Appropriating Technology for Accountability (I). Rosie McGee: What roles do and don’t technologies play in citizen voice and transparency for achieving accountable and responsive governance?

Notes from the Appropriating Technology for Accountability, part of the Making All Voices Count program, organized by Institute of Development Studies and held in Brighton, UK, on 25-26 October 2017. More notes on this event: allvoicescount.

What roles do and don’t technologies play in citizen voice and transparency for achieving accountable and responsive governance?
Dr Rosie McGee, Making All Voices Count, IDS

Not everyone is online. Obvious as this is, planning for e-participation or any kind of online activities to improve democracy have to take this into account. For people to be empowered by ICTs they have to, at least, have access to such technologies.

Making All Voices Count is addressing quite a big set of problems that deal with the quality of democracy, as it is shown in the program’s theory of change.

What roles can technologies play in generating information or data that can be used for accountability and responsiveness purposes?

The problem is that transparency or information are never sufficient. If they were, most problems could be solved by ICTs providing access to information and data. But reality is much more complex. Why would we expect that technology could ever transform governance issues that are fundamentally about power?

Citizens have to engage with information. Information has not only to be public, but accessible, manageable, reusable, etc.

Citizens not only need access to information, but also need to have a voice in public issues. That is, they need to be listened to, they have to have feedback pathways. These pathways usually include intermediaries that link citizens with governments and vice-versa.

Political will to address a problem. Transparency itself will not change government attitudes itself. There have to be activist initiatives to increase the cost of governments of not acting.

Deliberation is indispensable. And deliberation, debate, is quite a leap forward from transparency. Transparency should, thus, be complemented with spaces, platforms, etc. that promote dialogue, based on trust.

These deliberative spaces have to take into account the different profiles of people participating in them: minorities, people excluded from deliberation or from society as a whole, different recognition of others’ voices, etc.

The new institutional environment emerging requires new skills too. Both citizens and representatives need a new set of skills to be able to make the best of technology for democracy. These skills are not only about technology, but about civic participation and democracy at large. If these skill needs are not met, technologies can actually eclipse citizens’ voices and undermine or obstruct accountability and responsiveness.


Q: What are the realistic timelines for impact? Rosie McGee: This is indeed a good question. It depends heavily on the context, but as this is a transformation and not just a minor improvement, we should be realistic about the time span that deep changes will require.

Q: There are two important issues in civic participation online. First, fear of being labelled politically and attacked because of your ideology; second, political online propaganda and even online harassment of people that support some given ideologies.

Q: We speak a lot about “technological poverty”, but very little on “time poverty” and the cost of participation in terms of dedication, time, etc. Rosie McGee: a first step to this is that new ways of doing things does not imply a huge change for people. The challenge is how to let people do things as always but improve the outcomes of this traditional way of participating.

Making All Voics Count: Appropriating Technology for Accountability (2017)