Like many Indian Americans I knew growing up, I loved math. My parents – an engineer and a chemist – always made it look fun. I took Kumon lessons to boost my skills, and I enjoyed solving algebraic equations so much that I used the Delta sign (D) as shorthand for “change” in all my classroom notes. Yes, I was a nerd.
As Testing 123 investees dive into prototyping this week, we are confronted with the challenge of strategizing the best ways to capture experiential learning. We begin with this assertion: in six months we want to take stock of evidence that prototypes offer (or fail to offer) in tackling their target problems.
In search of how to achieve this, I am reminded of my math training and, specifically, Delta as a mathematical concept that denotes the difference in unit change, measurable only with a “before” and an “after.” If applied to Testing 123 experiments, determining Delta outcomes will demand having a clear idea of what exists today before we can understand the meaning of results.
Taking this further, investors in social change have hypothesized, and research has supported, that results are most meaningful when we make certain key observations at an early stage. Namely, it is important to appreciate the context where reforms are to occur because the confluence of social, political, economic and historical factors will influence results. A deep contextual analysis will also go a long way in framing what would persist in the absence of reforms: the counterfactual we want to define before prototypes create change.
To put this thinking into practice through our own monitoring and evaluation, we went straight to the experts: Testing 123 investees. We asked them to describe the environment in which their prototypes will operate, including the current state of transparency and accountability as it relates to their specific challenge objectives (e.g. under-the-radar lobbying, flip-flop politics, corruption in law enforcement).
To start us off, here are the first two stories:
Deeply entrenched practices plague the Macedonian political system.
Parliament is split in two ways: nationally and politically. Nationally, there are two major Albanian and two major Macedonian political parties. Politically, there is an unwritten rule that the winning Macedonian party will form a government with the leading Albanian party.
Party platforms are usually a combination of nationalist and populist, which makes it difficult for voters to distinguish between them. It also camouflages an enduring avoidance by political leaders to act on significant issues like the poor state of the domestic economy and integration into the EU and NATO.
Politicians in power stay in power in Macedonia. Some leaders have held their position for many years regardless of whether they have won or lost elections. A common tactic to becoming an ‘evergreen’ politician is to continuously change political parties, complicating any chance of others accurately pinpointing your political profile.
“Simply Visualizing Politics” aims to make these trends, and others like them, evident through their data visualization tool to raise citizen awareness and encourage the public to hold their politicians to account.
Spain is on the brink of an international bailout due to a large public deficit, which has forced the government to introduce an austerity plan targeting critical basic services like health and education. Adding fuel to the fire is a persistently low level of public accountability, and a lack of basic tools to improve it – not least of which is the absence of a law regulating lobbyists or requiring their registration, and zero plans exist to change this.
Spain is the last large country in Europe without a Freedom of Information (FOI) law, though many years of civil society activism have recently led to a draft being introduced. Even so, the law will not be effective until 2014, and excludes access to information about top public officials’ meetings and events. This leaves the door wide open for public officials to engage in “private” activities that are in fact in the public interest.
Lobbying, as it often occurs in public spaces in Spain, is continually captured by citizens regardless of requests for formal access to official agendas being repeatedly denied. Photos of lobbying are leaked regularly but seldom leave a trace, since they are shown briefly in the media and out of context.
By combining online journalistic storytelling with photos, “Who Rules?” will exploit this opportunity to highlight unmonitored lobbying, not as a disjointed issue affecting only a few but as a political challenge highly connected to the greater economic breakdown of the country that affects all of its citizens.
More to come next time: stale approaches to accessing public information in Serbia and discriminatory law enforcement in Mexico.
— Nicole Anand
— Photo Credit: Flickr / nene9; Flickr / Stojan Toshe Nikolovski