Category Archives: Governance

LEVERAGING INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION TECHNOLOGIES IN GOVERNANCE

Monday, April 24th, 2017 

3rd annual International Youth to Youth (Y2Y) Summit

General Authority of Youth and Sports Welfare, Dubai, UAE 

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Today, it is virtually impossible to speak about governance without the mention of information and communication technologies (ICTs). They are often the vehicle of innovation, the reason behind progress, and the generators of efficiency. Many governments have been working with software engineers and IT experts on improving the way they deliver services to their citizens and communicate with the electorate.

With academic background in political science and experience in non-profit and public governance, Y2Y gave me a wonderful opportunity to speak about my slightly unconventional and seemingly unexciting passion in the context of the Summit’s overarching theme of ICTs in social innovation.

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Perhaps I underestimated the level of interestingness that the workshop would resonate with the conference’s participants because it was surprisingly well-attended. This gives me hope that more people out there realize how important and crucial governance is to carrying out the mission and vision of any organization, be it corporate, non-profit or public.

And because if there is anything I enjoy more than talking about governance it is writing about it, here is a recap for those who attended and an overview for those who missed it.

history

The first mention of governance as a concept or a coined term dates back to the 15th century Latin work The Difference between an Absolute and a Limited Monarchy of John Fortescue, the Chief Justice of the King’s Bench in England. However, governance as we comprehend it today is only around 20 years old and stems from the context of institutions like the United Nations or World Bank.

Information and communication technologies as a term have been used in academia since the 1980s. It hasn’t caught on in its abbreviated form, ICTs, until 1997 in Dennis Stevenson’s – Baron Stevenson of Coddenham – report to the UK government and further on in the revised National Curriculum for England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2000.

Strictly looking at the facts above, one is almost tempted to say that democracy originated in ancient Greece while governance in modern England; however, that conclusion would be flawed (for more than one reason) since the term governance itself comes from the Greek word ‘kubernao’ which means ‘to steer.’

GOV DEFdefinedef

GOOD GOB

  • Ensures sustainability
  • Is contextual
  • Articulates what the organization is accountable for
  • Makes it clear who the organization is accountable to
  • Aligns and prioritizes diverse and sometimes conflicting interests in order to avoid mission drift
  • Asks all the right questions
    • Who do we serve?
    • How do we ensure we deliver?

VS

It is important to understand the distinction between ICT governance (governance of ICTs) and ICTs in governance (use of ICTs in governance). The former is a corporate term and it is around 20 years old. The focus here is on business strategies, on setting out the framework for the behaviour and on regulations around the use of IT in a corporation or institution. The latter (the topic of the workshop) has been widely applied in the last decade and represents the variety of ways in which ICTs are used to enhance governance mechanisms and improve government services. 

The goal of my workshop was to get the audience to look at governance as something evolving and constantly developing and to think about how ICTs can enhance and positively contribute to this growth. Governance is naturally contextual, it differs from from one institutional context to the next and it depends largely on the goals and mission of the organization. To ensure one’s governance framework is up to date and conducive to goal achievement, it needs to accept change, adapt and most importantly innovate.

digit

DIGITIZATION has inevitably made our society more fluid and penetrated virtually (pun intended) every aspect of our lives, from education to security and healthcare. The world of work, for instance, has forever been transformed by the phenomenon of non-localization (enabled by digitalization) whereby working from one country for a company based in another country is becoming the new norm. Collaborating on online platforms and in online marketplaces is becoming a strain on national taxation policies and the relationship between corporations and governments has blurred significantly.

There is a logical tendency to consider the interconnectedness of people, workplaces, people and ideas as a phenomenon with a positive connotation. People can communicate more easily, ideas can spread faster, work-life balance is (or should be) easier to attain as working remotely is no longer an obstacle, etc. But does digitized interconnectedness necessarily mean increased efficiency, improved effectiveness, enhanced communication, positive impact, wider openness, more transparency and accountability, and ultimately better governance of people, resources, and services?

open data

One of government’s most straightforward ways to communicate with its citizens is making information openly accessible. In this digitized day and age there really is no obstacle to free release of data from public institutions, corporations, international organizations, civil society and NGOs. What’s often missing, however, is the willingness and desire to do so because opening one’s data inevitably means opening itself to greater scrutiny. A joint report by Transparency International and World Without Borders Foundation summed it up well: “Open data is an ingredient in accountability interventions.”

op gov

In a nutshell, open government is transparent, accountable, participative, and accessible. It is a government that makes all information and data publicly visible but most importantly comprehensible to a versatile and wide audience so that it enhances and improves the interaction and communication with the citizens. It is important to realize that an embrace of technology and of innovative ways in which information can be presented to the public does not necessarily equate government openness. The use of ICTs does not ensure but rather facilitate public engagement. Moreover, it is crucial to establish an information governance framework which will aim to present the data to the citizenry in a way that will lead and inform, not mislead and misinform.

Andrew Stott of the UK Transparency Board pointed out the importance of blending techniques with technologies, meaning to express that new technologies alone do not necessarily advance open government. Taryn Roch of the US Open Government 4 Us believes that it is all about citizen engagement and that while technology is a powerful facilitator, it is the mere beginning of open government.

Innovation plays an important role during and after the launch of open government efforts. If applied correctly and successfully, it has transformative effects on the system and citizens’ trust towards it. Similarly to any other sector or field, innovation in the government and public sector is about implementing a new idea, product or method; it needs to be considered carefully, it must be concrete, and it cannot be too broad. Vowing to make government more open is not sufficient; the team in place must outline specific ways in which this can be achieved. Innovation isn’t linear and while learning from successes as well as mistakes of other contexts is crucial, one will also soon recognize that one size won’t fit all.

Keeping up with the spirit of Microleaders, less is more and when it comes to public sector enhancements and progress, incremental steps are usually more viable and impactful than breakthrough innovations. In the end, as Frank Hebbert of Open Tools advises, it is all about building “tools that transform the experience of being an engaged citizen.”

In conclusion, let’s remember a few fundamental rules:

  • Applying ICTs in governance is not the end game; it is merely the beginning.
  • Technology facilitates.
  • Identify a need.
  • Innovate with impact in mind.
  • Fill a gap.
  • Observe and listen. Open government is citizen-centric.
  • Build a collective voice. Make citizens want to participate.
  • Less conversation (information), more action.
  • Accessibility + Awareness + Capacity + Interest + Usability = Impact 

Making democracy personal

Personal Democracy Forum Central and Eastern Europe 2017

April 6-7, 2017

European Solidarity Centre, Gdansk, Poland

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Always eager to feed the governance geek in me, I have recently started re-watching The West Wing. In Season 1, one of the episodes takes the President and his White House staff to Virginia for a town hall meeting. In response to a student’s question regarding youth participation in politics, President Bartlet says: “A man once said this, ‘Decisions are made by those who show up.’ So are we failing you, or are you failing us? It’s a little of both.”

I couldn’t help but see a parallel between the scripted answer of the American President and the question that resonated with the audience during the opening remarks of the Personal Democracy Forum Central and Eastern Europe and became an imaginary ‘thorn in the side’ of its attendees: “Has democracy failed us or have we failed democracy?” I think it could be a little of both.

Constant influx of new social innovations makes governments more accountable, allows for more openness and enables citizen engagement. It is logical to claim and believe that openness is a weapon of democracy. But it is also important to note the disillusionment and revolt among citizens. These are caused by corruption scandals, unexplained budgetary discrepancies and other democratic failures brought to light precisely because of this increasing openness and access to more information and data.

One would argue that discontent of the general public with seeming betrayals of their governments to hold themselves accountable for their decisions is undoubtedly a good thing. After all, a citizen aware of governmental wrongdoing or abuse of one’s political power for personal gain perpetually widening the socioeconomic inequality gap is a citizen empowered to seek justice and right a wrong. Unfortunately, what we are witnessing instead are citizens being radicalized and turning to desperate measures: putting all their trust in emerging populist nationalist leaders who, in the grand scheme of things, have the potential to do even more harm.

Fear of the perceivably unstoppable wave of refugees and immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa and scepticism of current governments’ ability and capacity to effectively address this issue lead the electorate to turn away from the neoliberal promise of socioeconomic prosperity which they now view as a failed dream and to turn towards much more radical and disconcerting solutions of populist political leaders: hostility, suspicion, protectionism, and propaganda.

Pawel Adamowicz, the Mayor of the City of Gdansk – an incredibly tolerant and open city – called on the need to ‘reboot’ democracy and immigrant policy. The latter is currently less of a policy and more of a struggle for reconciliation between a democratic local policy of integration and anti-immigrant sentiments of many central governments in the EU. Another reason why a ‘reboot’ of democracy is necessary is the fact that, as Andrew Rasiej from The Civic Hall community centre in New York, USA pointed out, we are still following the industrial-age model of what democracy should be and it no longer works.

According to Elena Calistru of Funky Citizens Romania, the reason people have begun to look up to populists is because in their eyes these address the real needs and fears of the citizens who are feeling marginalized and economically disadvantaged. They are convinced the current establishment refuses to acknowledge their concerns and are seeking alternative solutions. After all, the financial sector was bailed out at the expense of ordinary people; which only reinforced the frustrated feelings of dislocation and discomfort with the current system (Stephen King, Omidyar Network).

Hera Hussain of CHAYN said that the undeniable failure of our democracies is the inevitable aftermath of the failed promises of neoliberalism. Populists are benefiting from this by tapping into people’s fears. Ironically, transparency that should logically be enhancing democracy is actually reinforcing the rise of populism and radicalism because it reveals the scandals and corruption of the current system. One of the reasons for this is the asymmetry between how much we now know and to what extent we can act and change the situation for the better (Sandor Ledered, K-Monitor).

Thus, people are crying for a new social contract (Zuzana Wienk, Aliancia Fair Play), but at the same time they are disinterested in politics. It is hard to blame them since basic institutions and pillars of democracy are being dismantled and it is virtually impossible for them to gauge where to direct their hopes and trust. So they run around with new projects but they forget that progress begins by fixing themselves on the inside. “It’s an illusion that we can change the world. [In fact], we can’t reboot democracy without rebooting ourselves [first],” said Zuzana.

I myself am an advocate of the so-called ‘less is more’ life philosophy so I will close this article with a reflection on what Zuzana above said during the Forum for it has truly resonated with me. Actually, her thoughts inspired the title of this piece as well. It is only when we make the change that needs to happen personal that we have a capacity to bring about positive impact on the world and people around us.

Sustainability of the future of European integration depends not just on rebooting democracy but on adapting everything it represents: accountable governments, accessible information and involved citizenry. So I urge us now to individually think about the meaning of democracy in the context of the constantly evolving and rapidly technologically developing society.

Let us consider not only what democracy is but also what it needs to be so it can adequately respond to the new demands of its citizens and to properly react to the increasing radicalization tendencies of local governments and their electorates.

“The role of local and regional authorities in preventing corruption and promoting good governance”

Committee of the Regions (CoR), Brussels, Belgium

February 28th, 2017

10am – 5pm

regions_building1

 

According to an old Slovak saying, ‘a fish stinks from the head.’ However, when it comes to state governance and a country’s progressive democratic growth, it is more effective and feasible to address the deficiencies and fill the gaps at the bottom, at local and regional levels.

On Tuesday, February 28th a Joint Conference of the Committee of the Regions and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities brought together MEPs, experts, practitioners and academics from across Europe involved in the sphere of anti-corruption and good governance. They presented varying viewpoints and multiple perspectives but they all agreed on the fundamentals:

Corruption is a transnational phenomenon; it is a systemic, complex and multifaceted problem hurting the stability and success of any government, causing voters’ distrust in their highest officials and posing a viable threat to the principles of decentralization and democracy. Its cost is extremely high in that it significantly decreases the quality of services provided to citizens. In his opening remarks, Karl-Heinz Lambertz, the President of the Socialist Group at the Congress of the Council of Europe, reiterated the importance of perpetuating the fight against corruption and promotion of good governance in ensuring survival of democracy and consolidation of the rule of law.

Most importantly, however, if the ultimate goal is a strong, trustworthy and transparent national and European governance framework, the fight against corruption must begin at lower levels with the commitment and dedication of local and regional authorities to do everything in their capacity to strengthen the core of established governance mechanisms. Gudrun Mosler-Törnström, the President of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities reminded the plenary that the local and regional authorities manage the highest share of public expenditure and European funds. In fact, “32% of EU public expenditure is managed by regional authorities [and] a large share of structural funds [is] managed by regions,” added Carl Dolan, Director of Transparency International EU.

This is why “repression isn’t enough,” said Laura Ferrara, Vice Chair of the European Parliamentary Committee on Legal Affairs and Rapporteur on the Fight Against Corruption. “ To recognize and address systemic corruption, it is necessary to act early, to focus on prevention and monitoring, and to “mainstream the culture of legality in schools and among youth.” Otherwise, the lines between what is normal and legal, and what is an unacceptable exception, i.e. corruption, will become indefinable.

corruption2

Among some of the possible and already applied solutions and preventive practices mentioned at the conference were the following:

  • Holders of public office are to set an example to their citizens;
  • Public officials should rotate in and out of their public roles regularly to promote independence and merit in local administrations;
  • Implement control mechanisms to monitor the transfer of money between different levels of government and the close administration of the rule of law;
  • Work diligently to make local and regional offices more effective and less bureaucratic because “the more complex the bureaucracy, the easier it is for corruption to infiltrate,” asserted Laura Ferrara;
  • Municipalities, local and regional governments should be encouraged to be involved in experience-sharing and information-exchange programs, including the Anti-corruption experience sharing programme launched in 2015 by the European Commission;
  • Reinforce checks and balances at the local level. According to information from the 2014 Anti-Corruption report mentioned by Irina Steruriuc, European Commission Team Leader in the Fight Against Corruption the checks and balances at local levels are less strict than at national levels which allows those with discretionary powers to avoid accountability and control mechanisms;
  • Establish a legislation universally protecting investigative journalists and primarily whistleblowers in the European Union, on local, regional, national as well as European levels.

The second half of Tuesday’s enriching discussions opened with Christoph Demmke of the College of Europe identifying codes of ethics and codes of conduct as essential components of governance and effective instruments in preventing corruption at all levels. Patrick von Maravić, Chair of the Advisory Group on revising Congress Code of Conduct highlighted the role that codes play in fostering ethical decision-making processes and harmonizing standards in heterogeneous highly decentralized settings. Without undermining the significance of such codes, Gjalt de Graaf of Vrije University underscored the weight carried by the process of drafting codes versus the existence of codes themselves when he stated that “code is nothing, coding is everything.” Good moral leadership is more than a good code of conduct because what matters the most is how you as a leader deal with drafting the code and subsequently the code itself.

Markku Markkula, the President of the Committee of the Regions reassured his colleagues and peers that anti-corruption is a thematic priority for the Committee and one of many reasons to further cooperate with the Congress to maximize impact.

In the end, however, “there is no one [clear] recipe that always works, [but] there is one ingredient that predetermines success, [namely] general political will to fight corruption” (Irina Steruriuc).

“Understanding the Implications of corruption, transparency and accountability on our lives”

2nd Annual International Youth-To-Youth Summit

April 21-25th, 2016

Krakow, Poland

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The Youth-To-Youth Initiative (Y2Y) was founded on the belief that inspired action leads to change and with a mission to empower young people to be the change makers. In addition to providing around-the-clock support in project management and development of socially beneficial ideas through the ACTION HUB, Y2Y fosters information and experience sharing through their annual international summits bringing together young change makers from around the world. Having lived in Canada at the time of the first annual international Y2Y summit in Vilnius, Lithuania and thus unable to participate in 2015 I was extremely glad to have found myself in the heart of Europe, in Bratislava in 2016  and a mere overnight train ride away from beautiful historical Krakow in neighbouring Poland. Fittingly, I had already had the pleasure to meet and get to know the Co-Founder of Y2Y and Summit Coordinator, Ania Ankowska as well as several of the Summit’s panel moderators , speakers and workshop facilitators in 2013 at the Transparency International Summer School on Integrity  (TISI) in Vilnius.

Thus, in addition to the 2016 Summit being an invaluable experience to learn from anti-corruption and governance experts, academics and practitioners from across Europe and beyond; to meet likeminded young professionals working in, involved in or simply interested in the betterment of the world and society we live in; and exponentially broadening my horizons in the topic area of transparency and public affairs, it also made for a wonderful opportunity to reunite with old friends and alumni from TISI 2013.

Educational highlights (my personal) and some disconcerting facts from the Summit, or in other words some interesting food for thought: 

  • Around the world, $20-40 billion is stolen by cryptocrats (WBG)
  • “Corruption is almost a human tendency.”(Iason O’Dunnin, ACI, Ireland)
  • Unfortunately, most government systems are set up in a way that encourages corruption (Mark Vlasic, Georgetown University)
  • Fortunately, globalization and technological advances help reveal more instances of corruption (Kryszstof Izdebski, Fundacja ePaństwo (EPF))
  • “Fifa is ruled by a culture of silos and intimidation.” (Bonita Mersiadez, Australian whistleblower commenting on the FIFA scandal)
  • Whistleblowers have nothing to gain and everything to lose yet they are instrumental to identifying instances of corruption
  • Matchfixing in soccer in Poland is not an uncommon phenomenon; quite the opposite (Benjamin Wheatland)
  • “Youth mustn’t wait till it is their time to lead [and wear] the grey suits, [but rather] push themselves into positions of impact and action.” (Iason O’Dunnin, ACI, Ireland)
  • Avoid negativistic wording and rephrase fighting corruption into “making the society more open [or] enhancing transparency”(Karolina Mazetyte, Y2Y)
  • In the past in Zimbabwe corruption was unknown because people were taught from an early age that “the best values are honesty and ubuntu = I am because of you. But today the society has completely changed [whereby] absolute power corrupts absolutely.”(Dumisani Mthombeni, lawyer and activist)
  • “Corruption comes down to the system, not the goodness of evil of people.” (Michal Klusek, Fundacia Stańczyka)
  • “Anti-corruption is not glamorous. It has been reactive till now but needs to be proactive and create systems which will prevent the abuse of the system.” (Elena Panfilova, Vice Chair at TI)
  • Corruption cannot be eliminated but rather minimized to a socially acceptable level. (Elena Panfilova, Vice Chair at TI)

To sum up, the thoughts that resonated the most strongly with my philosophy of less is more, microleadership, and leading by example are the three below:

  1. “Corruption is a virus and we must decide about what we can do ourselves on a small scale and locally.” (Karolis Granickas, Open Contracting Partnership)
  2. If not you, then who? What I do every day matters.” (Ingrida Palamaite, TI Lithuania)
  3. Where is my own personal place in the future of anti-corruption?” (Elena Panfilova, Vice Chair at TI)

 

“BE THE CHANGE YOU WISH TO SEE IN THE WORLD”   Mahatma Gandi

Inspired by all these powerful ideas and equipped with much new knowledge, I was invited to deliver a series of interactive and deliverables-oriented workshops on youth engagement in civic, public and eventually political life.

The purpose of the workshop was to recapitulate some of the main ideas expressed during the Summit regarding the importance of good governance and open responsive governments and to brainstorm meaningful ways in which to engage our youth in activities (not necessarily only government or politics related) that could and would engrave in them the qualities and values that would facilitate their development into responsible citizens of integrity and honesty.

The first part of the workshop looked at some of the key buzzwords associated with youth engagement, i.e. youth involvement, youth voice, youth in governance, and youth participation and included a discussion about the importance of actively engaging youth in volunteering, civic life and politics.

Before diving into the more practical hands-on portion of the workshop, we listed some already existing  and mostly free initiatives on a global scale in which youth can participate such as World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers community, the World Bank Group Youth Summit(s) as well as various international summer school programs.

Brainstorming session:

  • What are effective forms of engaging youth?
  • What are the themes that resonate with youth within the scope of the Y2Y Summit’s thematic focus?
  • What motivates youth?

Based on the answers to the three questions above, what are some concrete project ideas you think would have the potential to involve youth effectively?

From hosting interactive and engaging sessions at their school to raise awareness about the impact lack of civic participation has on the growth and development of democracy through blending music and story-telling to get the key messages across to our youth to encouraging young people to volunteer at the polls in their districts and regions during local or national elections, the discussions that ensued brought about stimulating and actionable ideas and (hopefully) in a small (micro) way set the stage for a brighter, more accountable and participatory tomorrow.


 

Youth Advocates for Open and Responsive Government

Author: Maria Habanikova, Former Research Officer at the Institute on Governance

On October 7th, 2014 the World Bank Group (WBG) opened its doors on the renown Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. to over 300 ambitious civically-minded young professionals from all around the world to connect and network at the Youth Summit titled ‘The Need for Open and Responsive Governments.’ It was a unique opportunity blending policy dialogue and tool-focused workshops to explore different ways in which global youth, having at their disposal mediums not available even a decade ago, can collaborate and get involved in their governments’ decision making process, enhance transparency, and assure accountability in the governance contexts they interact with daily, be it locally, regionally, nationally and even internationally.

Just as there is no clear-cut definition of good governance, the interpretation of open government is always contextual. The value of the Summit was precisely in the intertwining of perspectives and experiences from a variety of political and socio-economic backgrounds that showed the challenges faced but also successes enjoyed by different countries.

An effective way to learn about and from other national contexts is through case studies. One was presented at the Summit in a panel discussion with Erion Veliaj, the Albanian Minister for Social Welfare and Youth. Mr. Veliaj introduced the idea of a subcontracted government, which means a government that encourages its youth (and citizenry in general) to be guardians of their own taxes. In Albania, applying this in practice has reduced fraud by 20%. A subcontracted government invites people to do things in their own communities and to report back on their contributions as well as inappropriate behavior. Actions speak louder than words so governments need to lead by example instead of giving orders; when they are at the frontlines of action, people will be more motivated to get involved as well.

Mr Veliaj claimed, “governance is politics”. At first, I disagreed because as a governance consultant and former public policy student, I comprehend governance in a very different way. I interpret it as the ‘relationship between those who govern and those who are governed’; a relationship that enhances open government but that is not government in and of itself. However, after Mr. Veliaj linked governance to the way political parties behave and engage with their voters, his definition didn’t seem so farfetched. Demonstrations and tangible promises of good governance, he stated, are in parties’ best interest because their existence in their respective parliaments – wherever in the world those may be – depends on the inclination of citizens to vote in their favor. Therefore, open government becomes a self-serving prophecy.

What struck me the most about the Youth Summit was the professional affiliation of its attendees. None of them came from the political sphere, public sector or government. For instance, none of the 70 participants of ‘#OpenGovNow: Innovations on Gathering Citizen Feedback’ session worked for their respective government. This was shocking to me because while governance may not be the same as government, the two undoubtedly go hand in hand; they are two sides of the same coin. Undoubtedly, the need for open government and good governance is bigger today than ever before and even though governance is definitely not government, we definitely require more government present in governance discussions.

Canada’s membership in the Open Government Partnership (OGP) is commendable and necessary. Having submitted its second Action Plan on Open Government in October this year, Canadian government, among other goals, committed to ‘consult, engage and empower.’ It is clear it realizes that ‘open dialogue’ is necessary to improve services and make them more accessible to the citizens.

The 11-hour day of plenary sessions, workshops, and discussions at the WBG demonstrated that it is important to recognize that “[while] technology is driving disruptive change (applications, social media, etc.) it has not yet replaced the more traditional means of governance (policy, voting, etc.); therefore, the two need to learn how to coexist. We are not in an era of “business as usual,” Viva Dadwal, a member of the Young Diplomats Canada delegation shared her insights after the Summit. Furthermore, this particular Youth Summit confirmed what research and statistics have shown, as revealed during the introductory remarks by Nicholas Bian, the Summit’s Chair: that youth supports open government and is interested in pursuing tangible action-oriented solutions.

Note: Originally written for and published in the Canadian Government Executive (CGE) magazine in January 2015

 

 

 

 

World Bank Group Summit: Should Youth support Open Government?

Does open government lead to better governance? Let’s find out. 

WBG Youth Summit

Attending the World Bank Group Youth Summit has been an eye-opening experience, providing insights on open government and open data.

Having met Richard Pietro after his cross-Canada Open Government Tour 2014 and attended the Open Government Grand Bazaar at the Ottawa City Hall motivated me to apply to attend the second annual World Bank Group Youth Summit on “The Need for Open & Responsive Governments” in Washington D.C. Less than three weeks later, I found myself setting out on my very own – albeit much shorter – trip to the US capital city to connect with peers from around the world and explore different ways in which global youth – having at their disposal mediums not available even a decade ago – can get involved in their governments’ decision making process, enhance transparency, and assure accountability in the governance contexts they interact with daily, be it locally, regionally, nationally and even internationally.

11 hour Plenary Session with 300+ Youth Representatives? No Problem. 

Thanks to the generosity and support of the main sponsor, the World Bank Group (Governance) and collaborators including the Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, Asian Development Bank, Restless Development (Youth-Led Development Agency), Plan International (a children’s development organization), and Transparency International 300 youth representatives, students, and young professionals gathered in the International Finance Corporation Auditorium on Pennsylvania Avenue at 9am on Tuesday, October 7thto begin an exhilarating 11-hour day of plenary sessions, workshops, discussions, and networking opportunities.

The atmosphere in the WBG Building was nothing short of extraordinary. As an extrovert, there is hardly anything more energizing than an auditorium filled with eager, involved, and impressive young professionals who aspire to be better every day and make a difference in their communities, cities, and countries.

Greeted by Nicholas Bian, Youth Summit’s Chair, we were encouraged to reflect on key issues affecting us ranging from corruption, lack of transparency, and distrust in governments, and to consider our capacity to strengthen the mechanisms of accountability. Research shows that youth supports open government and is interested in pursuing action-oriented solutions. The Summit – blending policy dialogue, tool-focused workshops and collaboration – provided us with a unique opportunity to do just that.

In a nutshell, before I get into the concept of governance and a couple of ideas from the summit that have resonated with me the most, the day consisted of a ministerial discussion with Erion Veliaj, Minister for Social Welfare and Youth, Albania and two plenary sessions, Promoting and enabling youth, youth ideas, and youth movements in ensuring open and responsive governments and The Role of Youth in Inclusive Governance. Additionally, the afternoon presented the participants with an opportunity to pick two of eight available governance-themed workshops run and sponsored by a variety of partnering organizations such as the Asian Development Bank, United Nations Development Programme, Carter Center, Plan International and others.

#OpenGovNow: Innovations on gathering citizen feedback

It was extremely difficult to choose and I would have appreciated a chance to attend all of the workshops but in the end, I selected #OpenGovNow: Innovations on gathering citizen feedback, hosted by the World Bank Group Governance Practice and Youth Engagement and E-Governance Tools, hosted by the International Republican Institute & Generation Democracy.  The highlight of the Youth Summit were the closing remarks by the President of the World Bank Group, Jim Yong Kim who encouraged us to confront the socio-economic challenges of the world today, hold governments accountable, make people uncomfortable, and remember that when it comes to governance, we matter today more than ever before.

Every speaker I had the honor of listening to and participant I had a chance to interact with made a lasting impression on me; there were, however, a handful of those whose ideas are still swirling around in my head trying to settle into that part of my brain that can process them, convey the message to others and perhaps even convert them into sustainable actions.

Mr. Veliaj from Albania introduced the idea of a subcontracted government, which – in the context of youth engagement – means a government that encourages its youth (and citizenry in general) to be guardians of their own taxes. In Albania, applying this in practice has reduced fraud by 20% because young people have been reporting any fraudulent behavior they encountered.

Because Veliaj’s Centre Left – Solidarity Party realized that young people worry about the future, the party’s goal became to get Albanian youth involved in something they believe in and in what they actually want to invest their energy and time. In other words, a subcontracted government invites people to do things in their own communities and to report back on their contributions as well as inappropriate behavior. Actions speak louder than words so governments need to lead by example instead of giving orders; when they are at the frontlines of action, people will be more motivated to get involved as well.

Albanian Success? 

I was quite fascinated by the success story Albania has showcased in the recent years; moreover, Mr. Veliaj got me thinking about governance in a new way. He claimed, “governance is politics”. At first, I disagreed because as a public policy student and governance consultant, I present governance in a very different way. I tend to interpret governance as the ‘relationship between those who govern and those who are governed’ or ‘governance is definitely not government.’

However, Mr. Veliaj linked governance to the way political parties behave and engage with their voters. Demonstrations and tangible promises of good governance, he stated, are in parties’ best interest because their existence in their respective parliaments – wherever in the world those may be – depends on the inclination of citizens to vote in their favor. Therefore, open government becomes a self-serving prophecy.

Wait a minute, where are the government workers?

If we accept what Mr. Veliaj said about governance and what I claim governance not to be, it will either be very surprising or on the other hand, quite logical that the vast majority of presenters (with the exception of Mr. Veliaj) and youth participants at WBG that day did not come from the political sphere, public sector or government. In my first workshop of about 50 participants, there was not a single government employee. It can be surprising because while governance may not be the same as government, the two undoubtedly go hand in hand and are two sides of the same coin; logical because good governance is also a concept tied closely to the idea of citizen engagement and civil society input.

Regardless of whether you belong to ‘I am surprised’ or ‘It makes perfect sense’ category, the following remains certain: the need for open government and good governance is bigger today than ever before and even though governance is definitely not government, we definitely require more government in governance discussions.

Note: Originally written for MindThis and published at http://mindthismagazine.com/world-bank-group-summit-youth-supports-open-government/ 

Open Government, Open Data #OGT2014

Inspired by the TEDx talk  ‘The Antidode to Apathy” by Dave Meslin from Toronto about civic engagement, Richard Pietro set out on an incredible journey across Canada on his motorbike to promote the ideas associated with open government and open data. He is not a public servant nor a politician but simply an ordinary citizen with a lot of spirit, creative mind and a desire to improve the way citizens engage with their governments.

Two words from Dave’s presentation lit a light bulb of curiosity in Richard’s head and subsequently fuelled the engines of the ‘Open Government Tour 2014’ motorbike: “intentional exclusion.” These were a result of a comparative analogy Dave had used to shed some light on the inaccuracy of reasons given for civic disengagement and absence of active involvement in governance.

Having shown the audience what Nike’s advertisements would look like if they were using the marketing strategies of most municipal governments, it became clear to Richard that apathy and laziness are not the reasons why people don’t want to get involved in their governments’ decision-making process. It is the way information is being presented to them, or rather hidden from them in most cases, that more often than not discourages participation. In Richard’s view, and increasingly the views of many others, open governments and open data are an effective way to rectify the situation.

To understand open government and explore the backstage of Richard’s tour across the country, it is crucial to realize that open government is not to be equated with politics and politicians. In fact, the buzzword we are looking for is governance, the way processes are established, people held accountable, and stakeholders consulted. Looking at open government from this perspective, Richard in his stimulating presentation introduced the triangle of conversation that needs to exist in order for the ideas behind open government to materialize: ‘public service, citizens, and technologists’.

I remember a paper I wrote on participatory democracy in graduate school. It contained the following definition: “Governance is a dialogue between those who govern and those who are governed.” Richard did not state so explicitly, but I think he used the same kind of idea when articulating the concept of the triangle of conversation. Public servants are those who govern or represent the policies developed by the governing group and the citizens are those who are governed. Moreover, Richard built on my very simple and cliché-like spectrum of actors by adding another actor to the equation: the technologists who become the enablers of the conversation, enablers of governance. At last, our three stakeholders have the means to develop a common language and start learning from and with each other.

When you present civic engagement in the way Richard did – by showing a video of the Governance Spaceship with all the agents on board equipped with the same goal or one in which Open Government and Open Data are the Daft Punk of Government – it becomes less of a chore or punishment and more of an enjoyable responsibility and tool of empowerment.

Note: Originally written for MindThis and published at http://mindthismagazine.com/open-government-open-data-ogt14/ 

 

Gorillas in Slovakia

A month ago, it seemed quite probable that the parliamentary elections in Slovakia scheduled for March 10th, 2012 would be postponed until September 2012. At least that’s what the people were calling for in a movement I dare to call the “Slovak Spring”. The protests began with bananas thrown at the walls of parliament in response to the discovery of “gorillas” hiding in the shrubs of corruption.

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At the end of 2005, the Slovak Information Service (SIS) discovered something fishy going on between the highest state officials as well as their nominees and major financial groups, the so-called ‘oligarchs’, operating in the country; the latter giving specific orders to the former who then benefit by gaining large sums of provisions in return. The document – ‘Case GORILA’ – talks about the influence of financial groups on the main representatives of state. It points out that the decisions concerning the present and future of Slovakia have not been taken by the elected officials, but by other more powerful actors. Both government and opposition figures were involved in this exchange of selling components of the state to financial groups such as PENTA. This is why, upon concluding the investigation, the SIS swept it all under a rug and did not go public.
One of their investigators who lived just a few apartments away from the flat where this money laundering was happening found himself in a situation where his and his family’s security was threatened. When his SIS colleagues wouldn’t listen to his case, he turned to Tom Nicholson, a Canadian journalist living in Slovakia. However, SIS fired him and accused him of parricide. Nicholson then started working on publicizing the document but SIS was unwilling to help as any information and recordings the Secret Information Group gathers and doesn’t use for the purposes of prosecution must be destroyed; otherwise their use becomes illegal. Nicholson himself does not know how ‘Case GORILA’ appeared online this year. The positive thing is that it is out in the open and a real investigation can begin, or so some say. But can it really? It is doubtful that a proper investigation will be carried out in a country where the police, legislature, and judicial system is so politicized and corrupted. Thus, I do not see much hope in the success of this case if we are going to rely on our failing institutions to do the job. The pilferage of our state has been going on for the past 20 years or so and nobody has been arrested yet. Why would anything change now?

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That being said, there is hope! The last time Slovaks stood up for their rights was in 1989 when we were still part of Czechoslovakia. Since the creation of our own Slovak nation state, however, we have been passively watching politics pass us by instead of actively fighting for our input in the institutions of Slovak democracy. Democracy is about dialogue between those who govern and those who are governed, and we seem to have forgotten that. Even now, when you ask a citizen in the street who they are going to vote for, they will either say no one or that they will vote for ‘that guy’ just so that ‘the other guy’ does not get in. Are these protest votes legitimate votes? And can we even blame the voters for such passive and apathetic decisions? I say no considering the absence of transparency. I believe that it is unthinkable that for twenty years nothing has been done. It is no wonder that the voters, as empowered as they might be feeling as a result of these recent discoveries and demonstrations, are just too discouraged to take a concrete political stance in the form of a ballot. I do, however, believe in the power of the collective and that is why I am so very proud to see Slovaks marching, protesting and demonstrating in the streets… and even throwing bananas at parliament! Finally we did something about it instead of just constantly complaining to each other about the ‘scoundrels’ and ‘state wasters up there’; about the gorillas hiding in the shrubs of corruption.

And this is it, this is what parliament needs! Not an investigation, but defenestration! A total cleansing! If we want to see change, we have to ask for it no matter how long it will take for it to manifest; and we have to believe in it and insist on it. Pilferage of the state cannot go on. It is questionable what political atmosphere the elections will create. However, one thing is certain. People have lost faith in those who govern them but as long as they don’t lose faith in themselves as invested citizens, there is hope.

Note: Originally written for MindThis and published at http://mindthismagazine.com/gorillas-in-slovakia/