August 16, 2009 | Ronda Jambe

Accountability goes digital

It has come to my attention that the government is looking for inputs to its Gov 2.0 strategy, complete with blogspace for comments. What should they do with government information? Who should see what? What about FOI? etc. All this has been part of the public conversation since well before the digital age, and much has actually changed over the years.
But plus ca change…and transparency is a long time coming. But it does seem to me that true accountability in our information soaked world will now and henceforth be measured in pixels and digits. It is probably no longer possible to have good governance without good publicly accessible information systems to underpin it, but this is still not fully grasped when designing programs.
Consider in the US. Lots and lots of searchable database, and you can both choose your format and suggest other data sets. Makes one wonder if they are measuring the impacts on democratic process in any way. Does more info make for better gov? We know that no info makes for very bad gov, but what if the relationship, like so many, is nonlinear?
It seems clear enough that for really big issues (and probably for really small ones, with small sets of devoted stakeholders) accountability and transparency now must be online.
Every project needs governance procedures that have information (and therefore digital) correlates. Things that are future-determining, like emissions trading, will only be useful to the extent that they can be digitally monitored. And the more open the monitoring, the greater the liklihood of being successfully held accountable.
School funding in Uganda, I have heard, became less wasteful when they published the school budgets. Corruption in some places might also fade if those who were forced to pay bribes could collate their info. In some places, maybe the internet is overkill. Maybe a notice board in a protected place would do. But imagine if everyone suddenly knew how much a town thug was acruing by collecting money for work spaces from his townsfolk? They might just aggregate their aggressions and overthrow him (never her, or is it?)
Perhaps GPS tracking of illegal fishing boats, or movements of nuclear fuels, or dumping of toxic wastes could all hope to open up the world to real forms of governance that are accountable to a global citizenry. I doubt that any of that will happen soon, but the Australian government now hosts an entry site that lists government consultations underway. New Zealand had this at least 10 years ago, and I suggested something similar then. Better late than never, eh?

Posted by Ronda Jambe at 5:39 pm | Comments Off on Accountability goes digital |
Filed under: Economics

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