Announcing the Technology for Transparency Network
by David Sasaski
Idea Lab (PBS)
Internet technologies give governments an unprecedented ability to monitor our communication, internet activity, and even the microphones on our cell phones. The Internet, however, also empowers citizens with new tools and tactics to hold their elected officials accountable, increase transparency in government, and promote broader and more diverse civic engagement.
Rising Voices, the outreach and citizen media training initiative of Global Voices Online, has launched a new interactive website and global network of researchers to map online technology projects that aim to promote transparency, political accountability, and civic engagement in Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, South Asia, China, and Central & Eastern Europe. Over the next three months eight researchers and eight research reviewers will document at least 32 case studies of the most innovative technology for transparency projects outside of North America and Western Europe. By thoroughly documenting and evaluating each project with a standard methodology we aim to come to a better understanding of what tactics, tools, and tips are most effective in 1) making government information accessible to the general public in a meaningful way, 2) holding political and corporate leaders accountable to the rule of law and their campaign promises, and 3) promoting civic engagement so that a wider and more representative portion of citizens are involved in policy making and political processes.
Over the next three months we hope to find concrete answers to the following questions: Can technology for transparency projects be evaluated individually for impact, or should they only be seen as part of a larger accountability ecosystem? Does citizen participation in such projects lead to greater overall citizen engagement and more widespread demand for accountable public institutions? Do public institutions change their policies and behavior based on the input from citizen-led initiatives? To what extent does the usage of technology tools drive action around transparency?
As of January 19, U.S. cellphone users have donated more than $22 million in text-message donations alone. In fact, roughly one-fifth of the $112 million total that the American Red Cross has so far raised for Haiti has come via text messaging. Technology has clearly had an impact on global giving for humanitarian relief efforts. The priority right now is that the money gets to Haiti quickly and is spent as effectively as possible to save lives, and provide medical care and shelter. But in the longterm, as billions of dollars of aid money flow in to help rebuild infrastructure and entire industries, how can both Haitian citizens and donors hold institutions accountable so that development programs are run properly and without corruption?
As traditional media companies are forced to cut their budgets because of falling advertising revenue, investigative journalism and international coverage are the two most common areas to be disappear. David Simon, in his testimony before Congress about the death of the newspaper industry, said that with a vacuum of investigative journalism, "it is going to be one of the great times to be a corrupt politician." Meanwhile, Transparency International's 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index reveals that corruption is still a severe and worldwide problem.
However, there is also growing enthusiasm about the use of social media as a powerful tool in promoting transparency and fighting against corruption. But how does the use of technology to promote transparency differ across regions, cultures, and types of governance? What skills and expertise are missing from the current technology for transparency projects? What types of relationships have they formed with media, government, and civil society organizations to increase their impact? We will document in-depth as many technology for transparency projects as possible to gain a better understanding of their current impact, obstacles, and future potential.
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