Accessibility and Accountability: Social Impact Lab's Governance Project Plans

From Colombia to Ghana to Canada, communicating with members of parliament, tracking city council spending, and advocating for environmental oversight of extractive industries are among a wide range of governance activities that have become possible for anyone with access to an internet connection, a computer, or a smartphone. That’s a lot of people, but not nearly enough. At SIMLab, our work with mobile technologies, specifically FrontlineSMS and FrontlineCloud, has taught us a lot: civic technologies are rapidly transforming the way governments interact with and (sometimes) respond to citizens; digital platforms have limited capacity to reach and include various populations in these activities and; governance is about ongoing interactions between people and institutions, whether those institutions are elected governments or not. Over the next year, the :Governance project at SIMLab will draw on lessons learned from our work with mobile to improve access to public service delivery as well as advance transparency and accountability efforts (@governments and @international organizations) through technologies that are inexpensive, accessible, and already in use across geographies and income thresholds. Here’s a snapshot of what’s on the horizon:

Tabaco City, Philippines Photo Credit: Anna Levy
Tabaco City, Philippines Photo Credit: Anna Levy

Cities and Service Delivery: We want to knowhow low-cost, inclusive technologies, can complement existing digital platforms or create new entry points altogether for low-income and marginalized populations living in cities. We’ll be working with local government agencies that provide services directly, intermediary social service providers, and individuals seeking access to those services. Mobile is just one tool of many, and in the coming months, we’ll be looking at mobile along with other ICTs that prioritize inclusion over innovation alone in public service access and delivery.

Beyond Transparency: Does Information Alone Lead to Responsiveness? Beyond transparency, the leap to accountability happens in parts, and often, over long periods of time. We’ll be researching the entire process, and supporting the media outlets, agencies, organizations, and people asking some of the same questions. We'll focus on services, access points, partnerships, platforms, ethics, and trends that help reduce the distance between information transparency and institutional and political accountability.

Governance is Greater than Government: Governance of policies and resources often involves a range of decision-makers—multiple governments or single government agencies as one of many partners—changing civic processes and prospects for participation of communities invested in or affected by those policies. We’ll be engaging three major governance areas that extend beyond or across local and national civic processes: environmental stewardship and natural resource governance; foreign aid and international organizations’ programs and; statelessness, displaced populations, and refugees.

While these priority areas will continue to take shape in the coming months, our plans kick-off this summer. In early fall 2014, we’ll be launching an online course on scalable, low-cost, mobile technologies for civil society organizations with funding from the United Nations Democracy Education Fund (UNDEF). Stay tuned for a course announcement with details on dates and registration! With ongoing support from the Hewlett Foundation, we also have fall plans to begin sharing broader lessons, questions, and analytics on what (we think) works, for whom, when and how. Have any thoughts for us? We look forward to hearing from you! Follow the :Governance Project on Twitter @SMSGovernance, tell us what you think, ask us hard questions, and let us know what you’re up to.