Dakar, Senegal was host city to UNDP’s recent Africa Forum on Civil Society and Governance Assessments. It brought together researchers, development practitioners and technology experts from more than 30 countries to reflect on best practices in civil society and governance assessments and how to promote democratic governance through increased accountability and inclusive participation (buzzwords!). A selection of digital platforms and innovations were presented to showcase how technology can be harnessed to make governance assessments more efficient and empowerordinary citizens. This post focuses on the technology and innovation session at Dakar and the perceived limitations of these tools in an African context.
In terms of challenges to leveraging technology towards governance efforts in Africa, access to electricity, having a computer, and access to the internet are three obvious ones. Although poverty is a constraint to the use of mobile phones, with more than half a million cellphone users in Africa, it is clear that there is a critical mass of people with access to information through their mobile devices. Although some argue that having money to use the mobile phone is another barrier, studies have shown that people are willing to use their money on phone credit to leverage more resources.
Other constraints discussed were the actual research skills and expertise needed to participate in governance assessments. However, interesting innovations have been developed to “meet people where they are.”Not all technologies require sophisticated skills and hardware:Episurveyor, Ushahidi, Huduma and FrontlineSMS are good examples of innovative platforms that integrate sms technology and basic computers– tools already available to users. Take for example Huduma’s “fix my constituency” approach – these tools allow citizens to send their complaints, concerns or suggestions via SMS, video or voice directly to their authorities to demand action.Here, existing hardwareis used to make data collection more efficient, accessible and able to incorporate the voices of ordinary citizens.
Global Integrity was invited to present our Indaba fieldwork platform at the conference as another example of software that makes data collection easier, especially for distributed field teams of researchers with access to the Web. We are currently employing Indaba to gather data for the indicator set that we will be fielding in early 2012 with contributors from all 54 African countries. This independent data set will eventually feed into the Ibrahim Index of African Governance.
"Ex Africa semper aliquid novi", noted Pliny the Elder [editor’s note: our heads just exploded]. Indeed, Africa is constantly evolving with technology playing an increasing role in helping organisations work smarter and have more impact. However, to make the information gathered meaningful, innovative tools do not replace the need for sound methodologies, rigorous research, and robust analysis. Technology is a tool but not a “catch all” solution. It is a means to an end.
— Dadisai Taderera