Technology is seen as the great equaliser – an increasingly democratic tool found in the hands of many that can be used to reshape a person’s interactions with government, the economy and societies. This technological shift is also changing the fight against corruption.
More than ever, individuals have a key means to share and receive information – their mobile phones. Estimates put the number of mobile subscriptions at 6.8 billion worldwide, equivalent to about 96 per cent of the world’s population; even in developing countries, the penetration rate reaches nearly nine out of every 10 people.
The rapid expansion of social networks and platforms – now thought to have more than 1 billion users – provides a backbone for linking people together who share common concerns or causes. Previously, connecting with like-minded others required bulletin boards, word-of-mouth and a bit of luck.
Yet technology and its tools – sometimes grouped together as Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) – are fairly new to the anti-corruption arsenal.
Use of ICTs to fight corruption
Where ICTs have been used to increase transparency and accountability, they can generally be grouped around:
- Collecting data (for example, to report a bribe paid)
- Accessing information (for example, to hear back from clinics whether medicines are in stock)
- Sharing information (for example, to post current staple crop prices among farmers)
- Monitoring (for example, to report whether teachers are showing up at school)
- Mobilising (for example, to call an urgent action campaign)
Transparency International has organised global events to look into these uses of technology to fight corruption. In 2012 we ran a global hackathon in six countries to see which different technologies could be used to address different corruption problems. We also convened a global event to profile how technology can empower people to speak up against corruption.
In practice, some Transparency International chapters have been quick to embrace this agenda. Below are their stories.
Argentina: Who’s bankrolling you?
Poder Ciudadano, our chapter in Argentina, has used social networks and media to support its work in the last few years. During the crucial 2011 election, the chapter launched an online campaign called ¿Quién te banca? (Who’s bankrolling you?) to track whether candidates and parties were placing political advertisements before the official start of campaigning.
The chapter put out a simple appeal: take photos of any advertisements and post them to the campaign’s Flickr, Facebook or Twitter accounts – or send them to the organisation. Since the platforms were all open source, the costs were low. They received about 300 photos. These photos were then used to raise access to information requests with the candidates and parties about the advertisements as well as the source of the money behind them (since they fell outside of the official campaign period, this information would not have been reported to Argentina’s electoral commission as required by law). While almost all of the requests went unanswered, the media picked up on the story and it helped to raise the public conscience about campaign spending.
Georgia: Fix my street Tbilisi-style
Transparency International Georgia was concerned about the level of responsiveness of the local government to citizens, as well as how engaged people were in watching what their city government did. They decided to take a crowd-sourcing platform from the UK, called FixMyStreet, and bring it to the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.
The site, Chemikucha.ge, provides the ability, with a few clicks, for people to report problems that they have found on city streets – everything from broken traffic signals to clogged sewers. All problems are then automatically sent to designated staff at the city hall to deal with the complaints.
The local government, after initial low interest, has become a big promoter and supporter of the initiative, even linking to it from their own website. The site also catalogued the problems that were reported on an online map and kept a case log that would be updated as the problems were addressed.
In 2012, 530 reports were filed, with 64 per cent of them being resolved. And more than 28,000 new visitors came to the site. The cost for creating this interactive platform: about US$20,000.
Latvia: Charting candidates’ reputations
Our Latvian chapter, Delna, opted to use national elections back in 2010 to raise awareness about who was running and whether these candidates were “clean”. They wanted to make sure voters knew whether any candidates had been involved or linked to cases of corruption or misconduct. From this simple idea, the Kandidatiuzdelnas.lv site was launched to serve as a reputational database.
Each electoral candidate had his or her profile there with additional information: Were there reputational questions surrounding the person? Had they properly disclosed their assets? Had they changed political parties frequently? The chapter assembled the information about candidates and had local journalists review it.
The site and database – which cost about US$3,400 to develop – went public about three months before the elections. It was widely used by the media and more than 45,000 people visited the site prior to the elections.
The site was reformatted for subsequent elections, which resulted in about one-third of parliamentarians with reputational questions not being re-elected. In addition to updating information on the current legislature, the site is used for people to discuss their opinions about specific parliamentarians and rate their performance.
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