Tag Archives: Ushahidi

Hacking for a Better Government

Have you ever stood in line at the DMV or any other government office, and just thought, why can we land a man on the moon but we can’t have efficient government services? I’m not talking corruption. Just plain basic efficiency. With all those trillions of dollars/pounds/euros/yen/yuan going into all those coffers worldwide, and with the marvels and wonders of modern tech, why do we still have traffic congestion, urban blight, and potholes?

Well, believe it or not, help may be on the way. And not just here in the U.S., but worldwide.  In fact, grass-roots tech-enabled activism might have started in Kenya, where Ushahidi was born out of the need to map incidents of violence and peace efforts in the 2008 post-election unrest.

There is a catch, though. That catch is You. In order to make our governments work better, the citizens of those governments need to voice their concerns. Fortunately, that is becoming as easy as typing a text message.

Here are a few of the organizations making it happen:

  • Code for America – Where’s My School Bus?, Adopt-A-Hydrant, and Textizen are just a few of the apps created to help people communicate with and better use government services.
  • Random Hacks of Kindness has volunteers all over the world taking on a wide variety of issues. They’ve created Person Finder which was used in the Haiti, Chile and New Zealand earthquakes, and Ad Hawk, which identifies the sponsor of political ads. RHOK has recently teamed up with Transparency International to work on new ways of using technology to fight corruption.
  • Neighborland – This is a fun way to make a difference by sharing ideas about what’s needed in your neck of the woods; gathering support; and then making your project happen. Some of the ideas that have taken off include a Food Truck Festival and Bikeway Signage. Neighborland has also partnered with Code for America fellows in Austin to generate ideas for the Code Across Austin Civic Hackathon.

I can’t wait for the app that solves the Los Angeles traffic problem.

Thanks for stopping by,


Internet Access and the “Arab Spring”

I’ve now updated my “Internet Access” data and was happy (but not surprised) to see the number of people able to access the internet globally increase by quite  a bit. The numbers, however, are still from 2010 and I suspect that in 2011, they will have really started climbing. (I’m looking for reliable data on this but haven’t stumbled across any yet — can’t wait till I do!)

Though most of the countries increased by just a few percentage points, there were some standouts; Bosnia (around 15% increase), Chile (11%), Croatia (10%), the Dominican Republic (almost 14%), Israel (15%), Panama (15%) and Qatar (almost 40%!).

(There were also some inexplicable declines especially in Europe which I can only assume were earlier corrections of data, i.e., Iceland decreased from 98% to 95.8%. The Ukraine also declined from 33% to 22.8%. Not sure at all what this means but overall global numbers went up which makes more sense. Maybe problems with cost started to become an issue in some of the European countries where this seemed to be happening most.)

One country that stands out particularly in the rapid transition to an internet-connected population, is Kenya, which went from 10% to 25.9% of their population having access to their internet by the end of 2010. And this ties in to one very interesting aspect of internet connection which is the degree to which it has allowed for the coordination of political opposition. (I’m pretty sure the numbers of internet-connected citizens in the “Arab Spring” countries will have gone up by quite a lot during 2011.) Kenyans used the internet extremely effectively to spread the word about politically motivated brutal attacks in post-election violence in 2007-2008.

Could the increase in internet access across Africa signal an “African Spring,” and the overthrow of some of the seemingly-unmovable “dictators for life”? As the African continent connects to the rest of the world with impressive alacrity, not only will we find out, we’ll see every moment.

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

Good Governance

This is the last of my indicators and also one of the ones which, happily, seems to be getting an increasing amount of attention. It’s again not an easy one to quantify but I do think there is a pretty strong correlation between the fairness and quality of a country’s government, and the level of corruption. (An interesting although admittedly rough correlation can be drawn between two countries, Chile and Haiti, and the different courses recovery after a large earthquake has taken. Chile, rated the less corrupt of the two, was better prepared and recovered far more quickly than Haiti, which is still in the process of recovery.)

This is one indicator that I’m also pretty confident of in terms of the numbers which I am getting from Transparency International. I’m sure many countries have many and various problems with TI, their methodology, as well as their habit of bringing to light things that others would prefer not be exposed.

But, on balance, the world seems to be discovering that more transparency equals more social justice, and most people think that that is a pretty good idea and the direction they would like their leaders and governments to go, willingly or not.

Aiding in this global drive towards shining bright lights into dark places is the explosion of handheld technologies, including smart phones and their ability to transmit live feeds of government action, inaction, or just plain idiocy. (Sometimes, this seems to backfire rather badly for instance when Taliban clerics dispense “justice” in the badlands of Afghanistan, these instance are occasionally filmed to demonstrate their virtuousness. Most of the viewers, however, don’t quite get the same message.)

Other great examples of technology in action must include mention of the Ushahidi project which brought unprecedented transparency to post-election violence in Kenya. (Ushahidi was also one of the first to effectively implement crowd-sourcing technology.) Another of my favorite recent efforts is the very aptly named and bluntly effective, Indian website, I PAID A BRIBE. (I love the fact that the creators put the name in all-caps — literally screaming for attention! I’m guessing that was deliberate but either way, nice touch.) I would be remiss also, if I didn’t mention that both of these websites are home-grown affairs, an encouraging thought, and indicative that these worldwide movements are not being driven by Western governments (although this is a consistent accusation from many corruption governments to try to distract attention from their own failings) but by the citizens themselves.

I’ve just updated the numbers for corruption so you can check out the shift here. It’s encouraging that my Number went up by almost a full percent to 59.1610856162698 (up from 58.569457499862) and some of this is definitely due to increased transparency. (Lots of countries went up in their ratings this year.) However, I have to be clear , I’ve added in data to countries which didn’t have it before (TI added a few more countries this year.) so that has probably driven the number up as well. Still, nice to see it go up!

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC