The last few months, we here at NDItech – NDI's technology for democracy team – have had the great opportunity to talk civic innovation, transparency and accountability with dozens of civic groups, journalists and government officials through a set of TechCamps and PeaceTech Exchanges. These programs, put on by the State Department and PeaceTech Lab respectively, link technical experts with innovators across the globe to brainstorm, “pitch” and ultimately bring to life smart, contextualized tech solutions to pressing community problems. It’s been a pleasure for us (your bloggers) to be a part of these sessions, which we wanted to share a bit about with you all (our loyal readers).
Just a few weeks ago, TechCamp-Guatemala provided an excellent opportunity for us to share NDI’s DemTools – a suite of open source products for civil society and political organizations – with civic tech leaders from across Latin America who came ready to learn about new tools and approaches that they could leverage in their important work to counter corruption and promote transparency in their countries. Working with NDI, innovators from throughout the region pitched an idea for utilizing the Civi DemTool to make more transparent the programs of an organization combating school delinquency through school meals. Using the platform, the organization could more effectively measure its impact and communicate that impact with potential donors. “We’re demanding more transparency from our governments,” said one TechCamp participant. “But we need to practice what we preach by making our civil society organizations more transparent too.”
We also had the chance to connect with a host of CSOs and government representatives at TechCamp Kosovo, focused on combating corruption across the Western Balkans. Teaming up with the great folks at Democracy Plus, we highlighted the reasons behind the massive success of their local implementation (in both Albanian and Serbian language) of NDI’s FixMyCommunity DemTool, which has gathered over 1,000 citizen reports and helped municipal governments address and fix hundreds of issues across Kosovo since its launch just over a year ago. The key lessons learned from the implementation of this platform – developing strong relationships with local institutions (like mayors offices, municipal councils, etc.) and smartly advertising the platform to generate awareness and interest – may not seem like rocket science, but served to many of us at the Camp as a powerful reminder that the technology is often the easy part. It’s the human integration that takes the most work and is ultimately the most important piece of the puzzle.
“We’re demanding more transparency from our governments,” said one TechCamp participant. “But we need to practice what we preach by making our civil society organizations more transparent too.”
We had the chance to talk FixMyCommunity again at the PeaceTech Exchange in Macedonia, hosted by our friends at Democracy Lab. Although structured a bit differently from the Tech Camps, the goal of these “PTXs” remains the same – connect local change makers both in and out of government with data, tools, technologies and strategies that can solve important issues in their communities. At the end of the three-day event, one of the winning “pitches” outlined a local implementation of the FixMyCommunity DemTool in Gostivar, a diverse municipality located about an hour outside of Skopje, the Macedonian capital. Just a few weeks later, supported by NDI, the winning pitch by a CSO called Nexus Civil Concept turned into what is now a growing and active FixMyCommunity site available both in Macedonian and Albanian language.
We’ll of course be keeping an eye on all these projects as they move forward (if you happen to live in either Kosovo or Macedonia, we definitely encourage you to check out those instances of FixMyCommunity!), and even beyond that look forward to future opportunities to interact with all the awesome innovators that we met at these inspirational sessions.