BTOB: Mission to Washington DC – 3 October 2012

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I travelled  for 24 hours to DC to attend the 2012 edition of Beyond Access (http://www.beyondaccess.net/conference2012/, #BA2012).

I took the opportunity to meet with colleagues from WBI who are working on ICTD and governance. At the informal meeting, I realized that the approach of WBI to the issues is similar to ours in the sense that they are much more interested on the governance part of the equation (not ICTs) and on measuring the real impact of ICTs investment in participation, etc. I was informed that they are developing an impact assessment methodology that aims at convincing the traditional governance practitioners that using mobiles on the Internet does made a significant difference on the ground. This is something that we have been saying here at UNDP for a few years now. However, we have not done much on this.

WBI also has access to a few in-house developed FOSS applications that facilitate participatory budgeting and use of SMS to enhance participation. They have apparently developed their own SMS tool as they seem to think that both Frontline SMS and RapidSMS do not do they job properly. This I  did not quite understand the reasons for having yet another tool.

They also seem a bit critical of the open data hype and have concerns as to how this is being pushed by mostly techies and not governance people.

In the end we agreed to work on three things, all interconnected.

1. Concept note/framework on ICTs and Governance. Not that we will need to reinvent the wheel here on the other hand we need to close the policy gap
between ICTD practitioners and governance experts. Each has to be pushed a bit towards each other. A consultant can be hired and cost-shared among the two institutions.

2. Impact framework/methodology which WBI is already working on . WBI to share what they have  so far  (IPR will be duly respected!

3. Identify one or two pilot countries to bring the above together, test it and revise/refine as need. Pilots themselves will need to M&E and assessed for impact. Share list of potential countries and see if  a couple of quick win projects can  be identified. Ongoing governance or ICTD programmes are probably the best.

We also agreed to have a follow-up call next week or so to ensure thee conversation does translate into real stuff.

BeyondAccess meeting was opened by a panel chaired bu the senior editor of Foreign Affairs and had as panelist former president of Chile, Ricardo Lagos, and the current head of USAID. The first question asked by the chair was on how tweeter is changing the world and helping in all these revolutions. At that moment I decided to start checking my emails and reply to a few them.

The second plenary panel included was much more interesting and included representatives from developing countries .Kenya, Honduras and Bhutan were there among others. The Bhutanese representative who currently is a member of parliament and is part of the good governance commission. He is also a big supporter of the freedom of information act which Bhutan might approve in the future. At any rate, the Bhutanese MP said, in addition to promoting the gross happiness index, that the core issue for most countries is changing the mind sets of their own people. Poor countries such as his have been asked to adopt the western model of consumption and way of life. But now that the west is in deep crisis in all senses, there is now an opportunity to change this behaviour for something more spiritual. And he hopes the West also undertakes this path. These comments drew lots of applause from an audience mostly of young people (sans me) and representing close to 40 countries.

I took part on a panel on Open Government and shared the space with a rep from the Gates Foundation and an officer from Ghana’s Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development. The panel was highly interactive and the audience very curious and inquisitive. I made the point that OG is really a democratic governance initiative which focuses on three core pillars: participation, transparency and accountability. Actually, it should not be called Open Government but rather Open Governance. And it should not be confused with Open Data, the latter being part of the former.  I added that while most are focusing on social media and Internet for promoting OG, we should not forget that most people in the world are not connected to such networks. Use of mobile devices, traditional ICT and media tools and other means should be used if we are to have real open and meaningful participation of those at the bottom of the pyramid in key governance processes.

Cheers, Raúl

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