Monthly Archives: April 2012

OGP Take Aways

[Summary: Ten observations and take-aways from #ogp2012]

In an attempt to use reflective blogging to capture thoughts from the Open Government Partnership meeting in Brasilia I’ve jotted down ten key learning points, take-aways, or areas I’ve been musing on. Where critical, I hope they are taken in the spirit of constructive critique.

1) Good ideas come from everywhere
Warren Krafchik made this point in the closing plenary, and it’s one that was apparent throughout OGP. The OGP provides a space for shared learning in all directions: across sectors and across countries. I’ve certainly found my own understanding of open data has been deepened by thinking about how the lessons from Transparent Chennai and Bangalore might apply in the UK context, and I look forward to OGP exchanges providing space for much more sharing of challenges and solutions.

2) The quality of Right to Information really matters
Another bit of shared learning from OGP was previewed in a Guardian article by Arunu Roy writing about the potential strength of the Indian Right to Information (RTI) Act, as against the UK Freedom of Information (FOI) Act. A lot of the civil society participants I spoke with had experience of working with their national RTI laws, or lobbying for them to be created, and the quality, rather than just the presence, of the laws, was a key theme. Some RTI laws require payment to request data; some allow anonymity, others ensure every requester provides their full details. These differences matter, and that presents a challenge for the OGP mechanisms, which at the moment simply require a RTI Bill as a condition of joining.

3) Whistle blower protection is an important factor in the journey from openness to impact
In the closing plenary, Samantha Powell summed this one up: “when you have access to information that challenges conventional wisdom, or when you witness some wrongdoing, you need the protection to come forward with it, and to often that protection is lacking”.

Open data, and access to information might give people working in organisations some of the pieces of the jigsaw they need to spot corruption and wrongdoing. But if they have no protection to highlight that, we may miss many of the opportunities for more open information to bring accountability and impact.

4) We’ve not yet cracked culture change and capacity building
The shift to open government is not just a shift of policy, it also involves culture shift inside government (and to an extent in how civil society interfaces with government). I heard a few mentions of the need for culture change in National Action Plan sessions, but no clear examples of concerted government efforts to address ‘closed cultures’.

5) Ditto effective large scale public engagement
Many countries hadn’t consulted widely on their National Action Plans, and few action plans I heard details of included much substantive on public participation. In part this was explained because of the short lead time that many countries had to produce their action plans: but for me this seems to point to a number of significant challenges we need to work out how to address if open government is to be participative government. Working out more agile models of engagement, that still meet desirable criteria of being inclusive and accessible is a big challenge. For the OGP, it’s also interesting to consider the role of ‘engagement with citizens’ through mass participation, and engagement with CSOs, potentially as mediators of citizen voice. One idea I explored in a few conversations was whether, when OGP Governments support mass-participation in shaping action plans, the raw input should be shared and jointly analysed with CSOs.

6) There is a need to distinguish e-government, from open government
As one of the speakers put it in the closing plenary of day 1: “the open government partnership is not an e-government partnership”. E-government to make public service provision more effective has it’s place, and may overlap with open government, but in itself e-government is not one-and-the-same-as open government.

7) We need both data infrastructures, and accessibility ecosystem, for open data
This is something I’ll write a bit more on soon, but broadly there needs to be a recognition that not only do both government and civil society have a role in providing national infrastructures of open data to support governance, but they also both have a role in stimulating eco-systems that turn that data into information and make it accessible. Some of that comes out a bit in the five stars of open data engagement, though stimulating eco-systems might involve more than just engagement around specific datasets.

8) We need to develop a deeper dialogue between technologists and issue activists
David Eaves has blogged about OGP highlighting a sense of a divide between many of the established civil society groups, and the more emergent technology-skilled open data / open government community. The message that open government is broader than open data can be read in multiple ways. It can be taken as trying to avoid an OGP agenda being used to further ‘open data from government’ as opposed to ‘open data for open government’. It can be taken as a downplaying of the opportunity that technologies bring for opening government. Or it can be taken as calling for technologies to build upon, rather than to try and side-step or leap-over, the hard work and often very contested work that has gone into securing access to information policies and other open government foundations. Some of the best cases I heard about over the OGP were where, having secured a right to information, activists were then able to use technologies and data to more effectively drive accountability.

Finding the common ground, and admitting spaces of difference, between technology and issue-focussed open government communities is another key challenge as OGP develops.

9) Monitoring should ultimately be about change for citizens, not just commitments and process
One of the key tasks for the OGP Steering Committee over the coming months is to develop an Independent Review Mechanism to monitor country action plans. In one of the panel sessions this was described more as an ‘evidence collection’ mechanism, to ensure all voices in a country are heard, rather than an assessment and judgement mechanism – so it holds out real potential to support both third-party evaluation (i.e. non OGP) of country progress against action plans, and to support formative evaluation and learning.

One point which came up a number of times was that OGP should be about change for citizens, not just commitments and process. A IRM that asks the ‘What’s Changed?‘ question of a wide range of citizens, particularly those normally excluded from decision making processes, would be good to see.

10) Deciding on the tenth item for a ten-item list is tricky
Instead you can just link to wisdom from @tkb.

Reflecting on the Open Government Partnership

I’ve been  in Brasilia this week for at meeting of the Open Government Partnership (OGP), a new international initiative now involving 55 governments and run by a joint government and civil society steering committee, to secure state commitments to promoting transparency, empowering citizens, fighting corruption, and harnessing new technologies to strengthen governance. Unfortunately, new technologies and WiFi access were a little lacking at the conference venue on the first day, so I’m only now getting to blog some of the notes and reflections I jotted down during the event. I’ve tried to use ” quotes for “near verbatim” quotes (some via the translators), and ‘for paraphrases’ on elements that jumped out at me from different presentations.

The morning opened with presentations from US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, Nika Gilauri, President of Georgia, Jakaya Kikwete, President of Tanazania and Dilma Rousseff, President of Brazil, discussing their commitments to open government.

Hilary Clinton’s speech highlighted that 1/4 of the worlds people now live in countries which have joined the OGP, ‘each of which has outlined concrete, credible steps, to open government’, although noting that it is ‘not enough to assert we will be committed to openness, we have to deliver on the commitments we have made’. Hilary’s speech also set out a belief that the biggest divisions between states in future will not be on geographic, wealth or religious lines, but will be concerned with openness: “those societies that believe they can be closed to change, closed to beliefs and ideas different from theirs, will find that in our Internet world they will be quickly left behind.”. This focus on technologically driven change was an explicit strand in both Clinton’s speech, and much of the OGP discourse, although the speech also ended with a recognition that ‘new tools of the digital age will not change human nature, only we can do that’.

Nika Gilauri’s speech opened with an inspiring claim: ‘I truly believe that open government initiative and partnership can leave poverty behind’. The logic is that challenging corruption can lead to governments using resources more efficiently and effectively. The rest of Nika’s speech focussed on the impacts of ‘open government’ reforms on Georgia, where a drive to address corruption has seen the figures for the number of Georgians who paid a bribe in the last 12 months drop to 4%, from a high of 95%. Nika highlighted that the reforms ‘destroy the myth that corruption is cultural, and give hope to other countries’ where corruption appears entrenched. Key to explore in any of the claims made for the effects of open government is how specifically ‘open government’ policies, like promoting transparency or increasing citizen access to decision making mechanisms, have interacted with legal instruments and enforcement measures in anti-corruption. I don’t know the Georgia context, but Nika’s speech for me highlighted that we need to look in depth at understanding the effect openness has, and the wider contextual factors (good and bad) that enable it to drive change.

Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania covered a range of important aspects of developing open government, from promoting press freedom, to parliamentary strengthening. Open government is not only about developing new institutions and structures, but also about reforming existing parts of our democratic systems. Jakaya noted that the Tanzania OGP Action Plan has prioritised local government – looking at basic education, health and water supply, on the grounds that these are most relevant to citizens. The claim ‘getting information on local services is more important than information on complex policy arrangements’ is one that sparked a lot of discussion in the research workshop IDRC convened just before the OGP, so it was interesting to see this claim being made in the opening speeches.

The final opening speech was from Dilma Rousseff who described a range of ways the Brazilian government have been promoting transparency, including introducing a new Access to Information Law, and developing specific transparency portals to cover specific areas such as spending on the World Cup (just across from the conference venue we could see many cranes building a new stadium in Brasilia to host the World Cup) and Olympics. The opportunities for engagement in open government via sports etc. (and the missed opportunity for a UK Olympics transparency portal) are interesting to consider. Dilma also draw attention to the financial sector: ‘in the absence of monitoring, international financial flows become subject to manipulation -with consequent losses for the world economy’, an input that was undoubtedly well received by Chris Taggart of Open Corporates who has been advocating hard for governments to prioritise the transparency of company information. Dilma’s speech also focussed on developing new channels for public participation, from national policy conferences to online engagement processes and public comment periods for new laws, a theme that was overall fairly underdeveloped in most of the OGP sessions I saw.

In the afternoon, countries were presenting their National Action Plans, making commitments that they will deliver as part of the OGP process. I was involved in inputting into a civil society assessment of the UK’s National Action Plan just before OGP, so was keen to see what would be said about it. I’ve blogged more on that over the UK Civil Society OGP blog, but essentially I took away from the session (and other sessions where I heard UK Director of Transparency Tim Kelsey speaking) a real concern that the current framing of open government from the UK Government is (a) very narrowly focussed on open data measures, and (b) as Jo Bates points out in her excellent paper, potentially a co-option of an open government and open data agenda in the interests of a reduced and marketised state: a policy agenda that our last election suggests does not have a popular electoral mandate. I hope my fears on (b) are misplaced, and that the commitment made in that session to a review of the action plan creates space to broaden the UK agenda and commitments as part of the OGP, but I suspect there is a lot of work still to do to support a constructive critical assessment of domestic UK open government.

I’ll post a few key learning take-aways from the whole meeting shortly, but in terms of overall impressions: there were some powerful and inspiring stories of the move towards open government from many countries, including from Omar Abdulkarim, Deputy Prime Minister of Libya, and Ben Abbes, Secretary of State of Tunisia and from a global perspective, building a forum to work out new models of open governance, and to do that through a partnership of civil society and elected governments is an incredibly exciting process to be starting. The meeting format in Brasilia didn’t necessarily make the most of opportunities for ‘open space’ discussions between civil society and governments in a constructive form, collectively addressing contemporary challenges of governance, but the very bringing together of people created the space for many great conversations to happen. Brasilia 2012 was just the start of many of the conversations, and the future of the OGP I suspect will depend on how they can develop and be sustained over the coming year…

Emerging messages on digital innovation to support youth engagement

Photo (C) David WilcoxAs part of the project I’m working on with David Wilcox and Alex Farrow for Nominet Trust to look on “how digital technology can support young people to engage socially and economically in their communities” we’ve been gathering input into an online document to develop some ‘key messages’ that will help projects spot the opportunities for digital innovation. This Thursday we brought together a fantastic crowd of 25 thinkers, social entrepreneurs, funders, youth workers and young people at the RSA in London to explore some of the messages that had been emerging and to explore which were most relevant to the social and economic challenges young people currently face.

David has put together a storify bringing together many of the discussions from the day, and has blogged a quick clip of me explaining the workshop process, which essentially involved taking some headline challenges (youth unemployment; lack of youth influence of local decision making), digging in to find the underlying challenges and unmet needs, and then looking at the messages identified so far which had been printed out as cards to discuss them and see how they might be relevant to the challenges.

Selection of cardsBy looking through all the cards (which people could rate for importance), looking at which messages were chosen as relevant, and looking at the messages which have had attention in the online document so far, I’ve pulled out what look like the top-10 themes for us to explore further. Each message includes a brief summary, and then a link off to more details where you can also directly add to our working document – adding key questions for us to address in our follow up explorations, or sharing links to examples we should explore and draw upon.

This list is not set in stone, and might still change quite a bit before the final write up (you can make the case for changes in the document too…), but here’s the list as it stands today (the numbers are from the original set of cards):

Emerging messages

Planning a project that will use digital technology to address key challenges that young people face? Think about how you might:

19. Blend online and offline
Digital and online innovations don’t only have to be delivered online. Online tools can support local community building and action – and projects should plan to work both on the web, and in local or face-to-face settings.

6. Use games to engage
Adding an element of gaming to your project can provide the incentives for young people to get engaged. Collecting points, completing challenges and competing with others can all spur young people on to get involved and stay involved.

7. Address innovations gaps in the back-office
Not all digital innovations have to be about directly using technology with young people. Putting better tools in the hands of frontline workers, and intermediaries who work with young people can create the biggest benefit.

17. Support young people to be creators, not consumers
Digital technology can enable young people to be content creators: “youth can learn video making, digital engagement etc. – and if it aims to be social and community focused – imagine the possibilities!”. Many youth don’t take advantage of digital opportunities for creativity – and action to support them to do so is important. From creating multimedia content, to providing feedback on the good and the bad – young people can be involved in shaping digital resources developed to support them.

3. Encourage co-design/co-design with young people
The only way to create services for young people, is in collaboration with young people. User-centred design, agile and iterative design methods all provide ways for young people to be involved through the process of creating innovative solutions.


4. Consider the livelihoods of the future
Digital technology is not just about easier ways to find a job: it changes the nature of work. Home working, portfolio working, freelancing and co-operative business structures are all enabled by the Internet. Better CVs and job information won’t solve the unemployment crisis: we need to use digital technologies to create and support new ways of working and making a living.

18. Use digital tools to enable peer-to-peer learning
In the Internet age education doesn’t have to be top-down, digital tools allow for peer-to-peer learning: helping people come together to teach, learn and collaborate.

24. Use technology to personalise services
Digital technologies can be used to aggregate content from multiple sources, and customise an individuals experience of online information. Young people out of work or education are not a homogeneous group: and have many different needs.

30. Be network literate and create new connections
Although young people might be using online social networks like Facebook all the time, the connections they have to inspiration, role models and opportunities for volunteering, education or employment can be limited. Think about how digital tools can help you to map out networks, and to make new connections that broaden the horizons and increase the resources accessible to young people.

30. Recognise the diversity of youth
Who are the young people? Although there are many similarities across the 16-24 age group, there are also some key differences in how they use technology.

 

Look out for all the updates from the Digital Tech and Youth Engagement crowdsourced research project over the SocialReporters.net blog here.

Open data: embracing the tough questions – new publications

[Summary: launching open data special issue of Journal of Community Informatics, and a new IKM Emergent paper] (Cross posted from Open Data Impacts blog)

Two open data related publications I’ve been working on have made it to the web in the last few days. Having spent a lot of the last few years working to support organisations to explore the possibilities of open data, these feel like they represent a more critical strand of exploring OGD, trying to embrace and engage with, rather than to avoid the tough questions. I’m hoping, however, they both offer something to the ongoing and unfolding debate about how to use open data in the interests of positive social change.

Special Issue of JoCI on Open Government Data
The first is a Special Issue of the Journal of Community Informatics on Open Government Data (OGD) bringing together four new papers, five field notes, and two editorials that critically explore how Open Government Data policies and practices are playing out across the world. All the papers and notes draw upon empirical study and grassroots experiences in order to explore key challenges of, and challenges to, OGD.

Nitya Raman’s note on “Collecting data in Chennai City and the limits of Openness” and Tom Demeyer’s account of putting together an application competition in Amsterdam explore some of the challenges of accessing and opening up government datasets in very different contexts, highlighting the complex realities involved in securing ongoing access to reliable government data. Papers from Sharadini Rath (on using government data to influence local planning in India), and Fiorella De Cindo (on designing deliberative digital spaces), explore the challenges of taking open data into civic discussions and policy making – recognising the role that platforms, politics and social dynamics play in enabling, and putting the brakes on, open data as a tool to drive change. A field note from Wolfgang Both and a point of view note from Rolie Cole on “The practice of open data as opposed to it’s promise” highlight that any OGD initiative involves choices about the data to priotise, and the compromises to make between competing agendas when it comes to opening data. Shashank Srinivasan’s note on Mapping the Tso Kar basin in Ladakh, using GIS systems to represent the Changpa tribal people’s interaction with the land also draws attention to the key role that technical systems and architectures play in making certain information visible, and the need to look for the data that is missing from official records.

Unlike many reports and white papers on OGD out there, which focus solely on potential positive benefits, a number of the papers in the issue also take the important step of looking at the potential for OGD to cause harm, or for OGD agendas to be co-opted against the interests of citizens and communities. Bhuvaneswari Raman’s paper
The Rhetoric of Transparency and its Reality: Transparent Territories, Opaque Power and Empowerment
puts power front and centre of an analysis of how the impacts of open data may play out, and Jo Bates “This is what modern deregulation looks like” : co-optation and contestation in the shaping of the UK’s Open Government Data Initiative questions whether UK open data policy has become a fig-leaf for marketisation of public services and neoliberal reforms in the state.

These challenges to open government data, questioning whether OGD does (or even can?) deliver on promises to promote democratic engagement and citizen empowerment are, well, challenging. Advocates of OGD may initially want to ignore these critical cases, or to jump straight to sketching ‘patches’ and pragmatic fixes that route around these challenges. However, I suspect the positive potential of OGD will be closer when we more deeply engage with these critiques, and when in the advocacy and architecture of OGD we find ways to embrace tough questions of power and local context.

(Zainab and I have tried to provide a longer summary weaving together some of these issues in our editorial essay here, although we see this very much as the start, rather than end-point, of an exploration…)

More to come: I’ve been working on the journal issue for just over a year with my co-editor Zainab Bawa, and at the invitation of Michael Gurstein, who has also been fantastically supportive in us publishing this as a ‘rolling issue’. That means we’re going to be adding to the issue over the coming months, and this is just the first batch of papers available to start feeding into discussions and debates now, particuarly ahead of the Open Government Partnership meeting in Brasilia next week where IDRC, Berkman Centre and the World Wide Web Foundation are hosting a discussion to develop future research agendas on the impacts of Open Government Data.

ICT for or against development? Exploring linked and open data in development

The second publication is a report I worked on last year with Mike Powel and Keisha Taylor for the IKM Emergent programme, under the title: ICT for or against development? An introduction to the ongoing case of Web 3” (PDF). The paper asks whether the International Development sector has historically adopted ICT innovations in ways that empower the subjects of development and to deliver sustainable improvements for those whose lives ” are blighted by poverty, ill-health, insecurity and lack of opportunity”, and looks at where the opportunities and challenges might lie in the adoption of open and linked data technologies in the development sector. It’s online as a PDF here, and summaries are available in English, Spanish and French

 

Exploring how digital technology can support young people to engage socially and economically in their communities

[Summary: launching an open research project to find key messages for youth-focussed digital innovation]

Over the coming months I’ll be sharing a series of blog posts linked to a project I’m working on with David Wilcox and Alex Farrow for Nominet Trust, developing a number of key messages on how digital technologies can be used to support young people to engage socially and economically in their communities. It’s a project we would love to get your input into…

Here’s where we are starting from:

“The race is on to re-engage young people in building an inclusive, healthier, more equal and economically viable society.

But changing times need fresh thinking and new solutions.  It is essential that we find new, more effective approaches to addressing these persistent social and economic challenges.   

Digital technology offers all of us the opportunity to engage young people in new, more meaningful and relevant ways and enable their participation in building a more resilient society.

We recognise that there is no single solution; many different strategies are needed to support young people. What is going to work?  ”

Between now and mid-May we’re going to be working up a series of key messages for innovators exploring the digital dimension of work with young people (you can input into this draft messages in this document before 12th April), and then taking a ‘social reporting’ approach to curate key social media and online content that helps unpack what those messages might mean in practice.

Digital dimensions of innovation

So many digital innovation projects essentially work by either taking a social challenge, and bolting a digital tool onto it; or taking a digital tool, and bolting on a social issue it might deal with. But digital innovation can be about more than tools and platforms: it can be about seeing how digital communication impacts upon the methods of organizing and the sorts of activities that make sense in contemporary communities. We’re looking for the messages that work from a recognition of the shared space between digital innovation and social change.

For example, back in the Youth Work and Social Networking report (PDF) we explored how, now that digital technologies means young people are in almost constant contact with peer-groups through SMS, social networking and instant messaging, ideas of informal education based solely on an isolated two or three hours a week of face-to-face contact seem outdated. But the solution isn’t just for youth workers to pick up and use social network sites as a venue for existing forms of practice (as a number of ‘virtual youth centre’ projects quickly discovered). Instead, by going back to youth work values, practitioners can identify the new forms of practice and interaction that are possible in the digital world.

And digital innovations to support youth engagement in employment, enterprise and community action might not just involve changing the way services are delivered to young people. A post from Jonathan Ward this morning on the Guardian’s Service Delivery Hub highlights how many of the institutions of localism such as local strategic partnerships, neighborhood planning groups, and localism forums are inaccessible to young people who “are often too busy with family and work commitments to take part in the business of localism”. We could take an approach of bolting-on digital technologies for young people to input into local fora: setting up Facebook groups or online spaces to discuss planning, with someone feeding this into regular face-to-face meetings. But on it’s own this isn’t terribly empowering. Instead, we might explore what tools what would make the processes of neighborhood in general planning more open to youth input, and look at how digital technology can not only allow consultation with young people, but can shift the structures of decision making so that online input is as valued and important as the input of those with the time to turn up to a face-to-face meeting.

Get involved

Between now and April 12th we’re inviting input into the key messages that we should develop further. You can drop ideas into the comments below, or direct into the open document where we’re drafting ideas here. After April 12th, we’ll start working up a selection of the messages and searching out the social media and other online content that can illuminate what these messages might mean in practice.

As we work through our exploration, we’ll be blogging and tweeting reflections, and all the replies and responses we get will be fed into the process.

At the start of June the results of the process will hopefully be published as a paper and online resource to support Nominet Trust’s latest call for proposals.