On May 3rd, Pan-American Freedom of Speech NGO Alianza Regional por la Libre Expresión e Información (Regional Alliance for Free Speech and Information) published a new report which analyzes media regulations in 16 countries around the region.
The document, Artículo XIII "Informe sobre regulación de medios en América Latina”, (Article XIII: Report on Media Regulations in Latin America) seeks to “show how media regulation is treated in the region, taking into account the promotion, implementation and defense of the right to free speech,” said Belén Coccolo, Project Assistant at the Alliance.
The report includes indicators designed to monitor the evolution of media laws in the countries surveyed, Coccolo added. “We want to raise awareness about the development [of media laws] and about the exercising of the right to free speech.”
Based in Buenos Aires, the Alliance campaigns for freedom of speech in the region. The countries surveyed for the report are Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela.
Despite sharing a language and cultural heritage, there are significant differences in the approach to freedom of speech around Latin America. Some countries, such as Venezuela, have enacted strict regulations on content and media ownership, while others, such as Colombia, Brazil and Mexico, have sophisticaded media operations backed by access to information laws and no restrictions on free speech beyond those against slander.
Still, Coccolo said, more transparency is needed even in those countries with no restrictions.
“In some countries, it is the government that controls the presence and influence of the media,” she added. “In others, there are other factors: economic interests, mostly.”
“The report, however, is not of a qualitative nature. The laws are there – we just present them,” Coccolo added.
Are there any laws governing freedom of speech in your country? And if so, how do they compare with other nations? Which sector controls media in your nation? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter (@GlobalIntegrity).
--Julio C. Urdaneta
Update: On May 23, The Moscow Times reported that Russia had just “postponed” its entry into OGP. Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian daily newspaper Kommersant that “we are not talking about winding up plans to join, but corrections in timing and the scale of participation are possible.” Open government advocate David Eaves interprets this state of affairs to mean A) “transparency matters” and B) that “Russia may still be in OGP. Just not soon. And maybe never.” For now, Russia has withdrawn its letter of intent to join the Open Government Partnership and with that action, its commitments to transparency. OGP itself has ”adjusted” its website to reflect the change, which is to say that the former page for Russia can no longer be found. So what will open government mean in the largest country in the world? Read on.
"Inevitably, there will be questions about what we are each prepared to sign up to," said British Prime Minister David Cameron in January 13, in his letter to fellow G8 leaders. Four months later, Russia has made clear it clear what it wasn't willing to sing onto: the Open Government Partnership (OGP). The most recent update on Russia is that the Kremlin will be pursuing "open government" on its own terms.
Russia has withdrawn the letter of intent that it submitted on April 2012 in Brazil, at the first annual meeting of the Open Government Partnership.
If the dominant binary of the 21st century is between open and closed, Russia looks more interested in opting toward more controllable, technocratic options that involve discretionary data releases instead of an independent judiciary or freedom of assembly or the press.
One of the challenges of the Open Government Partnership has always been the criteria that a country had to pass to join and then continue to be a member. Russia's inclusion in OGP instantly raised eyebrows, doubts and fearslast April, given Russia's terrible record on press freedom.
"Russia's withdrawal from the OGP is a important reminder that open government isn't easy or politically simple," said Nathaniel Heller, executive director of Global Integrity. "While we don't yet fully understand why Russia is leaving OGP, it's safe to assume that the powers that be in the Kremlin decided that it was untenable to give reformers elsewhere in the Russian government the freedom to advance the open government agenda within the bureaucracy."
The choices of Russian Prime Minister Dimitri Medvedev, who had publicly supported joining the OGP and made open government a principle of his government, may well have been called into question by Russia's powerful president, Vladimir Putin.
Medvedev had been signaling a move towards adopting more comfortable sorts of "openness" for some time, leading up to and following Russia joining the Open Government Partnership in December 2012. Russia's prime minister has sought to position himself as a reformer on the world stage, making a pitch for Russia being "open for business earlier this year at the Davos economic forum. Adopting substantive open government reforms could well make a difference with respect to foreign investors concerns about corruption and governance.
While the Kremlin shows few signs of loosening its iron grip on national security and defense secrets, Russia faces the same need to modernize to meet the increasing demand of its citizens for online services as every developed nation.
Even if Russia may not be continue its membership in the Open Government Partnership, its government's version of "openness" may endure, at least with respect to federal, city and state IT systems. Over the winter, a version of "Open Government a la Russe" - In Cyrillic большоеправительство or or “big government” — seemed to accelerating at the national level and catching on in its capital. Maybe that will still happen, and Russion national action plan will go forward.
“While Russia’s approach to open government may be primarily technocratic, there’s a sense in which even the strongest legal requirements are only tools we give to our allies in governments,” said John Wonderlich, policy director at the Sunight Foundation. “FOI officers analyzing records, or judges deciding whether or not to enforce laws are embodying both legal and cultural realities when they determine how open a country will be, just as much as policy makers who determine which policies to pass. While Russia’s initial commitment to OGP was likely a surprising boon for internal champions for reform, its withdrawal will also serve as a demonstration of the difficulty of making a political commitment to openness there.”
What is more clear, however, is that the Kremlin seems much more interested the sort of “open government” that creates economic value, as opposed to sustaining independent auditors, press or civil society that’s required in functional democracies. Plutocracy and kleptrocacy doesn’t typically co-exist well open, democratic governments — or vice versa.
Given that the United States efforts on open government prominently feature the pursuit of similar value in releasing government data, Russia’s focus isn’t novel. In fact, “open data” is part of more than half of the plans of the participating countries in OGP, along with e-government reforms. In May of 2012, a presidential declaration directed governmental bodies to open up government data.
In February, Moscow launched an open data platform, at data.mos.ru, that supplied material fordigital atlas of the city. Russia established an “open data council” the same month. Those steps forward could stand to benefit Russian citizens and bring some tangential benefits to transparency and accountability, if Russia and its cities can stomach the release of embarrassing data about spending, budgets or performance.
While some accounts of open government in Russia highlighted the potential of Russia to tap into new opportunities for innovation afforded by connected citizenry that exist around the world, crackdowns on civil society and transparency organizations have sorely tested the Russian government’s credibility on the issue. This trial of anti-corruption blogger Alexey Navalny for corruption this spring showed how far Russia has to go.
“Open government isn’t just open data nor is it e-government, two areas in which the Russian Federal had appeared to be willing to engage on the open government agenda,” said Heller. “Many observers doubted how far Russia could take open government in a climate of political repression, civil society crackdowns, and judicial abuse of power.”
Today’s news looks like a victory of conservatives in the Kremlin over government reformers interested in reducing corruption and adopting modern public sector management techniques. “We need to use modern technologies, crowd sourcing,” said Medvedev said in January 2013. “Those technologies change the status and enhance the legitimacy of decisions made in government.”
Changes in technology will undoubtedly influence Russia, as they will every country, albeit within the cultural and economic context of each. This withdrawal from OGP, however, may be a missed opportunity for civil society, at least with respect to losing a lever for reform, reduced corruption and institutions accountable to the people. Leaving the partnership suggests that Russia may be a bit scared of real transparency, or least the sort where the national government willing allows itself to be criticized by civil society and foreign non-governmental organizations.
It’s something of a mixed victory for the Open Government Partnership, too: getting to be a member and stay one means something, after all.
“For the Open Government Partnership, this will be seen as a bit of a blow to their progress, but its success was never predicated on getting every qualifying government to join,” said Wonderlich. “In a sense, Russia’s withdrawal may alleviate the need for OGP to grapple with Russia’s recent, severe treatment of NGOs there. More broadly, Russia’s withdrawal may better define the space in which the OGP mechanism can function well. Building a movement around commitments from heads of state has allowed OGP’s ranks to rapidly grow, but we’re also probably entering a new time for OGP, where the depth and reliability of those commitments will become clearer. Transitions between governments, domestic politics, corruption scandals, hypocritical behavior, uncooperative legislatures, exclusion of domestic NGOs, and internal power struggles may all threaten individual national commitments, and OGP will need to determine how to adapt to each of these challenges. OGP will need to determine whether it wants to be the arbiter of appropriate behavior on each of these dimensions, or whether its role is better left to the commitments and National Action Plans on which it was founded. “
If OGP is to endure and have a meaningful impact on the world, its imprimatur has to have integrity and some weight of moral justice, based upon internationally shared norms on human rights and civil liberties. As press freedom goes, so to does open government and democracy.
“International boosters of open government may want to remain cautious at embracing open government reformers at the first whiff of ‘openness’ or rhetorical commitment to the agenda,” said Heller. “Within weeks of Russia first making noise around joining OGP, the World Bank and others rushed to assemble a major international conference in the country around open government to boost reformers inside the bureaucracy as they sought to move the country into OGP. While no one should criticize those efforts, they are a sobering reminder that initial rhetorical commitment to open government can only take us so far, and it’s wise to keep the political powder dry for other downstream fights.”
Originally posted on http://e-pluribusunum.com/
The report highlights the imperative of governments around the world to ensure more accountable and open natural resources sectors. These shifts could impact up to 1 billion people.
Out of all 58 countries covered by the Index, including Afghanistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Angola, 80 percent – or 47 countries – fail to meet satisfactory levels when it comes to their transparency and accountability standards. This does not bode well for the worst performing countries, which depend almost exclusively on revenues from natural resources as their main source of income. Especially since 85 percent of the world’s oil, 90 percent of diamonds and 80 percent of copper, generating trillions of dollars annually comes from the countries assessed.
To capture country level data on specifics of: legal frameworks, transparency levels, checks and balances, and the broader governance context, RWI used Global Integrity’s Indaba Platform.
The platform allowed RWI to work with partners in all 58 countries to remotely compile, review, discuss and analyze data in a streamlined fashion.
“When RWI started the research process two years ago, we knew we wanted to get our information directly from experts and researchers working in the field, but we had to solve the problem of exchanging information, communicating instructions and keeping track of discussions with people from countries ranging from Australia to Zimbabwe,” said Juan Carlos Quiroz, manager of the Index at RWI. “Luckily, Indaba provided answers to all those questions, Global Integrity staff was great at helping us make use of Indaba and we are thrilled at the outcome and excited to share the Index.”
Global Integrity looks forward to working with RWI in the coming years to produce their research which promotes more accountable governance shifts.
-- Image: Cover of the Resource Governance Index
If you haven't already read the news about the Justice Department snooping on the Associated Press' newsroom in an attempt to ferret out government leakers, prepare to be nauseated.
This comes just days after the White House trumpeted a widely-applauded open data policy that seeks to proactively liberate vast amounts of data in an attempt to shine light on the inner workings of the very same government.
Go and try to reconcile those two things: a steady march towards clamping down on national security information with a liberal open data policy. I certainly can't. And I'm beginning to wonder if we're starting to see the limits of open government under the Obama White House.
This administration's track record on what can be argued are the easier bits of open government is more than laudable. An initial Open Government Directive has been augmented with the new open data policy, and we've witnessed the launch of an international Open Government Partnership, which began as a White House brainchild. But during that very same period we've witnessed the administration getting worse on the politically harder bits: freedom of information response times have deteriorated, reporters are being chased down to divulge their sources, and now entire newsrooms are apparently being targeted in broad, scarily police state-style monitoring. What the heck is going on here?
Here at Global Integrity, we've warned repeatedly about the risks of governments trying to be half-pregnant on open government. It just doesn't work. Some think that open data itself is equivalent to open government while others -- perhaps including the current US administration -- seem content to make progress on the technocratic pieces while allowing core pillars of the open government agenda to wither, such as access to information and civil liberties. While we know that governments don't transform themselves overnight, we do worry deeply when we witness deliberate backsliding by governments on pieces of the open government agenda, whether South Africa's Secrecy Bill, Hungary's recent watering down of its freedom of information legislation, or American schizophrenia around the idea that open government can take root in a climate of barely-legal government surveillance and intrusion.
Open government advocates have been asking questions about whether countries such as South Africa and the Philippines, both of which sit on the Open Government Partnership steering committee, are truly committed to the open government agenda in light of recent backsliding. Unfortunately, it's now time to ask the same of the United States.
Melissa Cawtrha has joined Global Integrity as Project Manager out of our Cape Town office. A native of Durban, South Africa, Cawthra will be working on our Africa Integrity Indicators effort, a collaboration between Global Integrity and the Mo Ibrahim Foundation to strengthen the Ibrahim Index of African Governance.
She holds honor degrees in French literature, translation and media studies from the University of KwazuluNatal in Durban, as well as a Masters in international affairs by the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris (Sciences-Po) in Paris.
Throughout her career, Cawthra has worked as a freelance French translator and editor in South Africa, as a project assistant in the Honorary Consulate of Belgium in Durban, and at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Regional Office for Southern Africa.
The organization’s novel work on corruption and governance issues around the world, and especially in Africa, was what motivated Cawthra to apply for the position, she said.
“It is very important to gather information about corruption and Global Integrity does it from an independent standpoint,” she said. “There is definitely a gap in this type of research out there, particularly coming from Africa.”
In her spare time, Cawthra is a dancer with expertise in modern and contemporary works. She is also a fan of alternative music, including bands like The Postal Service and Mumford and Sons.
-Julio C. Urdaneta
A comprehensive tool that tracks Chinese development finance was released April 29th by AidData, a partnership between Brigham Young University, the College of William and Mary, and fellow OpenGov Hub tenant, Development Gateway. Released at the Center for Global Development, the online database platform tracks development finance flows to the continent from 2000-2011. Check a video of the presentation here.
“Our goal is to provide a stronger empirical foundation for analysis of the nature, distribution, and impact of China's overseas development finance activities in Africa,” said Stephen Davenport, Co-Executive Director of AidData and Senior Director of Innovation and Partnerships at Development Gateway.
“The BRIC countries are rapidly expanding their grant and overseas lending activities, especially China,” Davenport said, “but nobody has been able to convince China to participate in the emerging transparency regime for global development finance. They say they are transparent with their recipients - and that they don’t see a need to go any further.”
As of May 3, 2013, the platform tracked 1,442 non-investment projects valued at $74.11 billion, with 70% of those projects marked as underway or completed. The report was compiled using AidData’s new media-based data collection methodology, which leverages media report, public government records, and case study research to track individual projects funded by the Chinese government, but the methodology does not come without limitations.
“We know that the methodology is not perfect, but we think it's a very good initial point of departure. If nothing else, it will instigate a discussion of how Chinese development finance data should be collected, vetted, and curated,” he added, “This information is otherwise incredibly difficult to access, so the dataset will add value and generate interest at many levels.”
The online platform at china.aiddata.org enables users to quickly filter, manipulate, and visualize the data. The dataset also serves as a crowdsourcing tool. Users can contribute to the project-level data by providing additional information about specific projects, such as media reports, documents, videos, and photographs, as well as suggest new projects which were previously unidentified.
AidData’s vision is to improve and apply this methodology to track international development finance from other countries that do not participate in official reporting systems.
“The goal is to move beyond the traditional sources of development finance,” Davenport added. “We want to go deeper into the BRIC countries and see how they are financing development around the world.”
At Global Integrity, we rely on our strong relationships with organizations, consultants, journalists and researchers around the world to facilitate all of our work, from our longstanding Global Integrity Report to our Local Integrity Projects. For growing the usage of our Indaba platform, which serves as the cornerstone for how we collect and manage our research processes, these partnerships are also essential.
Over the last 18 months, we have made some significant enhancements to the Indaba system or what I like to call Indaba 3.0. These changes have given us the ability to recently launch new projects with partner organizations in a much faster and timely manner, including:
- The compilation of 2012 Budget Transparency Data for States and Municipalities in Mexico by the Instituto Mexicano para la Competitividad (IMCO)
- Índice Nacional de los OGDAI 2013 through a joint collaboration between México - ARTICLE 19 and México Infórmate.
- An Access to Information Pilot Study carried out by The Carter Center
- A Right to Information Pilot Index carried out by Article 19.
Some exciting new projects that will be launching in the next few weeks are:
- A Review of commitments made by Open Government Partnership (OGP) countries carried out by the OGP - Independent Reporting Mechanism.
- The 2013 Web Index by the World Wide Web Foundation.
All of these projects now have access to a more robust Indaba platform, which we hope will serve as a useful gateway into deeper partnerships with these organizations.
If you are carrying out large-scale research and data collection projects, Indaba can help you simplify them. For more info, please don’t hesitate to contact us at email@example.com .
Over the last 18 months, the small but agile Indaba team has worked tirelessly to bring some exciting enhancements to the platform, (Indaba 3.0 as I like to call it), as well as launch some cool projects. Our hope with these new changes is to further streamline the online data collection process for colleagues and partners around the world.
As our Executive Director, Nathaniel Heller, alluded to in his blog post, “Why We're Investing in Moving Legacy Data Into Indaba” with the changes to the platform, Indaba will now give project managers a way to more easily design, launch and manage the day-to-day aspects of their projects.
With the help of existing Indaba user insights, we narrowed down the scope of our ever long “wish-list” of platform upgrades functionalities and user interface enhancements. The major change to the platform includes a whole new interface, Control Panel, which allows project managers and support staff to build key components of their work (uploading questions, creating reusable surveys, adding project contributors and units of analysis.)
We also updated user functionalities for the existing platform interface, Fieldwork Manager, used by field contributors and project managers to amass data in an organized fashion. It is our hope that changes to this part of Indaba will greatly enhance the data collection process.
Now project managers can assign tasks to users from a “queue” system, which filters through hundreds, if not more, tasks per project. Managers can “swap” different people from one job to another to suit the needs of the project.
One of the upgrades I am most excited about is the ability for managers to ask and send questions to anyone working on the project. This could be done during any of the review or edit stages (as defined by the organization creating a project). Previously, Indaba would only allow managers to ask questions to the original respondent who created the content. This feature is particularly helpful when a manager needs further clarification on the way something was edited or if a reviewer provides a new source of information and the relevance is not clearly articulated. This feature could also be useful if a project requires verification feedback regarding specific data or information collected from a government official, business entity, etc.
Needless to say, we are thankful to our developers OpenConcept Systems (OCS) who worked tirelessly to ensure the new changes were installed in a timely manner and with as few “bugs” as possible.
-- Monika Shepard
How do you get Floridians to care about state politics, let alone ethics reform?
The state’s millenials rank below the national average for civic engagement, and, in Miami, the general population ranks the lowest, according to studies by the National Conference on Citizenship. Florida not surprisingly, received a poor grade in the State Integrity Investigation for corruption risk.
WLRN-Miami Herald News, the NPR affiliate in South Florida, received a grant from Global Integrity to promote a discussion about ethics and transparency with a focus on the state legislature, which was considering several ethics and elections bills. We planned a series of online chats leading up to a live Town Hall with state legislative leaders. We also surveyed select listeners (and readers of The Miami Herald) on state politics and produced an online ethics game and short radio interviews about state policies.
Here are three takeaways from the project:
Promotion for an event on state politics, particularly one focused on ethics or the legislature, has to educate the listeners. Many Floridians do not know whom their state legislators are, according to surveys of readers of The Miami Herald and listeners of WLRN through the Public Insight Network. Few people follow the state legislature or understand the issues that are handled there as opposed to the federal or local government. Drawing an audience to the Town Hall required telling them about the impact the state government has in their lives. This kind of customized promotion involved grassroots outreach to organizations such as college clubs, business organizations, unions, service organizations and other civic groups.
Online text chats like Tweet-ups should generally be reserved for guests who are forthright and willing to keep the conversation going. In online forums where there may be audience comments posted between questions, it is easier for guests to avoid difficult topics. Moreover, as the organizers of the chat, we are concerned with losing the fickle online audience due to a static screen; in an audio interview, silence when a question is hanging does not register the same way. Influential political players can still make for great online guests: our discussion with a corporate legislative director was frenetic. But it’s important to have someone who is on-board to maintain a constant flow of conversation.
The laymen public does not focus on ethics reform likely because it is not outcome determinative. Rules about financial disclosure forms and lobbyist registration seem hyper-technical and abstract. So we tied the ethics discussions to other areas that typically garner more attention in Florida, such as charter school funding and property insurance reform. But when we asked the audience in emails before the Town Hall how transparency or ethics reform could help advance the policies they care about, few had any responses. The difficulty is that, for example, while many think that the state-run insurer is not accountable enough, people prefer to discuss arguments for and against a rate cap, as opposed to discussing the independence of the insurance regulator and whether agency staffers have recusal obligations. I suspect that this is because the benefits of transparency reforms are less direct. Merely because conflict of interest laws are put into place does not mean that their home insurance rates will go down. So despite having a Town Hall panel that included a journalist who has written extensively about the influence of lobbyists and the lack of transparency in Tallahassee and the chair of the state ethics committee who is interested in reform, the discussion at the event hardly delved into those issues except when it was the explicit focus.
But ultimately, doesn’t the mere fact that state legislative leaders were made to answer citizen questions contribute to increasing transparency and accountability?
-- Elaine Chen
-- Photo: Jessica Meszaros/WLRN
Elaine Chen is the interactivity producer at WLRN-Miami Herald News.
This week is an exciting week for the Indaba fieldwork platform. After several months of design, development, and testing, we went live today with some new and powerful features, notably Control Panel (which allows project managers to more easily design and launch their projects) and important enhancements to Fieldwork Manager (like being able to send Question Lists to any user on a project at any point in the workflow) We'll dive more deeply into these upgrades and what they mean for running more powerful and efficient Indaba projects in a separate post.
Less visible is the fact that we've also quietly launched an experimental approach to importing legacy data into Indaba from other systems/data files. This has been a use case identified for many years by Indaba users (including us here at Global Integrity): "Great that I can run my new project on Indaba, but is there a way for me to migrate the past ten years of data I've already published into the platform?" Until now the answer was basically, "No," absent a willingness to brute force the solution by copying and pasting potentially thousands of spreadsheet cells or published web pages into a "new" Indaba project. And frankly no one wants to do that.
To try and solve this challenge, we're partnering with Seabourne and longtime Indaba developers OpenConcept Systems (OCS) to test a machine-driven method for importing legacy data into Indaba. Here's the basic approach:
- We've developed a template and data schema for what is necessary to import questionnaire-style information into Indaba in a structured manner that meets Indaba's data model needs.
- Seaborne's nifty Delray software -- which "eats" random unstructured data from disparate sources and then spits it back out in a fully customized and structured package -- will then eat several years' worth of Global Integrity legacy data currently hosted off of Indaba. In practice we are talking about the Global Integrity Reports from 2006 - 2009 and a few early Local Integrity Initiative projects.
- Delray will then give us a nice, Indaba-ready set of files containing our old data that is ready for import.
- Our friends at OCS will then take the import file, drop it into Indaba's core database, and (hopefully!) our questionnaires will automagically rebuild themselves without any human intervention. We'll then be able to use Publisher's standard features, such as web widgets, to quickly republish hundreds of pages of legacy reports and scorecards on our website.
Naturally, something probably will and should go wrong the first time we try this. But we're hoping to test this process on ourselves first, and if/when it works be able to offer it to others in the future at low cost to help with legacy data migration needs. Stay tuned for more details in the coming weeks.
Global Integrity is delighted to announce the five innovative ideas selected to receive funding from the TESTING 1 2 3: The Global Integrity Innovation Fund.
The chosen ideas will receive up to US$10,000 to test unique ways to approach the problems of corruption, poor transparency and low levels of accountability in governments around the globe. They can be tested within six months, and they have the potential to yield proof-of concepts that add to our current knowledge base.
All decisions were made based on our selection criteria, and with the help of external expert advice on a case-by-case basis.
And the investees are:
Simply Visualizing Politics is a dynamic visualization of changes in the views of Macedonian politicians over time.
In using text-based mining techniques to sift through the records of debates in the Macedonian parliament, the application aims to collect and display trends to inform voters about the interests of their political leaders and the issues they support.
What we’re interested in testing: whether algorithmically driven data mining techniques can be used to pick up otherwise imperceptible but meaningful patterns in political behavior.
Hidden Agenda is a photo-based storytelling platform that seeks to make public top government officials’ daily schedules in Spain.
In a “Pinterest meets They Rule” fashion, images will be crowd sourced and used to tell visually compelling stories exposing lobbying efforts that lay under the radar but remain in the public interest.
What we’re interested in testing: whether engaging citizens in visual data collection and tying it to reporting efforts can raise awareness for creating legislative reform.
Vertiza.org is a real-time corruption alert system that leverages automated “mashups” of disparate datasets to potentially reveal corruption-prone patterns.
What we’re interested in testing: whether a passive, “autopilot” approach of letting algorithms scrub disparate government datasets can usefully predict potential instances of corruption or abuse of power.
Accessing Urban Development Regulations is an online platform that will house a collection of pertinent regulatory documents for urban development in Serbia.
It will bring together technical policy materials and shape them into publically understandable and accessible tools for citizen engagement in urban planning.
What we’re interested in testing: whether centralizing and distilling regulations that dictate community planning encourages citizens to push for development in favor of the public interest.
Police-Citizens Protocol is an approach designed to mitigate corruption in law enforcement in Mexico by distilling existing sets of complex law enforcement rules, which police officers in Mexico City are expected to follow, into simpler versions that citizens can invoke when approached unlawfully by law enforcement officers
What we’re interested in testing: whether government buy-in to enhanced citizen participation in accessing their legal rights can effectively mitigate law enforcement abuses.
“We are really excited about these five ideas,” said Nathaniel Heller, Global Integrity’s Executive Director. “They all reflect why we set out to do this fund, which was to put some money and effort behind some cutting edge and experimental approaches. These are all high risk, but potentially high rewarding investments.”
For Global Integrity, running TESTING 1 2 3 was an experiment in itself. Receiving 311 idea submissions from around the world in a two and a half-month application period was encouraging - it gave us reason to believe that providing access to a limited amount of capital could still draw out innovative ideas.
Our next goal is to learn through the prototyping process by working with each innovation team to guide and document insights. Our journey to “test quickly, fail forward, and learn iteratively” begins with these five ideas.
Thank you to all who applied, and congratulations to those selected!
--Video Credit: Julio Urdaneta, TESTING 1 2 3 Investees
There's been an ongoing debate within the OpenGov Hub recently around “sustainable” non-profits.
The basic concern is that traditional non-profit organizations are overly dependent on grants funding to keep the lights on and are at risk of going out of business whenever a grant or two falls through. The advice given by some colleagues is for non-profits to instead generate earned revenue from non-grant sources and act more like businesses in monetizing their assets.
I'm sympathetic with the goal of diversifying revenue streams but worry that the term “sustainability,” at least when applied to social sector non-profits, is a misleading term that steers many organizations towards a likely-to-fail strategy of trying to sell goods and services. A better approach for the vast majority of groups would be to diversify their philanthropic funding sources rather than attempt a proverbial bake sale. There are several myths contributing to this confusion that deserve some unpacking.
Myth #1: Selling goods and services to clients is easier than raising grants. I'd challenge anyone who thinks that closing a sale is materially easier than closing a grant. Having done both -- at Global Integrity and through our revenue-generating custom research service Foglamp -- I know firsthand that most commercial sales efforts are as labor intensive as any grant seeking process. This is particularly true when attempting to sell enterprise-grade services to large clients; the sales cycles are similarly long, require multiple layers of approval, and the bureaucracies involved can be daunting. In my view it's a wash as to whether raising a $200,000 grant from a foundation is any harder than selling a $200,000 service agreement to a commercial client. And the requisite skill sets are nearly identical: any good philanthropic fundraiser knows that what he or she is doing is classic sales work at the end of the day.
Myth #2: Selling goods and services to clients is more reliable than raising grants. Right, because the market's appetite for your goods and services will never change, and people will buy your widget forever. Probably not true. While grants fundraising is certainly subject to fads and trends, it's likely far less prone to whipsawing than the commercial market. No successful company sits ideally by assuming the market will always remain stagnant. The good ones are constantly attempting to innovate and get ahead of the curve. That requires real product development strategy and non-trivial investments into experimentation and R&D, capital-intensive processes that the typical non-profit is unlikely to be able to invest in adequately. So while it may be possible for a non-profit to bring a successful product or service to the markets once, the chances of that organization keeping up with the competition is slimmer. The long-term risks of being overtaken by market trends are significant.
Myth #3: Grants funding is erratic and time bound. True, but arguably no more of a challenge than your favorite client walking away after five years to use a different service provider or product. “Sustainable” firms or non-profits aren't ones that simply rely on the same pool of clients or donors for decades. They are constantly seeking more durable revenue streams and attempting to “upgrade” the quality of their sources of revenue. They are forced to embrace a constant churn in revenue sources. Speaking from personal experience, Global Integrity's three most important philanthropic donors from our first year in business (2006) haven't given us a dime in more than three years. Yet we've managed to nearly triple our overall revenue in that same time period by diversifying and upgrading the quality of our donors.
Should non-profits sit idly by and rely solely on traditional grants funding? Not necessarily. Supplementing grants funding with earned revenue streams can be an important safeguard against the vagaries of philanthropic donors while providing steadier sources of cash flow. But in the vast majority of cases, my instinct is that non-profits will achieve greater levels of stability and predictability in their funding streams -- that elusive “sustainability” -- by expanding their work streams and diversifying their philanthropic funding sources rather than trying to build businesses within the walls of the non-profit. Relying on a single project to bring in indefinite grants funding is indeed almost certain to fail. Instead, launching new projects and initiatives that fit the organization's strategy offers a chance to tap new and diverse sources of grants support year after year. That strikes me as a better approach to non-profit sustainability.
(Originally published at the TechChange blog)
Our OpenGov 101 Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) is a Semifinalist in the Knight News Challenge! Submitted in partnership with Global Integrity, we’re hoping to develop a global curricula to connect the open government community with the tools, experts, best practices, and organizations driving the field forward. While we still have some skepticism of MOOCs as a cure-all for online education and believe there are many ways to improve how MOOCs are executed, in this case we believe a MOOC format makes sense.
We believe the challenge for OpenGov isn’t just making new tools to open up governments, but empowering citizens to use those tools to pursue accountability and transparency. After all, open data has little value if people can’t use it (according to the Harvard Business Review), or as we put in our introduction to our Digital Organizing and Open Government course (Click here to see the video)
But don’t take our word for it. There are a number of very cool finalists in the remaining 40 in the refinement phase, so head on over and check them out if you like. We’ve left applause and feedback for a few already!
If you’re interested in contributing to our submission, here are three easy ways to get involved:
1) Celebrating #OpenGovDay on April 8.
April 8 marks three years since key provisions of President Obama’s Open Government Directive were due. We think this is a big deal worth celebrating – but we want to hear what you think.
Then – on April 8 – join our Tweet Storm by following and using hashtag #OpenGovDaythroughout the day. We’ll be retweeting the best #OpenGovIs submissions to amplify your voice – and we’ll be offering special deals on our new class – Digital Organizing and Open Government.
2) Feedback or Applause on our Submission
While “applause” won’t affect our entry’s chances of winning, it will give us a chance to see who finds our project interesting and give us a chance to reach out. If you have a comment or feedback, we’d love your ideas to refine and clarify our submission for the next phase.
3) Talk with Your Organization about Partnership for the Day.
Watch this space, but we’re looking for institutional partners for the day. Let us know if you’re interested! Just tweet at us or leave a comment on this post.
Positions are open indefinitely until filled. We are actively looking in these countries: Mali, Burkina Faso, Iceland, Japan, Korea, Norway, UAE, Qatar, Jamaica, Zambia, Namibia, Finland, Thailand, New Zealand, Chile, Mexico, Uruguay and Canada.
Global Integrity is embarking on a partnership with the World Wide Web Foundation to prepare the 2013 Web Index. The Web Index is the first multi-dimensional measure of the Web’s use, utility and impact. In 2012, the Web Index covered 61 developed and developing countries, incorporating indicators that assess the political, economic and social impact of the Web; in 2013 coverage will be increased to roughly 80 countries. The Web Index is a tool that helps advocates and policy analysts draw upon actionable measures to identify impediments and track improvements in Web access and affordability. The Web Index also helps inform decision-makers and regulators as to what changes can be made to Web governance in country to help achieve greater and more sustainable development outcomes.
This effort will require a global team of reporters and reviewers around the world to conduct original research and data gathering that will feed into the final 2013 Web Index. For information on the requirements and how to apply, please see the Fact Sheet below.
Who We Are Looking For: Professionals from the fields of journalism, non-governmental organization, academia and the private sector with proven record in performing high-quality interviews and desk research, meeting deadlines, and promptly responding to queries as part of a large research team. Interested candidates, including those colleagues who have worked with us before, should apply online by visiting http://www.tfaforms.com/279604 Positions are open indefinitely until filled.
Lead Researcher: An experienced journalist (preferred) or researcher with proven experience doing desk research, original interviews of key informants and obtaining other current hard information to assess social and economic issues. The indicators to be researched and scored for the Web Index involve some specific technical questions related to both technology and economic development, so knowledge of the Web, Web governance, and/or international development issues is preferred but not absolutely necessary.
A strong command of English is required. Lead researchers must be working in the country of study, be independent of government (having not served in a government position for at least three years), and have at least 5 years of relevant professional experience.
Reviewers: They play a key role in the data quality control process by reading and providing commentary on the information submitted by the Lead Researcher. They are asked to provide feedback on whether they feel an indicator is accurate, relevant and fair. Knowledge on Web architecture and systems, Web legal and regulatory frameworks, and use of the web for social, economic, or political development is required. A strong command of English is required. There will be three types of Reviewers:
-Country Reviewers: These are experts in a specific country and have a deep knowledge of the local reality in relation to the Web, Web governance, and/or international development issues.
-Functional Reviewers: These are experts with a deep knowledge of at least one of the core dimensions of the Web Index (institutional infrastructure, Web, communications, economic impact, political impact, gender, and social impact). They will review many if not all of the countries covered in the 2013 Web Index, but will only be asked to review the indicators that fall within their area of expertise for each of the countries.
-Regional Reviewers: They are familiar with the Web and information and communications policy in a particular region of the world. Regional reviewers will be asked to review all indicators for the countries that fall within their region of expertise.
Timing and necessary availability: Lead Researchers will begin their fieldwork in May 2013, have four weeks to submit answers to roughly 100 indicators (questions), and must be available to promptly clarify any aspect of their research through July 2013. Reviewers must be available to perform their review of the data between June and August 2013 and must be available to do the review at short notice and with a quick turn around (2-3 days).
Compensation: Compensation for Lead Researchers will be US$1,000 for gathering data, scoring the indicators and responding to queries and requests for feedback. Compensation for Country and Regional Reviewers will be approximately $200 per country reviewed, and for the Functional Reviewers it will depend on number of countries and indicators assigned for review. All contributors to the project will be publicly acknowledged.
Country coverage: Argentina, Australia, Bangladesh, Benin, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Ecuador, Egypt, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Korea (Republic of), Mali, Mauritius, Mexico, Morocco, Namibia, Nepal, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Russian Federation, Senegal, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, United Kingdom, United States of America, Venezuela, Vietnam, Yemen, Zimbabwe. New countries added April 15: Zambia, Rwanda, Botswana, Jamaica, Peru, Uruguay, Costa Rica, Malaysia, Hungary, Belgium, Netherlands, Estonia, Greece, Denmark, Czech Republic, Austria, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain.
Who We Are:
Global Integrity is anon-profit, non-partisan organization that champions transparent and accountable government around the world by producing innovative research and technologies that inform, connect, and empower civic, private, and public reformers seeking more open societies.
The World Wide Web Foundation is a non-profit organization devoted to achieving a world in which all people can use the Web to communicate, collaborate and innovate freely, building bridges across the divides that threaten our shared future.
Hazel Feigenblatt, Global Integrity’s Managing Director (pictured above), has been invited to become an observer of the Ibrahim Index (IIAG) Advisory Council, a body of eminent academic and professional experts in the field of governance that discusses ways to improve the Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG).
Global Integrity just completed the first round of the new African Integrity Indicators in partnership with the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. The indicators assess key social, economic, political and anti-corruption mechanisms at the national level in over 50 African countries and will be a new data source for the IIAG and will be available to the public soon.
“Given the close collaboration between Global Integrity (GI) and the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, the Advisory Council, and consequently the IIAG, will be strengthened by your contributions,” Dr. Mo Ibrahim, Chairman of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, said in a letter.
“At Global Integrity we have tremendous respect for their work and it is an honor to be asked to serve as an observer at the IIAG, a world-class, leading index,” Ms. Feigenblatt said.
A native of Costa Rica, Ms. Feigenblatt has led the Global Integrity Report, the African Integrity Indicators and other research projects at Global Integrity. She’s also a three time award-winning investigative journalist and a former Fulbright Humphrey Fellow.
-- Julio C. Urdaneta.
-- Photo by Feihu Li.
For Feihu Li, his time at Global Integrity has been one of discovery.
“I find Global Integrity’s work compelling,” Li, 35, said. “I have learned many things about transparency and accountability that I hope to bring to China.”
An accomplished news editor at the Beijing headquarters of Chinese news agency Xinhua, Li is in the middle of a year-long American experience as a Hubert Humphrey fellow, a program that offers non-degree academic studies and related professional experience in the United States for mid-career professionals.
Li has been interning with Global Integrity for one month, working with our office manager Christina Crawley organizing different events around the OpenGov Hub and helping Global Integrity with some special projects.
After his time at the Global Integrity headquarters in Washington, D.C., Li will continue to work on his academic fellowship before going back to China in June.
-- Julio Urdaneta
Last week, I had a chance to attend the three-year stocktaking retreat for the Transparency and Accountability Initiative, an important donor collaborative comprising several leading foundations and non-governmental organizations active at the international level in promoting government transparency and accountability.
During one of the discussions focused on the community's challenges around learning and evidence-based strategy, I raised a heretical point: are citizen feedback loops overhyped? The glib comment came in the context of a discussion around the new Making All Voices Count grand challenge for development, where several donors are committing nearly $50 million to seeding, scaling, and learning from citizen feedback loop interventions in the coming years. (It also came a day before a big World Bank-sponsored conference in Washington, Citizen Voices, focused on the very same topics.)
Shortly after the discussion, I was cornered by friends involved in the fund who asked the obvious question: what could be wrong with supporting citizen feedback loops? My response: I hope and believe they're important too, but do we have concrete evidence that citizen feedback loops are always a good thing? Are they an automatic net win, or are there circumstances under which encouraging the use of citizen feedback loops for participatory policymaking and/or service delivery monitoring might actually be detrimental? Do we really know any of this with certainty or is our enthusiasm for citizen feedback loops more aspirational than evidence-based?
While I was admittedly tired and punchy when I sought to stir the pot at the meeting, I've been reflecting further on the moment since. I posed myself the concrete thought experiment: do we know of a situation where encouraging the use of citizen feedback loops might have been a bad idea?
I came up with one interesting case that I'd value feedback on: the financial industry bailout in the United States in the fall of 2008. The $700 billion injection of capital into US financial institutions (eventually known as "TARP") was concocted in just days by an incredibly small number of elite policymakers and bureaucrats within the executive branch; Congress was barely consulted, never mind the public. Despite hand wringing over executive overreach, TARP was quickly passed and the growing historical consensus is that it was the right medicine at the right time to avert a financial depression.
Would TARP have worked had US policymakers taken the time to poll a million Americans via SMS to solicit their opinions on whether it was a good idea? I doubt it. The right approach in the fall of 2008 was most likely the exact opposite of a citizen feedback loop: top-down non-public policymaking.
The bailout is an admittedly extreme situation, but perhaps it suggests that we should at least identify typologies of scenarios where citizen feedback loops are likely to be helpful, harmful, or neutral. If nothing else, these thought experiments need to be vigorously debated before we launch a salvo of activity around Making All Voices Count, Yelp for Development, or any of the emerging proposals focused on promoting the use of citizen feedback loops. Citizen voice absolutely matters, but it may not always be the panacea it's assumed to be.
A group of Argentinean technologists, organized in a new political party, is taking a risky move to bring open government to the Legislature of the City of Buenos Aires (whose iconic tower is pictured above).
The nascent political organization, Partido de la Red (Net Party), seeks to propose and elect candidates to the legislature that will support ordinances and legislation based exclusively on the vote of regular citizens through a software platform, available on the Internet.
“Our political party is the software,” said Pía Mancini, director of Fundación Democracia en Red (Net Democracy Foundation), the organization behind the development of the platform. “Developing the software is the most important part. Our software seeks to take advantage of the intelligence of the collective.”
Users will undergo a vetting process before being able to use the software, Mancini said, to avoid manipulation of the voting mechanism. “We want to make sure that whoever votes is a member of the community who cares about the issue at hand, not somebody who will benefit of the outcome of a proposed legislation,” Mancini, 30, said.
The party has chosen to start with the legislature of Buenos Aires since the city boasts the largest number of Internet users in the South American nation, said technologist Santiago Siri, head programmer of the software platform. The Argentine capital, with a population of 12 million, is also mired in significant urban problems, from a chaotic transportation system and unreliable public services to rampant crime.
The new party is there not only to bring the people’s voices forward as a way to find solutions for these problems, Siri, 29, said, but as a way to reset the way democracy is conceived among citizens.
“We are not a revolution or a reform,” he said. “We are an upgrade.”
More info on this initiative is available (in Spanish) at their Wiki site.
Are there similar initiatives in your area? If so, have they been successful? What would you recommend to Mancini and Siri to make their idea better? Or do you think they are naïve in their approach? Share your thoughts in our comments below.
As noted by Nathaniel Heller in his blog post, “Why Non-Profits Don't Need to Learn to Code,” everyone does not need to learn to code, but I would argue that those who use technology (and these days that’s about everyone), should understand a few root concepts that are the underlying structure of creating files and data.
If the masses don’t learn fundamental concepts like creating data, text files using ASCII characters, Unicode, UTF-8 compliant, binary code and strings, then how will they understand the interaction between different programs and files that need to interact with each other in order to get their work done? If we are really going to do anything with all of the “big data” that exists in the world, we have to know how to properly format it for importation and exportation to different platforms or computer systems so things can work together in a more integrated fashion.
Today, thanks to designers and userface specialists, we don’t always think about the fundamental components that make technology function - the wheels, so to speak. But to really manipulate the world around us using technology, I believe that like learning math, writing, legalize, accounting and where your food comes from, people should also know how to save files in order to convert their data or text into other formats or programs and that some of these pretty to use interfaces are doing us a disservice.
I am afraid that if we don't step back and start to understand how design and coding complement each other, then we will be living in a world where the people who create technology and the people who consume it will not know how to integrate their systems, thus making technology a tool that creates more problems than it solves.
We have kept these problems in mind when developing a new side of our INDABA Platform, Control Panel. Its purpose is to enable clients of the platform to manage their own project setup and day-to-day management of a their project. Before we launch Control Panel I will spend a lot of time documenting our platform but just as many, if not more, educating people about how to use it.
This is very critical because importing information to and from INDABA is paramount for users who are building questionnaires and complex processes. Therefore, our partners/clients must understand the very basics that still works across all technologies.
As noted by our brilliant developer, Yan Cheng at Open Concept Systems, “this is why we don't/can't use EXCEL as the way to import/export data, because it is proprietary and has a useless ‘pretty layer’ as far as data exchange is concerned.” This is why we instead choose pure-text based, open-standard based approach, the CSV.
INDABA is an international platform that must support languages across the world. UTF-8 is extremely popular and mature, and is a recognized standard everywhere. The unfortunate is that MSFT software doesn't have good UTF-8 support (this still puzzles me why).
As a group working to bridge this technology and information gap, we will continue to document our experiences and provide thoughts on how the community as a whole can work through communication styles to ensure a more cohesive transference of information and data.
-- Monika Shepard
--Photo by Hazel Feigenblatt
What’s the image of our country?
This was just one among the many questions posed by participants at the “Solution in Institutions: Combating Corruption between the State and the Society” conference, held in Cairo, Egypt on Feb. 27 and organized by Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), working in partnership with the Federation of Economic Development Associations and the United Group. A picture of some of the attendees is shown above.
Facing the enormous challenges of democratic transition and uncertainties of the future, the over 120 participants in the conference seemed to be eager to tackle perhaps most daunting task for the new (and every future) Egyptian government – the role of state institutions in the fight against corruption.
Global Integrity participated in this conference talking about one of manifestations of bad governance that we have been particularly keen on in our research thus far – the problem of implementation gap between norms and regulations on the books and their implementation in practice.
Our organization and the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) recently co-authored a manual for key public stakeholders (the government, private sector and the civil society) on what are the origins of implementation gap, offering some concrete solutions for how to best address this problematic.
As the manual states in one of its opening lines – all too often the act of adopting a legal framework is regarded as an end in itself as it assumes that laws are administered and services delivered.
In addition, new democracies are way too often assessed on the basis of how many laws they have managed to adopt, rather than allowing them time to make these reforms meaningful, worth their efforts and – at their own pace.
Overly ambitious and unrealistic reforms can be very counterproductive. Instead of motivating people to action, they tend to add additional burden to the already overstretched capacities of national governments.
There is no silver bullet for how to approach the complex challenges of governing. Consequently, Global Integrity and CIPE don’t offer an ultimate solution for closing the implementation gap, let alone the other related issues. Nevertheless, we share the point that forcing governments into unrealistic reforms will ultimately over-bureaucratize and demotivate state administrations.
We are very encouraged by the input and questions from our Egyptian colleagues in the conference. With representatives of all three key stakeholders in attendance, their unequivocal support for realistic and sustainable long-term reforms in Egypt was very refreshing.
In our globalized world, the division between good and bad guys when it comes to transparency, accountability and governance in general is no longer plausible. Just like nations cannot be blamed for failed policies of their governments. At best, we can talk about better and worse governance solutions.
In this sense, we warmly salute the willingness and enthusiasm of participants in the conference, as well as all those in the Egyptian society who fight for better lives of their fellow citizens.
From what we could see in the conference, the image of Egypt is very positive.
And its future bright.
-- Marko Tomicic
--Photo courtesy of CIPE
Last week, South Florida-based public radio WLRN hosted the Help Us Make Tallahassee Accountable At Session 2013 Town Hall, co-sponsored by Global Integrity as part of its outreach efforts based on the results of the State Integrity Investigation.
An enthusiastic crowd 600-strong (as you can see in the photo above) packed the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale to question state legislators Sen. Chris Smith (D-Fort Lauderdale) and Senate Democratic leader Sen. Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater), also Chairman of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee, on issues affecting Floridians and help shape the priorities of the upcoming legislative session, such as voting reform, education, healthcare, political ethics and transparency.
Mary Ellen Klas, Tallahassee bureau chief for The Miami Herald, sat on the panel along with legislators analyzing the issues as they were asked by the audience.
The enthusiasm of participants and willingness to convey to politicians their dissatisfaction with the status quo underscored the irreplaceability of traditional civic engagement efforts in an era of government transparency “hackathons” (or any other funder’s favorite tool du jour). When citizens talk, politicians are forced to listen.
The effects of a lack of transparency and accountability spill beyond the technocratic realm to having real consequences on the lives of citizens. Undisclosed special interests in Tallahassee (and beyond in other state capitals) can distort the outcomes of policy and legislation resulting in increased costs of healthcare or higher property insurance rates, for example.
Hence, citizen participation when discussing these issues is paramount and must be encouraged, as it is the most effective advocate for reform. It must be placed at the heart of the movement for greater transparency and accountability. We in the technology and transparency community occasionally lose sight of this.
We are yet to find a good substitute for the hard work of organizing and using the media to squeeze the right pressure points to bring about change.
This is especially true in places like Florida, where an enfeebled civic infrastructure prevents the latent demand for good governance to which politicians respond to from bubbling up. In fact, one of the major successes of the State Integrity Investigation was that it created a groundswell of local news reporting that accelerated reforms in states.
Eschewing flashy technological tools in favor of traditional public engagement, the Town Hall was a step in the direction of putting citizens at the center of calls for change. The key now is to build on the momentum created by the event by tapping into the efforts of local groups such as Integrity Florida doing great work and continuing to use the media effectively. If successful, perhaps this back-to-basics approach can be a blueprint for other areas of our work (and those of other organizations locally or internationally).
The State Integrity Investigation’s tag line is Keeping Government Honest. We don’t harbor any illusions about the effort involved to make that happen. Bending the arc of governance towards greater transparency, accountability, and openness will take more than simply publishing a study released every few years or creating a slew of open data apps. It will require the continual rejection of political apathy in favor of sustained civic participation. The process will be slow but the results worth it.
-- Text and photo by Abhinav Bahl.
There's a new code.org celebrity video making the rounds that features tech luminaries such as Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Will.i.am (wait, you didn't know he was a technologist?) advocating the idea that all kids should learn to code. It's a well-produced video featuring famous luminaries and comes on the heels of an ongoing debate around whether all of us -- even the mayor of New York City -- should be able to program software.
I have two worries about the video: 1) it's wrong, and 2) peers in the social sector will perceive it as more proof positive that in order to have social impact in the 21st century you need to be able to build an app. I think there's a better approach: focus on empowering technology users, especially in the social sector, to make more intelligent decisions about their technology choices while allowing specialists to remain the actual coders.
Why You Shouldn't Learn to Code
The thrust of the code.org argument in favor of learning to code is that software is everywhere and runs everything, so if you don't know how to program software you are as dysfunctional as someone who can't read or write. This is flawed for more than one reason, not least of which because it implies that software programming is the most important skill set in our contemporary world.
As a thought experiment, here are a few other skill sets that I would argue are just as important (if not more important) than coding in that very same contemporary world:
1) The ability to understand legalese. If you think databases and code rule the world, understanding their Terms of Service is equally important. Facebook, Microsoft and Google only make money because you allow them to through acceptance of those dozens of pages of dense, massively lawyered TOS. Through the most recent wave of technology patent wars, we're now seeing lawyers, not programmers, take the driver's seat in dictating the evolution of the technology sector.
2) The ability to read a balance sheet. Basic accounting and finance skills are no less essential to survival in the current era as computer programming. What nearly caused a second Great Depression was not bad code but bad finance and shoddy accounting.
3) The ability to write well. It may not be in book form any more, but the ability to lay out and defend a cogent point of view in written form is an increasingly (and worrisomely) rare skill. The medium might have evolved to blogs, but thought leaders still shape the dialogue and push big new ideas onto the public consciousness because they are stellar writers, not because they can code. And big ideas still matter.
Is software an extremely important facet of contemporary life? Absolutely. Is it definitely more important than writing well, being able to call BS on an income statement, or the ability to intelligently push back when a lawyer pressures you to sign something? Absolutely not. So why aren't we pressuring everyone to go to law school, get an MBA, or take writing workshops?
A Happy Medium
Rather than advocate an absolutist approach that everyone should code, a more realistic and smarter tactic would be to encourage everyone to understand the basic tenets of computer programming, especially object oriented programming. This is akin to being able to push back on the lawyer even though you didn't go to law school, or to understand when a balance sheet smells fishy even though you're not a CFO. Encouraging everyone to be exposed to Computer programming 101 strikes me as a perfectly plausible idea because it would empower lay users to make more intelligent decisions about technology without having to absorb the massive opportunity costs associated with actually mastering the various programming languages.
Where I would argue we want to be is a place where more people understand the importance and relevance of key programming concepts such as data models, system architecture, APIs, and database structure rather than non-specialists being pressured into mastering Java, PHP, or C++. We should strive for an army of informed and empowered users who can make intelligent decisions about technology. When necessary, they can then intelligently hire and oversee specialists to perform the actual coding.
What it Means for the Social Sector
The universe in which I inhabit -- the social sector -- is notorious for being behind the curve when it comes to technology. The visceral response to that is often to assume that we therefore must embrace technology (whatever that means) and plenty of money and energy goes wasted in a quixotic attempt to turn advocates into hackers.
Rather than overreact to the code.org video (and the larger argument being pushed that everyone should learn to code), smart social sector actors would be wise to focus on becoming well-informed clients that can weigh the costs and benefits of key technology strategies and investments without having to actually implement the solutions themselves. In other words: become familiar enough with the jargon, terminology, products, and platforms to be able to make an informed decision…and stop there. To take a hypothetical: I don't want Human Rights Watch to suddenly launch a "labs" division with dozens of programmers cranking out apps. Instead, I want them to focus on what they do well (campaigning and legal work) while making smart and informed decisions about a) whether the need an app at all, b) who to hire to build the app, and c) how they (as the client) are integral to the discovery and needs assessment process.
The bottom-line: we don't all need to code. But we do all need to know when to call the coders.
A few months back, we launched TESTING 1 2 3, an innovation fund that received 311 submissions from applicants who proposed to test ideas all over the world, using varied approaches to innovatively address a mix of government transparency and accountability challenges.
Today, we are happy to announce the 10 ideas selected for the Lightning Round, the fund’s final step of vetting:
The Open Bank Project
A web application that allows bank account holders in the United Kingdom to share transaction level data with select viewers or the public more widely.
A collaborative web-based platform that aims to automate the production of regular corruption reports in Serbia through scraping and importing data records, and preforming real-time crosschecks.
Oops! They forgot about us!
A system designed to alert the Latvian public every time a law is drafted in absence of consulting key parties who may be affected by it.
Simply Visualizing Politics
A visual display of Macedonian politicians and their political views using strictly shapes and colors.
Database of Corrupted Sports Events
An illustration of sports corruption characterized by match fixing linked to global gambling markets.
Access to Spatial Regulations and Urban Development Policies
A web portal that aims to provide Serbian citizens with the opportunity to weigh in on urban planning and regulatory processes.
Wikipedia of Justice
A wiki of country laws aimed to make judicial information freely accessible.
Reporting Judicial Irregularities
A quick and easy application for attorneys to report misbehavior of court officials, breach of duties, non-compliance with procedural rules, and other irregularities in Argentine federal courts.
A simple toolkit that offers Mexican citizens basic, pertinent information on police protocol to protect against abuse and targeted forms of corruption.
A platform of crowdsourced photos documenting hidden lobbying activities in Spain that aims to make transparent issues of public interest that are currently off the record.
Innovators behind these ideas have been invited to prepare quick presentations and participate in extended question and answer sessions with the Global Integrity team. We want to get a deeper understanding of what the idea is, why it is important, how it will be tested, and the risks involved in doing so. This information will inform our final investment decisions, which we plan to announce in mid-March.
All decisions were made based on our selection criteria, and with the help of external expert advice on a case-by-case basis.
The overwhelming volume and impressive quality of ideas we received made our decisions difficult, but also delighted us to see such vibrancy in our own community.
We hope that applicants and others interested will continue to push the envelope with risky ideas for tackling challenges of corruption, transparency, and accountability. To assist in this, we want to direct your attention to the brief online idea descriptions of all the submissions we received, and invite you to leave comments and ask questions.
Thank you to all who applied, and congratulations to those selected to move on!
--Image Credit: szeretlek_ma / Flickr
Earlier this week, the Knight Foundation opened a new Knight News Challenge, this time focused on promoting innovative approaches to "open government." The announcement has received quite a bit of attention; any time you commit up to US$5 million in funding for something, people's ears tend to prick up.
We've spent plenty of time here at Global Integrity thinking about the definition, potential, and limits of open government in the past few years. We invest heavy amounts of effort into making the Open Government Partnership work and generally think that open government is a really good thing. Personally, I track the continued conflation of "open data" with "open government" over at this Tumblr.
In short, we pay very close attention to the uses and abuses of open government as a term of art. Here's what we're seeing so far come out of the Knight News Challenge on open government that both excites and worries us.
Open government = technology for governance?
Happily, the positioning and language behind the contest avoids the conflation of "open data" with "open government," which can be a very misleading mistake. Rather, what we are picking up is a tendency to equate technology, or more specifically citizens + technology, with open government. The contest is framed as a way to "improve the way governments and citizens interact," but virtually all of the examples involve leveraging technology or "civic hacking."
Don't get us wrong, we love technology; we even build software to advance our own work. But open government goes well beyond technology and software tools. It involves a fundamental reorientation of power and decision-making, two decidedly non-technical (but pretty important) things. We hope to see at least some contest entries focused explicitly around non-technology ideas.
We still don't know what open government really means.
We've discussed this ad nauseam elsewhere; see our "Working Definition of Open Government" for how we think the term might be defined. The Open Government Standards project is another place to find some ideas (although please let us know in the comments if anyone is keeping that alive…it seems to have gone silent).
The News Challenge takes a, well, relaxed approach to any sort of definition. Per the contest brief: "Our definition of 'open government' is broad, and ranges from small projects within existing structures to ambitious attempts to create entirely new ones. To use an architectural analogy, we’re interested in everything from putting a new coat of paint on the house to razing the house and replacing it with a geodesic dome."
So basically anything involving government, civic participation, and technology, one can surmise. We like the idea of not pigeonholing the contest through too narrow of a definition, but one wonders just how messy and disparate the entries might end up being without a sharper focus.
Absent an agreed definition, the "history" of open government remains controversial territory.
Knight seems to take the post-2009/U.S. Open Government Directive approach to this history:
"The idea of open government has had a rather winding journey—from the first datasets opened to the public, to apps for reporting potholes, to open systems that track the movement of disease across the world. Dedicated groups of talented people have attempted everything from opening IRS data locked in millions of PDFs to collectively writing legislation online."
Other scholars and practitioners strongly disagree, however, taking a far more expansive view of the movement. In their influential paper on the distinction between open data and open government, Harlan Yu and David Robinson trace the history of open government in the United States back to the post-World War II era. Early administrative reforms and advocacy efforts following the war in the United States, for example, would culminate in the Freedom of Information Act in 1966, an absolutely fundamental aspect of open government. To treat open government as something discovered in early 2009 when President Barack Obama and his team published the Open Government Directive is to ignore more than fifty years of prior work and some valuable perspective.
Cheers to Knight
While we might choose to craft certain aspects of this News Challenge differently ourselves, Knight should be commended for wading into this potentially controversial territory. If we're lucky, we'll see some impressive new ideas funded that will lead to answers for a number of the questions raised above.
The open government community is growing increasingly excited about what “Design Thinking” may bring to their work.
The basic design thinking approach is as follows: initial assumptions inform a prototype. The prototype is tested in the context envisioned for its use. Observations of user needs and behaviors are made, and the model is iterated upon accordingly.
Human-centered design is the application of design thinking to social problems. It offers a new approach to push for greater transparency and accountability in government.
With the rapid growth of human-centered design over the past few years, it is high time that the open government community, including technologists, international development experts, journalists and others, ask what we can learn from it.
“As Design Thinkers we understand that there are existing solutions that more or less work,” Wyatt said. “We want to make these more efficient and effective.”
Her recent visit to Washington DC included a pit stop at our office in the OpenGov Hub, and a brown bag lunch at the World Bank, where she presented concrete examples of Ideo.org’s work to illustrate design thinking.
One example was of how residents of Mexico City could save money more easily. Taking from what they had observed in Africa, Ideo.org set out to use mobile phones for banking. Their model changed when it became clear that the end users prefer to deposit their savings through a widespread system of ATMs in the capital city.
Another challenge Ideo.org sought to address was how to efficiently deliver clean water to households in Kenya. They proposed a subscription-based payment system for recipients, only to learn that locals were much more willing to pay up front because they were doing this for mobile phone payments.
Ideo.org wanted to see how they could adapt community-led sanitation from rural to urban areas in Ghana. They figured reporting open defecation would be most effective through SMS, but changed to the cheaper and more popular alert form of making a missing call.
Wyatt’s examples offer two key lessons for the open government community.
One, learn about practices that exist, and then see about improving them. Applying solutions that build off of existing practices can be more effective than bringing in entirely new ones. For example, while a central online open data portal could be useful for citizens, they may well prefer accessing government data through a more familiar institution such as their local library.
Second, accept that assumptions will be debunked. Testing will reveal which assumptions survive, which die, and which new ones develop. In a certain context, for instance, we may devote our energy to building tools for citizen data consumption, while learning that a more pressing challenge is proactive disclosure of that data.
If the open government community can learn to adapt to these new approaches in problem solving, we may begin to crack the code of reforming largely untouched issues like judicial opacity.
-- Art by Gregory Perez/Flickr.
We have been reviewing idea submissions for many weeks now and are nearly ready to take a shortlist to our final Lightning Round. Throughout the evaluation process, we made some unexpected observations. In one case, the shockingly different ideas we had called for missed a seemingly crucial step.
Whether it’s journalists tracking money flows in politics, mappers visualizing education disparities across communities, or non-profits publishing their Aid-funded projects, those working to illuminate public information, engage citizens in decision-making, and strengthen mechanisms for holding the responsible to account are using a myriad of tools.
Transparency, accountability, and participation, however, are vague enough terms to invoke them without targeting tangible challenges.
With these difficult-to-concretize goals, the T&A community shows signs of falling prey to a trap that generates tools, but begs the question, what are they for? Are they working to address problems, or are they in search of them?
At Global Integrity, we came face-to-face with this issue while vetting ideas submitted to our innovation fund, TESTING 1 2 3.
A select few tools grabbed our attention right off the bat, owing to their innovativeness – unique designs that excited us because we had never heard about them before. It was only when we reviewed them more carefully that we noticed a shared failure to “address a specific, identifiable challenge,” one of our key criterion for selection.
Flashy ideas, such as transforming the functionality of a common tech tool or finding a niche application for an adopted method, can run the risk of leapfrogging the goal and landing at the solution.
The question is, does this matter? Are we at risk of producing tools that yield disappointing results? Or can there be unexpected benefits to them – for example, can a tool conceived to help X end up fixing Y?
Send us your examples to help answer these questions. We want to figure out the best way to approach this issue and steer research and innovation towards the challenges we seek to address.
--Photo Credit: Beshef/Flickr
Our friends at The Transparency & Accountability Initiative (T/AI) are launching a pilot mentorship program in response to needs identified by organizations at the TABridge Sessions for increased strategic technology hands‐on skill building.
This year, six to nine organizations will be selected to participate in a five‐month customized program.
Selected organizations will be partnered with a Mentor to support them in developing uses of technology to help achieve their mission and goals, and in the process, develop sustainable skills for strategic thinking and implementation for technology project.
For information on how to apply, please visit their website.
Global Integrity is pleased to formally publish a new data set assessing governance and anti-corruption measures at the local level in the Philippines, the Philippines Local Governance Transparency and Accountability Indicators. The indicators were jointly developed by the La Salle Institute of Governance (LSIG) and Global Integrity with input from a variety of Filipino stakeholders.
The indicators assess the strengths and weaknesses of mechanisms designed to promote transparency and accountability in Philippine local governance. With the city/municipal level as the basic unit of analysis, the ultimate objective of the indicators is to systematically identify best practices and areas for improvement, thereby empowering local stakeholders to plan and implement evidence-based policy and institutional reforms to strengthen transparency and accountability in local governance.
Gathered in ten of the country’s most important municipalities and cities, the indicators include a total of 205 specific questions that were scored by local researchers through a combination of intensive desk research and hundreds of original interviews with local stakeholders. These indicators are spread over six categories representing various aspects of transparency and accountability in local governance. The categories are:
- Civil Society, Public Information and Media
- Local Elections
- Local Government Accountability
- Local Fiscal Processes
- Local Civil Service
- Local Regulatory Functions
Ten municipalities were assessed: Balanga City, Carmen, Lapu Lapu City, Lawann-Eastern Samar, Miag ao-Ilollo, Quezon City, Santa Maria-Laguna, Tacurong City-Sultan Kudarat, Taytay-Rizal, and Zamboanga City.
The Philippines present an intriguing case of local governance reform because of its experiments with decentralization and grass roots participatory democratic governance, especially with the passage of the Local Government Code of 1991. The Code provides local governance/administrative units of municipalities and provinces, i.e., the barangay, more autonomy in fiscal, executive, and legislative decision-making. Stress is placed throughout on active citizen participation in local governance such as the delivery of public services. Despite the importance of the devolution of power to local governance units, however, there are still relatively few empirical studies of the operations of local governance particularly at the barangay level. The indicators we’ve published through this project are a contribution to building more robust evidence-based studies of Philippines local governance.
Ultimately, the local assessments aim to generate data that could be used in discussions about policy and institutional reforms that promote greater transparency and accountability in local governance. The overall goal is to contribute to these discussions both within the local areas included in the assessment, as well as outside these areas, whether at the national level or in other cities and municipalities in the country.
The project indicators are based on an extensive review of the transparency and accountability literature, and an examination of what are relevant in the Philippine local context. These mechanisms comprise “best practices” for improving transparency and accountability that have been found to work well in various parts of the Philippines and internationally. They include public disclosure requirements, conflicts-of-interest regulations, oversight institutions, citizen participation, and rules that limit discretionary decision-making. In a democratic context, the role of elections as potentially powerful mechanisms for public accountability is also included.
The indicators, taken in their entirety, aim to capture the extent to which these mechanisms for improving transparency and accountability are in place (existence indicators), whether the design of these mechanisms indicate that they are likely to work (effectiveness indicators), and whether citizens are able to adequately utilize these mechanisms (access indicators). The Philippines local indicators therefore contain a combination of de jure and de facto indicators that look at laws and institutions “on the books,” as well as their implementation and enforcement in practice.
Findings at a Glance
Preliminary findings from these municipalities include:
• A significantly large “implementation gap” (i.e., the difference between a municipality’s legal framework and the implementation and enforcement of those laws) in Taytay-Rizal. These gaps are especially pronounced in the areas of citizen access to certain public information (e.g., procurement records), input in budget allocations and decision-making as well as the effectiveness of the audit agency.
• Relatively strong transparency institutions and accountability mechanisms in barangays across municipalities. The exception is Taytay-Rizal, where citizens’ capacity to participate in barangay assemblies are constrained in part because of small venues and the perception by some that the assemblies are legitimation tools for officials.
• Although local CSOs are active in the policy-making process in municipalities, the level of their participation is uneven. Some CSOs meet with Local Special Bodies frequently, while in other municipalities such as Quezon City only selected CSOs are allowed to participate, thus raising questions about their impartiality.
• Weak accountability mechanisms in political financing. Regulations on individual funding support for candidates, in particular, are unevenly enforced in Lapu Lapu City, Quezon City, and Taytay-Rizal. However, robust investigations of individual campaigns are more evident in Zamboanga City.
• Poor legal framework that protects whistle-blowers against recrimination and other negative consequences in several municipalities.
-- Photo by Missy and The Universe
Global Integrity is working on several data-intensive research projects, including the relaunch of the Global Integrity Report, the African Integrity Indicators project and the World Wide Web Foundation’s Web Index, and is recruiting an experienced manager to lead its in-house data-centric research projects moving forward from our Washington DC office. See below the details and how to apply.
Feel free to contact me if you have any questions.
-- Hazel Feigenblatt.
Global Integrity - Organizational Description
Global Integrity (http://www.globalintegrity.org) produces high-quality research and creates cutting-edge technology to advance the work of a global network of civic, public, and private reformers pursuing increased transparency and accountability in governments. In addition to our core team, we collaborate with a global network of more than 1,500 in-country contributors and partners who take our technologies, tools, and information to where they are most useful – the local level.
Global Integrity is known in particular for its expertise in developing quantitative indicators to assess the existence, effectiveness, and citizen access to accountability mechanisms at the national, sub-national, and sector levels. Across all of its fieldwork at the national, sub-national, and sector levels in more than 100 countries, the organization has designed, fielded, and published more than 80,000 quantitative indicators of accountability, transparency, and anti-corruption mechanisms.
The organization has won an Ashoka "Changemakers" award and an “Every Human Has Rights” award from The Elders and Internews; its methodology for assessing the existence and effectiveness of anti-corruption mechanisms is described by the World Bank as "best practice."
Research Manager – Global Integrity is currently working on several data-intensive research projects, including the relaunch of the Global Integrity Report, the African Integrity Indicators project and the World Wide Web Foundation’s Web Index, and is recruiting an experienced manager to lead its in-house data-centric research projects moving forward. The position includes the following responsibilities:
· Developing quantitative survey questions focused on transparency, accountability, governance and development issues at the national, sub-national, and sector levels
· Recruiting and virtually managing teams of in-country contributors and respondents
· Capacity building, training, and providing detailed feedback and guidance to researchers and contributors
· Performing detailed, intensive quality control over the resultant data points (in the thousands), including fact checking and editing
· Coordinating all logistical tasks associated with such research projects (including contracts management, payments management, and deadline management)
· Designing outreach and dissemination activities, including public workshops, to promote uptake of published projects
· Representing the organization at conferences and networking events as necessary
Location: Washington DC
Ideal Skill Set
Global Integrity attracts employees from the most distinctive professional and academic backgrounds. There is no cookie cutter ideal candidate for any position at Global Integrity. We are instead more interested in an individual’s drive, professionalism, and entrepreneurial energy. For this particular position, the following factors will strengthen an applicant’s candidacy:
· 5-10 years of relevant experience in journalism, international affairs, and/or political science
· 5-10 years of experience developing survey questionnaires and ensuring consistent application of research methodologies
· Command of transparency, accountability, governance and development issues at the national, sub-national, and sector levels
· 5 years minimum experience in project management, including tracking contracts, payments, deadlines, workflow design, and virtual management of large teams of researchers
· Excellent writing and editing skills, preferably with experience in both short and long form (from blog posts to white papers)
· Excellent English required; other language desired (particularly French and Spanish)
· Resourcefulness performing online research and disposition to provide guidance to others
· Existing networks of professionals around the globe that can be leveraged for recruiting purposes
· Attention to detail, ability to perform on tight deadlines, and proven ability to communicate clear and concise instructions to team members
· Proven ability to set priorities, manage time effectively, handle multiple on-going projects
· At least a graduate degree in a relevant area of study, including, but not limited to, journalism, public policy, international relations, comparative politics, or development studies.
· Comfort in a perpetual start-up environment requiring extensive “self-starter” and “problem-solver” skills with minimal bureaucratic safety nets or backstopping
Our office environment (now spread between Washington, New York, and Cape Town) requires openness, collaboration and flexibility. Our staff has an uncommon diversity of responsibilities: from high-level strategy to online messaging to logistics issues (we book our own travel and fix our own computers), everyone contributes. You will develop new skills in this job; expect to learn and adapt constantly. We are very much a learning organization.
We have a “no jerks” policy; you will be supported by results-oriented yet frequently cheerful coworkers whose primary mode of social engagement is based on trust and respect.
International literacy and cross-cultural sensitivity are considered core competencies.
Global Integrity provides full health and disability benefits, as well as a modest life insurance policy, to all full-time employees and currently pays 100% of the premiums associated with those benefits. Holiday and sick time are also provided. Compensation package will be commensurate with the successful candidate's experience..
How to Apply
We will only be accepting applications for this position online via the following web form:
After reviewing submitted applications, we anticipate calling back a small number of potential candidates for individual interviews via phone or in-person (if possible). A final short-list of candidates will ideally be interviewed in person in Washington DC in mid-March. We are happy to answer additional questions directly (see Contact Information below), but all interested applicants must use the online form to apply for the position.
Deadline for Application: This position is open indefinitely until filled.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: I am not an American citizen but I’m interested in applying for this position. Will you sponsor a work visa for me?
A: Possibly. We do not want immigration issues to stand in the way of a great match for this position. Apply and let’s see where the discussion goes.
Q: You use the word “data” often in describing your work. Do I need to have statistical and/or econometric skills to apply for this position?
A: No, though familiarity with and/or command of basic statistical and econometric skills is welcomed. We tend to view the data we generate as an entry point to what are often highly political, qualitative discussions and policy choices around governance reform. We have less faith in the ability of multivariate regressions or factor analyses to shed meaningful light on those discussions in practice.
Q: Do I need to be an anti-corruption “specialist” to apply for this position?
A: No, though familiarity with issues of governance, transparency, and corruption are necessary.
Hazel Feigenblatt, Managing Director
Governments and citizens of 82 countries - among them Russia, Venezuela, Australia and South Africa - can gain insights on corruption in the defense sector thanks to Transparency International’s Defense and Security Programme’s Government Defense Anti-Corruption Index.
The index provides detailed analysis of the risk areas (financial, personal, operations and procurement) that are exploited by the defense sector.
Out of the 82 countries assessed, 70% (or 52 countries) were found to have high to critical risks of corruption, according to the index.
Here at Global Integrity, we are very happy to have played a part in the success of the report by providing methodology guidance (noted on page 47 of the report) as well as facilitating the use of our Indaba Platform.
“Without Indaba, we couldn’t have done it!” said Dr. Oliver Cover, the main author in this project.
The index has attracted the attention of international media, with mentions on CNN, Al Jazeera and other leading news outlets around the world. The team that produced the index also complied a great website which highlights the actions that each group can take to ensure more transparency, accountability and less corruption within this sector.
We are proud of our partners at Transparency International and hope that this report serves as a wakeup call to people around the world that anti-corruption measures need to be taken to curb the US$ 20 billion a year global cost of corruption in this sector.