Samantha Power: Transparency has gone global

Innovations in democratic governance have been and likely always will be a global phenomenon. Samantha Power, senior director and special assistant for multilateral affairs and human rights at the White house, highlighted the ways in which platforms and initiatives for transparency in other countries are growing on the White House blog yesterday.

While “Sunshine Week” may be an American invention, the momentum for greater transparency and accountability in government is a global phenomenon. In countries around the world, governments and civil society groups are taking new and creative steps to ensure that government delivers for citizens and to strengthen democratic accountability.

From Kenya to Brazil to France to Australia, new laws and platforms are giving citizens new means to ask for, demand or simply create greater government transparency. As Power observed, open government is taking root in India, where the passage of India’s Right to Information Act and new digital platforms have the potential to change the dynamic between citizens and the immense bureaucracy.

Power listed a series of global transparency efforts, often empowered by technology, that serve as other useful examples of “innovations in democratic governance” on every continent

  • El Salvador and Liberia recently passed progressive freedom of information laws, joining more than 80 countries with legislation in place, up from only 13 in 1990;
  • A few weeks ago in Paris, six new countries from Europe, Africa, Central Asia, and the Middle East met the high standards of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), empowering citizens with unprecedented information about payments made for the extraction of natural resources;
  • Brazil and South Africa are pioneering innovative tools to promote budget transparency and foster citizen engagement in budget decision-making, along with tens of other countries that are making budget proposals and processes open to public input and scrutiny;
  • Civil society groups are developing mechanisms to enable citizens to keep track of what happens in legislatures and parliaments, including impressive web portals such as votainteligente.cl in Chile and mzalendo.com in Kenya; and
  • Experiments in citizen engagement in Tanzania, Indonesia, and the Philippines, are demonstrating that citizen efforts to monitor the disbursement of government funds for education, health, and other basic services, actually decrease the likelihood of corruption and drive better performance in service delivery.

There’s a long road ahead for open government here in the United States. While improving collaboration and transparency through open government will continue to be difficult nuts to crack, it looks like “Uncle Sam” could stand to learn a thing or two from the efforts and successes of other countries on transparency. Addressing FOIA reform and better mobile access to information are two places to start.

For more on how open government can have a global impact, click on over to this exclusive interview with Samantha Power on national security, transparency and open government.

Themes to watch in 2011: E-democracy in Brazil

As Nat Torkington put it this morning at O’Reilly Radar, “people who consider tech trends without considering social trends are betting on the atom bomb without considering the Summer of Love.” Torkington was annotating a link to 2011 predictions and prognostications at venture capitalist Fred Wilson’s blog which center on the following presentation that Paul Kedrosky sent him from JWT, a marketing agency.

JWT’s thirteenth prediction will be of particular interest to readers of this blog: “Brazil as E-Leader.”

This digitally savvy, economically vibrant country will prove to be an e-leader. Social media is more popular here than in developed markets, and Brazil has the highest Twitter penetration (23 percent, as of October ComScore figures). PC penetration has reached 32 percent, and many Internet cafes further broaden access. Mobile subscriptions have 86% penetration. Already Brazil is ahead in electronic democracy (with innovations like online town halls and crowd-sourced legislative consulting), and its 2010 census was paperless, conducted electronically.

There are many other themes that will matter to the Gov 2.0 world in 2011 in there, including smart infrastructure investment, scanning everything, home energy monitors, and mHealth. Heck, seemingly mobile everything. Of course, as Mike Loukelides pointed out in his own watchlist of 2011 themes to track, “you don’t get any points for predicting ‘Mobile is going to be big in 2011.'” He thinks that Hadoop, real-time data, the rise of the GPU, the return of P2P, social ubiquity and a new definition for privacy will all play important roles in 2011. Good bets.

JWT does get points for this set of trends, however, and that prediction about e-democracy in Brazil strikes me as apt. Last year at the International Open Government Data Conference, I met Cristiano Ferri Faria, project manager in e-democracy and legislative intelligence at the Brazilian House of Representatives. Faria talked about his work on e-Democracia, a major electronic lawmaking program in Brazil since 2008. As the 112th United States House of Representatives goes back to work today, there are definitely a few things its legislators, aides and staffers might learn from far south of the border. You can download his presentation as a PDF from Data.gov or view it below, with an added bonus: reflections on open government data in New Zealand and Australia.

One caution: Faria concluded that “this kind of practice is too complex” and that e-Democracia “needs a long-term approach.”

Looks like they’re still in an e-government in beta down there too.

Iogdc 2010 Day1 Plenary