Category Archives: Civic Participation

New Paper – Mixed incentives: Adopting ICT innovations for transparency, accountability, and anti-corruption

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[Summary: critical questions to ask when planning, funding or working on ICTs for transparency and accountability]

Last year I posted some drafts of a paper I’ve been writing with Silvana Fumega at the invitation of the U4 Anti-Corruption Center, looking at the incentives for, and dynamics of, adoption of ICTs as anti-corruption tools. Last week the final paper was published in the U4 Issue series, and you can find it for download here.

In the final iteration of the paper we have sought to capture the core of the analysis in the form of a series of critical questions that funders, planners and implementers of anti-corruption ICTs can ask. These are included in the executive summary below, and elaborated more in the full paper.

Adopting ICT innovations for transparency, accountability, and anti-corruption – Executive Summary

Initiatives facilitated by information and communication technology (ICT) are playing an increasingly central role in discourses of transparency, accountability, and anti-corruption. Both advocacy and funding are being mobilised to encourage governments to adopt new technologies aimed at combating corruption. Advocates and funders need to ask critical questions about how innovations from one setting might be transferred to another, assessing how ICTs affect the flow of information, how incentives for their adoption shape implementation, and how citizen engagement and the local context affect the potential impacts of their use.

ICTs can be applied to anti-corruption efforts in many different ways. These technologies change the flow of information between governments and citizens, as well as between different actors within governments and within civil society. E?government ICTs often seek to address corruption by automating processes and restricting discretion of officials. However, many contemporary uses of ICTs place more emphasis on the concept of transparency as a key mechanism to address corruption. Here, a distinction can be made between technologies that support “upward transparency,” where the state gains greater ability to observe and hear from its citizens, or higher-up actors in the state gain greater ability to observe their subordinates, and “downward transparency,” in which “the ‘ruled’ can observe the conduct, behaviour, and/or ‘results’ of their ‘rulers’” (Heald 2006). Streamlined systems that citizens can use to report issues to government fall into the former category, while transparency portals and open data portals are examples of the latter. Transparency alone can only be a starting point for addressing corruption, however: change requires individuals, groups, and institutions who can access and respond to the information.

In any particular application of technology with anti-corruption potential, it is important to ask:

  • What is the direction of the information flow: from whom and to whom?
  • Who controls the flow of information, and at what stages?
  • Who needs to act on the information in order to address corruption?

Different incentives can drive government adoption of ICTs. The current wave of interest in ICT for anti-corruption is relatively new, and limited evidence exists to quantify the benefits that particular technologies can bring in a given context. However, this is not limiting enthusiasm for the idea that governments, particularly developing country governments, can adopt new technologies as part of open government and anti-corruption efforts. Many technologies are “sold” on the basis of multiple promised benefits, and governments respond to a range of different incentives. For example, governments may use ICTs to:

  • Improve information flow and government efficiency, creating more responsive public institutions, supporting coordination.
  • Provide open access to data to enable innovation and economic growth, responding to claims about the economic value of open data and its role as a resource for private enterprise.
  • Address principal-agent problems, allowing progressive and reformist actors within the state to better manage and regulate other parts of the state by detecting and addressing corruption through upward and downward transparency.
  • Respond to international pressure, following the trends in global conversations and pressure from donors and businesses, as well as the availability of funding for pilots and projects.
  • Respond to bottom-up pressure, both from established civil society and from an emerging global network of technology-focussed civil society actors. Governments may do this either as genuine engagement or to “domesticate” what might otherwise be seen as disruptive innovations.

In supporting ICTs for anti-corruption, advocates and donors should consider several key questions related to incentives:

  • What are the stated motivations of government for engaging with this ICT?
  • What other incentives and motivations may be underlying interest in this ICT?
  • Which incentives are strongest? Are any of the incentives in conflict?
  • Which incentives are important to securing anti-corruption outcomes from this ICT?
  • Who may be motivated to oppose or inhibit the anti-corruption applications of this ICT?

The impact of ICTs for anti-corruption is shaped by citizen engagement in a local context. Whether aimed at upward or downward transparency, the successful anti-corruption application of an ICT relies upon citizen engagement. Many factors affect which citizens can engage through technology to share reports with government or act upon information provided by government. ICTs that worked in one context might not achieve the same results in a different setting (McGee and Gaventa 2010). The following questions draw attention to key aspects of context:

  • Who has access to the relevant technologies? What barriers of connectivity, literacy, language, or culture might prevent a certain part of the population from engaging with an ICT innovation?
  • What alternative channels (SMS, offline outreach) might be required to increase the reach of this innovation?
  • How will the initiative close the feedback loop? Will citizens see visible outcomes over the short or long term that build rather than undermine trust?
  • Who are the potential intermediary groups and centralised users for ICTs that provide upward or downward transparency? Are both technical and social intermediaries present? Are they able to work together?

Towards sustainable and effective anti-corruption use of ICTs. As Strand (2010) argues, “While ICT is not a magic bullet when it comes to ensuring greater transparency and less corruption . . . it has a significant role to play as a tool in a number of important areas.” Although taking advantage of the multiple potential benefits of open data, transparency portals, or digitised communication with government can make it easier to start a project, funders and advocates should consider the incentives for ICT adoption and their likely impact on how the technology will be applied in practice. Each of the questions above is important to understanding the role a particular technology might play and the factors that affect how it is implemented and utilised in a particular country.

 

You can read the full paper here.

Generation Y? Bridging the participation gap in an online world

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Back in July 2011 I spoke at a conference on ‘Generation-Y’ and public services hosted by Institut de la Gestion Publique (Institute for Public Management) in Paris. I was asked to write up the talk as an article for a print publication. So, I wrote up an extended version of this blog post, and fired it off, with a creative commons license on. A few months later I found myself having to print and sign paper contracts to convince the publishers that yes, they really could print the article. To make them happier I agreed I wouldn’t publish a copy of the article till it was out in their book. And then I pretty much forgot about it.

So I was surprised to get back from the OKF Winter Summit yesterday to find a parcel from France containing a copy of the book, French translation of the article included. 18 months after the conference, a print document void of links or graphics, with no mention of the creative commons license on the article. It looks like Institut de la Gestion Publique still have a very long way to go before they are really taking seriously the expectations gaps that my article talked about.

Ah well. Here’s a copy of the full article in English anyway (PDF). Unfortunately I’ve not been given a digital copy of the version in French, but happy to scan it in if anyone would like it.

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Open Policy Making for the UK Open Government Partnership National Action Plan

[Summary: thoughts on opportunities and challenges for open policy making from today’s OGP CSO Brown Bag lunch]

The Civil Service Reform Plan sets out a commitment that ‘Open policy making will become the default’ way policy is made, noting that ‘Whitehall does not have a monopoly on policy making expertise’. The Reform Plan states that government will ‘establish a clear model of open policy making’. However, whilst a number of principles of open policy making have been articulated (such as shared accountability; transparency; and cross-boundary teams), open policy making appears right now to be in a more experimental phase, with a range of recent initiatives using the label. In their case study looking at the creation of the National Planning Policy Framework, and a number of other instances of open policy making, the Institute for Government argue that in practice “there is no one [open policy making] model – and the choice of model will depend on the objectives to be met through greater openness”.

So, the decision to explore the use of open policy making as a framework for government and civil society collaboration around the UK’s Open Government Partnership National Action Plan, and co-chairmanship of the global OGP, raises as many questions as it answers. This blog post captures some of my personal reflections on possible elements of a UK OGP open policy-making process.

(For background on the Open Government Partnership, and how UK civil society have been engaging with the OGP so far, see www.opengovernment.org.uk. The quick summary: The OGP is an international initiative for governments to commit to open government actions: the UK is a founding member, and currently co-chair of the initiative. It created an Action Plan in 2011 of open government commitments, and, as part of members of the OGP, must review and revise this in collaboration with civil society in 2012 and 2013.)

Elements: Shared submissions to ministers

UK involvement in the Open Government Partnership is ultimately the responsibility of Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude. As part of an open policy making process, civil society and civil servants can work together on developing submissions to the Minister, developing a shared evidence base and case for what a revised National Action Plan should cover, and potential actions for the UK to take as OGP co-chair and host of the 2013 OGP plenary meeting.

This approach can be contrasted to classic policy-making consultation, in which civil servants might go out to consult on a policy, but in which the submission to a Minister, and the responses, are composed entirely by, or addressed to, the civil servants.

Elements: shared and independent spaces

To make shared submissions work, it is important for government and civil society to distinguish between issues that can and can’t be handled through this process.

The UK’s current Open Government Partnership National Action Plan (drafted entirely within Whitehall) is resolutely focussed on open data, whilst many CSOs want to see the UK focus on the full range of topics set out in the Open Government Partnership Declaration, including access to information; citizen participation; anti-corruption and integrity of public institutions. When UK civil society met a few weeks back, they outlined a number of different priority areas related to open government, including a number of concrete advocacy asks on extractive industry transparency, whistleblower protection, an extension of the right to information to cover private sector delivering public services, and emphasising participation alongside transparency as key elements of open government.

Some of the issues on the civil society agenda overlap with those government is already working on. Others are off the current government agenda. We might visualise this with a venn diagram, where the overlap of civil society and government agenda’s provides the space for open policy making, but both government and civil society continue to have issues they care about that fall outside this shared space.

In these cases, participating in an open policy making does not preclude civil society from continuing to campaign for new issues to be added to the agenda, or adopting outsider advocacy strategies to call for an issue to be added to the shared space of open policy making.

Effective open policy making needs honesty and reasonable expectations on all sides about those issues where there is enough consensus for joint submissions and evidence gathering, and a range of alternative routes through which issues that don’t make it into the shared open policy making space can still be taken forward through other routes.

Elements: joint outreach

A number of the models of open policy making that the Institute for Government highlight in their report only really open up the policy making process to a small number of individuals – often ‘experts’ from organisations already involved in policy advocacy. However, opening government should be about more than just a few extra voices – and needs to connect with citizens and civil society groups working at the grass roots across the country.

Part of an open policy making process may involved shared identification of evidence gaps, and collaboration between government and civil society organisations to develop an outreach strategy, raising awareness of open government issues, and drawing on much more diverse evidence and inputs into key documents and decision making around the OGP.

Challenges: open meetings and open networks

So far, the network of CSOs on the Open Government Partnership has been organised in the open: through a mailing list that anyone can join, and using Google Docs shared for anyone to read and edit. There is no formal membership process, or terms of reference for the group. This way of organising provides space for the network to develop organically, to draw in new participants, and to avoid putting lots of energy into structure rather than substance – but it also potentially raises some challenges for open policy making processes – as sharing information and working collaborative with an open network in theory means having a process that is open to almost anyone.

Going back to the Institute for Government’s case study of the National Policy Planning Framework, it suggests that having some boundaries, and having the ‘open policy’ group working on the framework operating effectively under-the-radar for much of their duration was important to their ability to be effective, and not to be overwhelmed by competing demands. Yet, setting boundaries and being less than transparent about the existence, membership and work of an open policy making group on open government would seem at odds with open government values.

Finding agile methods to agree minutes from meetings (perhaps live-drafting in an online document with civil society and government co-editing the notes) without getting into long drawn-out sign off processes, and having clear principles on what information should be shared when, is likely to be important to having a credible open policy making process.

Challenges: resources and regions

At the heart of the proposed open policy making processes around the OGP is the idea of a regular co-working space, initially to be hosted at the open data institute, where civil society and government can meet on a weekly basis. This is a powerful demonstration of commitment to an open process, but also risks leaving policy shaped by those with the resources to regularly spend a working day in London.

Creating opportunities for online input can help address this, but attention still needs to be paid to inclusion – finding ways to ensure that resources are available to support participation of diverse groups in the process. This is perhaps part of a more general challenge for civil society as responsibility for core elements of public governance is increasingly shifted outside of government (as in open data supporting the ‘armchair auditor’), and onto civil society. We need to explore new mechanisms to support diverse civil society action on governance, and to prevent this outward shift of governance responsibility simply empowering the well resourced.

Next steps

For the OGP open policy making process, one of the next steps is likely to involve working out which issues can be addressed as part of the shared space between government and civil society. Keep an eye on the www.opengovernment.org.uk blog for news of upcoming workshops and meetings that will hopefully be exploring just that.

What should a UK Open Government Partnership Forum look like?

[Summary: Open spaces events across that whole UK that provide access for all ages are key to an effective UK OGP forum]

A key step in a countries participation in the Open Government Partnership (OGP) involves establishing ongoing public consultation between government, citizens, civil society organisations and the private sector on the development and implementation of OGP action plans. Given the UK is currently co-chair of OGP, and will be hosting the next OGP plenary meeting in London in March next year, establishing an effective, credible and dynamic forum for ongoing multi-stakeholder participation in OGP should be a top priority.

 

Members of the informal network of UK-based Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) engaging with the OGP process have been thinking about what such a forum could look like, and in this post I want to offer one possible take, based on my experience of taking part in a range of open space and unConference events over recent years.

Proposal: At the heart of the UK OGP forum should be a series of regular open space events, taking place across the UK, with a focus on getting out of London. Events should be open to anyone to take part – from active citizens and community groups, to social entrepreneurs, private sector firms, national and local government representatives and  local and international CSOs.
Simple principles of inclusion should  be established to ensure the events provide a welcoming environment for all, including for children and young people, and older people .

What is an open space or unConference?

Open space events are created by their participants. Rather than having a set agenda, the discussion agenda for an open space event is set on the day by participants announcing sessions and discussions they would like to take part in. Participants then self-select to take part in the sessions they have the most interest in. Simple principles encourage participants, wherever they come from, to take shared ownership of the discussions and the outcomes of the day. Open space events and unConferences can have a focussed theme to guide the focus of the specific sessions that take place.

I first encountered open space on a large scale in the UKGovCamp unconferences, which, as it turns out, are in many ways a paradigmatic example of key aspects of digital open government in action. At the annual UKGovCamp events (and their spin off LocalGovCamp events around the UK), civil servants, citizens, CSOs, social innovators, business people, and event a few politicians, spend a day in practical conversation about how to make government work better – sharing knowledge, developing plans and deepening shared commitment to shared problems.

See the Wikipedia article on Open-space technology for more on open space, and links to examples of open space events in action.

Why should open space events be part of the UK OGP forum?

Open Government is about more than a few action plan commitments to better ICT systems or increasing access to data. It involves active rethinking the relationship between citizen and state both as democracy continues to evolve, and as technologies, globalisation and other social forces reconfigure the capabilities of both citizens and governments. Open Government needs mass participation – and open space events are one way to develop action-focussed dialogues that support large-scale participation.

  • A UK OGP Forum needs to be not only about feeding demands up to government, but also about disseminating OGP ideas and commitments across the whole of the public sector. For many people, it is open local government which will have most impact on their lives, and taking the OGP conversation on the road to events that can include all tiers of government provides an opportunity to join up open government practice across government.
  • Open space events are also very cost-effective. You need a room, some refreshments, some flip-chart paper – and, well, that’s about it.
  • Open space events are powerful network building opportunities – helping develop both civil society open government networks, and build new connections between civil society and government (and even across different parts of government)
  • With social media and a few social reporters, open space events can also become largely self-documenting, and with good facilitation it is possible to include remote participation, using the Internet to make sure anyone with a contribution to make to a topic under discussion can input into the dialogue.
  • Most of all, open space events embody principles of openness, collaboration and innovation – and so are an ideal vehicle for developing a dynamic UK OGP forum.

How could it work in practice?

Well, there’s nothing to stop anyone organising their own Open Government unConference, inviting civil servants and a whole range of other stakeholders, recording the key outcomes of the discussions, and then sending that all to the Cabinet Office team working on the UK’s OGP participation. However, to make open space a core part of the UK OGP process a number of elements may be worth considering. Here’s one sketch of how that could work:

  • In partnership with the OGP team in government, planning a series of quarterly OGP open space events, which central civil servants commit to take part in. These would take place in each of the nations of the United Kingdom, and should have as their core theme the commitments of the UK Action Plan. Events should issue and open invite, and should be designed to ensure maximum diversity of participants from across all sectors.
  • In addition, government, CSOs and other stakeholders should agree to providing sponsorship for thematic OGP open space meetings. Anyone could organise a thematic meeting, providing they apply key principles of inclusiveness, open participation and transparency in the organisation of the events.
  • The OpenGovernment.org.uk site becomes a platform to collate notes from all the discussion sessions, drawing on social media content and notes captured by facilitators and rapporteurs at the events.
  • Each individual open space discussion within the events does not have to reach a consensus on its topic, but would have the option of producing a 1/2 page summary of discussions that can be shared online. Government commit to reading all these notes when reviewing the action plan.
  • Existing open space events (e.g. UKGovCamp) could choose to add an OGP track of discussions, feeding in as any thematic event would.

What about formal representation and accountability? How do decisions get made?

Some of the other ideas for a UK OGP Forum are far more focussed on formal structures and procedures. I don’t reject the value of formal structures where questions of accountability and representation are in play. However, unless actual authority to decide what does into country action plans is shared with an OGP forum, then as a consultative body, a more open model would seem more appropriate.

Established CSOs have existing channels through which they are talking with government. A forum should  help them co-ordinate their asks and offers on open government issues through existing channels, rather than add another narrow channel of communication.

Open processes are not immune from their problems: they can suffer from those who shout loudest being those who are heard most, or from those in power being able to pick and choose which voices they engage with. However, finding ways to deal with these issues in the open is an important challenge and learning journey for us to go on if we truly want to find inclusive models of open governance and open government that work…

A realistic proposal?

I’ve written this outline sketch up as a contribution to the debate on what an OGP forum should look like. Government tendencies to control processes, and manage engagement in neat boxes can be strong. But to an extent open government has to be about challenging that – and as a process that will involve a shared learning journey for both government, civil society and citizens, I hope this does make for a realistic proposal…

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…

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.

GovCampLogo

5-Stars of Open Data Engagement?

[Summary: Notes from a workshop at UKGovCamp that led to sketching a framework to encourage engagement and impact of open data initiatives might contain]

Update: The 5 Stars of Open Data Engagement now have their own website at http://www.opendataimpacts.net/engagement/.

In short

* Be demand driven

* * Provide context

* * * Support conversation

* * * * Build capacity & skills

* * * * * Collaborate with the community

The Context

I’ve spent the last two days at UKGovCamp, an annual open-space gathering of people from inside and around local and national government passionate about using digital technologies for better engagement, policy making and practice. This years event was split over two days: Friday for conversations and short open-space slots; Saturday for more hands-on discussions and action. Suffice to say, there were plenty of sessions on open data on both days – and this afternoon we tried to take forward some of the ideas from Day 1 about open data engagement in a practical form.

There is a general recognition of the gap between putting a dataset online, and seeing data driving real social change. In a session on Day 1 led by @exmosis, we started to dig into different ways to support everyday engagement with data, leading to Antonio from Data.gov.uk suggesting that open data initiatives really needed to have some sort of ‘Charter of engagement’ to outline ways they can get beyond simply publishing datasets, and get to supporting people to use data to create social, economic and administrative change. So, we took that as a challenge for day 2, and in session on ‘designing an engaging open data portal’ a small group of us (including Liz StevensonAnthony Zacharzewski, Jon Foster and Jag Goraya) started to sketch what a charter might look like.

You can see the (still developing) charter draft in this Google Doc. However, it was Jag Goraya‘s suggestion that the elements of a charter we were exploring might also be distilled into a ‘5 Stars’ that seemed to really make some sense of the challenge of articulating what it means to go beyond publishing datasets to do open data engagement. Of course, 5-star rating scales have their limitations, but I thought it worth sharing the draft that was emerging.

What is Open Data Engagement?

We were thinking about open data engagement as the sorts of things an open data initiative should be doing beyond just publishing datasets. The engagement stars don’t relate to the technical openness or quality of the datasets (there are other scales for that), and are designed to be flexible to be able to apply to a particular dataset, a thematic set of datasets, or an open data initiative as a whole.

We were also thinking about open government data in our workshop; though hopefully the draft has wider applicability. The ‘overarching principles’ drafted for the Charter might also help put the stars in context:

Key principles of open government data: “Government information and data are common resources, managed in trust by government. They provide a platform for public service provision, democratic engagement and accountability, and economic development and innovation. A commitment to open data involves making information and data resources accessible to all without discrimination; and actively engaging to ensure that information and data can be used in a wide range of ways.”

Draft sketch of five stars of Open Data Engagement

The names and explanatory text of these still need a lot of work; you can suggest edits as comments in the Google Doc where they were drafted.

* Be demand driven

Are your choices about the data you release, how it is structured, and the tools and support provided around it based on community needs and demands? Have you got ways of listening to people’s requests for data, and responding with open data?

** Provide good meta-data; and put data in context

Do your data catalogue provide clear meta-data on datasets, including structured information about frequency of updates, data formats and data quality? Do you include qualitative information alongside datasets such as details of how the data was created, or manuals for working with the data? Do you link from data catalogue pages to analysis your organisation, or third-parties, have already carried out with the data, or to third-party tools for working with the data?

Often organisations already have detailed documentation of datasets (e.g. analysis manuals and How To’s) which could be shared openly with minimal edits. It needs to be easy to find these when you find a dataset. It’s also common that governments have published analysis of the datasets (they collected it for a reason), or used it in some product or service, and so linking to these from the dataset (and vice-versa) can help people to engage with it.

*** Support conversation around the data

Can people comment on datasets, or create a structured conversation around data to network with other data users? Do you join the conversations? Are there easy ways to contact the individual ‘data owner’ in your organisation to ask them questions about the data, or to get them to join the conversation? Are there offline opportunities to have conversations that involve your data?

**** Build capacity, skills and networks

Do you provide or link to tools for people to work with your datasets? Do you provide or link to How To guidance on using open data analysis tools, so people can build their capacity and skills to interpret and use data in the ways they want to? Are these links contextual (e.g. pointing people to GeoData tools for a geo dataset, and to statistical tools for a performance monitoring dataset)? Do you go out into the community to run skill-building sessions on using data in particular ways, or using particular datasets? Do you sponsor or engage with community capacity building?

When you give people tools – you help them do one thing. When you give people skills, you open the possibility of them doing many things in future. Skills and networks are more empowering than tools. 

***** Collaborate on data as a common resource

Do you have feedback loops so people can help you improve your datasets? Do you collaborate with the community to create new data resources (e.g. derived datasets)? Do you broker or provide support to people to build and sustain useful tools and services that work with your data?


It’s important for all the stars that they can be read not just with engaging developers and techies in mind, but also community groups, local councillors, individual non-techie citizens etc. Providing support for collaboration can range from setting up source-code sharing space on GitHub, to hanging out in a community centre with print-outs and post-it notes. Different datasets, and different initiatives will have different audiences and so approaches to the stars – but hopefully there is a rough structure showing how these build to deeper levels of engagement.

Where next?

Hopefully Open Data Sheffield will spend some time looking at this framework at a future meeting – and all comments are welcome on the Google doc. Clearly there’s lot to be done to make these more snappy, focussed and neat – but if we do find there’s a fairly settled sense of a five stars of engagement framework (if not yet good language to express it) then it would be interesting to think about whether we have the platforms and processes in place anywhere to support all of this: finding the good practice to share. Of course, there might already be a good engagement framework out there we missed when sketching this all out – so comments to that effect welcome too…

 

Updates:

Ammended 22nd January to properly credit Antonio of Data.gov.uk as originator of the Charter idea

What does successful e-participation look like?

[Summary: expanding on scribbled notes from a recent workshop on e-participation]

A few weeks ago I took part in the YouthPart launch workshop in Berlin at the kind invitation of Nadine Karbach. YouthPart is a new project, led by the German International Youth Service exploring e-participation for youth engagement. I was there to give a short 10-minute input on some elements of youth e-participation in the UK (slideshare slides here). During one of the break-out discussions, I was on a table exploring the question “What does successful e-participation look like?”. 

At first, the discussion centred on the fact that the success of e-participation should be measured just the same as the success of any participation: for Practical Participation that would mean can we measure what’s changed (doc) for the people involved and for the wider community. But there also developed an interesting thread of questions about the unique success criteria that we could apply to e-participation projects, particularly e-participation for young people. Some of the questions that might point us towards success criteria that I jotted down here:

  • Was the platform and process selected appropriate?
    Did it set reasonable expectations about the decisions that were being made, and the scope for influencing change? Did it give people the freedom to express their views on the issue at hand? Did it keep discussions adequately focussed? Did it allow you to give participants feedback on what changed as a result of their input? Was  it cost effective? Did technical problems get in the way of people participating?

    Whilst e-participation isn’t just about the platform, choosing the right platform for the right process matters. It is often tempting for e-participation projects to try and build their own platforms (I’m certainly guilty of going down this route in the past), but more often than not, there are good tried and tested platforms out there: the trick is in finding the right one and pairing it with the right process and facilitation support.

  • Did your e-participation tilt the balance of power in favour of young people?
    Young people often face significant inequalities of power when it comes to participating in policy making: whether explicit (not being able to vote; not given a shared role in decision making), or implicit (lack of experience makes it tricker to make your point; limited time to engage with an issue because of pressures of school or college make ‘competing’ with full-time lobbyists and advocates difficult etc.).

    Good e-participation should address these power imbalances, and should work to rebalance power in young people’s favour.

  • Is it inclusive?
    Have all the groups affected by the decisions being made been able to input? Have you seen a diverse range of views and opinions? How could you choice of platform or process exclude particular groups? Have you reached out in a range of communities? If you have been reaching out through social networks, how have you checked that you are not just going to easy-to-reach networks?

    E-participation often involved disintermediation of the youth participation process: young people are invited to input directly into discussion and decision making, without facilitation in groups or from workers. That can make for a more inclusive process, but it can also leave some people out.

    E-participation might need to be part of a blended strategy that involved online and offline working. Reaching out to different groups is just as important online as offline.

  • Are the parameters of your e-participation transparent, and open to critique
    Lawrence Lessig’s idea that ‘Code is Law‘ highlights that in digital environments the limits we set to what can be done can act as firm, but often invisible, restrictions on our actions. Whereas in a face-to-face workshop that asks people to fill in boxes on a flip-chart with ideas someone can scribble ideas in the margins – outside the set boxes and categories – the digital world often doesn’t offer these opportunities. Whilst in a face-to-face setting someone can more easily question the way of workshop is being facilitated if they feel there is a bias in it – that’s often harder to do when the ‘facilitation’ is coded into an e-participation platform.

    Thinking critically about the constraints built into an e-participation platform, and making sure you are sensitive to participants questioning your assumptions about the parameters is important.

  • Does this e-participation project increase the chance of the organisation/young people creating change next time?
    One of the big observations of workshop participants was that bad participation experiences can put people off civic engagement for life; but that you can’t expect every participation experience to lead to change clearly enough or fast enough to satisfy many young people engaging with a participation opportunity for the first time.

    So, if you’re not sure your project will lead to a satisfying and positively reenforcing experience of change for young participants, should you try starting it at all? Or should you avoid building expectations you might risk seeing crushed? Well – one way to guide the design of a project might be to think: it should have the maximum chance of making change this time, but it should also build participants capacity, skills and opportunities to create change in future.

This list is by no means a definitive set of considerations for e-participation projects (and in coming to write them up I notice they’re a little more abstract and in need of further clarification than my scribbled notes from the workshop suggested), although I hope they point to a number of elements worth exploring. What criteria would you use to measure the success of an e-participation project?

 

 

A simple story, but a complex strategy

[Summary: A short post of reflections by way of contribution to the Youth Policy Symposium on Participation]

I’ve just been tuning into Howard Williamson’s introductory speech at a Youth Policy Symposium on participation taking place in London today and tomorrow, convened by the Open Society Foundations and the British Council, with help from friends at CYEC. Nicolo from YParticipate summed up Howard’s talk in the following tweet:

“We need a simple story to tell about youth participation, and a complex strategy to implement it”

Which seemed as good a provocation as any to offer some thoughts and connections on that simple story, and complex strategy.

Children’s Human Rights

In the RightSpace project we explored the importance of shifting from a narrative based around ‘exceptionalism’ of children and young people, to a focus on the fundamental rights and personhood of children and young people, and the rights to be involved in decision making that flow from that.

A recognition of the personhood of young people, and a recognition that there are systematic patterns of discrimination against children and young people in society (which Adam Fletcher of Freechild labels ‘adultism‘ highlighting their similarity to other ‘isms’ of racism, sexism, castism, and ageism), cannot be met only by changes to systems and institutions, or by the introduction of policies – but requires – as other isms do – a change of individual and societal attitudes towards those discriminated against.

There are at least two aspects to participation rights:

  • A right to be heard, and to influence what happens to me as an individual – far too often talk of participation jumps straight in with a focus on large-scale collective decision making, ignoring the many domestic and seemingly mundane contexts in which the views of children and young people are not taken into account. From the moment we can communicate we can express preferences about a situation: from decisions about what to eat, to where to live, to what should happen in a family. These preferences may not be perfectly formed (whose are?), and in general in any social decision making there are many people’s preferences to weigh up. In good decision making, negotiation over preferences leads not only to a decision, but to a transformation of the preferences involved as well. The fundamental simple story of participation is that whenever there is a decision affecting children and young people, they should be part of the negotiation around it.
  • A right to participate in collective decision making - which might simply be direct negotiation with more actors, or, more often, involves ‘representatives’ discussing issues on behalf of a wider constituency. In global (or even national and local) decision making the groups involved tend to be far from demographically representative of wider populations, and the procedures by which people are selected to participate in these systems have inherent bias against young people being equally likely to be selected to participate. Sometimes this is because of particular structural properties of youth (having had less years to gain certain key experience), and at other times it is down to discriminatory attitudes (implicit or not) of adultism. However, we also have to recognise that many other groups are systematically excluded from these decision making fora (and even when young people are included, it is often only a particular sub-set of young people to do get included – the bias towards young mens participation over young women’s in some contexts being one example). To promote children and young people’s participation in collective decision making on the basis of rights and democracy, without promoting deeper forms of democracy which seek far wider inclusion than those we conventionally operate with is inconsistent.

This suggests that whilst one simple story might be tricky, there are two simple, but radical, narratives we can draw upon in advocacy for youth participation:

  1. Children and young people, are people;

  2. We need deep democracy open to all to participate as equal parties in negotiation;

But what about a pragmatic story?

The story above, about what youth participation is and should be, is liable to charges of idealism. However, unless advocacy for children and young people’s participation is based upon deep principles, we will continue to have many stories: many different pragmatic reasons for youth involvement, and many different ‘strategies’ for promoting participation that flow from them. As I wrote in 2008, having different pragmatic reasons for young involvement is ok, providing you match your engagement approach to the goal. But a foundation in common principles is useful to identify when an youth participation project is an attempt to move towards a realisation of principles of young people’s rights, and principles of deeper democracy, or when projects are uncritically replicating existing power structures and co-opting young people into undemocratic decision making.

Strategy

If finding a simple story is challenging, finding strategies for promoting and evaluating participation is also.

However, rather than further dissertation on strategy, I’ll simple point to two tools I’ve found immensely helpful in strategic approaches to participation:

  1. Hear by Right, co-written by Practical Participation co-director Bill Badham, Hear by Right uses an organisational change framework which puts shared-values right at the centre, and provides a simple model for addressing a wide-range of organisational issues that support participation – from addressing participation in job descriptions, to involving young people in governance.

    I ran the shared learning website for Hear by Right for a number of years (now sadly discontinued by The National Youth Agency) as a space for people to share their journeys in promoting participation within their organisations.

    Perhaps the one strategic weakness of a Hear by Right approach in the way it was most commonly implemented was that a focus on organisational change could allow organisations to see participation as something done by a particular part of the organisation, rather than working more explicitly to challenge the adultist attitudes of staff and stakeholders right across the organisation.

  2. The Matrix of Participation (a copy is in this post) which sets out a grid of participation methods, and uses the (contested) ladder of participation to highlight that participation is not a one-dimensional thing in organisations or communities. Just having formal structures for participation is not enough, they need to be linked to other forms of participative structure – allowing a range of ways for children and young people to be involved in decision making.

Change

The question of “What changes?” has already come up in the Youth Policy Symposium (as I watch on the webcast). A big elements of later versions of the Hear by Right tool was a focus on collecting stories of change as a means of ensuring participation was not just tokenistic, but led to visible and measurable change. However, if participation is based on the principles I’ve suggested above, of personhood and democracy, the fundamental question is not necessarily “what has changed?”, but is “who was empowered in the negotiations?”.

Youth participation often seeks after fast change: after all – the time in which one can be ‘officially’ part of youth participation structures is a limited one – and we all want to see change as a result of our actions. But sometimes all democratic decision making has to face that decision making in diverse groups is complex, time-consuming and difficult.

As I write I realise the role of change in participation is something I need to give more thought to, but at least we can separate out two key questions:

  • What has changed on the substantive issues children and young people were bringing to the table?
  • What has changed in making the decision making environment more inclusive, and more deeply democratic?

Too often we mix up those two questions.

A changing world

This post has already become longer than I’d planned, and raised various issues I need to go and explore more. But I want to also mention the importance of recognising the global, digitally connected nature of the world we are living in when developing any strategies for promoting participation.

Although early days of utopian thinking about the democratising potential of the Internet are passed, it still has phenomenal potential (and existing impact) as a tool for creating new forms of participation, models of negotiation, and spaces where ageism and discrimination can be challenged.

I hope discussions at today’s Youth Policy Symposium will help develop further visions for participation in the 21st century and will explore not only formal structures, but also more fluid ways of children and young people participating in public debate and decision making.