Network Stories: Hacking Complex, Ongoing News

[Summary: a join post with Ivan Sigal reflection on our learning from a recent Berkman Centre Network Stories hack-day]

There are hundreds of different digital tools for building online stories, and myriad ways to use them. Building stories online often requires creating alternative production and distribution paths for stories, in the context of networked, online communities.

The choice of tools affects the way a story is told and experienced. When starting a new project it can be challenging to work out which tools to use, how to use them and whether they work together.

Over the last few months the Network Stories group at the Berkman Center has been exploring different approaches to storytelling in digital media. This Saturday around 20 of us got together at the MIT Media Lab’s Center for Civic Media for a full day, hands-on exploration of different digital storytelling approaches. We were a diverse group: coders, journalists, data scientists, theorists, filmmakers, scholars and artists.

Our starting point was Global Voices special coverage of the #Shahbag protests in Bangladesh. This story has unfolded over the past year around the contentious issue of justice for war crimes from Bangladesh’s 1971 war of indendependence, in cycles of protest and counterprotest. It is a complex, multi-layered narrative that has received little coverage in the mainstream media in relation to its importance for the future of Bangladesh. We had built an archive of Global Voices and related content, including explainers, mass media coverage of the event, and a selection of tools, so that all participants were starting with the same material. This blog post reflects on our engagement with that content.

Reworking special coverage

The Global Voices special coverage pages are based around a list of content posts on the site, with a brief introduction. The #Shahbag page lists 23 posts, from December 2012 to December 2013, centred around the main period of protests in February 2013, as well as a collection of Global Voices Advocacy posts related to #Shahbag, links to archives of photos, videos, music, social media sites, and platforms and communities dedicated to supporting and documenting the protests.

We set out to address the challenge of how to design an interface for a complex, ongoing story with many sources, incorporating ongoing chronicle of stories analysis of the data inside those stories (hyperlinks, worldclouds, categories, tags, people) * databases of participant-generated and witness content (images, sound, video, social media, blogs, maps etc)

Much of the day was spent shifting between the whiteboard and laptop screens, experimenting with different ways to organise the post content already on the Global Voices site, whilst also thinking more broadly about the issues involved in communicating multifaceted stories.

Narrative and technical challenges

Developing a digital interface into a story involves addressing both narrative and technical challenges. On the narrative level, we need to consider:

  • How to delimit the story. With complex, ongoing stories it can be hard to identify the start or end of a story. The web is littered with platforms and projects that simply fade away or cease to be updated, without a clear point of closing.
  • Different layers of engagment for different levels of interest. Allowing a reader to enter the story at different points, whether for a quick overview or to explore a story in depth.
  • Navigation and discovery features. Storytelling platforms and projects use many search and discovery protocols, drawing on images, tags, maps and different archive structures. These influence how readers will find a way into the story.

There are also technical issues to overcome. With hosted tools available for collating and organising content their stabilty is in question over the long term. If such platforms shut down or make backward incompatible upgrades, a well curated story can quickly fall apart. It’s important to consider the reliability of platform and plugins,so the story doesn’t break and/or need endless maintenance. We also wanted to consider how a story interface could be kept lightweight in terms of bandwidth and load time, and could function well for a range of different kinds of stories.

Digging in: tactics

We took a number of approaches to look at how interfaces and routes into the story might be created – quickly iterating through a variety of different tools.

Experiment 1: WordPress, Auto-tagging and Impress.js

First up, we grabbed a collection of the Global Voices blog posts related to Shahbag as an RSS feed.

Because Special Features in the site are not currently collected together in any particular tag or category (the curation takes place by adding links to the Special Coverage post) we used RSS feed output from the search for this. (Tip: To fetch the second page of search results on the feed add /page/2/ to the wordpress URL such as in http://globalvoicesonline.org/page/2/?s=shahbag&feed=rss2).

Using the RSS Import module in a WordPress.org install (Note: own server needed) we set up a copy of all the Shahbag posts in an environment where we could experiment with them.

We first tried using the Impress.js WordPress Plugin to see if we could display posts in a more dynamic and interactive way. It quickly became clear that we’d need to spend a lot more time learning to use the plugin and potentially adapting it for our needs. Knowing another group were experimenting with impress.js we moved on.

We next tested whether automatically applied tags might provide a way into the story – adding to the manual categories that Global Voices already gives to stories. For this we used wordpress plugins which runs post text through Open Calais - a natural language processing tool from Thomson Reuters that identifies people, places and themes within text. The result was an ability to drill down into posts by many more tags and categories, but the set of tags were shaped by the entities already in Thomson Reuters knowledge base. We wanted to compare these tags with the Global Voices curated categories, but found these had not imported properly through the RSS feed.

At this point, we took a step back from Experiment #1 to head back to the whiteboard and think about how we wanted to display posts, and whether the autotagging was really supporting that.

Experiment 2: Filtered post list

We began to explore a simple idea to allow users to reorder posts based on their own interests. Global Voices special coverage pages currently show newest posts first. For a new reader, reading oldest the newest might be more natural. In the current listing, different themes within the story are not brought to the surface. So - looking at interfaces like shuffle we started to think about the different themes and threads within the #Shahbag narrative.

Ideally these might be captured within WordPress, but by this point we’d switched to a handcoded approach to get a prototype ready for the end of the day. We made an abortive attempt to scrape data from the Global Voices site using import.io (to get at the author names and key images for each post which are included in the RSS feeds). We then fired up a Google Spreadsheet to manually add extra annotations to each of the posts, including thematic classification, key images and author details. Then, on a mirrored copy of a Global Voices page (grabbed using wget) we used this information to update the web page mark-up to show featured images and headlines rather than just straight post listings. With jQuery it was possible to then add interactivity, so that a reader could pick a theme, and just see the posts related to that them, either in reverse or forward chronological order.

Building on this, we also started to explore how showing all the posts from a given author might provide a route into the stories – displaying the authors profile picture against each story.

Reflections

We made progress in thinking about how to build an architecture that allow users to order a series of stories for themselves, based on their interest and prior familiarity. The core idea is to encourage localized search paths within a landing page for the story, controlled by the reader. The goal for the design is to ease entry into complex stories, but be lightweight and functional within a WordPress or other popular CMS platform. The procedure we designed will reorder the content on the page based on different functions, such as timelines, themes, characters, and media types, employing a simple tagging structure. More advanced implementations might allow multiple category sorting, a dynamic visualization of categories along a timeline, a sorting of images from relevant databases based on categories, or tagging images and stories by geolocation, using maps as interfaces. Another alternative might be to allow internal search based on natural language processing tools such as Calais.

This event will hopefully be the first of several in which we will explore different paths and processes in the building of online stories. Other participants have posted their reflections as well, including some thoughts from Matthew Battles on the Metalab site and Heather Craig on the Center for Civic Media blog.

ICTs and Anti-Corruption: Uptake, use and impacts

[Summary: The forth section of our draft paper on ICTs and Anti-corruption looks at the evidence on uptake, use and impacts. We'd love your comments...

I’m currently posting draft sections of a report on ICTs and anti-corruption to invite comments before the final paper is written up in a few weeks time. If you’ve any comments on the draft, please do add them into the Google Doc draft or leave a note below. This forth and final section looks at uptake of anti-corruption ICTs in developing country contexts and issues concerning who uses these technologies.

4. UPTAKE, USE AND IMPACTS

Government incentives aside, it is important for advocates and funders of ICT-enabled anti-corruption activity to consider the factors that may affect the impact of these interventions in developing countries. As previously outlined, ICT-based reforms tend to focus on either transactions or transparency. Both rely upon the engagement of citizens. Citizens are crucial either to access and respond to information that is made available through transparency, or to originate and communicate to government their own experience through transactional channels. Therefore, it is important to ask what incentives and barriers citizens have for such engagement, and to explore what kinds of citizen engagement are important to the success of certain ICTs.

 

4.1 THE CITIZEN ROLE

Much of the limited evidence we do have on citizen engagement with transparency and accountability ICTs comes from cases where those tools/platforms have been deployed by civil society. Avila et. al. divide interventions into two kinds: push and pull transparency (Avila, Feigenblatt, Heacock, & Heller, 2011). In the former, citizens speak up, and communicate their experience of an issue; in the later, citizens ‘pull’ down information from an available pool and use it to act in some way. In practice, many interventions require both: citizens to access information, and citizens to act through exercising their voice and pushing issues onto the agenda (Avila, R. et al, 2009). An ICT intervention might be designed around the idea of citizens acting individually (e.g. in transactional citizen reporting channels), or around the idea of citizens acting collectively, as in the idea of that, on identifying corrupt activity through information on a transparency portal, or an open data catalogue, citizens speak out politically on the need for change. Citizen action in these cases may be direct, or mediated. In mediated cases, technical intermediaries, sometimes termed “infomediaries”, play a particularly important role in theories of change around how open data may be used by citizens (Steinberg, 2011).

 

4.2 WHICH CITIZENS?

The effort, as well as the skills, that each of these different models (push or pull; individual or collective action) demand from the citizens varies significantly across ICT interventions. Users can be passive consumers of information, accumulating it to use at some future point, such as when voting. Or, as Fung et al (2010) outline, they can be requested to act on information that they receive, drawing on a range of resources to make a change in their behaviour as a result of transparent information, for example in citizens’ reporting channel (from government or civil society) or in participatory budget exercises.

 

Differences emerge not only between the users of different models, also amongst users in each of them. The skills, resources and capacity to influence others are not the same between mass users (general public) and organized entities (such as NGOs, journalist, companies and public officials). According to Fung et. al. (2011) the interventions that aim to increase political accountability (understood as the demand over the “behaviour of political officials whose policies have more generalized effects”) generally rely upon centralized users (media, NGOs, among others) while the general public (decentralized actors) tend to be more inclined towards interventions designed to demand service accountability (ibid.). This distinction seems to present some sort of correlation with the assumption that people values information that is directly relevant to their well-being and they are interested in a few select political issues that are directly relevant to their lives.

 

Besides the incentives behind each user, there certainly is a disparity in terms of resources to disseminate the information and also regarding the capacity to channel demands through the appropriate institutional channels. Following Fung et. al. “political campaigns and candidates, for example, may be far more sensitive and responsive to the criticisms that journalists make than to the more diffuse, harder to discern views of mass voters” (Fung et al., 2011).

 

In terms of the characteristics of the mass users, there is limited analysis on the demographics of ICT-led transparency initiatives user. Some reports argue that poorer demographics are the most affected by corruption (Knox, 2009). Despite that, the analysis that does exist suggests that more educated, higher income and more technologically comfortable demographics of the population are more incline to engage with ICT-led interventions (Kuriyan, Bailur, Gigler, & Park, 2012). It is perhaps not surprising as these groups are the most likely to be online and to engage with Internet applications more frequently, as well as more likely to participate in politics. However, the implications of this for the design of technology for anti-corruption projects is offer an afterthought, rather than a key design consideration from the start. The fact that ICT-based innovations may primarily reach relatively predictable (and relatively affluent) proportions of the population (at least in the short term) may play a role in making such approaches appealing to governments who believe they can manage any input they may receive within existing institutional processes.

 

4.3 BARRIERS TO UPTAKE

According to figures on Internet penetration, in 2013 there is still a big gap in terms of users between developing and developed countries (ITU, 2013). These figures show a penetration of 70% approximately for developed countries while only a 30% for the developing ones.

 

Traditionally the digital divide has had a correlation with the difficulties to access (and use[1]) Internet connexion. Those difficulties could be related to access to old computers, high price connexions, among others. Some analysts (Gurstein, 2011) argue that some of these initiatives (open data initiatives, in particular) might present a new divide among the population. Together with the digital divide, the rapid development in ICT tools seems to add new barriers to entry.

 

Current discourses on ICT tools for transparency and accountability suggest (implicitly or sometimes explicitly) that with these new tools everybody can make use of the data and information provided as well as act upon them. However, there are numerous barriers that are not related only to the access to Internet or others technologies (digital divide) but also, as Gurstein mentioned, to the educational resources/skills which would allow for the effective use of those resources.

“…the lack of these foundational requirements means that the exciting new outcomes available from open data are available only to those who are already reasonably well provided for technologically and with other resources.” (Gurstein, 2011)

 

For the community of potential users to be able to interact with the project, they need the necessary skills to use digital technology as well as to manage, and assess information regarding public interest issues. That is, it is important to count with an ICT literate community. This is relevant for government project as well as civil society initiatives.

 “..the release of public sector information without a commensurate increase in data literacy will do little to empower the average citizen.” (Gigler, Custer, & Rahemtulla, 2011)

 

Furthermore, in developing contexts, not only ICT literacy is a key element for the success of a project but also language differences as well as the material factors such as access to low cost technologies (digital divide not only in terms of access to technology but also regarding the skills to effectively make use of those tools). As explained in the Ugandan context:

“A major constraint mentioned […] was funding shortages. This was followed by the high cost of accessing the tools, the capability to use (language and literacy) the mainly Internet or mobile based platforms.” (Kalemera, Nalwoga, & Wakabi, 2012)

 

In that sense, according to Courtney Tolmie, director at the Research for Development Institute, websites that allow reporting in the local languages, and that also receive high levels of publicity, and accept SMS texting (a much more accessible technology in many developing countries), should prove more successful (Dawson, 2012).

 

Even in the absence of some of the above-mentioned barriers, such as an ICT literacy community with an easy access to technology, there is not a guarantee of a robust citizen engagement.

“… increasing the availability of Internet based information does not necessarily mean that citizens will use it to demand greater accountability. The proportion of citizens who are prepared to be consistently engaged in the process of governance is relatively small. Even where there are high rates of Internet penetration, experience has shown that creating a good website or online portal does not guarantee its use” (Bhatnagar, 2003)

 

4.4 CONTEXT

All of the above-mentioned factors can provide insights in terms of user trends and pre-conditions for that uptake. However, when considering technological interventions it is important to consider the legal, policy and social context in which technology is introduced. In that sense, low engagement could also be a result of distrust or poor relationships with the intended users of disclosed information (government). Following Finnegan (2012) “Distrust, animosity and secrecy are commonly cited issues for technology projects working towards government accountability (Finnegan, 2012).

 

A clear example of that limitation to engage with the general public is shown by the experience of the civil society initiative, “Map Kibera”, a community-mapping project. The local mappers working on the project were originally met “with suspicion by residents, and questioned about their right to collect and record information. Some mappers were asked whether they were being paid for their work, or were asked for payment in return for the data they received” (Finnegan, 2012).

 

This poor relationship with government might be also related, among other reasons, to the frustration coming from the absence of institutional mechanisms to submit the input/demand/grievance from the community of users.

 

Even when those mechanisms are in place, the lack of a timely response (or the complete absence of feedback) can lead to apathy from the users. Clear evidence of the use of the data/input collected and their contribution in correcting and/or punishing wrongdoing could incentivize users to engage with anti-corruption ICT projects more in figure. For example, in Bangalore, Bhaskar Rao, the Transport Commissioner for the state of Karnataka, used the data collected on I Paid a Bribe to push through reforms in the motor vehicle department. As a result, and in order to avoid bribes, licenses are now applied for online (Strom, 2012), and citizens have seen an impact from their use of transactional ICTs to report corruption.

 

Anupama Dokeniya explains that “transparency policies will achieve little if the political system does not create the incentives for officials to be sanctioned when corruption is exposed, for service providers to be penalized when poor performance or absenteeism is revealed, or for safeguards or structural reforms to be adopted when evidence of systemic governance problems emerge”  (Dokeniya, 2012). The same logic can be applied to all the ICT-led projects we have surveyed. Technology just provides the tools for a greater number of citizens to access a large amount of information, but the pivotal driver of success in these initiatives are broadly the same as for any other transparency policy.

 

Furthermore, following Finnegan, in many cases, even when there is significant interest from communities of users, if the application or platform is unable to produce any change, the interest and support from those before-enthusiastic users start to fade. Conversely, when participants realize that their contribution could lead to any relevant outcome, the esteem for the tool increases (Finnegan, 2012).

 

4.5 INTERMEDIARIES

To lower those barriers (absence of an ICT literate community, lack of easy access to technology and/or high costs of accessing internet and other technologies), when a project is focused on government’s disclosure of public information (open data initiatives, transparency portals), it is important to count with the presence of intermediaries (centralized users) to amplify and simplify the disclosed data/information. To create awareness among citizens and to provide the tools for those citizens to later scrutinize, assess and hold governments accountable, intermediaries are key actors to engage users with that information, especially in political accountability initiatives as they translate the sometimes abstract ideas and data into simple messages and stories that other citizens can relate to.

 

Genuinely promoting transparency requires the hard work of doing investigative research, publishing reports, and promoting them to the media. Bubble 2.0 hype aside, the fanciest pop-up windows and Google Maps mashups won’t change that.” (Swartz, 2006)

 

Those intermediaries can be social or technical skilled groups. Some of the intermediaries may focus on creating applications to simplify the access and use of the raw data and some others may help with information distribution and citizens’ engagement to demand accountability. As previously mentioned, no every citizen is eager to engage with transparency initiatives (due to a lack of interest, skills or resources), therefore to intermediaries play a key role in the use of those provided ICT tools. The existence and capacity of technically skilled intermediaries is likely to be an important determining factor for the success of many ICT-led interventions, particularly open data interventions.

 

4.6 IMPACT

To present a clear idea about the above-mentioned questions on incentives and desired outcomes could help to the assessment of these interventions. There is no proper impact assessment without the presence of a theory of change.

 

Anecdotal evidence can be found about particular initiatives and some of the changes they produce, however, there is a lack of systematic assessments of these policies and their relationship to greater government transparency, accountability and participation in decision-making. In that sense, there are several recounts of individual initiatives but in terms of developing frameworks to assess each type of ICT initiative, there is a lack of academic research.

 

Moreover, in terms of initiatives related to the disclosure of information (transparency portals and Open Data Initiatives) the idea of counting visits to a website and/or the number of ‘downloads” of certain datasets or documents cannot be presented as indicators of usage, and much less, of impact of any of these policies. In many cases, these initiatives are compared to one another in terms of number of published documents and datasets as well as number of visits. However, these numbers could lead to wrong results, or partial ones at its best.

 

 

References

 

Avila, R., Feigenblatt, H., Heacock, R., & Heller, N. (2011). Global mapping of technology for transparency and accountability: New technologies.

Bhatnagar, S. (2003). E-government and access to information. In Global Corruption Report (pp. 24–32).

Dawson, S. (2012). Citizens wield web tools to combat petty bribery. Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Dimaggio, P., & Hargittai, E. (2001). From the “Digital Divide” to “Digital Inequality”: Studying Internet Use as Penetration Increases.

Dokeniya, A. (2012). #6 from 2012: Opening Government Data. But Why? People, Spaces, Deliberation World Bank Blog. Retrieved from http://blogs.worldbank.org/publicsphere/opening-government-data-why

Finnegan, S. (2012). Using technology for collaborative transparency?: Risks and opportunities. In GIS Watch 2012 (Vol. 8, pp. 29–33).

Fung, A., Gilman, H. R., & Shkabatur, J. (2011). Impact case studies from middle income and developing countries New technologies.

Gigler, B.-S., Custer, S., & Rahemtulla, H. (2011). Realizing the Vision of Open Government Data: Opportunities, Challenges and Pitfalls (Abridged Version).

Gurstein, M. (2011). Open data: Empowering the empowered or effective data use for everyone? First Monday, 16(2).

ITU. (2013). ICT Facts and Figures – The World in 2013.

Kalemera, A., Nalwoga, L., & Wakabi, W. (2012). How ICT tools are promoting citizen participation in Uganda.

Knox, C. (2009). Dealing with sectoral corruption in Bangladesh: Developing citizen involvement. Public Administration and Development, 29(2), 117–132. doi:10.1002/pad.523

Kuriyan, R., Bailur, S., Gigler, B.-S., & Park, K. R. (2012). Technologies for Transparency and Accountability. Washington DC.

Steinberg, T. (2011). Asking the wrong question about Data.gov. Premise (blog). Retrieved from http://steiny.typepad.com/premise/2011/04/asking-the-wrong-question-about-datagov.html

Strom, S. (2012, March 6). I Paid a Bribe and Similar Corruption-Exposing Sites Spread – NYTimes.com. New York Times. New York.

Swartz, A. (2006). Disinfecting the Sunlight Foundation. Aaron Swartz’s Raw Thoughs. Retrieved from http://www.aaronsw.com/weblog/dissunlight



[1] However, it is important that access and use are not necessarily synonymous. Some studies have shown that: “…more people have access than use it (NTIA 1998); and, second, that whereas resources drive access, demand drives intensity of use among people who have access” (Dimaggio & Hargittai, 2001)

 

Thoughts? Reflections? Add a comment on the draft by 23rd November.

ICTs and anti-corruption: exploring the incentives

[Summary: the third section from a draft U4 paper on exploring the incentives for adopting ICT innovation in the fight against corruption]

I’m currently posting draft sections of a report on ICTs and anti-corruption to invite comments before the final paper is written up in a few weeks time. If you’ve any comments on the draft, please do add them into the Google Doc draft or leave a note below. 

INCENTIVES AND ADOPTION

Although rigorous evidence for the efficacy of government-led ICTs for anti-corruption is limited (Mcgee & Gaventa, 2011) it is clear that (a) it is reasonable to expect that, well implemented and in the right context, ICTs can be an important asset in the fight against corruption; and (b) current evidence gaps concerning the role of ICT in anti-corruption are not damping enthusiasm for ICTs based anti-corruption actions by governments and civil society across the world.

By far the most common commitments made in the first round of Open Government Partnership National Action Plans were centred on e-government and open data. This provides further evidence of the extent to which transactional and transparency ICT based solutions have become a central part of the open government and anti-corruption narrative. It might also be argued that anti-corruption has also become a key part of the sales narrative for new ICTs and e-government.

The way in which ‘technology for transparency’ innovations are adopted has an impact on how effective they are likely to be, and the incentives driving adoption will inevitably shape how an innovation is applied in practice. David Heald (2006) has suggested that transparency can come in a number of forms: upwards (hierarchical relationships; when the superior can see the actions of the subordinate), downwards (when the ruled can see the behaviour/results of their rulers; agencies can see behaviour up the management chain); outwards (when agents inside an organisation can see what is happening outside it); and inwards (when those outside can observe what is happening inside the organisation). In is useful to consider for each of the different incentives that encourage a government to engage with ICTs for anti-corruption, which form of transparency it is most likely to lead to, and whether it will also enable other forms of transparency at the same time.

In the following paragraphs we consider at a broad level a range of different motivations that might drive governmental adoption of ICTs with an anti-corruption potential, with a particular focus on the incentives for developing country governments to engage. Our list is speculative, and more research is needed to fully survey and analyse the motivations and incentives driving a broad sample of developing country anti-corruption ICT adoption. This noted, amongst other reasons, governments may be motivated by:

  • An interest in the promise of e-government and open data to improve government efficiency;
  • An interest in the potential of open data as a resource for economic growth and innovation;
  • A desire to use technology to address specific principal-agent problems in the state;
  • Outside pressure from funders or the private sector, or competitive pressures to be seen to be part of a global trend;
  • Bottom-up pressure from citizens, or a desire to domesticate otherwise disruptive technologies;

These motivations are not mutually exclusive – and in many cases ICT driven open government initiatives are justified in relation to a number of these reasons at the same time. 

3.1 IMPROVING INFORMATION FLOW AND GOVERNMENT EFFICIENCY

The Open Government Partnership declaration states that it is seeking to make “governments more transparent, responsive, accountable, and effective.” The pairing of transparency with effectiveness is a common one, often based on the idea of horizontal (outwards/inwards) transparency. In other words, the use of transparency to increase the free flow of information between different agencies and partners of the state. For example, this model is evident in the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) where a strong motivation for sharing structured open data is to support improved coordination and planning between different donor agencies. Vertical downward transparency (citizens of donor and recipient countries able to see where money is spent) is, to some extents, an attractive by-product of enabling more efficient exchange of data between aid agencies and governments.

Open data has particular value as a tool to break down organisational silos. Both the UK Government and World Bank have reported that many of the hits on their public-facing open data portals have been from their own staff, accessing data they, in theory, have previously had access to, but in practice had not been able to find, get hold of or use. Contrary to the design of many e-government systems, which implement layers of access control and permissions – the move towards open data allows government departments and their boundary partners (Earl, Carden, & Smutylo, 2001) of government to interact more efficiently through flows of data. Open data is also associated with processes of standardisation, often based on open standards (Fitzgerald & Pappalardo, 2009). When different departments, agencies and governments adopt common data standards then new ways of combining data across silos are facilitated – and a more competitive market for modular tools that work with the data can be stimulated, challenging patterns of vendor lock-in that can occur with large ICT systems (Dunleavy et. al., 2006; Dunleavy & Margetts, 2004).

Many contemporary arguments concerning the potential of ICTs and open data to improve government efficiency draw heavily on references to Silicon Valley start-ups and Internet firms. Projects developing ‘feedback loop’ citizen reporting channels in particular are likely to refer to examples such as ‘Trip Adviser’ where the private sector appears at first glance to have created effective information gathering from consumers. Policies that promise to bring to a country some of the glamour and success of Silicon Valley innovation can be very appealing for political leaders in both developed and developing countries alike. However, behind the talk of efficient and effective government through technology there may also lie another agenda. Bates has argued that the UK’s open data programme represents a tool of de-regulation and privatisation of public services, by making it easier for profit-seeking firms to take on roles of the state. In ‘Open Government: Collaboration, Transparency and Participation in Practice’, Tim O’Reilly (who popularised the phrase Web 2.0 to capture the interactive possibilities of the modern Web) writes about ‘Government as a Platform’, in which the state provides basic foundations on which private innovation takes place, delivering efficient and customised services to citizens (O’Reilly, 2010). Behind ‘efficiency’ incentives of certain ICT and open government processes, there may then also lie in some cases a profit motive, encouraging certain parties to ‘sell’ the benefits of opening data in ways that will enable them to enter markets for public service provision, and where the outcomes of this for levels of corruption are likely to be determined by local contextual factors.

3.2 ENABLING INNOVATION AND ECONOMIC GROWTH

A related promise that can draw governments’ attention to transparency related ICTs, and open data in particular, is the idea that government data provides a raw material for innovation and economic growth. Here, ICTs are not adopted for their anti-corruption potential, though it is possible that that can be a side-benefit, as information is made available and anti-corruption innovations are theoretically enabled alongside other profit-motivated innovation. In the main, the case that open data will bring about economic growth through stimulating new economic activity remains theoretical, rather than clearly evidenced (Dekkers, Poleman, te Velde, & de Vries, 2006; Hammell, Perricos, Branch, & Lewis, 2011; Newbery, Bently, & Pollock, 2008) although the size of the market for US Weather Data and Geo data (which have both been available openly for many years) are often cited. In discussing the potential of the Kenya Open Data Initiative, the then Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of ICT Dr Bitange N’Demo spoke of the potential of open data on trade to significantly stimulate better trading between African nations, leading to an economic boost for his region (Open Institute, 2012).

It has been argued that the existence of an economic argument for open data has helped sustain movements for open data following the global economic crisis, where a movement based only on transparency arguments would have stalled as governments cut back on spending (Weinstein & Goldstein, 2012). Regardless, it is important to explore whether the datasets relevant to stimulate economic activity are the same datasets that can support transparent and accountability government, and to pay close attention to how the envisaged uses for data will shape the ways in which it is provided. This issues has recently come to a head in the United Kingdom where the mechanism for engagement with government on open data release, the Open Data User Group has recently appointed a membership dominated by large private sector interests, rather than representatives of citizen groups.

Whilst these first two incentives have focussed primarily on open data, the following sections apply equally to all forms of transparency and transactional ICTs.

3.3 ADDRESSING PRINCIPLE-AGENT PROBLEMS

Principle-agent problems concern the challenge of one party (the principal) motivating and/or compelling some other party (the agent) to act in the interests of the principal, rather than in the agent’s self-interest (Eisenhardt, 1989). Principal-agent problems are the heart of many corruption situations (Azfar, 2002). For example, citizen (as principal) frequently struggle to get the government officials (as, in theory, the delegated agent of the citizens) to act in the citizen’s interest, rather than the official exploiting their power to act in their own interest and extract rents. Similarly, reforming officials inside government may struggle to control the action of their officials in the field. Transactional and transparency ICTs can all play a role in changing the balance of power within these principal-agent problems, and can offer reforming governments and officials a mechanism for addressing corrupt activity.

Governments are not monolithic. Corruption benefits certain actors in government, and not others. ICTs can be a resource that one area of government uses to secure the behaviour of another, through allowing parties outside of government to provide the scrutiny or political pressure needed to address an issue when government does not have the resource to provide that scrutiny for itself. For example, Brazilian officials recognised that they could not inspect whether funds sent to local government had reached every local area, but by publishing the information on funds allocated, they enabled citizens to act as an extra watchdog, helping them to detect potential corruption. Citizen reporting channels work on the same idea: by taking local officials out of the complaint or reporting process (where they may previously have simply ignored or lost reports of problems that would have affected their rent seeking) the principals in government are better able to control their agents.

This is perhaps the most positive anti-corruption incentive for ICT adoption. Reports on experiences in Georgia provide one example of corruption falling dramatically through state adoption of ICTs in this way, with a consequent increase in public and business confidence (Alam & Southworth, 2012). However, reformers cannot rely on ICT alone: political situations also need to be conducive to the use of the information that ICTs help to flow. The nature of ICTs introduced, and transparency mandates applied is also important to explore here. Transparency in one area of government can empower others in both positive and negative ways. For example, both the UK and China have sought to increase the transparency of local governments. This may increase citizen oversight of government, but it can also increase upwards transparency of the periphery to the centre, strengthening central government over and above local government in ways that may have political and policy consequences.

3.4 RESPONDING TO INTERNATIONAL PRESSURE AND FUNDING FLOWS

Doug Hadden of Freebalance has suggested that “transparency has become a competitive sport” (Hadden, 2013) with fragile states and emerging economies joining in a global race to adopt ICT-enabled transparency tools and platforms. The adoption of anti-corruption ICTs may then be seen as part of policy transfer and replication between states, supported by a strong global discourse. The current discourses around ICT enabled transparency and accountability may play a significant role in shaping the incentives of developing country governments. The availability of funding to invest in ICTs, the advocacy of global institutions such as the World Bank, and private philanthropists such as Omidyar Foundation, all combine to create an environment in which turning to technology is appealing, and comparatively likely to yield external funding as against some other kinds of reform. This may act to support progressive reformers inside governments, and may enable experimentation with ICTs as a useful tool in the anti-corruption toolbox.

However, the international discourse around technology for transparency also risks allowing a ‘fig leaf’ effect, in which, by introducing technology innovations, states can appear to be engaging with the transparency, accountability and anti-corruption agenda, whilst dodging substantive reforms. Publishing low-salience information with a large fanfare may be a good way for states to gain attention and initial credibility without actually facing high political costs, or actually addressing corruption. Similarly, in regimes with low state effectiveness, where corrupt activity isn’t captured in the data, or there are no balancing audit and reconciliation mechanisms such as exist in the Extractives Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI), then the potential credibility gain from developing a transparency initiative may outweigh the potential risks to established rent-seeking.

3.5 RESPONDING TO BOTTOM-UP PRESSURE, AND DOMESTICATING DISRUPTIVE INNOVATION

As with each of the incentives outlined, the last we will explore is two-edged. As we noted earlier, much of the ‘policy transfer’ around ICTs in anti-corruption has happened not at the level of states, but within civil society, and between networks of progressive technologists. Through ICT Hubs, online networks and global conferences, such as the Open Knowledge Foundation’s ‘OKFest’ and ‘Open Government Data Camp’ events, and with backing of philanthropists, such as investments enabling MySociety.org to internationalise their suite of citizen reporting channel tools such as Fix My Street, and supply their implementation in developing countries, independent actors and organised civil society have created ICT transparency tools in many developing countries (Avila, Feigenblatt, Heacock, & Heller, 2011). This has often supported the emergence of domestic campaigns for open data (albeit often centred on small groups of technologists). Established civil society groups, in some countries, have also called on governments to pursue transparency policies through portals and reporting channels.

Governments then may adopt ICTs in response to bottom up citizen and civil society pressure. This may take the form of delivering what citizens were seeking, in terms of access to information, data and feedback channels. It may also act to ‘domesticate’ the ‘disruptive innovations’ developed within civil society. For example, whilst civil society platforms for submitting RTI request such as Alaveteli make requests and replies public, government implemented online channels for RTI requests may offer less transparency. By providing a ‘competitor’ to the civil society platform, but one without certain ‘disruptive’ features of that outside tool, a states response to innovative ICTs may blunt their potential.

3.6 DO INCENTIVES MATTER?

In this section we have taken a fairly critical and sceptical stance towards the incentives that may drive state adoption of ICTs with an anti-corruption potential. In doing so, we do not suggest that advocates of ICT enabled open government have bad incentives. Many have the very best incentives and intents for their pursuit of technology, transparency and accountability. However, we do seek to draw attention to the presence of mixed incentives in many ICT projects, and to highlight the importance of identifying which interests and incentives are stronger in any situation. This has implications for funders in considering who they back, and how they promote ICT-related innovations, carefully managing the tensions of technologies that can have many impacts, not all of which inherently challenge corruption.

References

Alam, A., & Southworth, V. R. (2012). Fighting Corruption in Public Services Chronicling Georgia’ s Reforms. World Bank.

Avila, R., Feigenblatt, H., Heacock, R., & Heller, N. (2011). Global mapping of technology for transparency and accountability: New technologies.

Azfar, O. (2002). Disrupting Corruption. In A. Shah (Ed.), Performance Accountability and Combating Corruption (pp. 255–284). Washington, D.C.: World Bank.

Dekkers, M., Poleman, F., te Velde, R., & de Vries, M. (2006). MEPSIR Study – 2006.

Dunleavy, P., & Margetts, H. (2004). Government IT Performance and the Power of the IT Industry?: A Cross-National Analysis. In Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association (pp. 1–42).

Dunleavy, P., Margetts, H., Bastow, S., & Tinkler, J. (2006). Digital era governance: IT corporations, the state, and E-government (p. 304). Oxford University Press, USA.

Earl, S., Carden, F., & Smutylo, T. (2001). Outcome mapping: building learning and reflection into development programmes. International Development Research Centre.

Eisenhardt, M. (1989). Agency Theory: an Assessment and Review. The Academy of Management Review, 14(1), 57–74.

Fitzgerald, A., & Pappalardo, K. (2009). Moving Towards Open Standards. In Unlocking IP (Vol. 6). New South Wales. doi:10.2966/scrip.060209.467

Hadden, D. (2013). Sustainable Public Financial Management – Top 7 Lessons Learned at FISC7. Freebalance Blog. Retrieved from http://www.freebalance.com/blog/?p=3625

Hammell, R., Perricos, C., Branch, D., & Lewis, H. (2011). Unlocking growth: How open data creates new opportunities for the UK. Growth (Lakeland). London, UK.

Heald, D. (2006). Transparency as an instrumental value (Vol. 135, p. 59).

Mcgee, R., & Gaventa, J. (2011). Shifting Power? Assessing the Impact of Transparency and Accountability Initiatives.

Newbery, D., Bently, L., & Pollock, R. (2008). Models of public sector information provision via trading funds.

O’Reilly, T. (2010). Government as a platform. In D. Lathrop & L. Ruma (Eds.), (1st ed.). O’Reilly Media.

Open Institute. (2012). Dr. Bitange Ndemo telling the Kenya Open Data Story on Vimeo. Kenya: Open Institute.

Weinstein, J., & Goldstein, J. (2012). The Benefits of a Big Tent: Opening Up Government in Developing Countries. UCLA Law Review Discourse, 38(2012), 38–48.

 

ICTs and Anti-Corruption: theory and examples

[Summary: draft section from U4 paper on exploring the incentives for adopting ICT innovation in the fight against corruption]

As mentioned a few days ago, I’ve currently got a paper online for comment which I’m working on with Silvana Fumega for the U4 anti-corruption centre. I’ll be blogging each of the sections here, and if you’ve comments on any element of it, please do drop in comments to the Google Doc draft. 

ICTS AND ANTI-CORRUPTION

Corruption involves the abuse of entrusted power for personal gain (Transparency International, 2009). Grönlund has identified a wide range of actions that can be taken with ICTs to try and combat corruption, from service automation and the creation of online and mobile phone based corruption-reporting channels to the online publication of government transparency information (Grönlund, 2010). In the diagram below we offer eight broad categories of ICTs interventions with a potential role in fighting corruption.

U4-Diagram

These different ICT interventions can be divided between transactional reforms and transparency reforms. Transactional reforms seek to reduce the space for corrupt activity by controlling and automating processes inside government, or seek to increase the detection of corruption by increasing the flow of information into existing government oversight and accountability mechanisms. Often these developments are framed as part of e-government. Transparency reforms, by contrast, focus on increasing external rather than internal control over government actors by making the actions of the state and its agents more visible to citizens, civil society and the private sector. In the diagram, categories of ICT intervention and related examples are positioned along a horizontal axis to indicate, in general, whether these initiatives have emerged as ‘citizen led’ or ‘government led’ projects, and along the vertical axis to indicate whether the focus of these activities is primarily on transactional reforms, or transparency. In practice, where any actual ICT intervention falls is a matter as much of the details of implementation as it is to do with the technology, although we find these archetypes useful to highlight the different emphasis and origins of different ICT-based approaches.

Many ICT innovations for transparency and accountability[1] have emerged from within civil society and the private sector, only later adopted by governments. In this paper our focus is specifically upon government adoption of innovations: when the government is taking the lead role in implementing some technology with an anti-corruption potential, albeit a technology that may have originally been developed elsewhere, and where similar instances of such technologies may still be deployed by groups outside government. For example, civil society groups in a number of jurisdictions have deployed the Alaveteli open source software[2] which brokers the filing of Right to Information act requests online, logging and making public requests to, and replies from, government. Some government agencies have responded by building their own direct portals for filing requests, which co-exist with the civil society run Alaveteli implementations. The question of concern for this paper is why government has chosen to adopt the innovation and provide its own RTI portals.

Although there are different theories of change underlying ICT enabled transactional and transparency reforms, the actual technologies involved can be highly inter-related. For example, digitising information about a public service as part of an e-government management process means that there is data about its performance that can be released through a data portal and subjected to public pressure and scrutiny. Without the back-office systems, no digital records are available to open (Thurston, 2012).

The connection between transactional e-government and anti-corruption has only relatively recently been explored. As Bhatnagar notes, most e-government reforms did not begin as anti-corruption measures. Instead, they were adopted for their promise to modernise government and make it more efficient (Bhatnagar, 2003). Bhatnagar explains that “…reduction of corruption opportunities has often been an incidental benefit, rather than an explicit objective of e-government”. A focus on the connection between e-government and transparency is more recent still. Kim et. al. (2009) note that “E-government’s potential to increase transparency and combat corruption in government administration is gaining popularity in communities of e-government practitioners and researchers…”, arguably as a result of increased Internet diffusion meaning that for the first time data and information from within government can, in theory, be made directly accessible to citizens through computers and mobile phones, without passing through intermediaries.

In any use of ICTs for anti-corruption, the technology itself is only one part of the picture. Legal frameworks, organisational processes, leadership and campaign strategies may all be necessary complements of digital tools in order to secure effective change. ICTs for accountability and anti-corruption have developed in a range of different sectors and in response to many different global trends. In the following paragraphs we survey in more depth the emergence and evolution of three kinds of ICTs with anti-corruption potential, looking at both the technologies and the contexts they are embedded within. 

2.1 TRANSPARENCY PORTALS

A transparency portal is a website where government agencies routinely publish defined sets of information. They are often concerned with financial information and might include details of laws and regulations alongside more dynamic information such as government debt, departmental budget allocations and government spending (Solana, 2004). They tend to have a specific focus, and are often backed by a legal mandate, or regulatory requirement, that information is published to them on an ongoing basis. National transparency portals have existed across Latin America since the early 2000s, developed by finance ministries following over 15 years investment in financial management capacity building in the region. Procurement portals have also become common, linked to efforts to make public procurement more efficient, and comply with regulations and good practice on public tenders.

More recently, a number of governments have mandated the creation of local government transparency portals, or the creation of dedicated transparency pages on local government websites. For example, in the United Kingdom, the Prime Minister requested that governments publish all public spending over £500 on their websites, whilst in the Philippines the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) has pushed the implementation of a Full Disclosure Policy requiring Local Government Units to post a summary of revenues collected, funds received, appropriations and disbursement of funds and procurement–related documents on their websites. The Government of the Philippines has also created an online portal to support local government units in publishing the documents demanded by the policy[3].

In focus: Peru Financial Transparency Portal A transparency portal is a website where government agencies routinely publish defined sets of information. They are often concerned with financial information and might include details of laws and regulations alongside more dynamic information such as government debt, departmental budget allocations and government spending.

Country: Peru

Responsible: Government of Peru- Ministry of Economic and Financial Affairs

Brief description: The Peruvian Government implemented a comprehensive transparency strategy in early 2000. That strategy comprised several initiatives (law on access to financial information, promotion of citizen involvement in transparency processes, among others). The Financial Transparency Portal was launched as one of the elements of that strategy. In that regard, Solanas (2003) suggests that the success of the portal is related to the existence of a comprehensive transparency strategy, in which the portal serves as a central element. The Portal (http://www.mef.gob.pe/) started to operate in 2001 and, at that time, it was praised as the most advanced in the region. Several substantial upgrades to the portal have taken place since the launch.

Current situation:

The portal presents several changes from its early days. In the beginning, the portal provided access to documents on economic and financial information. After more than a decade, it currently publishes datasets on several economic and financial topics, which are provided by each of the agencies in charge of producing or collecting the information. Those datasets are divided in 4 main modules: budget performance monitoring, implementation of investment projects, inquiry on transfers to national, local and regional governments, and domestic and external debt. The portal also includes links to request information, under the Peruvian FOI law, as well as track the status of the request.

Sources:

http://www.politikaperu.org/directorio/ficha.asp?id=355

http://www.egov4dev.org/transparency/case/laportals.shtml

http://www.worldbank.org/socialaccountability_sourcebook/Regional%20database/Case%20 studies/Latin%20America%20&%20Caribbean/TOL-V.pdf#page=71

In general, financial transparency portals have focussed on making government records available: often hosting image file version of printed, signed and scanned documents which mean that anyone wanting to analyse the information from across multiple reports must re-type it into spreadsheets or other software. Although a number of aid and budget transparency portals are linked directly to financial management systems, it is only recently that a small number of portals have started to add features giving direct access to datasets on budget and spending.

Some of the most data-centric transparency portals can be found in the International Aid field, where Aid Transparency Portals have been built on top of Aid Management Platforms used by aid-recipient governments to track their donor-funded projects and budgets. Built with funding and support from International donors, aid transparency portals such as those in Timor Leste and Nepal offer search features across a database of projects. In Nepal, donors have funded the geocoding of project information, allowing a visual map of where funding flows are going to be displayed.

Central to the hypothesis underlying the role of transparency portals in anti-corruption is the idea that citizens and civil society will demand and access information from the portals, and will use it to hold authorities to account (Solana, 2004). In many contexts whilst transparency portals have become well-established, direct demand from citizens and civil society for the information they contain remains, as Alves and Heller put it in relation to Brazil’s fiscal transparency, “frustratingly low” (in Khagram, Fung, & Renzio, 2013). However, transparency portals may also be used by the media and other intermediaries, providing an alternative more indirect theory of change in which coverage of episodes of corruption creates electoral pressures (in functioning democracies at least) against corruption. Though, Power and Taylor’s work on democracy and corruption in Brazil suggests that whilst such mechanisms can have impacts, they are often confounded in practice by other non-corruption related factors that influence voters preferences, and a wide range of contingencies, from electoral cycles to political party structures and electoral math (Power & Taylor, 2011).

2.2 OPEN DATA PORTALS

Where transparency portals focus on the publication of specific kinds of information (financial; aid; government projects etc.), open data portals act as a hub for bringing together diverse datasets published by different government departments.

Open data involves the publication of structured machine-readable data files online with explicit permission granted for anyone to re-use the data in any way. This can be contrasted with examples where transparency portals may publish scanned documents that cannot be loaded into data analysis software, or under copyright restrictions that deny citizens or businesses right to re-use the data.  Open data has risen to prominence over the last five years, spurred on by the 2009 Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government from US President Obama (Obama, 2010) which led to the creation of thedata.gov portal, bringing together US government datasets. This built on principles of Open Government Data elaborated in 2007 by a group of activists meeting in Sebastopol California, calling for government to provide data online that was complete, primary (I.e. not edited or interpreted by government before publication), timely, machine-readable, standardised and openly licensed (Malmud & O’Reilly, 2007)

In focus: Kenya Open Data Initiative (KODI) Open data involves the publication of structured machine-readable data files online with explicit permission granted for anyone to re-use the data in any way. Open data portals act as a hub for bringing together diverse datasets published by different government departments. One of those platforms is: Kenya Open Data Initiative (opendata.go.ke)

Country: Kenya

Responsible: Government of Kenya

Brief description:

Around 2008, projects from Ushahidi to M-PESA put Kenya on the map of ICT innovation. Kenyan government – in particular, then-PS Ndemo of the Ministry of Information and Communications – eager to promote and to encourage that market, started to analyze the idea of publishing government datasets for this community of ICT experts to use.  In that quest, he received support from actors outside of the government such as the World Bank, Google and Ushahidi. Adding to that context, in 2010 a new constitution, recognizing the right to access to information by citizens, was enacted in Kenya (however, a FOI law is still a pending task for the Kenyan government). On July 8 2011, President Mwai Kibaki launched the Kenya Open Data Initiative, making government datasets available to the public through a web portal: opendata.go.ke

Current situation:

Several activist and analyst are starting to write about the lack of updates and updated information of the Kenya Open Data Initiative. The portal has not been updated in several months, and its traffic has slowed down significantly.

Sources:

http://www.scribd.com/doc/75642393/Open-Data-Kenya-Long-Version

http://blog.openingparliament.org/post/63629369190/why-kenyas-open-data-portal-is-failing-and-why-it

http://www.code4kenya.org/?p=469

http://www.ict.go.ke/index.php/hot-topic/416-kenya-open-data

http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/poverty-matters/2011/jul/13/kenya-open-data-initiative

Open data portals have caught on as a policy intervention, with hundreds now online across the world, including an increasing number in developing countries. Brazil, India and Kenya all have national open government data portals, and Edo State in Nigeria recently launched one of the first sub-national open data portals on the continent, expressing a hope that it would “become a platform for improving transparency, catalyzing innovation, and enabling social and economic development”[4]. However, a number of open data portals have already turned out to be short-lived, with the Thai governments open data portal launched[5] in 2011, already defunct and offline at the time of writing.

The data hosted on open data portals varies widely: ranging from information on the locations of public services, and government service performance statistics, to public transport timetables, government budgets, and environmental monitoring data gathered by government research institutions. Not all of this data is useful for anti-corruption work: although the availability of information as structured data makes it far easier to third-parties to analyse a wide range of government datasets not traditionally associated with anti-corruption work to look for patterns and issues that might point to causes for concern. In general, theories of change around open data for anti-corruption assume that skilled intermediaries will access, interpret and work with the datasets published, as portals are generally designed with a technical audience in mind.

Data portals can act as both a catalyst of data publication, providing a focal point that encourages departments to publish data that was not otherwise available, and as an entry-point helping actors outside government to locate datasets that are available. At their best they provide a space for engagement between government and citizens, although few currently incorporate strong community features (De Cindio, 2012).

Recently, transparency and open data efforts have also started to focus on the importance of cross-cutting data standards, that can be used to link up data published in different data portals, and to solicit the publication of sectoral data. Again the aid sector has provided a lead here, with the development the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) data standard, and a data portal collating all the information on aid projects published by donors to this standard[6]. New efforts are seeking to build on experiences from IATI with data standards for contracts information in the Open Contracting initiative, which not only targets information from governments, but also potentially disclosure of contract information in the private sector[7].

2.3 CITIZEN REPORTING CHANNELS

Transparency and open data portals primarily focus on the flow of information from government to citizen. Many efforts to challenge corruption require a flow of information the other way: citizens reporting instances of corruption or providing the information agents of government need to identify and address corrupt behaviour. When reports are filed on paper, or to local officials, it can be hard for central governments to ensure reports are adequately addressed. By contrast, with platforms like the E-Grievance Portal in the Indian State of Orissa[8], when reports are submitted they can be tracked, meaning that where there is will to challenge corruption, citizen reports can be better handled.

Many online channels for citizen reporting have in fact grown up outside of government. Platforms like FixMyStreet in the UK, and the many similar platforms across the world, have been launched by civil society groups frustrated at having to deal with government through seemingly antiquated paper processes. FixMyStreet allows citizens to point out on a map where civil infrastructure requires fixing and forward the citizen reports to the relevant level of government. Government agents are invited to report back to the site when the issue is fixed, giving a trackable and transparent record of government responsiveness. In some areas, governments have responded to these platforms by building their own alternative citizen reporting channels, though often without the transparency of the civil society platforms (reports simply go to the public authority; no open tracking is provided), or, in other cases, by working to integrate the civil society provided solution with their own systems.

In focus: I Paid a BribeMany online channels for citizen reporting have been developed outside of government. One of those platforms is “I Paid a Bribe”, and Indian website aimed at collating bribe’s stories and prices from citizens across the country and then use it to present a snapshot of trends in bribery.

Country: India

Responsible: Janaagraha (www.janaagraha.org) a Bangalore based not-for-profit organizatio

Brief description:

The initiative was first launched on August 15, 2010 (India’s Independence Day), and the website became fully functional a month later. I Paid a Bribe aims to understand the role of bribery in public service delivery by transforming the data collected from the reports into knowledge to inform the government about gaps in public transactions and in strengthening citizen engagement to improve the quality of service delivery. For example, in Bangalore, Bhaskar Rao, the Transport Commissioner for the state of Karnataka, used the data collected on I Paid a Bribe to push through reforms in the motor vehicle department. As a result, and in order to avoid bribes, licenses are now applied for online (Strom, 2012).

Current situation: Trying to reach a greater audience, ipaidabribe.com launched, in mid 2013, “Maine Rishwat Di”, the Hindi language version of the website: http://hindi.ipaidabribe.com/ At the same time, they launched Mobile Apps and SMS services in order to make bribe reporting easier and more accessible to citizens all across India. “I paid a Bribe” has also been replicated with partners in a number of other countries such as Pakistan, Kenya,Morocco and Greece, among others.

Sources: https://www.ipaidabribe.com/about-us

http://southasia.oneworld.net/Files/ict_facilitated_access_to_information_innovations.pdf/at_download/file

http://www.firstpost.com/india/after-reporting-bribes-now-report-rishwats-hindi-version-of-i-paid-a-bribe-launched-1022627.html

http://www.ipaidabribe.com/comment-pieces/“maine-rishwat-di”-hindi-language-version-ipaidabribecom-launched-shankar-mahadevan

Strom, Stephanie (2012) Web Sites Shine Light on Petty Bribery Worldwide. The New York Times. March 6th. Available:  http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/07/business/web-sites-shine-light-on-petty-bribery-worldwide.html

References

Bhatnagar, S. (2003). Transparency and Corruption?: Does E-Government Help??, 1–9.

De Cindio, F. (2012, April 4). Guidelines for Designing Deliberative Digital Habitats: Learning from e-Participation for Open Data Initiatives. The Journal of Community Informatics.

Fox, J. (2007). The uncertain relationship between transparency and accountability. Development in Practice, 17(4-5), 663–671. doi:10.1080/09614520701469955

Grönlund, Å. (2010). Using ICT to combat corruption – tools, methods and results. In C. Strand (Ed.), Increasing transparency and fighting corruption through ICT: empowering people and communities (pp. 7–26). SPIDER.

Khagram, S., Fung, A., & Renzio, P. de. (2013). Open Budgets: The Political Economy of Transparency, Participation, and Accountability (p. 264). Brookings Institution Press.

Kim, S., Kim, H. J., & Lee, H. (2009). An institutional analysis of an e-government system for anti-corruption: The case of OPEN. Government Information Quarterly, 26(1), 42–50. doi:10.1016/j.giq.2008.09.002

Malmud, C., & O’Reilly, T. (2007, December). 8 Principles of Open Government Data. Retrieved June 01, 2010, from http://resource.org/8_principles.html

Obama, B. (2010). Memo from President Obama on Transparency and Open Government (in Open Government: Collaboration, Transparency and Participation in Practice. In D. Lathrop & L. Ruma (Eds.), .

Power, T. J., & Taylor, M. M. (2011). Corruption and Democracy in Brazil: The struggle for accountability. University of Notre Dame.

Solana, M. (2004). Transparency Portals: Delivering public financial information to Citizens in Latin America. In K. Bain, I. Franka Braun, N. John-Abraham, & M. Peñuela (Eds.), Thinking Out Loud V: Innovative Case Studies on Participatory Instruments (pp. 71–80). World Bank.

Thurston, A. C. (2012). Trustworthy Records and Open Data. The Journal of Community Informatics, 8(2).

Transparency International. (2009). The Anti-Corruption Plain Language Guide.


[1] It is important to clarify that transparency does not necessarily lead to accountability. Transparency, understood as the disclosure of information that sheds light on institutional behavior, can be also defined as answerability. However, accountability (or “hard accountability” according to Fox, 2007) not only implies answerability but also the possibility of sanctions (Fox, 2007).

[2] http://www.alaveteli.org/about/where-has-alaveteli-been-installed/

[4] http://data.edostate.gov.ng/ Accessed 10th October 2013

[8] http://cmgcorissa.gov.in

Exploring the incentives for adopting ICT innovation in the fight against corruption

[Summary: Invite for comments on a new draft report exploring incentives for ICT use in the fight against corruption]

Back in January, in response to a blog post by Doug Hadden, I wrote down a few reflections on the incentives for technology for transparency in developing countries. That led to a conversation with Silvana Fumega and the U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre about a possible briefing note on the topic, which quickly turned into a full paper – designed to scope out issues for donors and governments to consider in looking at supporting ICT-based anti-corruption efforts, particularly in developing countries. Together with Silvana, I’ve been working on a draft over the last few months – and we’ve just placed a copy online for comments.

I’ll be blogging sections of the draft over the coming week, and you can find the full draft as a Google Document with comments enabled (until 18th November 2013) here.

Here’s the introduction, setting out the focus of the paper:

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) driven initiatives are playing an increasingly central role in discourses of transparency, accountability and anti-corruption. The Internet and mobile phones are widely hailed as powerful tools in the fight against corruption. From mobile phone based corruption crowd-sourcing platforms, to open government data portals providing citizens with access to state datasets, technology-centric interventions are increasingly attracting both political attention and donor funding flows. The Open Government Partnership (OGP) declaration, launched in 2011, commits the 60 OGP member states to “…seizing this moment to strengthen our commitments to promote transparency, fight corruption, empower citizens, and harness the power of new technologies to make government more effective and accountable” (Open Government Partnership, 2011). In an analysis of the first action plans published by OGP members (Global Integrity, 2012), e-government and open data related commitments were markedly the most common made, illustrating the prominence given to ICTs in creating more open and accountable government.

However, the ‘sales pitch’ for governments to adopt ICTs is far broader than their anti-corruption applications, and the fact that a government adopts some particular technology innovation does not necessarily mean that its potential corruption-reducing role will be realised. Criticisms have already been levelled at open data portals that give an initial appearance of government transparency, whilst either omitting any politically sensitive content, or remaining, in practice, inaccessible to the vast majority of the population; and there are numerous examples to be found of crowd-sourcing platforms designed to source citizen feedback on public services, or corruption reports, languishing with just a handful of reports, or no submissions made for months on end (Bailard et. al., 2012; Brown, 2013) Yet, as Strand 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” (Strand, 2010). The challenge is neither to suppose that ICTs will inevitably drive positive change, nor to ignore them as merely high-tech distractions. Rather, there is a need to look in detail at the motivations for ICT adoption, and the context in which ICTs are being deployed, seeking to understand the ways in which strategic and sustainable investments can be made that promote the integrity of public services, and the capacity of officials, citizens and other stakeholders to secure effective and accountable governments.

In this issue paper we consider the reasons that may lead governments to adopt anti-corruption related ICT innovations, and we look at the evidence on how the uptake and use of these ICTs may affect their impacts. In doing so, we draw upon literature from a range of fields, including open government, transparency and anti-corruption, e-government and technology for transparency, and we draw in speculation from our observations of the open government field over the last five years. To ground our argument, we offer a range of illustrative case studies that show some of the different kinds of ICT interventions that governments are engaging with.

Comments? Questions? Add your notes on the Google Doc version of this draft here.

References

Bailard, C., Baker, R., Hindman, M., Livingston, S., & Meier, P. (2012). Mapping the Maps: A meta-level analysis of Ushahidi and Crowdmap.

Brown, G. (2013). Why Kenya’s open data portal is failing — and why it can still succeed | Opening Parliament Blog Post. Retrieved from http://blog.openingparliament.org/post/63629369190/why-kenyas-open-data-portal-is-failing-and-why-it

Global Integrity. (2012). So What’s In Those OGP Action Plans, Anyway? Global Integrity Blog. Retrieved from http://globalintegrity.org/blog/whats-in-OGP-action-plans

Open Government Partnership. (2011). Open Government Declaration (pp. 1–2).

Strand, C. (2010). Introduction. In C. Strand (Ed.), Increasing transparency and fighting corruption through ICT: empowering people and communities (Vol. 8). SPIDER. doi:10.1016/0083-6656(66)90013-4

Quick links: a personal Open Government Partnership round-up

[Summary: action plans, reports and guides]

I’m back in the US after a week in London, primarily for Rachel’s graduation as a Music Therapist, but which rather fortunately coincided with the Open Government Partnership Summit, and a chance to catch up with many colleagues and friends. I’m yet to digest all the sessions and notes I made well enough to complete a more analytical blog post on the OGP Summit, but as it is many OGP-related projects that have kept me from blogging here over the last month I thought I should at least link to a few of the outputs launched last week that have contributed to my bloggers block:

  • Development Initiatives launched the Joined Up Data report, a great scoping study by Neil Ashton, of how different transparency initiatives might work together on common building blocks of data standards.This is something I worked on a big previously when working with Development Initiatives, and that also has a lot of relevance to the Joined Up Philanthropy project.

Over the last few weeks I’ve definitely discovered the meaning of the term ‘action forcing moment’ – as many projects have worked up to the OGP summit as a deadline. Of course, now attention switches to the follow up – but hopefully at a pace that allows a little more time for sharing work-in-progress and reflective blogging.

Joined Up Philanthropy – a data standards exploration

Earlier this year, Indigo Trust convened a meeting with an ambitious agenda: to see 50% of UK Foundation grants detailed as open data, covering 80% founding grant making by value, within five years. Of course, many of the grant-giving foundations in the UK already share details of the work they fund, through annual reports or pages on their websites – but every funder shares the information differently, which makes bringing together a picture of the funding in a particular area or sector, understanding patterns of funding over time, or identifying the foundations who might be interested in a project idea you have, into a laborious manual task. Data standards for the publication of foundation’s giving could change that.

Supported by The Nominet Trust and Indigo Trust, at Practical Participation I’m working with non-profit sector expert Peter Bass on a series of ‘research sprints’ to explore what a data standard could look like. This builds on an experiment back in March to help scope an Open Contracting Data Standard. We’ll be using an iterative methodology to look at

  • (1) the existing supply of data;

  • (2) demand for data and use-cases;

  • and (3) existing related standards.

Each research sprint focusses primarily on one of these, consisting in around 10 days data collection and analysis, designed to generate useful evidence that can move the conversation forward, without pre-empting future decisions or trying to provide the final word on the question of what a data standard should look like.

Supply: What data is already collected?

The first stage, which we’re working on right now, involves finding out about the data that foundations already collect. We’re talking to a number of different foundations large and small to find out about how they manage information on the work they fund right now.

By collating a list of the different database fields that different foundations hold (whether the column headings in the spreadsheets they use to keep track of grants, or the database fields in a comprehensive relational database) and then mapping these onto a common core we’re aiming to build up a picture of which data might be readily available right now and easy to standardise, and where there are differences and diversities that will need careful handing in development of a standard. Past standards projects like the International Aid Transparency Initiative were able to benefit from a large ‘installed base’ of aid donors already using set conventions and data structures drawn from the OECD Development Assistance Committee, which strongly influenced the first version of IATI. We’ll be on the look-out for existing elements of standardisation that might exist to build upon in the foundations sector, as well as seeking to appreciate the diversity of foundations and the information they hold.

We’re aiming to have a first analysis of this exercise out in mid-October, and whilst we’re only focussing on UK foundations, will share all the methods and resources that would allow the exercise to be extended in other contexts.

Demand: what data do people want?

Of course, the data that it is easy to get hold of might not be the data that it is important to have access to, or that potential users want. That motivates the second phase of our research – looking to understand the different use cases for data from the philanthropic sector. These may range from projects seeking to work out who to send their funding applications to; philanthropists seeking to identify partners they could work with; or sector analysts looking to understand gaps in the current giving environment and catalyse greater investment in specific sectors.

Each use case will have different data needs. For example, a local project seeking funding would care particularly about geodata that can tell them who might make grants in their local area; whereas a researcher may be interested in knowing in which financial year grants were awarded, or disbursements made to projects. By articulating the data needs of each use-case, and matching these against the data that might be available, we can start to work out where supply and demand are well matched, or where a campaign for open philanthropy data might need to encourage philanthropists to collect or generate new information on their activities.

Standards: putting the pieces together

Once we know about the data that exists, the data that people want, and how they want to use it – we can start thinking in-depth about standards. There are already a range of standards in the philanthropy space, from the eGrant and hGrant standards developed by the Foundation Centre, to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) standard, as well as a range of efforts ongoing to develop standards for financial reporting, spending data, and geocoded project information.

Developing a draft standard involves a number of choices:

  • Fields and formats – a standard is made up both of the fields that are deemed important (e.g. value of grant; date of grant etc.) and the technical format through which the data will be represented. Data formats vary in how ‘expressive’ they are, and how extensible a standard is once determined. However, more expressive standards also tend to be more complex.

  • Start from scratch, or extend existing standards – it may be possible to simply adapt an existing standard. Deciding to do this involves both technical and governance issues: for example, if we build on IATI, how would a domestic philanthropy standard adapt to version upgrades in the IATI standard? What collaboration would need to be established? How would existing tools handle the adapted standard.

  • Publisher capacity and needs – standards should reduce rather than increase the burdens on data suppliers. If we are asking publishers to map their data to a complex additional standard, we’re less likely to get a sustainable supply of data. Understanding the technical capacity of people we’ll be asking for data is important.

  • Mapping between standards – sometimes it is possible to entirely automate the conversion between two related standards. For example, if the fields in our proposed standard are a subset of those in IATI, it might be possible to demonstrate how domestic and international funding flows data can be combined. Thinking about how standards map together involves considering the direction in which conversions can take place, and how this relates to the ways different actors might want to make use of the data.

We’ll be rolling our sleeves up as we develop a draft standard proposal, seeking to work with real data from Phase 1 to test out how it works, and checking the standardised data against the use cases identified in Phase 2.

The outcome of this phase won’t be a final standard – but instead a basis for discussion of what standardised data in the philanthropy sector should look like.

Get involved

We’ll be sharing updates regularly through this blog and inviting comments and feedback on each stage of the research.

If you are from a UK based Foundation who would like to be involved in the first phase of research, just drop me a line and we’ll see what we can do. We’re particularly on the look out for small foundations who don’t do much with data right now – so if you’re currently keeping track of your grant-making records on spreadsheets or post-it notes, do get in touch.

Adventures new

[Summary: From September 2013 - June 2014 I'll be based in Cambridge, MA as a Fellow at the Berkman Centre]

Berkman

When I signed on to undertake PhD work on the continued development of open data two years ago I thought I was opting for three years of mostly study time, whilst Rachel worked on her Music Therapy Masters at Nordoff Robbins. Of course, it didn’t work out that way: as open data as a field has developed larger and faster than most people (and certainly I) imagined, and, of course, down to my, now confirmed, inability to leave aside lots of other interesting (related) projects for a narrow  PhD focus. Fortunately, the Web Science DTC at Southampton has provided a very supportive environment for students working in applied projects alongside study, positively encouraging engagement beyond the library or lecture theatre.

So, over the last year I’ve had the fun of working with the Web Foundation to develop a global research programme on the emerging impacts of open data (we’ve belatedly published the conceptual framework for the project today), and working on a number of hands-on open data projects, with AidInfo, Open Contracting and London voluntary sector organisations amongst others. I’ve also ended up getting very involved in the UK civil society network on the Open Government Partnership, inputting into the development of the National Action Plan, which is now out for consultation and input till September. All of this has drawn upon, and fed into, my ongoing PhD work, part-time for the next year or two, but still moving forward to try and develop a framework for thinking about how technical and social choices around open data affect the realisation of progressive and inclusive democratic benefits.

And now, as Rachel approaches graduation as a Music Therapist, we’re preparing for a next adventure, heading out to live in the USA for nine months from September where I’ll be joining the Berkman Centre community as a 2013-2014 Berkman Fellow. I’m excited to be joining such a diverse and engaged community of scholars and activists. From there I’ll be continuing my focus on democratic impacts of open data, both with the Web Foundation Open Data in Developing Countries project, and PhD studies, and hopefully I’ll have the chance to engage in other projects at the centre too.

Of course, adventures new mean also leaving a few projects, so from the end of July I’ll be handing over my remaining roles at AidInfo where I’ve worked on the International Aid Transparency Initiative, and will be stepping back from a few other UK based commitments I won’t be able to undertake remotely. It’s been a particular pleasure to work with the AidInfo and IATI teams over the last few years on ambitious and exciting work to get open data on aid flowing – and I’ve learnt more than I can catalogue about open data in practice from the experience.

Although this blog has become a bit of a project-reporting space over the last year, it does remain my personal blogging space, so perhaps there might be a bit more personal blogging over the next year as I reflect on living abroad and engaging with lots of new ideas in the Berkman community…

 

Can the G8 Open Data Charter deliver real transparency?

[Summary: cross-post of an article reflecting on the G8 Open Data Charter]

I was asked by The Conversation, a new journalism platform based around linking academic writers with professional journalists and editors, to put together a short article on the recent G8 Open Data Charter, looking at the potential for it to deliver on transparency. The result is now live over on The Conversation site, and pasted in below (under a Creative Commons license). 

Last week G8 leaders signed up to an Open Data Charter, calling for government datasets to be “open data by default”. Open data has risen up the government agenda in the UK over the last three years, with the UK positioning itself as a world leader. But what does the charter mean for G8 nations, and more broadly, will it deliver on the promise of economic impacts and improved governance through the open release of government data relating to matters such as crime figures, energy consumption and election results?

Open government data (OGD) has rapidly developed from being the niche interest of a small community of geeks to a high-profile policy idea. The basic premise of OGD is that when governments publish datasets online, in digital formats that can be easily imported into other software tools, and under legal terms that permit anyone to re-use them (including commercially), those outside government can use that data to develop new ideas, apps and businesses. It also allows citizens to better scrutinise government and hold authorities to account. But for that to happen, the kind of data released, and its quality, matter.

As the Open Knowledge Foundation outlined ahead of the G8 Summit in a release from its Open Data Census “G8 countries still have a long way to go in releasing essential information as open data”. Less than 50% of the core datasets the census lists for G8 members are fully available as open data. And because open data is one of the most common commitments made by governments when they join the wider Open Government Partnership (OGP), campaigners want a clear set of standards for what makes a good open data initiative. The G8 Open Data Charter provides an opportunity to elaborate this. In a clear nod towards the OGP, the G8 charter states: “In the spirit of openness we offer this Open Data Charter for consideration by other countries, multinational organisations and initiatives.”

But can the charter really deliver? Russia, the worst scoring G8 member on the Open Data Census, and next chair of the G8, recently withdrew from the OGP, yet signed up to the Charter. Even the UK’s commitment to “open data by default” is undermined by David Cameron’s admission that the register of company beneficial ownership announced as part of G8 pledges on tax transparency will only be accessible to government officials, rather than being the open dataset campaigners had asked for.

The ability of Russia to sign up to the Open Data Charter is down to what Robison and Yu have called the “Ambiguity of Open Government” — the dual role of open data as a tool for transparency and accountability and for economic growth. As Christian Langehenke explains, Russia is interested in the latter, but was uncomfortable with the focus placed on the former in the OGP. The G8 Charter covers both benefits of open data but is relatively vague when it comes to the release of data for improved governance.

However, if delivered, the specific commitments made in the technical annexe to opening national election and budget datasets, and to improving their quality by December 2013, would signal progress for a number of states, Russia included. Elsewhere in the G8 communiqué, states also committed to publishing open data on aid to the International Aid Transparency Initiative standard, representing new commitments from France, Italy and Japan.

The impacts of the charter may also be felt in Germany and in Canada, where open data campaigners have long been pushing for greater progress to release datasets.Canadian campaigner David Eaves highlights in particular how the charter commitment to open specific “high value” datasets goes beyond anything in existing Canadian policy. Although the pressure of next year’s G8 progress report might not provide a significant stick to spur on action, the charter does give campaigners in Canada, Germany other other G8 nations a new lever in pushing for greater publication of data from their governments.

Delivering improved governance and economic growth will not come from the release of data alone. The charter offers some recognition of this, committing states to “work to increase open data literacy” and “encourage innovative uses of our data through the organisation of challenges, prizes or mentoring”. However, it stops short of considering other mechanisms needed to unlock the democratic and governance reform potential of open data. At best it frames data on public services as enabling citizens to “make better informed choices about the services they receive”, encapsulating a notion of citizen as consumer (a framing Jo Bates refers to the as the co-option of open data agendas), rather than committing to build mechanisms for citizens to engage with the policy process, and thus achieve accountability, on the basis of the data that is made available.

The charter marks the continued rise of open data to becoming a key component of modern governance. Yet, the publication of open data alone stops short of the wider institutional reforms needed to deliver modernised and accountable governance. Whether the charter can secure solid open data foundations on which these wider reforms can be built is something only time will tell.

Geneva E-Participation Day: Open Data and International Organisations

Meeting venue (I think...)[Summary: notes for a talk on open data and International Organisations]

In just over a weeks time I’l be heading for Geneva to take part in Diplo Foundation’s E-Participation Day: towards a more open UN?’ event. In the past I’ve worked with Diplo on remote participation, using the web to support live online participation in face-to-face meetings such as the Internet Governance Forum. This time I’ll be talking open data – exploring the ways in which changing regimes around data stand to impact International Organisations. This blog post was written for the Diplo blog as an introduction to some of the themes I might explore. 

The event will, of course, have remote participation – so you can register to join in-person or online for free here.

E-participation and remote hubs have the potential to open up dialogue and decision making. But after the conferences have been closed, and the declarations made, it is data that increasingly shapes the outcome of international processes. Whether it’s the numbers counted up to check on progress towards the millennium development goals, GDP percentage pledges on aid spending, or climate change targets, the outcomes of international co-operation frequently depend on the development and maintenance of datasets.

The adage that ‘you can’t manage what you can’t measure’ has relevance both for International Organisations and for citizens. The better the flows of data International Organisations can secure access to, the greater their theoretical capacity for co-ordination of complex systems. And the greater the flows of information from the internal workings of International Organisations that citizens, states and pressures groups can access, the greater their theoretical capacity to both scrutinise decisions and to get involved in decision making and implementation. I say theoretical capacity, because the picture is rarely that straightforward in practice. Yet, that complexity aside for a moment, over the last few years the idea has been gaining ground that, in some states has led to not only a greater flow of data, but has driven a veritable flood – with hundreds and thousands of government datasets placed online for anyone to access and re-use. That idea is open data.

Open Data is a simple concept. Organisations holding datasets should place them online, in machine-readable formats, and under licenses that let anyone re-use them. Advocates explain that this brings a myriad of benefits. For example, rather than finance data being locked up in internal finance systems, only available to auditors, open data on budgets and spending can be published on the web for anyone to download and explore in their spreadsheet software, or to let third parties generate visualisations that show citizens where their money is being spent, and to help independent analysts look across datasets for possible inefficiency, fraud or corruption. Or instead of the location of schools or health centres being kept on internal systems, the data can be published to allow innovators to present it to citizens in new and more accessible ways. And in crisis situations, instead of co-ordinators spending days collecting data from agencies in the field and re-keying the data into central databases, if all the organisations involved were to publish open data in common formats, there is the possibility of it being aggregated together, building up a clearer picture of what is going on. One of the highest profile existing open data initiatives in the development field is the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) which now has standardised open data from 100s or donors, providing the foundation for a timely view of who is doing what in aid.

Open data ideas have been spreading rapidly across the world, with many states establishing national Open Government Data (OGD) initiatives, and International Organisations from The World Bank, to UN DESA, the OECD and the Open Government Partnership all developing conversations and projects around open data. When the G8 meet next week in Northern-Ireland they are expected to launch an ‘Open Data Charter’ setting out principles for high quality open data, and committing states to publish certain datasets. Right now it remains to be seen whether open data will feature anywhere else in the  in the G8 action plans, although there is clearly space for open data ideas and practices to be deployed in securing greater tax transparency, or supporting the ongoing monitoring of other commitments. In the case of the post-2105 process, a number of organisations have been advocating for an access to information focus, seeking to ensure citizens have access to open data that they can use to monitor government actions and hold governments to account on delivering on commitments.

However – as Robinson and Yu have highlighted – there can be an ambiguity of open government data: more open data does not necessarily mean more open organisations. The call for ‘raw data now’ has led to much open data emerging simply as an outbound communication, without routes for engagement or feedback, and no change in existing organisational practices. Rather than being treated as a reform that can enable greater organisational collaboration and co-ordination, many open datasets have just been ‘dumped’ on the web. In the same way that remote participation is often a bolt-on to meetings, without the deeper changes in process needed to make for equal participation for remote delegates, at best much open data only offers actors outside of institutions a partial window onto their operations, and at worst, the data itself remains opaque: stripped of context and meaning. Getting open data right for both transparency, and for transforming international collaboration needs more than just technology. 

As I explored with Jovan Kurbalija of Diplo in a recent webinar, there are big challenges ahead if open data is to work as an asset for development: from balancing tensions between standardisation and local flexibility, developing true multi-stakeholder governance of important data flows, and getting the incentives for collaboration right. However, now is the time to be engaging with these challenges – within a window of energy and optimism, and before network effects lock in paradoxically ‘closed’ systems of open data. I hope the dialogue at the Geneva E-Participation day will offer a small chance to broaden open data understanding and conversations in a way that can contribute to such engagement.