner colleagues said over and over at the meeting ‘we don’t have access to the information we need to do better governance work.’ I was left wondering how those of us working at various levels, including the field of ICT4D and related, can do a better job of supporting access to information, and what are the technology and non-technology tools and approaches that work best. There is still a huge gap between the community- and district-level governance work that my colleagues are working on with children, youth and communities and the big on-line data sets that are part of open data and open government. Both very important, but there really needs to be a stronger link between the two so that they can feed into each other to achieve better governance. Once again – the questions ‘open for who? and open for what?‘ come in, as well as the need for a two-way (multi-way?) information flow.

We talked about how social accountability tools like community scorecards, social audits, budget tracking and monitoring, and participatory budgeting can be an important way for engaging marginalized and excluded populations in governance work outside of more formal channels (eg, elections, law courts, planning and auditing of public expenditure). Social accountability tools and processes allow people to more directly participate in the accountability process and make themselves heard rather than leaving accountability in the hands of the government or relying only on formal mechanisms. During our workshop, we watched the International Budget Partnership’s video ‘It’s our money, where has it gone‘ on using social accountability tools in Kenya. (Long, but very worth watching)

Following the video I explained open data in a nutshell by asking people to imagine that the budget information that the community had to get via their district officials was available online and could be accessed without going through the district officer. It was a good opportunity to think about the potential of open data and open government and how they can fit in with social accountability work.

The video highlights the very real dangers that can be present when working on transparency and accountability. Since in our case we are working with children and youth, we need to be especially aware of potential risks involved in transparency, accountability and good governance work, because this kind of work raises questions and aims to shift power and politics and resources. We need to be very sure that we are not somehow pushing our own agenda through children and youth, or handing them a hot potato that we don’t want to take on as adults or organizations, or even unintentionally putting them at risk because we haven’t fully thought through a project or initiative. We need to be sure that we are conducting thorough, participatory and shared risk assessments together with children and youth and establishing mechanisms and ways of mitigating risks, or making decisions on what to pursue and what to leave for others. Child protection, our own responsibilities as duty bearers, and the notion of ‘do no harm’ are massively important to bring in here.

We spent time talking about what we need to do as an institution to support good governance, and emphasized that openness and good governance is a key element of institutions, INGOs, local NGOs and CBOs who want to be credible in this space.  Organizations that are working with communities to push for local and/or national government transparency and accountability should expect that these same demands will be turned around to them, and the same questions asked of government and decision-makers will be asked of them. Taking those steps internally towards openness, accountability and good governance is critical. When working with youth associations and children’s groups, this is also a point for strengthening so that openness, transparency, accountability, positive leadership and other capacities, capabilities and skills are enhanced. If local associations replicate the bad governance practices that they are trying to change, then things are really not advancing much.

Successful governance work addresses multiple sides of the governance issue. Working only with citizens can create a demand that outstrips government interest, capacity or responsiveness and lead to apathy, frustration and/or conflict. So it’s really important to work with duty bearers and decision makers as well as with children and youth and their communities, and with other non-state adult actors, such as parents, teachers, community leaders and the media; to help create an environment for better governance. In addition, it’s important to understand the  incentives and disincentives that shape the behaviors of different service providers, for example teachers and health care workers.

As my colleague Wale Osofisan from our UK office pointed out today after I shared these videos on governance work: “It is not enough to get the students and communities to monitor absenteeism without really examining the root causes of the problem from the point of view of the teachers and doctors. For example, in the DRC health care workers at PHCs particularly in the rural areas don’t get their salaries paid on time – sometimes for 6 months. Hence, they are forced to abandon their official duty posts and find alternative ways of earning an income either working informally for a private clinic which pays them or they engage in other economic activities. Same goes for the teachers. Thus, civil society interventions also need to focus on the problems encountered in the supply side of the equation… This is quite a challenge because it would require tackling the perverse politics of service delivery in many developing countries and NGOs always find it very uncomfortable to engage in such terrain.”

Good governance work uses existing spaces for collaboration and dialogue among the various actors or creates new space if none exists. It builds skills and capacities in both citizens and government officials. Children and youth, for example, need to have capacities to work effectively together, organize, prioritize, influence, use media and new communication technologies, access information and interpret/analyze it, and to develop partnerships and networks. Decision-makers need to strengthen capacities to engage with children and young people, to hear, respond, follow up and provide feedback. Government institutions need to have the attitudes as well as the resources to be more responsive to citizens’ needs and rights. Government employees, as mentioned above, need to also have the space to share what makes it difficult for them to do their jobs.

We did some group work around the 3 key actors in our citizenship and governance work: the State, children and young people, and other non-state adult actors. I participated in the group that looked at the changes that would need to happen at the level of the State and was again reminded how this work requires so much more than accountability mechanisms, new ICT tools and data. We talked about what would motivate a State to have an open information policy. What is in it for elected officials? How can State actors be motivated to change their attitudes to one of more openness and accountability? Can citizens push the State to be more open? Is international donor or political pressure the only motivator that has been successful so far in most countries? If a State is not governing well, what are the common root causes? If openness is an attitude, what motivates a State and its different bodies to be open? External pressure and citizen demand are one thing, but what about addressing other factors that prohibit good governance?

Linking and promoting collaboration between and among children’s and youth groups was noted as another key piece of citizenship and governance work with young people. This can be supported at a face-to-face level but also needs to happen from the local to the global level, so that young people can connect and share common agendas and experiences both ‘horizontally and vertically.’ The web is a key tool here for taking local issues to the global level and back down again to community level. A question in my mind here was how INGOs can do a better job of linking youth and governance work that they are supporting at local levels with the external social and political environment so that they are not happening in parallel or in a vacuum. Another was whether we are thinking enough about broader social and political movements as related to major events or changes happening in a country or globally (eg, Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, Rio+20) and our role and position and purpose there. And what about on-line organizing and activism and ‘direct democracy’ as more young people access on-line networks and activism happens in virtual spaces?

We discussed quite a lot about how supporting overall behavior changes and public opinion are critical to creating an environment that supports public accountability and openness and gets these on the agenda. It’s also important to change attitudes with relation to how children and young people are perceived so that adults and decision-makers will listen to them and take their opinions and claims into consideration. Programs that engage children and youth and showcase their capacities and abilities can help decision-makers and other non-state adults to see that the younger generation does have valid points, opinions and ideas for positive change.

And lastly, there is the importance of ensuring that staff are well versed in local political contexts and how government systems work. Without a strong and nuanced understanding of the local context, local power dynamics, local political and local cultural contexts, and how children and young people and other excluded groups are viewed, programs may be over ambitious, wrong-headed, create dangerous conflict, set back governance and accountability work, or put children and young people in harm’s way. The complexity of this kind of work combined with the complexity of the various settings mean that a clear theory of change is needed to guide efforts and expressly address the specific changes that are sought so that initiatives can be well-designed, implemented, monitored and evaluated, and so that there is a better chance of a good impact.

Related posts:

Young citizens: youth, and participatory governance in Africa

A practitioner’s discussion on social accountability and youth participatory governance

Governance is *so* not boring

Does ‘openness’ enhance development?

New technology and good governance

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

Digital mapping and governance: the stories behind the maps

What would an International CSO Governance revolution look like?

Resources:

IIED’s Participatory Learning and Action Journal: Young Citizens: Youth and participatory governance in Africa

Plan UK’s Governance Learning Guide

Technology for Transparency network

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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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The Technology Salon* hosted at IREX on Thursday, June 6, focused on what the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) would mean for international development, especially for US-based NGOs and government contractors.

Tony Pipa, Deputy Assistant Administrator, Policy, Planning and Learning at USAID, started the Salon off by noting that IATI is an inter-agency US government commitment, not only a USAID commitment. USAID is the lead agency for developing the IATI implementation plan, building on existing agreements on transparency, enhancing the US Government’s commitments to transparency, openness and accountability. A key element of these efforts is the Foreign Assistance Dashboard which places the data into the public realm in a user friendly way, making it easier to understand visually and also more accessible and easy to find. The goal is not only transparency, but greater accountability. The US Government hopes to streamline reporting requirements, meeting multiple requirements for a range of international and national reporting standards. The goal for USAID is making aid more useful for development.

Steve Davenport from AidData followed, giving some background on IATI itself. IATI was initially sponsored largely by DFID, but has since grown as a partnership. Over 75% of development assistance is represented by signatories to IATI now. Eight donors are now publishing and twenty-three developing countries have signed on (involving partner countries at the local level as well). Different groups are conducting pilots to see how to implement as IATI gains more traction. For this reason, it would be a good move for US INGOs and contractors to get in front of the transparency and accountability curve rather than get hit by the wave. Better transparency allows organizations to better show their results. The IATI standard can lead to better coordination among the different actors, making it easier to broaden our collective impact. This is especially important now given that aid budgets are being reduced. IATI can be thought of as a group of people, a set of commitments, and an XML standard for moving data from point a to point b. Application developers are beginning to pick this up and develop tools that allow for new ways of visualizing the data, making it actionable and improving accessibility, which can lead to better accountability.

Larry Nowels (Consultant at Hewlett, ONE campaignspoke about Hewlett experience with IATI. Hewlett has made a large investment in transparency and accountability, supporting US and European organizations as well as startups in Africa and Asia over the past 10 years. Transparency is a key building block, so that governments and their citizens know what is being spent, where and on what, and how to make better decisions about resources and reducing waste. It also allows citizens to hold their governments accountable. Hewlett was one of the original signatories and the second publisher to the IATI standard. A key question remains: What’s in it for an organization that publishes according to the standard? For some teams, IATI makes all the sense in the world, but for others it seems to be a waste of resources. The Obama Administration (Open Government Directive, Open Government Partnership, Foreign Assistance Dashboard), all show a strong commitment to transparency. The tough part is implementation of IATI standards and details are still being worked out to find an ideal way.

Larry considers a central repository ideal, but there are issues with quality control and the Foreign Assistance Dashboard does not add data that was not already publicly available. In addition, many US Government agencies have not been added to the Dashboard yet, and getting them on board will be difficult if they are less dedicated than USAID or State. It’s critical to institutionalize IATI and related initiatives and internalize them, given that we cannot assume Obama’s will be a multi-term presidency. In the past 3 years, a number of bills around the theme of accountability and transparency have been introduced by both parties. The Poe-Berman Bill (HR 3159) provides a law to entrench the use of tools like the Dashboard. The Administration, especially the State Department, however, has not engaged Congress enough on these issues, and this has led to some roadblocks. White House pressure could help strengthen support for this initiative; however, there may be pushback by Republicans who generally oppose the US subscribing to international standards.

Discussion**

What is the overlap between the Open Government Partnership (OGP) and IATI?

What is the practical, on-the-ground use or application of IATI data? What does it look like when it is working how it should? What would it ideally look like 5 years from now?

  • There is enormous need for data sharing in a crisis – it is essential for coordinating and understanding the unfolding situations in real-time in order to save lives. There is much more scrutiny as well as a need for rapid coordination and response during a humanitarian crisis, so it requires a higher level of transparency than development work. One way that has been suggested for getting more organizations on board is to start sharing more information during crises and draw the lessons over to development.
  • A project in Mexico City has run investigative campaigns on spending. This has led to the prosecution and resignations of political figures and even some threats against staff, which demonstrates how unsettling this open information can be to the powers that be. It is not about transparency for transparency’s sake. It’s about having a tool that can be used to inform, interpret situations and hold governments and donors accountable. It opens the system up for sharing information.
  • Currently this type of information isn’t available to Country Governments for coordination. Countries need to plan their fiscal year budgets, but rely heavily on donors, and both run on a different fiscal calendar. If donor information were more readily available, countries could plan better.
  • On a 5-year horizon, we would ideally see aid tracking down to the beneficiary level. Tools like IATI can help collect data in more automated ways. Open data can help us track both where funding is allocated and also what is actually being implemented. Additional work is needed on this side; for example, training journalists to understand how to use this data, how to access it – handing them a data file isn’t a very useful thing in and of itself.

That’s great, but great for whom? What does it mean? Does this lead to better aid? Better spending? And what if it creates unrealistic timelines, where development becomes more like a for-profit company that must demonstrate impact within a fiscal quarter? We all know that development initiatives and impact take much longer than three months. Will IATI mean that we will stop doing things that take longer? Things that cannot be checked off on a checkbox? Will we actually lower the quality of our programs by doing this?

  • IATI, like any form of transparency, is only one element of a whole stream of things. The new USAID monitoring and evaluation system is a breakthrough for actually learning from evaluations and data. It’s a longer-term investment than Congress is used to, so it’s a matter of convincing Congress that it is worth the value. There is a better chance of USAID admitting failure in the future if the systems are in place to demonstrate these failures in hard data and learn from them. It’s about discovering why we failed – if we spend money and it doesn’t work, we can at least then identify weaknesses and build on them. Showing failures also demonstrates credibility and a willingness to move forward positively.
  • We can err on the side of openness and transparency and engage congress and the public, making a distinction between performance management and the long-term impact of development projects. There is no way of holding back on publishing information until it is in a format that will be readily understandable to congress and the public. This is a reality that we are going to have to live with; we have to put the data out and build on it. This can help to start important conversations. IATI is important for closing the loop, not just on public resources but also private resources (which is why Hewlett’s commitment is important). As private development resources increase, USAID becomes less dominant in the development landscape. Making sure data from many sources comes in a common format will make it easy to compare, and bring this data together to help understand what it going on. The way to visualize and think of it now is different because we are still in early days. IATI will begin to change the approach for how you evaluate impact.
  • IATI data itself does not tell the whole story, so it’s important to look at additional sources of information beyond it. IATI is only one part of the monitoring and evaluation effort, only one part of the transparency and accountability effort.

How do you overcome conflicts of interest? If development outcomes or data that is opened are not in the interest of the country government, how do we know the data can be trusted, or how does it feed back to the public in each country?

  • China’s investment in Africa, for example, may make it more difficult to understand aid flows in some ways. It will take a while to enforce the standards, particularly if it is done quickly, but we can draw the BRICs into the conversation and we are working with them on these topics.

The hard part is the implementation. So what are the time lines? How soon do we think we will see the US publish data to IATI?

  • At this time, the US Government hasn’t created an implementation timeline, so the first order of business is to get IATI institutionalized, and not to rush on this. It’s a larger issue than just USAID, so it must be done carefully and tactfully so it stays in place over the long term. USAID is working on getting data on the Dashboard to get the Obligation of Spending data up and project level data up. USAID is trying to balance this with consistency and quality control. How do you produce quality data when you are publishing regularly? These issues must be addressed while the systems are being developed. Once USAID puts data on the Dashboard, it will begin being converted to IATI data

IATI is still a donor-led initiative. NGOs involvement opens this data up to use by communities. Training individuals to use this information is not necessarily sufficient. Are there plans to build institutions or civil society organizations to support the data to be useful for communities and the general public?

  • The data can assist with the development of watchdog organizations who provide a platform for citizens to act together for accountability. Examples of organizations that are currently receiving funding to do this are Sodnet and Twaweza. There has also been support to think tanks throughout Africa to build the capacity of objective, independent policy analysts who write critiques of government initiatives.
  • There is a definite need to mainstream IATI and bring everyone together into one single conversation instead of setting up parallel structures.

So how do you build these institutions, watchdogs, etc? Will USAID really put out RFPs that offer funding to train people to criticize them?

  • This is where Hewlett and other organizations come in. They can run these trainings and build capacities. The Knight News Challenge is doing a lot of work around data-driven journalism, for example.

This is going to put a lot of pressure on people to be more efficient and might drive down resources in these spheres. There is a limited amount of incentive for organizations to involve themselves. Is there a way to incentivize it?

  • It will also drive some internal efficiencies, creating greater internal coherence within development organizations. It’s very hard to pinpoint impact within organizations because there isn’t an easy way to draw comparisons between projects, implementation strategies, etc. People always worry: What if we find something that makes us look bad? So IATI is just one part of a bigger effort to push for commitment to transparency across the board. Committing to IATI can lead to a mindset which focuses organizations on efficiency, transparency and accountability.
  • Filling out the Dashboard will be helpful in many respects, and it will make information more accessible to the general public, as well as congressional staffers, etc. It can serve multiple constituencies while making data more usable and transparent. USAID is going to be as aggressive as possible to get information on the dashboard into IATI format. There has not been a conversation about requiring implementing partners to meet IATI standards, but USAID itself is committed.

***

Thanks to IREX for hosting the Salon, our fantastic lead discussants and participants for stimulating discussion, Wayan Vota for inviting me to coordinate the Salon and Anna Shaw for sharing her Salon notes which were the basis for this blog post.

Sign up here if you’d like to be on the invitation list for future Salons.

*The Technology Salon is sponsored Inveneo in collaboration with IREX, Plan International USA, Jhpiego and ARM.

**The Salon runs by Chatham House Rule, so no attribution has been made for the discussion portion of the Salon.

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‘I believe that many ICSOs [international civil society organizations] urgently need to overcome the stalemate in their global governance; they don’t need another governance reform, they need a governance revolution.’  Burkhard Gnarig, Berlin Civil Society Center.

The Berlin Civil Society Center believes that CSO governance models are increasingly facing major challenges. These include that they are typically:

  • dominated by national affiliates but increasingly challenged by the need for global decisions and their implementation;
  • shaped by Northern countries and cultures while the emerging powers in a multipolar world are located in the South;
  • serving one specific mission focused on development or environment or human rights while the interdependence of challenges and the need for integrated solutions become more and more obvious;
  • caught up in the conflict between democratic and participatory decision making on one side and the need for quick and consistent decisions on the other;
  • characterised by a clear definition of “inside” and “outside” the organisation while the Internet and the habits of the next generation demand platforms for joint action rather than well defined boxes.

In order to address these issues, the Berlin Center is working on a participatory project aimed at developing new governance models for best practice in CSO governance*. The models are aimed at serving ‘board Members, Chairs and CEOs who aim to undertake future governance reforms more strategically and more effectively.’

Different governance models are needed, however, because not all organizations can and will follow one single model.

The project concept notes that:

  • Firstly, ICSOs working in human rights, poverty alleviation, environmental protection, humanitarian response or children’s rights have different governance needs resulting from the type of work they do. For example, an organisation focussing on wildlife conservation compared to one working for poverty eradication will have different needs and possibilities of including partners and beneficiaries in their governance.
  • Secondly, there are different possible models to synchronise and balance local, national and global requirements and resources. At present these are reflected in global set ups ranging from loose networks over confederations and federations to unitary organisations.
  • Thirdly, when trying to secure future relevance of a governance system, much depends on different expectations of how future developments will turn out and which elements of these developments are considered most relevant in governance terms.

In an open letter, the Berlin Center director, Burkhard Gnarig explains that ‘with our Global Governance Project the Berlin Civil Society Center tries to lay the groundwork on which ICSOs can develop their own Global Governance Vision. A small Working Group which the Center has brought together will develop a handful of standard governance models that may serve as guidance on ICSOs’ specific paths to developing their own vision for their future governance.’

In order to bring a wider group of aid and development practitioners into the discussion, I volunteered to open a “CSO Governance Revolution” discussion on AidSource asking:

  • What are some of the major challenges you’ve seen with ICSO/INGO governance?
  • How do current governance models that you know of constrain the effectiveness of ICSOs or impact on development outcomes?
  • What CSO governance models have you seen that do work? What do they look like?
  • What are some of the underlying values and principles needed for effective ICSO governance?
  • What are some core elements of effective and successful ICSO governance models?
  • How do new information and communication technologies (ICTs) and trends in new media/social media impact on governance models and visions and people’s expectations of governance models?
  • What literature, research or existing documentation should be included as background resources for this discussion?
  • What other questions should be raised regarding ICSO governance?
I hope we can get some lively debate going to feed into the broader discussion at the Berlin Center. Join the AidSource discussion here.

More information on the Global Governance Project Concept can be accessed here or at the project page on the Berlin Civil Society Center’s website.

(*Note: I have no formal affiliation with the Berlin Center or this initiative, I just find it interesting and volunteered to try to get some additional discussion happening around it.)

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This is a guest post from Jamie Lundine, who has been collaborating with Plan Kenya to support digital mapping and governance programming in Kwale and Mathare. The original was published on Jamie’s blog, titled Information with an Impact. See part 1 of this series here: Digital Mapping and Governance: the Stories behind the Maps.

Mapping a school near Ukunda, Kwale County

Creating information is easy. Through mobile phones, GPS devices, computers (and countless other gadgets) we are all leaving our digital footprints on the world (and the World Wide Web). Through the open data movement, we can begin to access more and more information on the health and wellbeing of the societies in which we live. We can create a myriad of information and display it using open source software such as Ushahidi, OpenStreetMap, WordPress, and countless other online platforms. But what is the value of this digital information? And what impact can it have on the world?

Youth Empowerment Through Arts and Media (YETAM) is project of Plan International which aims to create information that encourages positive transformation in communities. The project recognizes young people as important change agents who, despite their energy and ability to learn, are often marginalized and denied opportunities.  Within the YETAM project, Plan Kenya works with young people in Kwale County (on the Coast of Kenya) to inspire constructive action through arts and media – two important channels for engaging and motivating young people.

Information in Kwale County

Kwale County is considered by Plan International to be a “hardship” area. Despite the presence of 5-star resorts, a private airport and high-end tourist destinations on Diani beach, the local communities in Kwale County lack access to basic services such as schools, health facilities and economic opportunities. Young people in the area are taking initiative and investigating the uneven distribution of resources and the inequities apparent within the public and private systems in Kwale County.

As one component of their work in Kwale, Plan Kenya is working with the three youth-led organizations to create space for young people to participate in their communities in a meaningful, productive way. There are different types of participation in local governance – often times government or other agencies invites youth to participate (“invited space”) as “youth representatives” but they are simply acting to fill a required place and are not considered  within the wider governance and community structures.

Youth representation can also be misleading as the Kwale Youth and Governance Coalition (KYGC) reports that “youth representatives” aren’t necessarily youth themselves – government legislation simply stipulates that there must be someone representing the youth – but there is no regulation that states that this person must be a youth themselves (they must only act on behalf of the youth). This leaves the system open to abuse (the same holds true for “women’s representative” – you can find a man acting on behalf of women in the position of women’s representative).  Plan Kenya and the young people we met are instead working to “create space” (as opposed to “a place”) for young people in community activism in Kwale County.

The 5 weeks we spent in Kwale were,the beginning of a process to support this on-going work in the broad area of “accountability” – this encompasses child rights, social accountability and eco-tourism. The process that began during the 5 weeks was the integration of digital mapping and social media to amplify voices of young people working on pressing concerns in the region.

To create the relevant stakeholders and solicit valuable feedback during the process of the YETAM work on digital mapping and new media, our last 3 days in Kwale were spent reviewing the work with the teams. On Thursday November 10th, we invited advisors from Plan Kwale, Plan Kenya Country Office, the Ministry of Youth Affairs and officers from the Constituency Development Fund to participate in a half-day of presentations and feedback on the work the young people had undertaken.

By far the work that generated the most debate in the room was the governance tracking by the KYGC. The team presented the Nuru ya Kwale blog which showcased 28 of the 100 + projects the youth had mapped during the field work. They classified the 28 projects according to various indicators – and for example documented that 23 of the projects had been completed, 1 was “in bad progress”, 2 were “in good progress” and 1 “stalled.”

The CDF officers (the Chairman, Secretary and Treasurer of the Matuga CDF committee in Kwale County) were concerned with the findings and questioned the methodology and outcome of the work.  They scrutinized some of the reports on the Nuru ya Kwale site and questioned for example, why Mkongani Secondary School was reported as a “bad” quality project. The officials wanted to know the methodology and indicators the team had used to reach their conclusions because according to the representatives of the CDF committee, the auditors gave the Mkongani Secondary School project a clean bill of health.

One important message for the youth based on feedback on their work was the need to clearly communicate the methodology used to undertake the documentation of projects (i.e. what are the indicators of a project in “bad” progress? how many people did you interview? Whose views did they represent?).

There is significant value in presenting balanced feedback that challenges the internal government (or NGO) audits – for example the data on Kenya Open Data documents that 100% of CDF money has been spent on the Jorori Water Project mentioned above, but a field visit, documented through photos and interviews with community members reveals that the project is stalled and left in disrepair. This is an important finding – the youth have now presented this to the relevant CDF committee. The committee members were responsive to the feedback and, despite turning the youth away from their offices the previous month, invited them to the CDF to get the relevant files to supplement some of the unknown or missing information (i.e. information that people on the ground at the project did not have access to, such as for example, who was the contractor on a specific project, and what was the project period).

Kwale youth with staff from Plan Kenya, officers from the CDFC and the local Youth Officer

Samuel Musyoki, Strategic Director of Plan Kenya who joined the presentations and reflections on November 10th and 11th, reported that:

“The good thing about this engagement is that it opened doors for the youth to get additional data which they needed to fill gaps in their entries. Interestingly, they had experienced challenges getting such data from the CDF. I sought to know form the CDFC and the County Youth Officer if they saw value in the data the youth were collecting and how they could use it.

The County Youth Officer was the most excited and has invited the youth to submit a business proposal to map Youth Groups in the entire county. The mapping would include capturing groups that have received the Youth Enterprise Fund; their location; how much they have received; enterprises they are engaged in; how much they have repaid; groups that have not paid back; etc. He said it will be an important tool to ensure accountability through naming and shaming defaulters.

The 5 weeks were of great value — talking to quite a number of the youth I could tell — they really appreciate the skill sets they have received-GIS mapping; blogging; video making and using the data to engage in evidence based advocacy. As I leave this morning they are developing action plans to move the work forward. I sought assurance from them that this will not end after the workshop. They had very clear vision and drive where they want to go and how they will work towards ensuring sustained engagement beyond the workshop.”

The impact of digital mapping and new media on social accountability is still an open question. Whether the social accountability work would have provoked similar feedback from duty bearers if presented in an offline platform (for example in a power point presentation) instead of as a dynamic-online platform is unknown.

The Matuga CDF officers were rather alarmed that the data were already online and exposed their work in an unfavourable light (in fairness, there were some well-executed projects as well). There is a definite need to question the use of new technology in governance work, and develop innovative methods for teasing out impact of open, online information channels in decision-making processes and how this is or isn’t amplifying existing accountability work.  There is definite potential in the work the young people are undertaking and the government officers consulted, from the Ministry of Youth Affairs and local CDF Committee (CDFC) stated that they were “impressed by the work of the youth”.

Within the community development systems and particularly the structure of devolved funding, there is a gap in terms of monitoring and evaluation (M&E) that the CDF committee to date has not been able to play effectively. As Samuel Musyoki stated the youth “could watch to ensure that public resources are well utilized to benefit the communities.” The Youth Officer even invited the youth to submit proposals for assistance in buying GPS gadgets and computers to strengthen this work.

Continuing the on and offline integration

As discussed, the work in Kwale on various issues is dynamic and evolving. The 5 weeks we spent with the teams were meant to provide initial trainings and support and to catalyse action that would be continued by the youth in the area, with support from Plan Kenya. Not only did we provide training to the young people, but Plan Kwale staff were also involved in the process and started documenting their work through the tools and techniques introduced by our team. With these skills, the Plan Kwale staff will support the on-going field mapping and new media work. We are also available to provide remote assistance with questions about strategies and technical challenges.

Some of the future activities include:

  • Holding a “leaders forum” during which the youth interact with a wider cross-section of stakeholders and share their work.
  • Continuing work on their various websites – updating the sites with results from social auditing work to be carried out throughout the last weeks of November, as well as digitizing previous information collected during historical social auditing.
  • Validating the data by revisiting some project sites and documenting projects that haven’t been done yet, gathering stories from some of the Project Management Committees, taking more photos, and potentially conducting surveys within the communities to get more representative views on project evaluations.
  • Each group also needs to develop a more structured advocacy strategy to direct their activities in these areas.
  • All teams expressed interest in developing proposals to submit to the Ministry of Youth Affairs, through the Youth Enterprise Fund and CDF Committee, based on the suggestion of potential funding for this process. Plan Kwale staff, as well as some of the Country Office advisers offered to support the youth in developing these proposals.
  • Most importantly, the teams want to consult the wider community in their respective areas to demonstrate the relevance of YETAM, including the skills they have gained, to the community stakeholders (beyond the relevant government authorities

The potential of new technologies, including digital mapping to promote accountability, is only as powerful as the offline systems into which it is integrated. Without offline engagement, existing community systems of trust and recognition will be threatened and thus undermine any online work. The youth must remain grounded within their existing work and use new technology to amplify their voices, build their network, share their stories and lessons and learn from and engage with others.

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Civil society has been working for years on participation, transparency, accountability and governance issues. Plenty of newer initiatives (small and large) look at new technologies as a core tool in this work. But are these groups talking and learning from each other? What good practices exist for using new technologies to improve transparency, accountability and governance? What are some considerations and frameworks for thinking about the role of new technologies in this area of work? What needs consideration under this broad theme of good governance?

Tuesday’s Technology Salon* in New York City focused on those issues, kicked off by our two discussants, Hapee de Groot from Hivos and Katrin Verclas from Mobile Active. Discussion ensued around the nuances of how, with whom, when, why, and  in conjunction with what do new technologies play a role in transparency, accountability and good governance.

Some of the key points brought up during the Salon**:

What is “good governance?”  The overall term could be divided into a number of core aspects, and so the discussion is a big one and it’s complicated. Aid transparency is only one small part of the overall topic of good governance.

The World Bank definition includes aspects of:

  • Participation of citizens in political processes, freedom of expression and  association, free media
  • Political stability and absence of violence
  • Government effectiveness in the delivery of services
  • Regulatory quality, rule of law
  • Control of corruption

There’s a need to look at governments and aid, but also to look at the private sector. Some commented that aid transparency is in vogue because donors can drive it but it’s perhaps not as important as some of the other aspects and it’s currently being overemphasized. There are plenty of projects using ICTs and mobiles in other areas of governance work.

More data doesn’t equal more accountability. Data does not equal participation. Can mobile phones and other ICTs or social media reduce corruption? Can they drive new forms of participation? Can they hold power accountable in some ways? Yes, but there is no conclusive evidence that the use of new technology to deliver data down from governments to people or up from people to governments improves governance or accountability. The field of tech and governance suffers from ‘pilotitis’ just like the field of ICT4D. Some participants felt that of course open data doesn’t automatically equal accountability and it was never the idea to stop there. But at the same time, you can’t have accountability without open data and transparency. Opening the data is just the first step in a long road of reaching accountability and better governance.

Efficient vs transformational. Transactional efficiency within a system is one thing. Transformation is another. You can enhance an existing process from, say, writing on paper to calling on a landline to texting in information, thereby improving accuracy and speed. But there is something more which is the transformational side. What’s most interesting perhaps are those ways that ICTs can completely alter processes and systems. Again, there are a lot of promising examples but there is not much evidence of their impact at this point. One participant noted that current evidence seems to point toward the integration of mobiles (and other ICTs) into existing process as having a greater impact and quicker uptake within large, bureaucratic systems than disruptive use of new technologies. But the question remains – Are the systems good systems or should/could ICTs transform them to something totally different and better or can ICTs help do away with poorly working systems entirely, replacing them with something completely new?

Is open data just a big show? Some alluded to opaque transparency, where a government or another entity throws up a bunch of data and says “we are being open” but there is no realistic way to make sense of the data. Some felt that governments are signing onto open data pacts and partnerships as a fake show of transparency. These governments may say, “The data base is available. Go ahead and look at it.” But it costs a lot of money and high level skills to actually use the data. In addition, there is a need for regulatory frameworks and legislation around openness. Brazil was given as an example of a country that has joined the open government partnership, but as yet has no regulatory framework or freedom of information act, even though the country has a beautiful open government website. “Checks and balances are not inherent in the mobile phone. They need to be established in the legislation and then can be enhanced by mobile or other technology.” Open Data Hackathons can help turn data into information. The question of “what does open data actually mean?” came up also and the “cake test” was recommended as one way of defining “open”.

Is open data an extractive process?  Some at the Salon cautioned that the buzz around Open Data could be a bit false in some ways, and may be hyped up by private companies who want to make money off of nice data visualizations that they can sell to big donors or governments. The question was raised about how much data actually gets back to those people who provide it so that they can use it for their own purposes? The sense was that there’s nothing wrong with private companies helping make sense of data per se, but one could ask what the community who provided the data actually gets out of this process. Is it an extractive data mining process? And how much are communities benefiting from the process? How much are they involved? Mikel Maron wrote a great post yesterday on the link between open data and community empowerment – I highly recommend reading it for more on this.

Whose data? A related issue that wasn’t fully discussed at the Salon is: who does the information that is being “opened” actually belong to (in the case of household surveys, for example)? The government? The International NGO or multilateral agency who funds a project or research? The community? And what if a community doesn’t want its data to be open to the world – is anyone asking? What kind of consent is being granted? What are the privacy issues? And what if the government doesn’t want anyone to know the number of X people living in X place who fit X description? Whose decision is it to open data? What are the competing politics?

For example, what if an organization is working on an issue like HIV, cholera, violence or human trafficking. What if they want to crowd source information and publicly display it to work towards better transparency and improved service delivery, but the host government country denies the existence of the issue or situation? In one case I heard recently, the NGO wanted to work with government on better tracking and reporting so that treatment/resources could be allocated and services provided, but when the government found out about the project, they wanted control over the information and approval rights. Government went so far in another case as to pressure the mobile service provider who was partnering with the organization, and the mobile service provider dropped out of the project. These are good reminders that information is power and openness can be a big issue even in cases not initially identified as politically charged.

Privacy and security risks. The ubiquity of data can pose huge privacy and security concerns for activists, civil society and emerging democracies and some at the Salon felt this aspect is not being effectively addressed. Can there really be anonymous mobile data? Does the push/drive for more data jeopardize the political ambitions of certain groups (civil society that may be disliked by certain governments)? This can also be an issue for external donors supporting organizations in places like Syria or Iraq. Being open about local organizations that are receiving funding for democracy or governance work can cause problems (eg., they get shut down or people can be arrested or killed).

Can new ICTs weaken helpful traditional structures or systems?  Is new tech removing some middlemen who were an important part of culture or societal structure? Does it weaken some traditional structures that may actually be useful? The example of the US was given where a huge surge of people now engage directly with their congressperson via Twitter rather than via aggregation channels or other representatives. Can this actually paralyze political systems and make them less functional? Some countered, saying that Twitter is somewhat of a fad and over time this massive number of interactions will settle down, and in addition, not everyone gets involved on every issue all the time. Things will sort themselves out. Some asked if politicians would become afraid (someone – help!! there is a study on this issue that I can’t seem to locate) to make some of the secret deals that helped move agendas forward because they will be caught and so openness and transparency can actually paralyze them? In other words is it possible that transparency is not always a good thing in terms of government effectiveness? The example of paying Afghan police directly by mobile phone was given. This initiative apparently ended up failing because it cut decision makers who benefited from bribes out of the loop. Decoupling payments from power is potentially transformational, but how to actually implement these projects when they disrupt so much?

Does new technology create parallel structures? Are parallel structures good or bad? In an effort to bypass inefficient and/or unaccountable systems, in one case, private business owners started their own crime reporting and 911 system to respond and accompany victims to report to the police and follow up on incidents. Questions were raised whether this privatization of government roles was taking justice into ones’ own hands, forcing the government to be accountable, allowing it to shirk responsibilities, or providing a way for government to see an innovation and eventually take on a new and more effective system that had been tried and tested with private funds. This same issue can be seen with parallel emergency reporting systems and other similar uses of ICTs. It may be too early in the game to know what the eventual outcomes of these efforts will be and what the long term impact will be on governance. Or it may be that parallel systems work in some contexts and not in others.

***

The Salon could have gone for much longer but alas, we had to end. Dave Algoso covers some of the other ideas from the Salon in his post Technology for Transparency, Accountability and Governance, including how to approach and define the topic (top down vs bottom up? efficiency vs transformation?) and the importance of measuring impact.

Thanks to UNICEF and Chris Fabian for hosting the Salon. Thanks to Martin Tisne from the Transparency and Accountability Initiative for sparking the idea to choose this topic for the first Technology Salon in NYC, and thanks to Wayan Vota for inviting me to coordinate the series.

Contact me if you’d like to be on the invitation list for future Salons.

*The Technology Salon is sponsored by the UN Foundation’s Technology Partnership with the Vodafone Foundation as a way to increase the discussion and dissemination of information and communication technology’s role in expanding solutions to long-standing international development challenges. Technology Salons currently run in Washington DC (coordinated by@wayan_vota) and San Francisco, with New York City as the latest addition, coordinated by yours truly.

**The Salon runs by Chatham House Rules, so no attribution has been made in the above post.

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Last week’s conference: “The Power of Information: New Technologies for Philanthropy and Development” hosted by the Indigo TrustThe Institute for Philanthropy and The Omidyar Network was somewhat of a ‘who’s who in ICT4D’. It provided an incredible opportunity to hear and discuss what some of the best minds are up to with regard to technology and innovation in development. (Check the conference videos here for more.)

The purpose of the conference was to bring innovators and donors together. In addition to the panelists, many other leaders in the field of social media, ICT4D and innovation as well as a variety of donors and funders were around to chat with during breaks, lunch, dinner and drinks. Conference topics included transparency, accountability and democracy; health; finance and rural development; youth empowerment and education; human rights; and fostering innovation and enterprise.

I got a lot out of the conference, but want to focus on two areas of specific interest:

  1. Balancing innovation (inspiration) and process (sustainability)
  2. Building bridges between new technologies and existing initiatives

Balancing innovation (inspiration) and process (sustainability)

Philip Thigo from SODNET started the day off with an introduction and a great set of questions* to explore around ICTs and development.  I found myself nodding and frantically typing and tweeting to catch and share as many of them as I could:

  • Are technologies just tools or are they the engine of transformation?
  • Are they universal? Can we cut and paste them from one context/culture to another?
  • Is it about connecting old and new tech for use by marginalized people and groups? Should we be creating interfaces between new and old tech?
  • What about power hierarchies with relation to access? Will disempowered communities automatically adopt technology and turn its use and information into action?
  • What about the challenge of laws and limitations on technologies and the selective enforcement of these laws by the state with regard to access, ownership, and control of information and knowledge?
  • What are the accountability, ethics and responsibilities of technology activists and developers? How are we evaluating our actions and decisions and their impact on people lives?
  • Is it worth taking the risk?

Philip emphasized the need to fail fast, learn fast, and move fast when working in this area. “We need to think about people first, not technology first,” he said. “We should strike a balance between supporting innovators (inspiration) while at the same time strengthening process (sustainability).”

I couldn’t agree more.

Though there is a sense (and a couple panelists, including Philip, commented) that anyone can use social media, that people don’t need training, and that ideally you should just hand over the tools and let people get to work, I do think that ‘striking a balance’ is critical, especially when talking about funding and implementing particular initiatives that are seeking specific outcomes related to development. This isn’t to say that we need an over orchestrated process, but I do think it’s important to remember that not everyone can pick up technology as easily as those who are immersed and surrounded by it 24/7.

Yes, technology needs to be ‘demystified’ and tech is getting simpler and simpler, but based on experience working with staff, community leaders, local organizations, youth and teachers in rural Benin, Kenya, Mozambique, Senegal, Mali, Cameroon, Rwanda and Ghana, it’s clear to me that not everyone can just jump in and go. Not everyone speaks English, not everyone knows about coding, not everyone has used technology before, not everyone feels confident even if they are very curious, and some people want additional support to get going.

In addition, ICT4D-type projects need good overall design, beyond the technology piece. They need a good think-through in terms of sustainability (for programs that are meant to endure), local context, unintended effects, privacy and protection (especially if they are human rights related, work with vulnerable people or could put users in any kind of risk).

As many would agree, the tech is only 10% of it. There is a trend toward developing more detailed user manuals and guidance on what to think about when designing initiatives using new tools like Ushahidi because of demand for this from users. I do think that donors, implementers and innovators need to keep that in mind, and be sure that they are planning for and funding that other 90% [eg, all the ‘boring’ stuff that makes the 10% of the ‘cool and -exciting’ stuff work – like good planning, core staff, logistics, monitoring and evaluation or as the link I mentioned above says, outreach, branding, translation, verification, documentation, integration with other systems….]. I also think donors should be supporting the local strengthening of people and organizations’ skills, capacities and strategic thinking via funding to innovation and tech hubs and support to universities and other kinds of opportunities for further education, training and experimentation in the area of technology for people in ‘developing’ countries, starting from local context and local realities.

Building bridges between new technologies and existing initiatives

Some major transparency initiatives are gaining more and more traction at the moment, for example the recently-launched open government program led by the US and Brazil (and rejected by India) and the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI). In addition, there are some really interesting locally led transparency initiatives happening all over the place. The panel on Transparency, Accountability and Democracy highlighted a number of tech tools and platforms that are being used to enhance this area of work (including  Frontline SMSMy Society, and Huduma) and some broad thinking around the topic by Owen Barder, who highlighted various aspects of aid transparency and the giant disconnect in terms of what the general public, governments receiving aid, and donors want to know about aid efforts.

Following the panel, a great question came up from Martin Tisne from the Transparency and Accountability Initiative (TAI).  He said that the transparency and accountability field has been around and funded for many years but it is atomized. He wondered how the different initiatives represented on the panel all fit into the broader picture. Owen agreed that atomization is a very serious concern. “The answer to it is open standards that enable people to take information from all these sources and mash it up and make it available to everyone. This is ‘unsexy’ and doesn’t photograph well but it’s potentially revolutionary in the way that the web has revolutionized our lives.” Owen emphasized the need for donors to invest in areas that maybe don’t seem so innovative and exciting, but that are critical to moving the field forward. (This goes back to the first point – the need to balance innovation and process, and funding for the other 90%).

Stephan King from the Omidyar Network continued during the donor panel to talk about transparency and accountability. He added that “tech tools are not a panacea,” and asked how technology can supplement and complement the work that many organizations are already doing. “Many charities and non-profits don’t know how to use technology,” Stephan said, commenting that there is a role for Omidyar and others to help organizations realize the benefits and utilities of technology to help reach scale, innovative solutions, and to provide feedback loops. “Technology is important in the area of transparency and accountability because it can engage citizens,” he said. “It allows people to access information in a way like never before.”

Martin (from the Transparency and Accountability Initiative) followed, saying that TAI is a collaborative of major funders who are looking at the whole field of transparency and accountability. The field as a whole is about 20-25 yrs old, he said, and is currently very atomized. “We need, as funders overall, to ensure that this growing and exciting community of practice [technology in transparency and accountability] isn’t just another atom within the overall transparency and accountability movement,” he said. “How can technology feed and nurture this overall community of practice? Technology has potential to do something really exciting in our field, to solve problems we’re really poor at, such as scale.” He also talked about the potential for tech to help engage citizens. “This field is and has been monopolized by policy wonks in the cities, in the capitals, but we have an opportunity to reach citizens and that’s really exciting.”

“The vast majority of technology and accountability groups — 95% — however, don’t harness the potential of mobile technologies really strategically, yet the potential is exciting if they did.” Martin asked how we can link organizations with fantastic grassroots networks and/or that really know how to use media with those that are using technology. “If we can crack this complex bridging issue of how to bring the transparency world and the tech world together we will have achieved a huge amount.” It’s not enough to bring government groups and tech groups to the table and think it will happen overnight, he said. “What we are trying to do is to focus on people, on entrepreneurs, on individuals who really understand the problems and the solutions that tech can provide as well as focus on organizations. We find a lot of program officers who know what tech can do or a CEO who has a vision of what tech can do but it doesn’t percolate throughout the organization.” TIA wants to bring together the people who understand the problems together with those who may have the technology solutions. Martin’s idea to bring technology folks together with transparency and accountability folks together to make “tech babies” was a big hit….

These points also resonated strongly with me as someone working in a large development organization that is looking at how to integrate new technologies into its work, and being one of few people within the organization with the specific responsibility of bridging programs and new technologies. It’s  simultaneously comforting and frustrating to know that organizations typically struggle with this and also good to know that some donors are aware of the challenge and willing to support it to be overcome.

Philanthropy and social media

In closing this too-long post, I just want to mention that as background material, Indigo Trust and the Institute for Philanthropy produced an impressive paper called Philanthropy and Social Media, which gives an overview of social media, how it’s being used for communication and social impact, and why social media is important (with separate sections on communication messages, knowledge sharing and reporting, overcoming barriers to inclusion, connecting people, improving service delivery, scaling fast, fundraising, transparency and accountability). The paper also summarizes some conversations with investors in social media. Two charts I find extremely on target are the “tips and advice on investing in social media” and the “roadmap for engaging with social media.” They are both simple and well laid out, and would be useful not only for donors but for anyone who is engaging with social media in development work.

Many thanks to Will and Fran at Indigo Trust for the invitation to participate in the conference!

*See also Charlie Beckett’s great overview of the conference and the key questions he pulled out from the day.

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