The Technology for Transparency Network is a research and mapping project that aims to improve understanding of the current state of online technology projects that increase transparency and accountability in Central & Eastern Europe, East Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, South Asia, and the former Soviet Union. The project is supported by the Transparency and Accountability Initiative, a donor collaborative that includes the Ford Foundation, Hivos, the International Budget Partnership, the Omidyar Network, the Open Society Institute, the Revenue Watch Institute, the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID) and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
Over the past few years we have observed the formation of an expanding and increasingly global movement of technology and digital media projects aimed at promoting government transparency, accountability, and public participation in political processes. In Kenya, Mzalendo seeks to make information more accessible from the proceedings of the country’s parliament. In Jordan, Ishki aims to involve citizens in developing solutions to civic problems. Vota Inteligente in Chile promotes government transparency by informing Chilean citizens about corruption and policy debates through the use of social media.
As traditional media companies are forced to cut their budgets because of falling advertising revenue, investigative journalism and international coverage are the two most common areas to be disappear. David Simon, in his testimony before Congress about the death of the newspaper industry, said that with a vacuum of investigative journalism, "it is going to be one of the great times to be a corrupt politician." Meanwhile, Transparency International's 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index reveals that corruption is still a severe and worldwide problem.
However, there is also growing enthusiasm about the use of social media as a powerful tool in promoting transparency and fighting against corruption. But how does the use of technology to promote transparency differ across regions, cultures, and types of governance? What skills and expertise are missing from the current technology for transparency projects? What types of relationships have they formed with media, government, and civil society organizations to increase their impact? We will document in-depth as many technology for transparency projects as possible to gain a better understanding of their current impact, obstacles, and future potential.
Global Voices has long been reporting about uses of digital media and technology to improve governance and fight against corruption. Several veteran Global Voices contributing authors are joined by leading transparency activists around the world to make up our team of researchers and research reviewers. We are also fortunate to count on the experience and insight of a board of advisors made up of the leading thinkers in the field of transparency and good governance.
In identifying projects to study, we have attempted to apply a set of criteria to ensure that we are focusing on the most promising set of cases. Our selection criteria looked at whether the projects met the following conditions:
- The projects had a clear objective of producing data that can be used to support transparency and accountability efforts by: a) collecting and presenting data; and/or b) republishing or repackaging existing data in a way that makes it usable.
- Technology tools were essential to the development or existence of the projects.
- The technology tools and quality standards seemed coherent enough to assume that the projects had a reasonable possibility of accomplishing their stated objectives.
- The projects demonstrated collaborative approaches or had the potential to develop them. This refers to whether the projects appeared capable of establishing links with other actors who could boost or accelerate the objectives of the projects. In some cases, collaborative strategies are already in place; in others cases, they do not yet exist, but the projects seem capable of eventually developing them. This research did not intend to evaluate the impact of each one of these projects nor did it conduct an in-depth analysis of each project within its local context. The objective of the research was rather to collect a sufficiently large sample of projects to document current trends and show a snapshot of the current state of the field.
We realize that these are busy times and that few readers will be able to read all of the thorough case studies, background discussions, and tool profiles that we publish. For this reason we have created a podcast that features short interviews with leaders of some of the most interesting technology for transparency projects that we come across. You can click on this link to subscribe to the podcast in iTunes.
In May 2010, we also published a traditional PDF report that reviewed our first 37 case studies and highlighted the most innovative and effective tools and tactics related to technology for transparency projects. A second report will be published in late 2010 that expands upon these conclusions based on our second phase of research.
Our research will complement — and collaborate with — the work being done by like-minded mapping, discussion, and toolset projects including ParticipateDB, Participedia, the International Association for Public Participation, the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation, ePractice, MobileActive's mDirectory, and LocalLabs.
For years now there has been an ongoing debate about whether the Internet is good or bad for democracy. But we have few case studies and even fewer comparative research mappings of Internet-based projects that aim to improve governance, especially in countries outside of North America and Western Europe. Hopefully the Technology for Transparency Network will lead not only to more informed debate about the Internet's impact on democracy, but also to more participation and interest in projects that aim to empower and improve the livelihoods of citizens who were previously excluded from political participation.