The Meedan Blog Archive

Open Up!: How can Open Data, Civic Engagement and Technology Make Governments More Accountable?

Transparency advocates from as far afield as India, Africa and the Middle East gathered in London on Tuesday to share their experiences working on open data and civic engagement projects in some of the world's most gruelling political environments.

Attendees at the Open Up! event in London's 'Tech City' spoke eloquently about their attempts to put technology to the goal of greater openness and citizen empowerment in their countries, despite what some reported as profound infrastructure constraints, government hostility and even harassment.

Highlights included 'Yemi Adamolekun's introduction to Enough is Enough, a Nigerian campaign designed to equip young Nigerians to learn about and influence policy debates, and Kepha Ngito's work mapping the Kibera district in Kenya, a poor area of Nairobi that until recently was not officially considered to exist and so denied resources.

From Egypt, Manal Hassan introduced Arab Techies, a grassroots project she founded to network technologists and help them gear their work towards community building and accountability goals. Gautam John spoke articulately about an information access project he developed in Bangalore focused on improving education.

There was an atmosphere of pragmatism as attendees agreed that technology alone could not solve intractable problems in the developing world, and elsewhere. Rakesh Rajani, an information access initiative from Tanzania, talked with brutal honesty about project failures and the risks of relying on logframes, rather than adaptive iterative development.

Supported by the Omidyar Network and the UK's Department for International Development, the event also brought together a number of government officials working in aid and Human Rights promotion. Justine Greening, the UK Secretary of State for International Development, announced a $50m joint fund with USAID and Omidyar focused on civic participation and voice. She also told delegates that she had just joined Twitter.

From the Tech world, Tim O'Reilly spoke of his vision for a government as platform, providing developers with a standard setting in which to innovate new tools to improve government service delivery and openness. Ethan Zuckerman described how he saw the growth of participatory media as enabling a 'new civics' in which technologists and campaigners from the developing world were taking the lead.