Following the success of TheyWorkforYou.com and the Kenyan version Mzalendo.com, Indigo has awarded mySociety £40,000 for the expansion of these innovative political watchdog sites across sub-Saharan Africa.
The grant will allow mySociety to partner with local parliamentary monitoring organisations (PMOs) in Africa to jointly create between four and six new national sites. They are already forging ahead with sites in South Africa and Zambia and recently partnered with Hutspace to launch Ghana’s own parliamentary monitoring website, Odekro.org.
The partnership model adopted by mySociety is proving to be very successful, as it harnesses the technical ability and practical experience of mySociety with the on-the-ground networks and local political knowledge of their in-country partners. From a tech point of view, there is little to be achieved by organisations in different countries building similar tech tools from scratch. But while everybody talks about not wanting to reinvent the wheel, the parliamentary monitoring scene is only just beginning to explore the possibility of meaningful collaboration seriously. Consider the fact that 90% of PMO websites run on their own codebase that has been developed independently of any other PMOs and it’s clear that there has been much reinventing of the wheel up until now (see my post from last year’s PMO conference in Paris). It’s true that there are many important differences in political systems around the world, but there are also significant similarities. So, for example, each country will have at least one chamber with elected representatives coming from a number of different political parties. Each of those representatives is generally tasked with voting on legislation and maybe sitting on parliamentary committees that produce decisions and reports. If there is already a tool that can help track and record this, then it makes sense from our point of view to work to tailor that existing tool to meet local needs, rather than develop your own site from scratch.
Here at Indigo we are truly excited by the prospect of political watchdog sites becoming an everyday feature of African government that encourage open, transparent and accountable politics. We recognise that creating these sites is but a first step and that for meaningful change to result, all stakeholders involved will need to ensure that they are properly used by citizens, journalists, activists and civil society. But without taking that first step, there can be no second. Change won’t happen overnight, but creating a more open and transparent political process is as necessary as it is important.