Thought-provoking blog post on ‘why transparency and technology won’t drive accountability’ from Rakesh Rajani, Head of Twaweza East Africa and co-chair of the Open Government Partnership. Excerpts:

That technology can allow us to do interesting things is amply documented. (…) The trouble is that too many of us too much of the time have oversold its promise. (…) At Twaweza we’ve supported a number of thoughtful, caring people to roll out seemingly well-designed technology-driven initiatives (see, for example, here, here, and here), ideas that many smart people from local NGOs and media to the World Bank and prestigious universities found compelling, but that did not live up to their original promise in uptake or fostering accountability.

The focus on technology and transparency, says Rakesh, is diverting attention from what is more central to achieving better accountability: human psychology and motivation, and power relationships.

When the authorities choose to ignore the content there isn’t much difference between a wooden suggestion box and a citizen feedback website with analytics. (…)
First, just because technologies can allow us to collect, store, analyze and communicate data and ideas in unprecedented ways should not lull us to think they can address old, entrenched problems in unprecedented ways. The primary constraints for human action are non-technological in nature. Most people who do not speak up in public meetings have perfectly functioning voices, and training them on better enunciation will not help matters much. (…)
Second, we need a deep understanding of human motivation; of why people – on both the ‘citizen demand’ and ‘responsive state’ sides – would choose to pay attention, take action, and persist when setbacks happen, and a more granular (than just ‘citizens’ or ‘authorities’) of who would act. (…)
These lessons arise here in reflecting on the limits of technology to drive accountability (…). Technology and transparency don’t drive anything. People, who organize and at times use technology to do so, do.

Read the full post: “What are the limits of transparency and technology? From three gurus of the openness movement (Eigen, Rajani, McGee)”.

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