Thinking Uncategorized

Mini-briefing on the Open Government Partnership

The OGP was launched at last month’s UN General Assembly to a good deal of buzz in the gov 2.0 world. It seems to be part of, or hosted by, the Transparency and Accountability Initiative, another Soros venture.

Essentially, it’s a well-meaning anti-corruption, pro-openness platform between some of the nations leading on open government: publishing data (not just numbers) and doing innovative things with it. Or allowing citizens to do interesting things with it. Brazil and the US led the project.

Here’s an explanation in splendid socialmedialand format:

The Open Government Declaration that nations can sign up to is just that, a declaration, but by promoting examples like these….

We commit to increasing our efforts to systematically collect and publish data…We commit to pro-actively provide high-value information, including raw data, in a timely manner, in formats that the public can easily locate, understand and use, and in formats that facilitate reuse.

We commit to maintaining or establishing a legal framework to make public information on the income and assets of national, high ranking public officials.

We commit to making policy formulation and decision making more transparent, creating and using channels to solicit public feedback, and deepening public participation in developing, monitoring and evaluating government activities.

…the founding nations hope to cajole plenty more into joining them. It’s an interesting start. The examples above are just a few lines from a fairly vast, all-encompassing list that reads a little bit like somebody put together in one place all the government transparency ideas they could find. Which might not be a bad thing.

Now, how about more of the same, but for the United Nations itself?

In the blogosphere:

David Eaves has argued that this ‘openness’ idea could be a sign of ‘open’ states raising the bar in governance:

It abandons the now outdated free-market/democratic vs. state-controlled/communist axis in favour of a more subtle, but more appropriate, open vs. closed…I like the idea of world in which states compete to be more open. We could do worse.

The Economist blogged a response:

The problem with Mr Eaves’ argument isn’t that it’s necessarily wrong as such. The OGP would definitely be in line with an overall strategy to promote Western democratic values and provoke people in other countries to demand more of them…

No, the problem is that this is really nothing new or major…

Countries can join the list if they demonstrate that they meet certain “minimum standards of open government”—”minimum” clearly being the operative word.

The Economist also included a broad overview of the whole project, including strengths and weaknesses, in their print edition.

One simple test of effectiveness: is anybody still talking about this in a year’s time?

Thinking Uncategorized

Watching the globe: good governance requires open information, including satellite imagery

In terms of information useful for global governance, security information is often still perceived as closed and secret from the public (until Wikileaks comes along). Although nations and global institutions are opening up data and becoming more transparent, when it comes to security, one assumes the public just don’t have the same access to detailed imagery and intelligence information as to global events.

But wouldn’t it be great if citizens had the same access to the same kind of fancy satellite imagery that you assume the US military has (i.e. you saw it on the West Wing a few times). Imagine if we could actually see what was going on in Sudan, Zimbabwe, Libya… 

“The world is watching because you’re watching”

Presumably this compares very poorly to what national governments have, but in terms of tech tools changing global governance, Satellite Sentinel is pretty interesting.

They’ve used before-and-after satellite images to create compelling stories of what’s happened in Sudan, which could become useful evidence for action against the perpetrators. More immediately, it’s useful information to prove their case that violence is continuing. 


This seems exciting, but have a read of this critical view from Tim Brown (of for Imaging Notes. In it he argues that imagery has often be used and abused in the past, and there’s a danger of information overload. And of course, ultimately information itself doesn’t lead to better outcomes – ‘boots on the ground’ etc. But that’s not really the point of the Sentinel programme.

The one benefit he points out is that the “goal of documenting violence, war crimes and genocide to prosecute is more attainable.”

Perhaps the point is simply that its harder to hide war crimes now. Wherever you are in the world, more and more actors are capable of seeing what you’re doing – not just those wealthy nations with high tech equipment. You already know that it’s wrong, and now you know that people will be able to see what you’re doing. It’s becoming possible for globally concerned movements and activists to observe and document any large scale atrocities that happen anywhere in the world, from anywhere in the world.

Environmental satellite imaging

Similar things are going on in global environmental governance. Google Earth Outreachgives non-profits and public benefit organizations the knowledge and resources they need to visualize their cause and tell their story in Google Earth & Maps to hundreds of millions of people.”

So it’s a bit more of a campaign tool – but if the satellite imagery of deforestation can be provided at regular intervals, who is to say that some bright techie type won’t design some crowdsourced rainforest ‘watch, report’ thing, using hundreds of environmentalists around the world to monitor areas of rainforest and report illegal logging to locals who can confirm and act on it. 

Bright techie type? Anyone?