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Technology for Transparency Review, Part VI

Technology for Transparency Network This post is part of the Technology for Transparency Network where we research technology that promotes accountability and transparency worldwide· All Posts

Over the past week we have published a number of posts to present our conclusions and recommendations to the technology for transparency movement by focusing on specific categories of projects: aid transparency, budget monitoring, election monitoring, civic complaints, and parliamentary informatics.

Those five categories encompass the vast majority of projects that we documented throughout our research. However, there are five other categories of technology for transparency projects that are also worth reviewing from a thematic perspective.

Crime Mapping

A number of websites have cropped up over the past few years in the United States and United Kingdom to add transparency and accessibility to crime reports from municipal police departments. CrimeMapping.com, Oakland Crimespotting, CrimeMapper, LAPD Crime Maps, CrimeReports, SpotCrime, Crimedar, and EveryBlock (which began in 2005 as ChicagoCrime.org) are just a few such examples. Outside of the United States and United Kingdom the majority of crime mapping projects seem to be based in Latin America, which claims 8% of the world's population, 40% of world's homicides, and 66% of kidnappings.

WikiCrimes.org is a collaborative, global, multilingual mapping of crimes around the world that is built with WikiMapps software. It was conceived by Vasco Furtado, Professor at the University of Fortaleza, Brazil where he coordinates a research group in “Knowledge Engineering.” All data can both be imported and exported in the open standard KML format. WikiCrimes currently has 13,117 reports of crime, almost all of which are based in Brazil. Reports can be filtered by category, time, and credibility. Users can sign up for notifications of crime reports based on their customized filters, and there is a beta mobile application available in Portuguese. All crime reports are ranked by their number of views, comments, and confirmations, and are re-distributed via Twitter. Users can confirm crime reports by linking to relevant news items or video and photographic evidence of the actual crime. So far the most commented crime is a homicide that took place on March 29, 2008 at 11 in the evening in Sao Paulo. It has received 22 positive confirmations, one negative confirmation, and four comments.

wikicrimes.org

Delitos Ecuador is a project of Fundapi which uses Ushahidi to collect and aggregate crime reports in Ecuador. Reports can also be submitted via Twitter using the hashtag #delitosEC. The Illegal Drug Trade Map in Argentina combines a blog with a Google map. It was created by the Argentinian Association Against Drugs and enables citizens to learn more about the illegal drug trade in Argentina, and to submit locations where they have seen drug dealing take place. Panamá Transparente uses Ushahidi to aggregate and map reports about crime in Panama. Iluminemos Mexico is a citizen network against violence in Mexico that maps crimes and invites users to discuss and implement solutions to internal security problems. Outside of Latin America, Sithi is a Cambodian human rights portal that aims to crowdsource and curate reports of human rights violations across multiple human rights organizations.

Recommendations:

While most crime mapping websites in the United States visualize official crime data from municipal police departments, which can then be confirmed and commented on by users, all of the crime mapping projects we documented depend on individual citizens to provide the information. This is likely due to the fact that police departments in most of the world still do not publish their crime reports, much less in a structured format that can be automatically mapped and re-purposed. We recommend to crime mapping project coordinators that they work in collaboration with local police departments in order to automate the publishing of official crime data. If a project has successfully convinced a police department to publish its crime reports, we suggest that they publish their experience to help provide like-minded projects with an advocacy strategy.

While mapping crime helps us better understand both where it occurs and how crime spreads over time, it does not necessarily lead toward pro-active solutions. In fact, it can even lead to paranoia and social exclusion if residents react by merely investing in higher walls and more expensive alarm systems. Crime mapping platforms should focus on prevention as much as after-the-fact reporting. We recommend that they integrate their content with social groups that are working in neighborhoods where crime is prevalent and youth are at risk.

We believe that crime mapping platforms should collaborate with local bloggers, journalists, and activists to host monthly discussions about how to deal with a crime problem that has been particularly troublesome over the past four weeks. We suggest that it is useful to think of crime through the lens of epidemiology, with a focus on curing the disease.

Extractive Industries

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill illustrates and justifies the public's interest in the activities of extractive industries. The Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative aims to bring about greater disclosure of payments from companies to governments, contracts and information on how revenues are spent by the oil, mining, and gas sectors. We believe that the movement for greater extractive industry transparency would benefit from the use of technology to bring about greater awareness of the activities of the extractive industries, but so far we have been able to find few examples of existing projects.

Publish What You Pay is a global civil society coalition that helps citizens of resource-rich developing countries hold their governments accountable for the management of revenues from the oil, gas and mining industries. It has supported a number of capacity building workshops worldwide. Landman Report Card is a project of the ExtrAct group at MIT which aims to provide information and tools to residents whose land is coveted by oil and gas companies. While its focus is almost entirely on the United States, the platform and resources can also be used by residents worldwide.

Nomad Green is a multilingual platform for Mongolian environmental citizen journalists to document environmental threats and climate change in their country. Much of their reporting and documentation has focused on the environmental and social impact of open-pit mining. They use SeeClickFix to map examples of harmful and illegal mining, and to encourage direct action. The Observatory of Mining Conflicts in Latin America has a rudimentary map which links to information about mining-related community conflicts that have taken place throughout Latin America. So far it links to information about 136 different conflicts.

Recommendations:

We recommend that Publish What You Pay, Revenue Watch Institute, and the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative all attend and host barcamps that invite technologists and bloggers to strategically discuss how online tools can be used to bring about more transparency in the extractive industries – both in terms of environmental/social impact and also financial corruption. The World Wildlife Federation's Amazon Map and the Louisiana Bucket Brigade Oil Spill Crisis Map are two models for mapping impact, whereas Sourcemap illustrates a potential platform to map the flow of money related to extractive industries.

Local Government

In our podcast interview, Fabiano Angelico observed that while most technology for transparency projects focus on federal government transparency, their potential for impact is in fact much stronger at the local level where users are likely to be more invested in policy decisions that directly affect their daily lives. Compared to national level projects we were able to find relatively few technology for transparency projects at the local level, however it is also likely that there is less awareness and available information about those projects.

Local Accountability Portals in Atitlan provides easy-to-use and cheap tools to help local municipalities of four different villages in the department of Sololá to publish all the information required by law on their local government websites. Concejo Visible Bucaramanga is an initiative coordinated by Universidad Industrial de Santander in Colombia to make more transparent the activities of the Bucaramanga Municipal Council Administration. It also opened a collaborative space to share ideas and discuss policies that matter to them. Concejo Visible Bucaramanga is, in fact, one of a number of similar citizen-led transparency initiatives that make up the Colombian Network of Citizen Observers.

Adote um Vereador encourages Brazilian citizens to blog about the work of their local elected officials in order to hold them accountable. Fabiano Angelico, our research reviewer who is also based in Sao Paulo, suggests that participating bloggers should pick a monthly topic and try to raise awareness and advocate for more government data related to that one topic. It is worth noting that a similar “adopt a politician” campaign began in Peru in 2008 when the well known journalist Rosa María Palacios asked citizens to mount pressure in order to get information about the operational expenses of national congressmen. Juan Arellano wrote an in-depth review of the project, which is no longer active following the overwhelming resistance by most congressmen.

Recommendations:

We recommend to all developers and coordinators of local technology for transparency projects that they read Georg Neumann's post “Developing Hyper-Local Integrity Systems to fight and prevent corruption“, which encourages such projects to use the National Integrity System Assessment as a holistic framework to analyze both the extent and causes of corruption in a given country.

We also support and encourage the replication of “adopt a politician” projects in all municipalities worldwide to create more awareness and accountability at the local level.

Private Sector:

We specifically set out to document projects that aim to increase government transparency and political accountability, but throughout the course of our research it became clear that several private sector transparency projects are explicitly in the public's interest, including those related to consumer rights and the environmental/social impact of corporate behavior.

Quien Paga Manda (“Who Pays is in Charge”) is a Costa Rican blog by former journalist (and Technology for Transparency Network advisor) Hazel Feigenblatt. It serves as an information resource about the responsiveness of businesses to customers who have received poor service. It is also meant to amplify the voices of citizens who otherwise have no recourse to hold private businesses accountable. Issues are categorized by electronics, banks, restaurants, public services, and vehicles. Reclamos.cl is a similar consumers’ rights platform based in Chile, which has a strong focus on working with broadcast media to distribute and amplify stories about companies that are unresponsive to consumer complaints. So far they have managed to facilitate 1,869 mainstream media stories, which are broken down by media outlet on their front page. In addition to filing complaints, users can also list recommendations for positive service experiences. A business directory lists complaints by business, and select complaints are featured on the “emphasized complaints” page. Every complaint lists the number of comments it has received and the number of times it has been read.

Sourcemap is an open source, global platform for researching, optimizing and sharing the supply chains behind a number of everyday products. “We believe that people have the right to know where things come from and what they are made of,” declares the website. Sample sourcemaps include a Giant TCR '04 Bicycle, iPod, Tesla Roadster, and IKEA Sultan Alsarp bed. Sourcemaps are organized by user-submitted tags, and also by “most favorited”, “most commented”, and “most complex”.

CorpWatch is a San Francisco-based aggregator and platform of articles, blog posts, investigative reports, statistics, and multimedia related to the corporate accountability worldwide. It categorizes its content by industry and issue.

Recommendations:

In most developing countries the past two decades have seen the privatization of many industries that were once run by the government. As privatization continues, citizens must develop new tools to hold those new private corporations accountable. Archon Fung rightly points out that the transparency movement should focus on private companies at least as much as government agencies. We recommend to all technology for transparency activists that they invest more of their time on projects that hold corporations accountable.

All of the above-mentioned projects publish content related to multinational corporations. Most of them categorize that content per corporation to create site-wide business directories. But we do not yet have an aggregator of all of this related content across multiple platforms to provide a more comprehensive look at the responsiveness, behavior, and social/environmental impact of major corporations. We recommend that private sector transparency projects convene a conference to agree on semantic standards that can easily be aggregated and re-purposed across their platforms.

As one of the ultimate goals of such projects is to improve the behavior and responsiveness of corporations, we recommend that private sector transparency projects partner with business schools to systematically study what advocacy strategies are most effective in convincing corporations to voluntarily become more accountable. For example, is it possible to organize a competition on Sourcemap where major clothing companies voluntarily submit the supply chains of their products to compete for the lowest carbon footprint?

Advocacy:

Admittedly, the most nebulous category of projects on the Technology for Transparency Network is “advocacy.” At worst it can be seen as something of a miscellaneous dumping ground of all projects that don't belong elsewhere. On the other hand, advocacy projects can also be seen as the glue which holds together all of the above-mentioned categories, and tries to fill the gaps in the transparency and accountability ecosystem. Unless awareness is spread in government, the media, and civil society about the need for such projects, they will never scale up to a level where their impact can be measured over time.

More information more Rights [Más Información Más Derechos] promotes public debate on access to public information in Colombia. In addition to its blog, it also promotes discussion and distributes information via Twitter, Facebook, Slideshare, and Scribd. Képmutatás, which means “hypocrisy” in Hungarian, advocates for more transparency in campaign financing in Hungary by estimating the unreleased expenses made by political parties during election campaigns and distributing their findings through traditional and social media. Kubatana.net has built a network of over 200 civil society organizations in Zimbabwe, an archive of over 15,800 documents, and an SMS subscriber list of over 9,000 individuals. It promotes collective action, such as a campaign to determine how toll booth revenue is being used by the government. Saatsaam, which means ‘clean’ in Khmer, aims to encourage public participation in promoting transparency by raising awareness about the impact of corruption, and making related documents freely available. ProAcceso, founded by Mercedes de Freitas of the Venezuelan chapter of Transparency International, is a coalition of organizations in Venezuela that advocate for timely, relevant government data related to public health, education, politics, law enforcement, the use of public resources, and salaries of public officials.

Recommendations:

Most advocacy projects we documented target either governments or the general public in their efforts to increase awareness about the importance of transparency and accountability, and the role that open data plays in bringing about both. We recognize that each audience is distinct and requires different strategies.

For groups advocating to governments, we recommend that they frame their advocacy in terms of cooperation rather than hostility. Transparency and accountability should be framed as pathways toward political credibility. We specifically recommend that advocacy groups seek out like-minded supporters who work in high government positions and depend on them to help promote and amplify the importance of transparent governance and open data from within.

For groups advocating to the general public, we recommend that they work closely with both mainstream and social media. The World Bank and Transparency International have published a number of guides and white papers on how to design effective anti-corruption campaigns. People, Spaces, Deliberation, a blog of the World Bank's CommGAP initiative, also frequently publishes recommendations and case studies related to advocacy campaigns for transparency and accountability.

As much as possible, avoid acronyms and unnecessarily technical language. Creativity always helps draw attention to your cause. For example, Fifth Pillar, an NGO headquartered in Chennai, India, printed “Zero Ruppees” bills with the image of Ghandi to be given to any official asking for a bribe. The initiative was covered by CNN, the Economist, the Telegraph, Boing Boing, and many other international media outlets. Fifth Pillar received calls from interested groups in Nepal, Argentina, Mexico, France and Germany who wanted to implement their own zero currency projects.

The Zero Rupees initiative was a creative response to spread awareness about the problem of bribery in India. Similar creativity should be applied to initiatives and campaigns that advocate for open government data.

Conclusion:

With this post we conclude the first phase of our research into the role of technology in the transparency and accountability movement. Our platform, however, remains open to new submissions of relevant, innovative projects, and we anticipate a second phase of research with a greater focus on evaluation for impact.

One of the most difficult challenges throughout our research was simply developing a taxonomy to categorize and describe the projects we documented. We recognize that technology for transparency projects might choose to describe themselves and their objectives in language that differs from traditional anti-corruption organizations and the donors that fund them. We believe that categories on the website will always be dynamic and will shift as new projects come online and maturing projects evolve their objectives and strategies.

Over the next few days all of our research will be bundled into a single PDF document for the sake of cohesiveness and distribution. However, we emphasize that the distribution of reports is not as significant as the distribution of new ideas that turn into concrete projects and partnerships. As such, the objective of the Technology for Transparency Network will always be to facilitate the sharing and learning of skills and strategies across projects, sectors, and communities. We aim to translate our findings into as many languages as possible. (Already our findings have been translated into Portuguese, French, Chinese, Spanish, and Bahasa.) In the future we hope to host live chats with developers, bloggers, and activists focused on similar works of engagement in order to spread the best ideas and come up with new ones.

We will especially re-distribute our findings, conclusions, and recommendations to all groups and projects that have been mentioned throughout our research. And we will work with like-minded research and mapping projects including ParticipateDB, Participedia, the International Association for Public Participation, the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation, ePractice, MobileActive's mDirectory, and LocalLabs to ensure that our work is cross-linked and cross-verified.

We encourage interaction, new ideas, and challenges to everything we have published. Please do get involved to help push the discourse and the movement forward.

  • http://www.raidsonline.com Thad Quimby

    Great article! – I’d like to introduce Bair Software’s raidsonline.com to the discussion. raidsonline.com is a public crime map that is offered free to any US law enforcement agency.

    To improve transparency, raidsonline.com includes a “Metadata” tab with useful information about the accuracy and source of the data that is currently in display.

    To improve public safety, raidsonline.com includes an emergency alert system, daily email reports of crimes, and a blog with useful tips on how to stay safe.

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