Rising Voices Launches the Transparency and Technology Network

Next month Rising Voices will launch a new initiative, the Transparency and Technology Network. This is a three-month, participatory research mapping to gain a better understanding of the current state of online technology projects that increase transparency, government accountability, and civic engagement in Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, South Asia, China, and Central & Eastern Europe. The project is co-funded by Open Society Institute's Information Program and Omidyar Network's Media, Markets & Transparency initiative, and aims to inform both programs’ future investments toward transparency, accountability, and civic engagement technology projects.

Over the past few years we have observed the formation of a growing and increasingly global movement of technology and digital media projects aimed at promoting government transparency, accountability, and public participation in political processes. In Kenya, Mzalendo seeks to make information more accessible from the proceedings of the country’s parliament. Congresso Aberto uses official data published by government agencies to encourage the public to engage more closely with the Brazilian legislature. In Jordan, Ishki aims to involve citizens in developing solutions to civic problems. Vota Inteligente in Chile promotes government transparency by informing Chilean citizens about corruption and policy debates through the use of social media.

However, there are still relatively few well-known examples of grassroots transparency projects outside of the West, and fewer examples of scale, replication and mainstreaming. More importantly, there is little discussion, analysis or agreement on the question of what constitutes success, from the point of view of citizens, developers, and funders. Can these projects be evaluated individually for impact, or should they only be seen as part of a larger accountability ecosystem? Does citizen participation in such projects lead to greater overall citizen engagement and more widespread demand for accountable public institutions? Do public institutions change their policies and behavior based on the input from citizen-led initiatives? To what extent does the usage of technology tools drive action around transparency?

We are determined to find answers to those questions. We are in the process of hiring eight regional researchers who will spend 16 weeks documenting at least 32 transparency, accountability, and civic engagement technology projects. These researchers will also facilitate 16 region and country-specific discussions on Global Voices about relevant topics related to transparency, accountability, and public participation in political processes. We expect that the topics for these conversations will arise from interviews with practitioners of transparency and accountability projects, and will vary from region to region. For example, a researcher looking at China may be interested in discussing Western versus Chinese conceptions of transparency, while in Guatemala a discussion is likely to take place around the country’s recently adopted freedom of information law and its meaning for transparency projects. Select blog posts will be translated into other languages by the Lingua team of volunteer translators.

As a means of reviewing the case studies by the eight regional researchers and promoting discussion around issues related to transparency, accountability, and civic engagement, we are also seeking research reviewers to leave valuable comments on each of the case studies and blog posts. These comments will serve to 1) supplement the case studies with any missing information, 2) fact-check claims and references, and 3) spread awareness about the project in new networks. We will also work with Transparency International, Global Integrity, the World Bank, and others to ensure that our work adds value for the entire transparency community and does not waste time on duplicate research.

The Transparency and Technology Network website is currently being developed by Dan Braghis and Gleb Kanunnikau whose previous work has included Polymeme.com, Threatened Voices, and The Broswer. It will be built on the same Drupal platform used by Threatened Voices and will allow moderated case study submissions by any registered user.

In addition to producing good research to inform the investments of funders like Open Society Institute and the Omidyar Netowrk we also aim to build a global network of individuals, groups, and organizations who care about the use of technology to promote more transparency, more accountable governments, and greater civic engagement. If you would like to get involved please leave a comment, join our mailing list below, or write an email to outreach@globalvoicesonline.org.

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