In Taiwan, for instance, tech activists have built online databases to track political contributions and create channels for public participation in parliamentary debates. In South Africa, anti-corruption organisation Corruption Watch has used online and mobile platforms to gather public votes for Public Protector candidates.
We interviewed people in Kenya and South Africa who are responsible for choosing technologies when implementing transparency and accountability initiatives. In many cases, they’re not choosing their tech well. They often only recognised in retrospect how important their technology choices were. Most would have chosen differently if they were put in the same position again.
Our findings challenge a common mantra which holds that technological failures are usually caused by people or strategies rather than technologies. It’s certainly true that human agency matters. However powerful technologies may seem, choices are made by people – not the machines they invent. But our research supports the idea that technology isn’t neutral. It suggests that sometimes the problem really is the tech….
So what should those working in civic technology do about improving tool selection? From our research, we developed six “rules” for better tool choices. These are:
- first work out what you don’t know;
- think twice before building a new tool;
- get a second opinion;
- try it before you buy it;
- plan for failure; and
- share what you learn.
Possibly the most important of these recommendations is to try or “trial” technologies before making a final selection. This might seem obvious. But it was rarely done in our sample….(More)”