Much as has been said of the promise, potential and progress of ICTs in the East African region. Governments, non-governmental organizations, private sector players, citizens and other stakeholders are embracing ICTs in interesting and innovative ways that merit further study. It is for this reason that iHub Research, as part of the ICT4Democracy East Africa network, is undertaking a project to assess how ICT tools are being used for various aspects of governance in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.
We want to identify, describe and analyze conditions under which ICT tools can/have successfully facilitate(d) or hinder(ed) two way interaction between government and citizens towards reducing the cost of delivering public services, stemming corruption and increasing transparency and accountability. We also want to study the innovative initiatives that have taken off to achieve this, as well as [de]motivations for utilizing ICT tools, among the various stakeholders(citizens, governments, civil society and non-governmental actors).
To better assess ICT tools used for governance (which can be SMS, web and/or mobile-based) we will be looking at four key elements/metrics, that is:
if/how they promote(or hinder) rights/access to information,
if/ how civic participation (transparency and accountability) is facilitated(hindered),
if/how such tools assist(or hinder) in monitoring government's service delivery (health, water etc) and
if/how ICT tools have been, or can be utilized in tracking corruption.
For this ‘ICT audit’ to be effectively undertaken, it has proven necessary to seek out definitions of certain key terms that merit an in-depth understanding to better set out such a study. Some of the descriptions we’ve come up with so far from our literature review are as follows:
Governance is both political (the way a nation is governed) and economic (how societal resources are managed), and has 8 major characteristics, according to UNESCO: participatory, consensus oriented, accountable, transparent, responsive, effective and efficient, equitable and inclusive and follows the rule of law. It assures that corruption is minimized, the views of minorities are taken into account and that the voices of the most vulnerable in society are heard in decision-making. It is also responsive to the present and future needs of society.
Participation by both men and women is a key cornerstone of good governance. Participation could be either direct or through legitimate intermediate institutions or representatives. A representative democracy does not necessarily mean that the concerns of the most vulnerable in society would be taken into consideration in decision-making. Participation needs to be informed and organized. This means freedom of association and expression on the one hand and an organized civil society on the other hand.
Transparency is defined as a characteristic of governments, companies, organisations and individuals that are open in the clear disclosure of information, rules, plans, processes and actions. Information, thus, is freely available and directly accessible to those who will be affected by such decisions and their enforcement, and it is provided in easily understandable forms and media.
Accountability means that officials in (non)government, private and voluntary sector organizations are answerable (to the public) for their actions and there is redress when duties and commitments are not met. Who is accountable to whom varies depending on whether decisions or actions taken are internal or external to an organization or institution. In general an organization or an institution is accountable to those who will be affected by its decisions or actions. Accountability cannot be enforced without transparency and the rule of law.
Transparency and accountability can be mutually reinforcing, enabling citizens to have a say about issues that affect them and to influence decision-making, and hold those making decisions to account, be they in government or other institutions of relevance to the governing of a community or region.
E-governance refers to the application of electronic means in the interaction between government and citizens and government and businesses, as well as in internal government operations to simplify and improve democratic, government and business aspects of Governance (Michiel Backus, 2001)
Civic participation and empowerment refer to a condition in which every citizen has the means to actively engage in the public sphere, including political processes. Under this condition, civil society is empowered, protected, and accountable; the media are present, professional, and independent of government influence; equal access to information and freedom of expression is upheld; and political parties are able to form freely and are protected. (USIP)
We continue to further study these and more aspects to governance to ensure that we proceed with contextually relevant and inclusive parameters for each term, and minimize assumptions in how they are understood and evaluated.
Do you know of any ICT tools in use to address any of the above aspects, or others, such as lobbying legislation, raising awareness, facilitating inclusion of youth and women, skills transfer...or just about any other use addressing governance?
Please share with us through http://bit.ly/ICT4Governance.
We shall map these tools and their usage for all stakeholders to have a starting reference point of how ICT tools are used in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania in the different aforementioned aspects. Such mapping will help in getting a sense the in-roads that ICT tools have made, as spearheaded by various stakeholders, be it government, NGOs/CSOs, private sector initiatives or citizens themselves to improve governance.
This crowdsourcing effort will also help us identify which regions in each of the three countries to conduct further fieldwork. We plan to visit one rural and one urban area, to conduct further studies and elicit insights from citizens that will help us surface information on the impacts of ICT in improving the governance issues of interest and urgency.
We will share frequent updates at each stage of the project. For more information, please get in touch with us: research[at]ihub[co]ke