Thank you for joining the New Tactics community for the online conversation on Information and Communication Technology and its Role in Government Transparency and Citizen Participation from January 26 to 30, 2015.
A global culture centered on information access emerged in the past few decades. Information and communication technologies (ICT) are increasingly available to advance the ease and efficiency in many areas of life. ICT holds particular promise in areas of governance and public participation. Open government, government 2.0, and e-government proponents believe governments in the digital age can use information to reduce corruption and increase government transparency, accountability, efficiency and citizen participation.
Human rights advocates contend that successful use of ICT in governance requires access to information, education and the ability to share information for citizens. Civil society organizations (CSO) like Janaagraha in Bangalore India utilize ICT platforms to mobilize citizens to reveal government corruption. Janaagraha launched a website called “I Paid a Bribe” in 2010 to allow citizens to develop a record of bribery in public service delivery. In 2013, they launched mobile apps and SMS services to increase corruption reporting. Their data was later utilized by Bhaskar Rao, a transport commissioner in Karnataka to create reforms in the motor vehicle department. Citizens now apply for driver’s licenses online in order to eliminate potential demands for bribes.
This online conversation will identify how ICT can be an effective or ineffective tool in increasing transparency and public participation on many levels.
Tactic Examples Shared:
- The Accountability Lab places billboards at busy intersections with information on government services stated in a way that citizens can easily understand and organizes film schools where youth create documentaries about issues in their communities, which are then shared and discussed at festivals attended by community members and government stakeholders
- The Accountability Lab spreads news to Liberians in Monrovia by writing on a large chalkboard, the “Daily Talk,” in order to reach those who may not otherwise have access to the internet or print media
- Democracia en Red connects constituents and elected officials through an open source web forum to advance government transparency and responsiveness
- In Liberia, a text-message based reporting system called Tell-It-True is used to identify problems on school and university campuses and encourage administrators to find solutions
- Question Boxes in India and Liberia allow community members to call an operator for free and receive information about rights, responsibilities, and solutions to problems
- The Indian interactive voice forum CGNet Swara allows callers to record messages of local interest and to listen to the messages of other callers. The messages are also posed on the internet, where they are accessible to journalists, activists, and policymakers.
- Forum Virium is working to harmonize the programming interfaces of the websites of several European cities in order to improve citizen participation, mobility, and tourism.
- The Just Ask Once initiative in South Australia organizes government information around citizens’ needs in order to improve accessibility
- South Korea’s government portal is customizable by age, gender, location, and service of interest in order to better serve its constituents
- EngageSpark offers Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technology to overcome language barriers and text messaging problems caused by scripts that do not translate well to the Roman alphabet
- The California Report Card, OpinionSpace, and the Citizen Report Card are sentiment analysis websites that allow constituents to express their opinions in order for representatives to better respond to their needs
- In Korea, an E-Procurement system provides services to public bidders in order to overcome red tape and corruption
- In India, Bhoomi touch-screen kiosks in government offices facilitate land registration and help to avoid corruption
- The government of Punjab, Pakistan, has implemented a citizen feedback model that contacts citizens via text message in order to curb corruption, bribery, and slow responses to complaints
- Peak Democracy allows constituents to participate in town hall discussions remotely and asynchronously in order to make citizen participation more convenient
- Open Oakland and Open Budget Oakland hold civic hackathons to demonstrate the use of open data, help hackers create new tools, and promote platforms built on open data
What is Government Transparency, Citizen Participation, and Open Government?
Government transparency, citizen participation, and Open Government are technological tools by which citizens can hold governments accountable. A lack of accountability contributes to problems such as inequality, poverty, and violence, and also leaves citizens feeling helpless to influence the government. New technologies can improve citizen participation and political process monitoring efforts, thus increasing government accountability.
Using Open Government technologies such as social media, legislative websites, or application programming interfaces and databases does not always mean that a government is implementing Open Government strategies. More data may indicate more transparency, but not necessarily openness to participatory, inclusive, or accountable decision-making. Civil society organizations can help by clearly articulating their desired outputs and outcomes and actively organizing and involving citizens to increase government transparency and engagement.
Access and Use of ICT Tools
ICT tools can be very useful in promoting greater government transparency and citizen participation, but their access and use pose unique challenges.
First, there are barriers associated with usability of ICTs. Marginalized populations often suffer from lack of resources for ICTs, cultural and literacy barriers, and other concerns, so ICTs may not be an effective tool to help them gain access to politics. Even highly educated people may not be familiar or comfortable with the latest technologies, and language barriers may prevent others from using ICTs effectively. Within populations that have access to ICTs, many lack the time to use them simply because they have responsibilities working or caring for their families. Some of these problems can be solved by involving local people in ICT development so they are more likely to be interested and using pre-existing platforms such as Facebook.
Second, the effective development and maintenance of ICTs is costly and may not produce the expected results. Data management is important and may require professional experience that planners and stakeholders do not have. ICTs are frequently used in ways that the developers do not expect, even after extensive research. Additionally, gathering information and making that information accessible does not always easily translate into responses from people in power, nor does increased communication within civil society groups necessarily result in increased political effectiveness. In fact, the use of ICTs may backfire if not adequately planned.
Due to these challenges, it can be difficult to convince governments, NGOs, and citizens to “buy in” to ICT tools and use them effectively. Conversation participants identified incentives, proactivity, and accessibility as methods of encouraging buy-in. Cost savings are good incentives for governments. Outreach to government offices to build trust before suggesting changes can increase buy-in, as can free training modules and wikis. Convenience is a major factor in encouraging buy-in from citizens, but technologies must also deliver consistent results and make participation count to stimulate continued participation. In addition, meeting communities where they are can ease the fight against entrenched interests, established rules, and a lack of incentive for change. As these technologies become more and more common, they will be easier to adopt.
Share Experience in Using ICT in Governance Issues
The integrity of digital records is a major concern when using ICT in governance. The trustworthiness, accessibility, and maintenance of records are crucial to government transparency. Both a lack of capacity and a lack of political will can cause governments to fail to make digital information accessible and keep it well-maintained, but without a framework for information governance, ICTs may lead to the misleading and misinforming of citizen, rather than their empowerment.
A first step is to create government awareness that in a digital environment, achieving information integrity and access through time requires a well-defined legal and regulatory framework and a new set of skills. Digital records must be in a useful format and must be protected from deterioration over time so they continue to provide the evidence needed to hold governments accountable.
Using ICTs may also take away from other important tactics. Citizen groups frequently focus on the use of ICTs to the detriment of building a collective voice, leading to a lot of information but little action. If technologies generate data that is not then acted upon, they will fall out of favor. Long-term, listening-based, citizen-focused approaches are key to the use and success of ICTs.
Image courtesy of kiwanja.net