“What Indigo has learned”… Transparency and Accountability

Over the past couple of years Indigo has developed a sizeable portfolio of partner organisations and funded projects that attempt to increase accountability and transparency in Africa by utilising ICT. We have found this to be hard work indeed! Measuring impact and selecting projects that will challenge those in power in a constructive yet meaningful way is difficult. As we have reviewed our work however it has become obvious to us that there are some areas in which our money can make a real difference.

Why Transparency and Accountability?

These are hot topics. We have blogged about the Mo Ibrahim Index African Governance in africathe past and there are many more initiatives, like the Africa Governance Initiative, all aimed at improving government in Africa. Some of the international statistics highlight the larger trends:

Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2012 ranks the 174 countries of the world against their own citizens’ perception of corruption. There are no African countries in the top 30. Similarly Freedom House’s ‘Freedom in the World 2013’ categorise only ten, out of fifty-four, African states as being fully free.

These poor scores are the result of many complex factors; questionable elections, restricted press freedoms, poor capacity in government, patronage by ministers and MPs, crippling financial conditions and the uncertain rule of law.

So here’s a flavour of what we’ve been doing – first, a selection of the funding headlines:

Map Kibera Trust £11,320 Improve maps of and community engagement with, the Map Kibera initiative
Odekro £9,400 Ghanaian parliamentary monitoring website
MySociety £40,000 To expand parliamentary monitoring websites across Africa
Nigerian Constitution App £7,000 A multi platform App to access a searchable constitutional text
African Legal Information Institute £22,672 To create an ebook for the laws of the Seychelles
BudgIT £36,800 Website for the visualisation and interrogation
Open Aid Register £10,000 To improve the application which allows small foundations to upload funding data to IATI
Not in my Country £10,000 A reporting service for corruption in Universities and Colleges
Sisi Ni Amani $18,158 A reporting service for violence in local communities.

Parliament and Legislation

For many citizens, regardless of where they live, the activities, debates and decisions of their national parliaments can feel a very long way away. Across the world people complain that they only see their MP when elections roll round again! Parliamentary Monitoring Organisations have been around for a very long time but by augmenting their work with ICT there appears to be huge potential to expand their reach and influence. By allowing citizens free access to Hansard, a easy way to review the voting records and promise of their representatives these websites can result in informed voting and MPs more likely to deliver for their constituents. The first website like these we came across was in the UK. theyworkforyou.com, developed by MySociety, has become a regular feature of the UK political landscape and MySociety’s commitment to open-sourcing software means that it can be replicated across the world.

Ghanaian Parliament

Ghanaian Parliament

Just as important as keeping an eye on your MP is knowing what legislation applies to your business, family and community. Getting hold of and understanding national legislation is a topic that challenges in the UK, as we have blogged, but in the Seychelles there were worrying reports of judges and lawyers having to use old legislation and out of date case law when making their arguments in court. This is why we decided to fund the Seychelles Legislation ebook which should result in every court having up to date law and precedent for every case.

Government

Making government more transparent and accountable is a relative headache for small funders like Indigo. We do not have the money, the skills, or the stomach to go fund projects within the executive but there are things we can do and some of them, we feel, have great value!

The Nigerian made BudgIT application is one such example. Firstly BudgIT educates – showing where the money goes and what for. By informing citizens BudgIT also allows them to campaign and advocate for change. If you think your government has the wrong spending priorities BudgIT gives you some of the information needed to go out and start making a change. Finally, and of particular note, is BudgIT’s accessibility. The visualisation of the data in everything from simple pie charts to more complex graphs and tables allows all Nigerians, even those with limited numeracy and literacy to understand what is going on.
bugit2

Community Mapping

Community Mapping is a really exciting and yet relatively simple undertaking. From the very earliest maps, cartography has been a way of establishing and imposing power; Kings and Queens commissioned maps so they could view their domain and identify those who encroached on it.

Maps have become more complicated since early times but they are no less powerful. Internet based mapping is both highly accurate and rich in detail. The ability to record local water taps, schools, crime hotspots and government offices offers huge potential for development. The most recent census suggests that 170,000 Kenyans live in Kibera – a huge slum on the edge of Nairobi – but until 2008 their home appeared as a massive blank on many maps. By funding the Map Kibera project we hope that the community will gain some of the information, and power, it needs to demand better facilities and improve thousands of lives.

Looking ahead

We hope the future will hold many more exciting and innovative projects in this area for Indigo. We are working hard to make sure that our own work is open and transparent through our funding of the Open Aid Register and membership of the Transparency and Accountability Initiative and it is our sincere hope that we will be able to further transparency and accountability both in Philanthropy and across Africa in the coming years. If you have any projects or ideas in this area we would love to hear from you!

As always comments, contributions, musing and debate are most welcome, below: