For many in Kenya, their government is a black box. Attendance records for members of Parliament are kept secret, and the Parliament website has little to no information on its members. Frustrated by this flagrant lack of transparency, Ory Okolloh co-founded the website Mzalendo to keep an eye on her government. She was motivated by the challenge of acting, rather than just complaining, and because, “if you let them get away with stuff they will.”
Concerned citizens, developers, and bloggers around the world are using the internet to promote transparency, accountability, and civic engagement. In Jordan, where complaints “are really a tradition,” Waheed Al-Barghouthi helped start Ishki, a clearinghouse for Jordanian griping online. In Chile, Felipe Heusser and Rodrigo Mobarec started Vota Inteligente, a website that fact-checks politicians and gives Chilean citizens more information about their government officials.
Projects like these are often disjointed, addressing specific needs of their communities without realizing that there is a vast network of people around the world working on the same problems. The new Technology for Transparency Network is trying to change that by bridging the gap between bloggers and civil society and fostering collaboration among disparate civic-engagement and good-governance projects.
In the next three months, the Technology for Transparency Network will produce 32 case studies of different good-governance projects and 16 blog posts highlighting other projects. In an interview with Utne.com, David Sasaki, the research director of the Technology for Transparency Network, says that the project is trying to figure out “what works well and what doesn’t and sharing that information.” The network plans to challenge project leaders to figure out how their work could creat concrete, offline change. With help from the network, projects could potentially attract funding from organizations like the Omidyar Network, which funds the Technology for Transparency Network.
The first three projects have already been chosen, and, according to Sasaki, the Technology for Transparency Network is already fostering cooperation between different good-governance groups. Eight researchers are sifting through the web, trying to figure out which websites, Facebook groups, or government projects will be highlighted next. Sasaki said, “a difficulty here is that there are so many new media for transparency projects coming up left and right,” and it’s hard to choose which ones are best suited for the network.
Volunteer researchers are also being asked to collaborate with the site in researching and interviewing founders of different projects. Anyone who’s willing to invest a few hours is able to work with the Technology for Transparency Network and help figure out how technology is able to promote good governance and civic engagement. The project is an opportunity to do what Okolloh tried to do with Mzalendo and say, “Enough talking, some acting.”