ICTs for transparency and accountability in South Asia

In the compelling Technology for Transparency: The South Asian Story, Namita Singh looks at how ICTs in South Asia are strengthening accountability and transparency of governance mechanisms. Namita had earlier profiled my work with the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) on the Technology for Transparency Network of Global Voices.

Speaking on citizen participation, Namita notes,

Technology has certainly provided an impetus to the transparency movement, and has provided a powerful tool in the hands of citizen participants. From the initial stages of blogging by just a few individuals about issues, it has matured to more concerted and organized efforts. These projects are now able to provide information that has never before been accessible to citizens.

What Namita fails to mention are interesting examples of the use of ICTs in Kashmir to bear witness to the violence on the ground, and interrogate the actions of State authorities in this contested region. When I first wrote about citizen journalism in Kashmir I noted,

Of the hundreds of videos on YouTube, I am positive that one won’t get any context, a sense of history or impartiality. That’s still the realm of professional journalism and the more committed citizen journalist. What one does get are snapshots of a polity and society mired in conflict, where ordinary people, with no training whatsoever in journalism, are capturing vital moments, people, events, places and processes that define their lives and in doing so, are collectively producing an oral and visual history.

In Mobiles, new media and citizen journalism in Kashmir I flag a compelling BBC documentary on the region and the use of ICTs. But there is more innovation possible in the region.

Namita’s article, and the examples she is leading the documentation of on the Technology for Transparency Network, are well worth looking at. They contest the simplistic submission that ICTs only help those who can access it, oftentimes taken to mean those with knowledge of English and access to broadband internet through PCs. ICT penetration in South Asia will be driven by mobiles, swabhasha content generation and dissemination over voice and SMS, rural electrification leading to expanded 3G service footprints servicing rural areas and the use of ICTs by local and national governments. Those who first access ICTs and use them to strengthen governance do so not just for individuals or groups, but more all citizenry. ICTs, therefore, even in the hands of a few, become force multipliers for progressive change if the optimism is tempered by realistic assessments of political will, capacity and the socio-political context. As I note in a previous blog post,

“…these exercises alone, including my own, have little chance of really strengthening democracy. Technology alone then is no guarantee of cleaner elections. But technology can be part of the solution.”

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