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.
On October 12th, Yop Rwang Pam will speak at the 14th Annual All Nigeria Editors’ Conference in Delta State, Nigeria. Her session,“Media Collaboration for Increased Power Sector Accountability,” will highlight the critical role of data-driven reports in demanding accountability from the government, especially leading up to the Nigerian general election in February 2019.
Reboot is excited to welcome our new fall interns, Alyssa and James! Alyssa, our Programs Intern, is an aspiring service designer currently pursuing an MFA in Transdisciplinary Design at Parsons. She will primarily support our team on participatory budgeting research and projects. James, our People & Operations Intern, is an MPA Candidate at CUNY – Baruch College, studying urban development and sustainability. He will support our human resources team, including on recruitment and policy.
Lauren Gardner, Corey Chao, and Kisha Bwenge will run a workshop at the 2018 Feedback Summit in Washington, D.C. on October 4th–5th. Our session, Ambiguity as Ally: Feedback-First Project Design, will explore how co-creation can thrive through processes, skills, and organizational cultures that encourage feedback. Join us as we collectively work to make feedback the new norm in project planning and implementation. And stay updated on the event at #FBLSummit!
In Tanzania, 97 percent of rural children have no birth certificate. Now, a mobile birth registration system is changing that statistic. The system is not only affecting people’s lives—as registration is tied to access to higher education, voting, and other services—it’s also changing the way the government works, using real-time data to allow for more effective short and long-term planning in service provision.
The mobile birth registration system was piloted in 2012 through a partnership between UNICEF and the Tanzanian government.* The program makes it easier to register children under 5 by increasing registration points and eliminating fees. It then uses bio data tied to specific locations gathered through registration to adapt and modify day-to-day implementation. Program managers have used the data to improve birth registration by enhancing usability of the mobile app, providing targeted training for registration managers, increasing personnel for overwhelmed registration locations, adapting public awareness campaign messaging, and ensuring sufficient stock of registration materials. Despite the increased availability of technology, such sophisticated use of data for adaptive management is still rare among development projects. What makes this program different? Reboot went to find out, as part of a consortium working with USAID’s Global Development Lab to understand the opportunities and challenges of using real-time data in development work.
While our research uncovered a few reasons why this program was successful, we found the key ingredient in Tanzania was political buy-in—the degree to which people at every level of managing and delivering the program feel ownership, excitement, and motivation around its success.
In recent years, there has been an explosion of interest in real-time data in the development sector. This is partly due to the opportunities presented by new technologies that make it possible to collect, share, analyze, and manage data with unprecedented speed, granularity, and cost efficiency. While impact often takes years to demonstrate in development work, real-time data allows implementers to monitor their work early and often during implementation. Real-time data provides the evidence needed to adjust and iterate programs as they go (instead of the traditional approach of evaluating at the end).
In a nutshell, that early-and-often responsiveness is the core of “adaptive management,” another popular theme in development work. While definitions vary, adaptive management broadly refers to a set of tools, techniques, and processes that enable more flexible approaches to development interventions. That’s why real-time data for adaptive management (or “RTD4AM”) has attracted so much interest from practitioners.
As Owen Barder explains in his book Complexity, Adaptation, Results, “Adaptation is the way to deal with problems in unpredictable, complex systems… Real-time learning is essential to check the relative effectiveness of different approaches, scaling up those that work and scaling down those that don’t.”
Investigating the link between real-time data and adaptive management was what brought Reboot to Tanzania. We sought to better understand when, where, and how real-time data systems could contribute to adaptive management practices. While existing literature and expert interviews were helpful in understanding the theory and promise of RTD4AM, given the topic’s relative newness in development work, we and our partners Institute of Development Studies (IDS), Overseas Development Institute (ODI), and Feedback Labs realized that fieldwork was necessary to truly understand how these approaches worked in practice. As such, we examined four case studies in depth—two each in Tanzania and Indonesia, and each in a different sector—to build an evidence-based, field-grounded understanding of what it takes to use real-time data for adaptive management
Our research in Tanzania revealed that the “authorizing environment” is critical to the success of real-time data initiatives. Programs work best when political leaders at all levels work together to bolster programmatic and policy aims. In other words, the political economy surrounding a particular program has much more influence over what adaptations are possible than does the data itself. While technology optimists have theorized that faster data could drive programmatic change, research across all four cases showed that data only drives change when there is an enabling culture. The political economy shapes the way real-time data is considered, collected, and used. In Tanzania, this meant that leaders were directly involved—reviewing dashboards, sharing insights on WhatsApp, and pushing forward policy discussions to further expand the mobile birth registration initiative.
In Tanzania, individuals interviewed across all levels of program implementation expressed support of the birth registration system; they felt that birth registration is a basic right of all citizens. The program had universal buy-in because the goals were perceived as necessary.
But beyond the motivation that comes from such widespread support, the program designers made a conscious choice to ensure that managers and staff had specific tools and processes to translate motivation into action, and to track progress against goals. One way to achieve this was by creating a dashboard, which allowed local registration teams to see their own success rates and compare with other locations. Just as importantly, the dashboard allowed local officials to identify underperforming locations.
Because officials were politically invested in program outcomes, many would monitor progress in their districts and contact local registration offices to address problems and support improvements. This both created pressure for accountability and improvement, and opened channels of communication and potential resources to solve problems. In one case, the dashboard led to an official making a site visit and discovering the staff were overburdened; additional personnel for registration was provided for the site.
The strategy also created a climate of friendly competition and peer pressure. One district official in Iringa, for example, was in the habit of calling his counterparts to playfully tell them that he was “in the lead” when registration numbers in his district climbed above the others. This spurred other officials to bolster birth registration in their districts, leading to targeted support to ensure successful program implementation.
With staff and managers fully “bought in” to the program, we saw adaptive management happening at multiple levels.
At the national level, the Minister of Constitutional and Legal Affairs attended a launch event to roll out the system in a new region where he was impressed with the data gathered. He immediately followed up with the District Commissioner, requesting district-by-district information. This led to the data being integrated into national-level policy discussions about expanding the civil registration system. The long-term goal is to create a comprehensive system including birth and death records that supports service provision such as voter registration and national identification
At the regional level, the high profile of the initiative led local officials to quickly iterate programs to improve outcomes. For example, one woman in Mfundi sent a complaint via WhatsApp to the Regional Administrative Secretary about a health center that was closed when she went to register her newborn child. Because the Secretary was invested in the program’s success, she followed up with the district executive director, who in turn ensured the health center was fully staffed and operational—an investment of resources to help ensure registration for everyone in the area. Responding to citizen feedback is not always a guarantee; successful feedback loops only happen when all actors along a service delivery chain are motivated to receive and respond to feedback. In this case, the political buy-in led to a quick resolution of citizens’ challenges.
At the local level, the data proved useful in supporting officials with resource planning, hinting at the untapped potential of RTD4AM for strategic decision-making. While reviewing the dashboard, one planning official noticed much higher rates of birth registration than anticipated in his ward, prompting him to consider long-term implications on his community. He was able to bring this data to planning discussions to request resources allocation for expansion of schools and health services.
The enabling environment for real-time data was particularly ripe in Tanzania; the combination of donor support, widespread political interest, and belief in the importance of birth registration paved the way for the mobile registration program’s momentum. In other contexts, these factors may not be so friendly. For anyone working with an exciting new data and technology approach, it’s important to remember: technology initiatives are not just about technology; a firm foundation of political buy-in paves the way for adaptive management.
Note: This program was implemented with support from Tigo, Registration Insolvency and Trusteeship Agency (RITA), Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).
Every city has its forgotten quarters—places where sought-after urban opportunities and resources rarely reach residents, and neighborhoods fall into disrepair.
Here in New York City, the neighborhood of Brownsville could be considered one of those forgotten quarters. A few years ago, an assessment of homelessness across the city traced many homeless New Yorkers’ origin back to Brownsville. The neighborhood is on the outskirts of Brooklyn, and has been called one of the borough’s “most dangerous neighborhoods” by Time Magazine. Brownsville is also home to almost 60,000 people—New Yorkers who deserve better.
So how can we start refocusing our cities’ attention on the neighborhoods that have been too-long forgotten?
That’s the kind of question that is driving the Open Cities Summit next week—a gathering of practitioners and leaders focused on redefining the social contract at the city level, ahead of the 2018 International Open Data Conference (IODC18). Reboot is proud to be a co-organizer of the Open Cities Summit. We’ll be leading and participating in discussions about open contracting, open data, participatory budgeting, and other ways of making city governments more transparent and accountable to the people they serve, especially the people living in “forgotten” quarters.
Data can be a powerful way to direct attention to these neighborhoods, as can be shown by a recent collaboration here in New York City between The Brownsville Partnership and New Yorkers for Parks. The Brownsville Partnership is a coalition of non-profit organizations and city partners collaborating to help residents and community stakeholders make the changes they want to see in their neighborhood. The organization has questioned how much of Brownsville’s misfortune—a direct result of public neglect—is the product of a particular narrative, borne out of a particular set of data, that limited the resources allocated to the New Yorkers living there.
To help change that narrative, the organization partnered with the advocacy and research organization New Yorkers for Parks to perform an “Open Space Index” study focused on the neighborhood.
The Open Space Index evaluates 14 NYC-specific goals for the maintenance, variety, and environmental sustainability of open space, as well as access to it. New Yorkers for Parks used publicly available data (such as park inspection data, available on NYC Open Data) for the research, as well as engaging directly with The Brownsville Partnership and local stakeholders.
The resulting study—grounded in data, driven by local voices—is a tangible way for Brownsville as a community to plan for the future and to advocate for support from the city to revitalize its public spaces.
This is the kind of use case that advocates of open data have long championed: Local, grassroots organizations benefiting from governmental transparency. But the work in Brownsville is not happening through the traditional open data routes.
Oftentimes, efforts to make government data accessible in a readable, shareable, freely-available format are rooted in market terminology of supply and demand. Yet, the assumption that demand will follow an increase in supply has rarely led to success—making data available doesn’t mean that people actually use it.
Here at Reboot, we have worked extensively with cities seeking to improve outcomes by making their data available, usable, and valuable to all residents. Our work on the users and use cases of city-based data has shown that open data is not really about supply and demand, and discussing it in this context can be limiting.
That’s because open data isn’t really a “market.” When it functions well, open data is more of an ecosystem. Framing open data work through market-based terms like “supply” and “demand” can obscure the approaches that are most fruitful, which are multi-faceted and are based in collaboration and partnerships.
The term “ecosystem” more accurately reflects the organic relationships being built around open data in Brownsville. New Yorkers for Parks and The Brownsville Partnership are finding success through collaboration. A range of skills are required to apply open data to everyday problems, including not just data analysis but problem identification, prioritization, communication, and more. Taking a peer-learning approach has allowed these two groups to bridge a broader range of necessary skills. Our “Open Data Impact Cycle” shows how we visualize these diverse and necessary skills, and is based on our research of open data users in New York City.
The ecosystem goes beyond the grassroots—city actors are part of the ecosystem, too.
The Brownsville Partnership and New Yorkers for Parks joined a Community Information Needs workshop this spring, which Reboot organized in partnership with the NYC Parks Department. At that workshop, the groups discussed with their counterparts in city government how they face a lot of the same challenges in using data to solve problems. During the workshop, both sides worked to reframe the open data narrative to focus on collaboration and communication, enabling a more fruitful engagement with stakeholders inside and outside of government.
Extrapolating from that workshop, city stakeholders might find that considering themselves “providers” of data is less valuable. They may find greater success with their open data initiatives by considering themselves part of the ecosystem. In this framing, open data is “supplied” and “demanded” both within and outside of government. Focusing on shared aspirations is more effective and constructive than establishing one-sided responsibilities.
Catch Reboot at the Open Cities Summit on September 24, 2018. Apart from being a co-organizer, we’ll be facilitating a workshop in partnership with Open Data Durban, IREX, and the City of Buenos Aires on the problem-solving potential of open data. Reboot will also be speaking on a panel on “Smart Cities and Open Data” at 11AM on September 28, 2018, at IODC18.
You can find out how to participate here, or contact me directly at email@example.com.
And if you’re interested in continuing this conversation, sign up here to receive the Reboot newsletter—we’ll be sending out a special “executive summary” version of our takeaways from the Summit, with lessons learned for city-level changemakers everywhere.
Reboot is proud to be a co-organizer of the Open Cities Summit in Buenos Aires on September 24, ahead of the 2018 International Open Data Conference (IODC18). Zack Brisson and Marielle Velander will lead the workshop From Theory to Impact: Designing Open Data Programs to Solve City Problems, discussing demand-driven open data. And at IODC18, Panthea Lee will share insights from the summit as part of the Smart Cities and Open Data panel. Join the conversation at #OpenCitiesSummit and #IODC18!
Today marks the release of the 2018 Open Data Report, an important update on New York City’s pioneering open data program. Reboot worked closely with the Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics for the second year in a row to tell the story of open data in New York and its impact on city agencies and residents. We also helped produce an accessible, inspiring video to help New Yorkers understand the city’s commitment to excellence and inclusivity through data—watch it at this link.
Meet Reboot’s newest Communications Intern, Maria Unawu! She joins the team in our West Africa office with a background in film and media. Maria hopes to use her creativity to make an impact and will support the team with designing communications strategy, including social media, blog posts, and other channels for engagement.
From July 17–19th, Zack Brisson, Panthea Lee, and Lauren Gardner will attend the 5th Open Government Partnerships Global Summit in Tbilisi, Georgia, along with representatives from 75 countries. On July 17th, Zack will facilitate the panel, From Failure to Feasibility: Hard Won Wisdom from Tech for Social Impact Changemakers, as part of Civil Society Day. Join the conversation at #OGPGeorgia!
Reboot is excited to welcome our new Visual Design Interns, Calvin and Emma. Calvin is a rising senior at Maryland Institute College of Art, with experience as a freelance product designer. Emma is a Texas native and recent graduate of The University of North Texas, where she earned her BFA in Communication Design. Calvin and Emma will contribute to digital and print projects at Reboot, crafting publications, designing wireframes, and developing concepts.
Reboot is pleased to welcome Kisha Bwenge to the team as our Communications & Marketing Associate. She brings a range of experience in communications strategy and a passion for international development. Kisha looks forward to sharing Reboot’s vision of inclusivity and innovation in governance and global development.
On June 23rd, Chioma Agwuegbo and Ahmed Rufai Isah will facilitate a conversation at the International Press Institute’s World Congress in Abuja, Nigeria. The panel will feature the MacArthur Foundation’s investigative journalism grantees and explore innovative funding models for newsrooms to ensure journalism’s sustainability and independence. Follow the event on Twitter with #IPIWOCO.
Last year, ahead of Kenya’s presidential election, Reboot was in the country researching the state of its independent media and exploring new ways to strengthen journalism in the public interest. We spent time with dozens of journalists, media entrepreneurs, and others. Whenever our conversations turned to issues like “fake news” or government attacks on the legitimacy of the media—which was frequent—the Kenyan experts would look specifically at the two Americans on our team and say, “Now you know how it feels.”
It’s true: The media in the U.S. is facing many challenges today that our Kenyan counterparts have experienced for much longer. When President Trump claims the entire Russia investigation is a political fabrication by antagonistic media outlets, it’s reminiscent of a strategy used by Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, elected in 2012, when he was facing charges from the International Criminal Court (ICC) for his alleged involvement in violence around the 2007 elections. After critical media coverage of the ICC trial, many of the journalists we spoke to felt that the Kenyatta administration had amped up targeting media because it blamed them for prolonging the trial. In this era of rising mistrust, both Kenyatta and Trump are trying to redirect public suspicion away from themselves and onto the media outlets that are scrutinizing their actions.
Threats to the media are not unique to the U.S. and Kenya. Journalists face steep challenges all over the world; the most recent issue of the Columbia Journalism Review is devoted entirely to the theme. But especially in the context of the long-developed media landscape in the U.S., we need to be looking closely at how journalists and editors in places like Kenya are working—because we’re wrestling with similar dynamics.
The media in Kenya has a strong reputation as a leader in East Africa—a reputation hard-won. Kenyans have access to an abundance of media choices, supported by a healthy demand for information among Kenyan citizens. Perhaps most significantly, freedom of the press is enshrined in Kenya’s constitution, an achievement that created a wave of optimism when it was ratified in 2010. But many respondents in our research described that optimism as having been tamped back down. Expectations for the media’s ability to truly hold the government accountable have been tempered as commercial forces and shifting media trends are straining newsrooms’ capacity (just as they are in the U.S.).
Those changes are the subject of our interactive digital report, “Strengthening Kenyan Media,” launched this month. We created the report for Omidyar Network, which has long supported innovation in independent media globally; our goal was to focus attention on Kenya and inspire conversation amongst the international community, and hopefully to drive more investment in and support for strengthening its media.
We found that the Kenya media is subject to the same basic framework that makes media a pillar of democracy all over the world. Not only do journalists inform the public, but independent journalists play a critical role in shining lights on how government operates. Journalists discourage corruption, mismanagement, and other breaches of the public trust. But they can’t do it on their own.
Media only succeeds when it’s part of an “accountability ecosystem” comprising citizens, civil society, the judiciary, and government actors. As in any ecosystem, the strength of each constituent part is impacted by the others. The government is most often the 300-pound gorilla in the room; the media needs to work with both citizens and civil society to balance the gorilla’s weight. If the balance of power within the ecosystem is lopsided, accountability breaks down. If citizens don’t trust voting results, for example, they’re less likely to vote no matter how independently and accurately the press is reporting on elections. And without the trust of the public, the press is less likely to enjoy the protections necessary to practice free and fair journalism.
That’s why strengthening the media is also about engaging citizens and motivating them to pressure their political leaders. Reboot saw this dynamic in West Africa, for example, when we studied how the media landscape is evolving especially in the context of creative new uses of social media by citizens and activists alike to hold government to account. There, we found that while social media had somewhat increased citizens’ weight and influence, it hadn’t significantly improved the overall accountability ecosystem because it had simultaneously changed the constraints on the media. To truly hold the government to account, media in that context needs strategic support to evolve in tandem.
The accountability ecosystem is the framework of our Reboot Media program; we take a systems approach to strengthening media and civil society, while engaging the power of the people. In Nigeria today, for example, we are developing a crowdfunding platform for investigative journalism to help mitigate the influence of corporate pressures on journalists.
You can see the same dynamic here in the United States. The work of the independently funded journalism non-profit ProPublica is one great example: At the end of 2017, the organization published a series of case studies showing how their journalists and readers worked side-by-side during investigative reporting, creating ways for ordinary people to actively engage in the work of holding government accountable. In one case study, ProPublica obtained a list of more than 1,000 people hired by the White House on a temporary basis. Because those hires bypassed the vetting process by virtue of being temporary, ProPublica called on its readers to complete the vetting instead. One reader-submitted tip led to the revelation that a White House staffer had been the subject of five sexual assault accusations, which ProPublica subsequently reported in-depth.
When citizens’ engagement is aligned with the work of independent journalists in ways like these, it creates a positive cycle. Seeing their voices and priorities reflected in the media builds trust and encourages citizens to continue interacting with the media; the media, in turn, improves its ability to hear and pursue citizens’ priorities.
When the work of civil society is integrated along with that of media and citizens, the force is especially powerful, often because civil society organizations have earned the trust and engagement of large groups of citizens.
We heard an example of how this can work in Kenya, when one member of staff at a civil society organization described a local health facility that was put at risk by a “land grab” from government officials, which would have closed the facility and left many people without access to care. Within a few hours of hearing the news, the organization organized a demonstration using WhatsApp, calling on hospital patients and others to gather. Simultaneously, they reached out to their existing press contacts to amplify the demonstration. The combination of media coverage and public outcry successfully drew the attention of Kenya’s Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission; within three weeks, the land was returned to the health facility.
That’s the kind of ecosystem-based success that everyone interested in good governance should be thinking about. The more we can integrate media, civil society, and citizens, the stronger all three will be when calling on the government to uphold its end of the bargain.
One tactic may be creating actual physical and intellectual spaces, where journalists and their allies in the accountability ecosystem can strengthen their connections and experiment together. Journalists in both the U.S. and Kenya are dealing with economic pressure as well as political. The sea change created by social media and digital publishing has decreased available jobs and increased commercial influence over newsrooms, in ways that often compete directly with the goals of public interest. Any media outlet that relies on advertising revenue is going to face this pressure to some degree, especially in places (like Kenya and the U.S.) where commercial and political interests are often closely intertwined. That’s why we need new business models to overcome these challenges.
Most importantly, now is a time for solidarity. Journalists have long known that they are stronger when they stand together; one Kenyan journalist told us that solidarity is important because “politicians are very good at isolating and attacking media houses.” Several others told us that if they get a tip for a story that they fear would attract retaliation, they will share it with colleagues and encourage widespread coverage—a practice one respondent described as “spreading the risk.”
That commitment to solidarity is a valuable practice for all journalists in the modern era. Now, we just need to spread it beyond the field of journalism, and across the accountability ecosystem.
If you’re interested in the accountability ecosystem, we hope you’ll write to us! Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your perspective on how media, civil society, and the people can best work together. As we continue working closely with global journalists on a number of initiatives this year to strengthen local accountability ecosystems, and we’ll be writing and sharing more case studies and stories, and would love to include yours!
On June 6th, Ijeoma Mba and Ahmed Rufai Isah will facilitate a learning roundtable for Partnership to Engage, Reform and Learn (PERL), DFID’s governance program in Nigeria. The session will showcase DFID’s technology tools which support partners to deepen governance accountability in Nigeria. Participants include PERL local partners, beneficiaries, government, and civil society.
Reboot is excited to welcome Priya Ghosh to our team as People & Operations Intern. Priya is a Master’s in Public Administration candidate at NYU Wagner where she studies public and nonprofit management. She has a background working with international nonprofits in a variety of roles and looks forward learning about Reboot’s design approach and operations. Priya will be supporting Reboot’s HR and Operations functions.
On March 23rd, Panthea Lee will join fellow contributors for the launch of An Introduction to Service Design: Designing the Invisible by Laura Penin. Hosted by the Parsons School of Design, IDSA, and SD-NYC, panelists will discuss their projects featured in the book—including Reboot’s My Voice—and the future of design education. RSVP for the book launch and order your issue today.
Stephen Larrick, of the Sunlight Foundation, spoke on the GovEx Data Points podcast about the Tactical Data Engagement process, and how Reboot’s research on Madison, Wisconsin’s open data users fit into it. Most recently, the research informed the mechanics of community grant in Madison. Listen to the podcast here.
On Thursday April 26 at 10:30am Chioma Agwuegbo will speak on the topic of digital inclusion as a right at a panel at the Internet Freedom Forum in Abuja, Nigeria. Sponsored by the Ford Foundation, Google, Facebook, and others, the event will bring together civil society organizations, policy makers, and tech enthusiasts to discuss emerging issues of internet freedom in Africa. Follow along at #IFF2018.
Reboot happily welcomes Corey Chao to our team as Strategic Designer. As a filmmaker and designer, Corey brings experience using storytelling and participatory methods to enable inclusive service design. Corey looks forward to applying his creative thinking and facilitation skills to Reboot’s criminal justice and governance projects.
Zack Brisson and Chioma Agwuegbo will take part in mySociety’s The Impacts of Civic Technology Conference, known as TICTec, on April 18th and 19th in Lisbon, Portugal. They will join researchers, practitioners, and donors in exploring the progress and pitfalls of civic technology initiatives worldwide. Follow the conversation at #TICTeC2018.