Introducing Design With: A Reboot Podcast Series

Last year, we hosted four incredible interviews with folks driving radical collaborations across the globe. Our world has transformed so much in the time since, but the wisdom of these great leaders sustains. Take a listen.

We are actively engaged in the dialogue and debates of our space: on issues of social justice, global development, and democratic innovation, and on the ethics and methodological evolution of design, mediation, and co-creation practice. More of our writing can be found at Medium.

Panthea Lee to Judge PEACEapp

We’re excited Panthea will join the jury for PEACEapp, a global competition to promote digital games and gamified apps as venues for cultural dialogue and conflict management. PEACEapp is now open for submissions. Developers, technologists and peacebuilders around the world are invited to apply!

Dane Roth Featured in International Policy Digest

Exploring current events in Libya, Dane makes the case that violence is a tool of the political process. “While violence continues to be the primary means through which attention is brought to political concerns in Libya,” he writes, “with time new tools and new venues can help build trust in a more peaceful political process.”

Jennifer Thibault Guest Lectures at SVA

Today, Jen joins SVA’s “Impact! Design for Social Change” summer guest lecturer series. She will speak about what it takes to design in context, presenting an overview of the brand identity she created for our My Voice platform, which was launched last month in central Nigeria.

A group of people collaborating

World Bank Restructuring Could Benefit Open Gov

It is an uncommon sight to see an open government actor “talking shop” with a traditional good governance practitioner. But why? Are the stereotypes true: is the former tech-obsessed, and the latter lacking in innovative ideas? Both parties work to improve public spending and services, and many even agree on the fundamental ingredients to achieving this, so surely there is reason to believe that these two groups can and should ban together. Is this possible and what would the next phase of open government look like if so?

The challenge

The lack of empathy we have written about and recognize as a challenge for working across governance institutions can help to explain a concerning phenomenon that I have seen firsthand: minimal engagement of traditional development actors (multilateral and bilateral agencies) in open government reform efforts.

First things first, engagement between the open government community and traditional development agencies is not new. Huge strides were made and credit is owed to aid transparency leaders who succeeded in forming International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) and World Bank Open Data. The Open Government Partnership’s (OGP) recent partnership with the Asian Development Bank (ADB), their fifth multilateral agreement, illustrates further progress.

Many open government advocates, however, emphasize the roles and responsibilities of individual governments and citizens, overlooking the agencies that direct and shape significant resources of the governance agenda. Anecdotally, the community shares a belief that traditional development agencies are too bureaucratic, meaning hairy to navigate, slow to progress, and outdated in thinking. On the contrary, there is widespread and open recognition that public sector experts play a significant role in development agency operations, and hold valuable knowledge and experience. In reality, a simple stocktaking of attendees at international open government conferences such as the annual Open Government Partnership Summit and Open Knowledge Festival reveals a near absence of those who have worked extensively on good governance issues for decades.

The opportunity

I come to Reboot from the World Bank at a time when there appears to be significant change taking place within the organization. Rumors have been circulating about the institutional restructuring for some time now and even internal actors are unclear about what’s next. The goal, as told by the president Jim Kim, is to break down existing silos to promote cross-collaboration. The new organizational matrix aims to eliminate disparate conversations taking place amongst, for example, African and Asian specialists both working on infrastructure issues. New global practices are responsible for the operations, knowledge, and learning around their focal area and a handful of thematic areas cut across them. Top layers of management have also been shuffling about in structure and individuals.

As of July 1, there is a new Global Governance Practice (GGP), a change that leads me to believe it is an opportune time for the open government community to meaningfully engage with the World Bank. The restructuring elevates open governance principles by bringing public financial management (PFM), information and communication technologies (ICT), and social accountability experts together under one roof.  In this mix, team leads using participatory budgeting methods sit side-by-side with those who offer performance-based budgeting skills. The changes have also energized internal actors to partner externally for operationalizing goals. One example of this is the formation of a new Digital Engagement unit that builds partnerships in each effort to bolster citizen feedback and government responsiveness.

Next steps

To avoid remaining siloed from traditional governance actors like the World Bank, the open government community could benefit from reflecting on how to take advantage of these changes and best meet shared goals.

What could this look like in practice?

Engagement needs to go beyond making partnerships and exploring synergies to push for transparency.  These rarely trickle down to the project level, where design and process are king and what ultimately determines outcomes. Directly targeting project work is necessary and could happen in the following ways:

  • Understanding institutional operations to effectively “work the system”

    As is in any bureaucracy, structure and process drive operations. Institutions like the World Bank are no different. If the open government community takes a moment to learn the essentials of internal operations, injecting external ideas and tools for project implementation can work. For example, the World Bank approaches all projects with a high-level Country Partnership Framework (CPF) and kicks off the project cycle with a Project Appraisal Document (PAD) that offers context, defines scope and goals. It would be useful to directly link open government goals to the relevant approaches in a CPF and attach them to the discussions had to frame a PAD.

  • Introducing new approaches to traditional systems

    We employ methods that do not fit the traditional project management mold. One such technique is ‘adaptive management’ which embraces iterating on decision-making and execution in project planning, implementation, and learning.  An approach like this one is used by open government actors across the board—from open data gurus, to data journalists, to community mappers—and it can be offered to project leads in development agencies.

  • Empowering intrapreneurs

    Yes, we all know the select open government champions who work within these organizations. But have we asked how we can help them navigate their own country offices and client governments? There is an opportunity to support change from within if we can better understand their needs and constraints because believe it or not, they are as frustrated as we are.

Why should the open government community care?

Institutions like the World Bank hold deep and longstanding relationships with governments (not least a product of legitimacy derived from government ownership of the institution).  While the open government community is full of influencers of governance outcomes, let’s be honest, the trusted connections to governments (particularly in the Global South) are minimal. Critical to improving governance, whether through mapping community needs, visualizing money and politics, or distributing public service information via mobile, is the role of the government who has the power to embrace transparency and translate it into accountable systems.

What brought me to Reboot is a shared belief that redesigning governance is not about avoiding what exists and building anew.  It is more difficult than that precisely because it requires understanding what we have, what limitations exist, and what small opportunities we can seize to make incremental progress.

Zack Brisson Speaks at Africa Open Data Jam

Zack will speak at Africa Open Data Jam about our experience helping launch the world’s first sub-national open data portal in Nigeria. Hosted by IBM and the U.S. Government on the sidelines of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, the event aims to share global experiences in open data.

Panthea Lee Presents for ICT4D Principles Working Group

Panthea and Nicole participated in an ICT4D Principles working group in Washington, DC focused on “Principle 1: Design with the User“. These principles seek to serve as a set of living guidelines that are meant to inform, but not dictate, the design of technology-enabled development programs.

Zack Brisson and Ethan Wilkes at US Africa Leaders Summit

Zack and Ethan will attend the US Africa Leaders Summit in Washington D.C. August 4–6. The theme is “Investing in the Next Generation”, and Reboot will participate in the “Civil Society Forum”. The summit aims to advance the administration’s focus on trade and investment in Africa and highlight the U.S.’s commitment to Africa’s security, democratic development, and its people.

Frontline SMS Features Dave Algoso

FrontlineSMS cross-posted Dave’s recent blog post, Understanding Mobile Access From an Ecosystem Perspective, to their site. “Increased access to mobiles,” Dave writes in the piece “has been linked to positive social outcomes in dozens of countries.”

The Problem with Public Security in Latin America

Lucia Aguirre sells food in Flor del Campo, a neighborhood in the south of Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Each day she pays $10.00 to the local gangs for the right to run her small food cart business. Her husband Pablo Dominguez, who drives a bus for Tegucigalpa’s public transportation system, also pays a regular extortion fee of  $26.00. This month he has received at least three death threats from rival gangs who are fighting ferociously to be the landlords of his neighborhood.

The Dominguez family, like many others in their neighborhood, live terrified of gang violence. Last month two bus drivers were murdered in their area. Neighbors prefer to pay the gangs rather than report them to the police, since gangs know how to enforce their threats and police can’t stop them.

Frightful stories like these abound across Latin America where crime and violence affect the lives of millions. According to the UN Office of Drugs and Crime, the region is the world’s most violent with 30 percent of all homicides committed globally and the only zone where homicides increased between 2000 and 2010. Central America has a homicide rate of 24 victims per 100,000 population (2011), which is four times higher than the global average. At the country level, Honduras had the highest homicide rate in the world outside of an active war zone in 2011, with 90 homicides per 100,000 persons, followed by Venezuela (54), Belize (45), El Salvador (41), Colombia (31), Brazil (25) and Mexico (21). The picture worsens at the local level, where cities like San Pedro Sula, Honduras had more than 170 victims per 100,000 persons in 2011 or Acapulco, Mexico with 143 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2012.

At the heart of the violence epidemic in Latin America lies a broken relationship between citizens and their governments. National and subnational governments are unable to deliver effective public security to protect lives and property—the sine qua non service for which people give up individual liberty to the state in a social contract.

The reasons of why Latin American states fail to deliver security to their citizens are numerous.

First, there is the problem of corruption. Law enforcement institutions, namely the police, courts and prisons, are often on the payroll of both local governments and cartels. In other cases, even when there is goodwill from local police forces, they lack the numbers, training, and equipment required to deal with violent gangs and drug cartels. Local authorities commonly face the choice between “plata o plomo”, or “silver or lead”—either cooperate with criminal organizations by accepting bribes or risk being shot.

Second, there is a problem of capacity. Most resources are directed at fighting major criminal organizations at the top, leaving citizens exposed to other threats to their security. For example, when major drug cartels are broken up, the remaining cells need to fund themselves to fight competitors. To make ends meet, they diversify their criminal activities through extortion, human trafficking, and kidnapping, all of which directly affect the livelihoods of  communities.

Third, severe inequality and the poor quality of education has not created societies with a more equitable distribution of opportunities. Latin America has 148 million people between the ages of 15 and 29 years-old. Economists call this a “demographic bonus” that can help the region boost economic growth. But the bonus can easily become a nightmare if this population cannot access high quality educational opportunities that can link them to well-paid jobs or other opportunities for personal development. Education can be an important means out of poverty and violence for thousands of children from neighborhoods such as Flor del Campo in Honduras or Badiraguato in Mexico. Through education they can escape the somber future of being recruited by gangs and dream about becoming doctors, architects, engineers, and astrophysicists instead of narcos or maras.

Finally, mano dura (iron fist) policies against crime have actually exacerbated violence. A case study of El Salvador, Honduras, and Mexico found that these policies, like those implemented in Mexico between 2007 and 2012 and in El Salvador from 2000 to 2009, have multiplied turf wars between rival criminal organizations.

All of these reasons contribute not only to the failures of governments across the region to deliver public security, but also to the lack of trust citizens have in their authorities. In Latin America, public trust in the police is less than 30 percent compared to 47 percent in the United States. A study of Argentina, Bolivia, Guatemala, and Venezuela found that 60 percent of the people think that their local police have been involved in criminal activities.

Fortunately, the concept of security in Latin America has been evolving away from a state-centered vision like mano dura, where maintaining order and protecting the state’s sovereignty from external and internal threats are the core objectives. In its place the concept of citizen security, where security is human-centered and the main goal is to create a peaceful environment for people to live free from crime and violence, is gaining traction.

Citizens, after all, know their communities and neighborhoods best. They can help their local authorities to design and implement better targeted public security strategies, policing routes, crime prevention policies, or even alternative conflict resolution mechanisms. Civil society groups can also be a watchdog for corruption and help elicit transparency and accountability from the state’s law enforcement agencies. Interestingly, the case study of El Salvador, Honduras, and Mexico cited above also found that approaches rooted in citizen participation have shown greater success in reducing violence.

But for citizen security to succeed, two ingredients are required. The first is a participative and proactive citizenship engaged in the task of creating a peaceful environment for coexistence. The second is a responsive and accountable state that provides reliable services. The question then is how to stimulate citizen participation where crime-related violence has broken the relationship between states and citizens?

Given the current lack of trust in their authorities, people are unlikely to participate in a new initiative actively. Maybe they fear retaliation, or maybe they think it is meaningless. Imagine asking Lucia and Pablo to participate actively with the Flor del Campo community and local authorities in an environment where the state has been almost entirely replaced by violent gangs.

ICTs have a role to play here. ICTs can help facilitate citizen participation, improve citizen security, and bridge the trust divide between government and its constituents. But it is important to note that ICT-based systems will not help improve citizen security by themselves. ICTs are only a tool.

Stay tuned for my next post, where I’ll dive into ICT-based systems across Latin America to explore what works and what doesn’t about these tools for improving public security.

Photo: Flickr user: daviditzi

Nonso Jideofor Presents at Tech4Africa

Following the launch of the “MyVoice” platform last week, Nonso will present the backstory to building this unique SMS-based citizen feedback tool at Tech4Africa. His talk, “Designing Systems for Social Accountability in Nigeria” promises to be a good one!

Some Ideas for the Open Knowledge Festival

How can we ensure open government initiatives live up to their promise?

The movement for more open, accountable governments is gaining momentum the world over. But too often, open government initiatives are deployed without careful designs that enable them to achieve their intended objectives.

Exactly one year ago, I had the privilege to serve as the rapporteur for Aspen Institute’s Forum on Communications and Society and highlight some of the hurdles our community of practitioners must overcome to move toward the next phase of open government. This week, I’m especially excited to take that conversation further at the Open Knowledge Festival (OKFest) in Berlin, where Reboot is leading a session titled “Opening Society in Challenging Contexts”.

In particular, we’re interested in not just highlighting hurdles, but actively discussing solutions.

How to enable participation in open government initiatives from hard-to-reach citizens? How to ensure governments provide meaningful responses to citizen input? How to move beyond trial of new platforms to sustained adoption and engagement? How to look beyond the numbers to evaluate the effectiveness and impact of our work?

These are the questions we seek to answer every day at Reboot. After building the world’s first national mobile voter registration system in Libya, implementing Africa’s first sub-national open data program in the Niger Delta, and—just this last week—launching “MyVoice”, an open source mobile tool for citizens to provide feedback on public healthcare delivery in rural Nigeria, we’ve learned a lot about what it takes to realize the principles of open government in practice.

One question that cuts across each of these projects (and is relevant to OKFest) is how to use data—whether those provided by an institutional body, or generated through a project—to improve government accountability?

Conversations on open government data and governance data are often dominated by data providers, academics, and donor organizations. Conspicuously underrepresented are those whose actions they seek to influence (“data users”): governments and those that influence government behavior. The underrepresentation of these user voices in open government discussions means that discourse and action are biased towards the technical dimensions of data. Technical quality is important but insufficient.

Governance is ultimately about the structures and allocations of authority and power. Influencing governance processes therefore requires shifting the distribution of authority and power. Data platforms and products that seek to change governance outcomes in a particular context must be designed to respond to the social and political dynamics in that context.

Nudging data providers to think about the sociopolitical dimensions of data platforms and products means we can put the age-old saying of “context matters” into practice. The result could be, for example, a movement away from governance rankings that create competing goals of faring well globally and making progress locally, and toward measurement that better aligns government incentives with citizen needs. (To this end, we’ve been glad to see several peer organizations uniting around the Governance Data Alliance to improve governance data quality and usage. Going forward, we look forward to contributing to this network through its working group on User Feedback.)

We’d like to connect with those interested in better understanding how open government data can be leveraged to influence governance outcomes. If you are at OKFest and find yourself asking similar questions, come find us, we’d love to hear your thoughts! As with all our work, we aim to learn and share as we go. Reboot’s session is tomorrow (Wednesday, July 16) from 12:00pm–1:00pm in Space F2 (Kulturbrauerei), where I will be discussing some of our recent experiences and asking you to show off your creative problem-solving skills.

Thanks to Janet Haven for early conversations that helped shape some of this thinking.

Image Credit: Open Knowledge Foundation


Welcome to Nicole Anand and Tommy Liu!

We are thrilled to have Nicole and Tommy join our team! A specialist in open governance, Nicole joins Reboot as Program Manager with cross-sector experience from the World Bank, Global Integrity, and the One World Foundation. Tommy Liu, a service designer who has worked on four continents, is our summer Programs Intern. We are excited to welcome them both!

Panthea Lee at Open Knowledge Festival

How can we ensure open government initiatives live up to their promise? This is the question Panthea will be tackling at this year’s Open Knowledge Festival during her workshop titled “Opening Society in Challenging Contexts“. If you’re in Berlin, come say hi!

Introducing Mexico’s Agentes de Innovación

Mexico City is a beautiful, vibrant, historical city with a great climate and even better food. But for me, it’s also the first city where I lived as a working professional instead of a student, doing work that would influence the rest of my career. (I learned the word for “deliverable” in Spanish before I knew what it was in English.) That’s why it was a delight for me to return to Mexico City with Reboot last month as part of a new project (and not just for the opportunity to visit all my favorite taquerías).

This time, I was there for the launch of Agentes de Innovación, a civic innovation fellowship led by the Coordinación de Estrategia Digital Nacional (CEDN, the Coordination for the National Digital Strategy, for you non-Spanish speakers.) Reboot will be a process research partner, accompanying the implementation of the program to understand the human, contextual, and institutional factors that influence its outcomes. We will be documenting and sharing our findings with the goal of advancing the collective knowledge of those in the civic innovation and open government space. Over the course of two and half weeks, we have already learned a great deal about the program and its participants.

Research on public sector innovation (see this literature review by Bekkers, Tummers, and Voorberg) points to a range of potential barriers such as a risk-averse environment, the existence of rule-driven path dependencies, and dominant civil service cultures, all of which inhibit innovation rather than foster it. Innovation initiatives often hope to help address these barriers by introducing outside talent and new ways of working to the public sector.

In this way, Agentes de Innovación shares much in common with similar fellowships like the Presidential Innovation Fellows or the “Code for…” model. It is structured as a civic innovation fellowship that will leverage technology to address pressing problems that are a priority for the Mexican government. The program is being implemented by Coordinación de Estrategia Digital Nacional, a group within the Office of the President that was formed to support the implementation of the National Digital Strategy.

One of the unique features of the program, however, is that it focuses not only on bringing in outside innovators but also on supporting the innovators already working inside of government. The program’s explicit goal is to create a mechanism for the co-creation of solutions to problems facing the public, and it stresses the importance of open innovation that brings together ideas from both inside and outside of government. The Agentes program has identified five innovative individuals already working within government, and paired each of them with someone currently working outside of government. The issues these teams will address are components of the National Digital Strategy and span health, education, citizen security, finance, and entrepreneurship.

In speaking with the internal and external Agentes, as well as members of their extended teams, it was clear that participants are excited to start the process of solving their teams’ target problems. Many spoke with enthusiasm (and some with surprise) about the government’s willingness to create a space to test new approaches to problem solving. Just about all of them felt it was sorely needed. The design of the program stresses the idea of the “co-responsibility” (of both government and citizens) for improving government, and Agentes from both sides of that coin were excited to take on their roles.

Reboot has previously written on the bounty of civic innovation initiatives that cropped up globally in recent years. What has not proliferated so quickly, however, is the body of research to document the lessons learned from implementing them. When it comes to motivations and program design, many of them have similar raw ingredients—open data, technology-based solutions, open government, etc. These are all ideas that seem to have the potential to reinvigorate governments, but they are no guarantee. This is why Reboot is excited to be undertaking deep research on the implementation of the Agentes program, drawing lessons that will be relevant not only to improving the program itself but also to the larger open government and civic innovation communities.

As we learn, we’ll be reporting back regularly here.

Global Post Interviews Panthea Lee

Panthea explains the behind-the-scenes Libya story for Global Post: “Beyond the very real security concerns in the country, the operational challenges of managing a complex, national-scale technology project on site with unreliable electricity and unreliable Internet connectivity was certainly challenging.”

TechPresident Reports on Libyan Elections and Reboot

“In just six months, a small staff of 20 people using open source tools, built a complex, first-of-its-kind mobile registration system in Libya, a transitioning country beset with violence,” Rebecca Chao writes in this TechPresident piece exploring our mobile voter registration system in Libya.

Libya Project Featured in World Policy Journal

“In light of the U.S.’s recent Healthcare.gov fiasco, Libya’s use of private and public resources to create a seamless product could prove an example for other governments,” Marguerite Ward writes in the World Policy Journal about our mobile voter registration system in Libya.

Panthea Lee Interviewed by Al Jazeera

Panthea gives Al Jazeera’s show The Stream a behind-the-scenes take on building the world’s first mobile voter registration system in Libya. The system has registered 1.5 million voters to date and is being used for today’s parliamentary election.

Understanding Mobile Access From an Ecosystem Perspective

The expansion of mobile access has been a common refrain in international development for years now. It plays an important role in supporting human development, from economic and educational opportunities to political freedoms and human rights. Increased access to mobiles has been linked to positive social outcomes in dozens of countries.

Mobiles have been driven largely by market forces, but these forces have their limits. The GSMA reports that unique subscribers have grown at an annual rate of 7.3% from 2008-2013, but projects that it will slow to 3.5% per annum over the next seven years. There are currently 3.4 billion unique mobile subscribers—about half of the global population. The slowing growth reflects the fact that the other half will be harder to reach: it is more rural, less literate and numerate, and poorer. Given the potential benefits of mobiles, a lot of development agencies are thinking about how to promote this access further to these populations.

Organizations promoting access often talk of a “mobile ecosystem”. The metaphor is apt. Having access to something requires a whole system of elements to come together. For example, my access to clean water in New York requires pipes, water treatment, government agencies, regulation, financing, watersheds, aqueducts, and a lot more. These elements can interact in unexpected ways: changes in environmental protection could lead to mismanagement of the watershed, requiring further funding to purify drinking water, leading to a political backlash, and so on.

Similar knock-on effects can occur in a mobile ecosystem. Program planners and implementers need a strong understanding of these elements and their interactions in order to increase access and integrate mobiles into their work.

Understanding this ecosystem starts with the user, but it cannot end there. Any conceptual framework for analyzing access should build out from the user to the broader forces and context. Thinking about the system, therefore, looks something like this:

1. Start with the end-user capabilities, constraints, and interests. Mobile usage is one part of a fundamental human choice about how to engage with the economy and how to connect with those around us. Adoption of new technology is not strictly a question of the user’s education or generation. Cultural and gender dynamics complicate adoption. So the fact that any given mobile user sits along certain demographic, educational, cultural, economic, and other dimensions can influence whether they are able to use mobiles. Perhaps most importantly, the channels and initial uses through which technology is introduced can play significant roles: a device initially used as an economic tool can become a social tool, or even a political tool.

2. Branch out to the market environment, physical infrastructure, content, and connections. This is the “next layer out” from the end-user, with factors that are directly relevant but external to the individual. These include mobile network signal coverage and availability of user-appropriate devices, as they provide interested and capable end-users with services. The content and connections are also important in generating interest.

Just as we saw with clean water, the interactions of the mobile market environment with user behavior can yield unexpected results. For example, in countries where mobile service providers set high tariffs for cross-network calls or where signal coverage varies by network, users have grown accustomed to swapping SIM cards in their phones; this has led handset manufacturers to create dual- and even quad-SIM phones (see photo). This outcome points to the ecosystem nature of access: user habits (SIM swapping) pointed the way to a hardware solution (multi-SIM phones) to an access barrier creates by service providers (signal coverage and high tariffs).

3. Assess the relevant policy and regulatory structures. Finally, there are the regulatory structures and policies that impact either end-user capabilities and interests or the market environment. Naturally, telecom regulation is central. Equally important are the regulation and structure of related sectors that may be able to leverage mobile networks: banking, transportation, health, education, aid, and more. This layer starts to touch on the political and institutional aspects as well.

4. Find the leverage points. Cutting across the above factors are the leverage points that can be used to increase access. How can a policy change improve market competition? How can a new content offering increase interest? How would providers respond to a cultural or generational shift among users?

This is where systems thinking becomes especially important. The leverage points are not obvious unless you first understand the other elements, and bring synthesis techniques to surfacing the connections. These can be revealed through a combination of actor mapping and analysis of trends, feedback loops, and root causes in mobile access.


The market forces spreading mobile access are limited because access is a compound phenomenon. Multiple factors must align in order for an individual to make use of mobile technology. By understanding how these factors interact in the mobile ecosystem, we can continue to expand access and the social benefits that accompany it.

Jaime Archundia Joins Reboot!

We’re excited to welcome Jaime Archundia to the team as our latest Rebooter! With nearly a decade of experience in the Mexican federal government, including the Office of the President, Jaime will be  serving as Reboot’s Latin America lead, responsible for managing research, evaluation, and client relationships for projects in the region.