Via Global Voices, I just read this
fascinating summary of case studies from Technology for Transparency.
The group maps and evaluates technology projects that promote transparency, accountability
and civic engagement around the world. According to the review, efforts are
underway in Brazil,
China and even Zimbabwe - all using Web 2.0 social media
and mashups to shed light on shady government practices and support the power
of citizens to hold their political leaders accountable.
The importance of these efforts is hard to overstate. Young
World countries are often poorly served by their governments. The corruption,
tribalism and brutality of petty politicians immiserates ordinary people,
stifles innovation, and confounds the expression of talent. The tactic of politicians,
both in government and in opposition, is to co-opt the frustration that they
help create, and leave people feeling that they have no choice but to join one
movement or another, even though their own voices and concerns are not heard.
These various local projects hold promise in areas where
previous efforts at political reform have failed, partly because they leverage useful,
widely-popular technology platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Google Maps
that give power to individuals, but also because they fit with the norms of the
burgeoning Net Generation whose numbers are rapidly growing across the Young
World. They mobilize the appetite for change and progress inherent in a
generation whose expectations have been shaped by exposure to the wider world,
using channels that are harder for entrenched local interests to block or
Most if not all of these initiatives are the result of
independent entrepreneurship: innovation from the bottom up. The rapid spread
of ubiquitous networks has not only given local activists and ordinary citizens
the tools to address long-standing problems of governance that have hampered
the social and economic development of their countries, but has also connected
them to the transnational network of developers, opinion-leaders, and institutional sponsors who can provide
critical support to amplify their voices.
Technology for Transparency exemplifies the kind of
institutional support that these organizations need: attention and resources
that nurture local innovation, not top-down, command-and-control leadership.
The sophistication inherent in this effort is impressive and uplifting. The
wins here may be small and local, but they point the way toward authentic
progress rather than the hollow sloganeering and fake populism that usually results
from efforts at government reform.