Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Technology: the mzalendo project

Through a post by Ethan Zuckerman I can sit in a boring place and still know what
Ory Okolloh talked about during the citizen media and blogging conference in South Africa.

Ory observes, “In Kenya, you hide information without knowing why you’re hiding it. With technology, you can break that open.” Mzalendo is putting draft bills online and reporting their status, letting people search by issue, and providing a bill tracker so you can watch the progress of a piece of legislation. They’re offering a database of MPs, searchable by gender, province, district, and party affiliation. Coming soon is a list of bills sponsored from 2003 to the present. It’s difficult to put voting records online, because many Kenyan votes are voice votes. But a searchable Hansard online is a future goal. Her project, Mzalendo (pronounced: “me za len do”) uses new technologies to try to hold Kenya’s government accountable.

I think this case tries and change things from the technology side. On one hand I'd think people will try and meddle or withhold information (a database or blog in itself will not make you share), on the other hand, presenting information in new ways can also be helpful to draw new conclusions or ask new questions. My favorite example is the level of salaries of development agencies directors. Most information was available through annual reports. But it wasn't till journalists picked it up that the individual donors to these organisations started paying attention to the level of salaries of the organisations they donate to.

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