Blog Beat #5: Summer Socializing for Transparency and Accountability

As the summer heats up in Washington DC I ran into Mikel Maron in a local cafe.  He is working on a bunch of interesting projects, getting ready for his next trip to Africa, and excited about the Global Voices Citizen Media Summit this July 2-3 in Nairobi, Kenya.  Mikel continues to work on Map Kibera, which as Hapee de Groot aptly told me “started as a mapping project it grew into a community building project.”

There have been a lot of exciting developments for #TABridge folks.  Sean McDonald, who has been at FrontlineSMS running legal for two years and serving as Director of Operations has now become their CEO of social enterprise, while Laura Walker Hudson is now CEO of the Foundation.  Congrats!

Congrats are also in order for Jonathan Eyler-Werve, who has just started as CTO at goodkarma.co, a subscription service for baby clothes–“a bit of a break from opengov,” he said.

Last Friday, CitiVox launched two projects; the first is the new version of cuidemoselvoto.org, a tool for election tracking in Mexico now live at http://observacionelectoral2012.mx.  Based entirely on CitiVox software (as opposed to building on Ushahidi), the site is now the official platform for election monitoring in Mexico, with a guarantee that every report will include follow-up and potential legal consequences.  The second project is an online community board, where users can organize around specific local topics.  Anyone will be able to create a board, on issues such as public safety, restaurants, enhanced customer service, or even private conversation with neighbors or family members, among others.

As Jorge Soto, CitiVox co-founder with Oscar Salazar notes: “Our objective is not to create a new social network, but an interest layer on top of a social graph. Our goal is not to control how users interact with our product but to understand how CitiVox adds value to them.”

Summer is also a time of travel within our network.  Femi Longe of Co-Creation Hub has been on the road working on several OpenGov projects.  YourBudgeIT.com features easily digestible graphics to visualize where the Nigerian government is spending money. ConstitutionForAll offers a downloadable version of the complete Nigerian Constitution for smart phones.  This app combines a social media function and a discussion “Constitution Forum” that enables citizen dialogue to encourage people to know their rights.

Hapee de Groot of Hivos is excited about two platforms that use social media to connect citizens and help them pressure their governments.  In India, IChangemycity.com encourages users to deliberate together and target elected representatives.  In Uganda, Trac.fm is transforming talk shows in arenas for public debate using SMS and radio.

Our community of practice is continually re-defining the ways technology can enable greater transparency.  By connecting essential data, such as poll monitoring or government spending, with social media functions, we are finding new, interactive, even fun, ways for citizens to hold their governments accountable.

From my small computer in Washington, DC it is inspiring and informative to see all these disparate yet related approaches at work around the globe. The pulse of this movement follows its own rhythms and the “heat” of activity emanates from the Potomac and the Niger Delta and South Asia, and so many other places at once.  Watch out for details about our next summer meet up late June in Washington, DC  :)

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