Here at Ushahidi we often say technology is only 10% of the solution, and the other 90% is people and the partnerships they form – and that includes people in government as well as ordinary people seeking to make their voices heard.
At the recent OGP Africa Regional Meeting in Dar es Salaam, Ushahidi Innovation Director Daudi Were coordinated a session on how tech can enhance dialogue between citizens and government, and support government actors to respond.
These were some of the key takeaways:
Government culture is still an obstacle for open governance
Even if you have a high level champion within government – who gets the whole openness movement – if the entire system is designed to be closed, there are huge difficulties in changing and challenging this culture. Sure, one person can change the world, but there’s a better chance if it’s more than one person working on it.
Given that one of the things tech does best is expand the numbers of people participating in an initiative, there is an interesting question about whether tech-focused programmes should support or rely on an individual government champion, or whether they should take on the more difficult task of supporting a reform body such as an anti-corruption commission or an audit department.
Changing systems begins with changing minds
You can’t change the system if you haven’t changed enough minds within the system. Many people in government still think; why should I listen to what citizens are saying?
Our Making All Voices Count colleague, Rosie McGee wrote recently about looking at governance programmes from the perspective of the state, and Nicoline van der Torre charts changes in Ghana’s civil society in her blog ‘government is not the enemy’ – both make interesting reading on how to influence government actors, and prompt renewed focus on personal partnerships and networks to support tech-enabled governance programmes.
Government vs Government Actors? It’s not one or the other: it should be both.
There is no 'department for responsiveness'
Let’s face it: often, there are not enough structures and processes within government to be able to respond adequately to citizen concerns.
Although increasing numbers of government actors are embracing new ways to listen to citizen voice, it can be hard for government departments to justify – and fund – these sorts of roles to internal groups, especially when they are critical of the government status quo.
As the tech 4 development field continue to grow, how do we ensure that government actors see Wii4M? (what’s in it for me?)
I wish there were Departments for Responsiveness, but there aren’t.
Ushahidi, Making All Voices Count and other governance programmes that explore how tech can support citizen engagement and enable government responsiveness need to keep these lessons in mind: Government responsiveness depends on government capacity – working on citizen voice is only one half of the story.