Archive for April, 2009

Web 2.0 and Accountability

Saturday 18 April 2009

I was fascinated to read this perspective from Alanna at Blood and Milk of how the internet and Web 2.0 changes the way NGO’s relate to communities they work with.

In our interconnected world, you can’t hide from the communities you work with. That’s a good thing. It’s much easier to treat people with respect when you know that they’re watching you. Transparency is part of accountability, whether or not that transparency is voluntary. I think that’s part of development 2.0. We’re not just going somewhere and learning the local situation so we can do our work; they are looking right back at us, and they’ve got the tools to disseminate their views. read more

I think one of the reasons Web 2.0 is so important in an international development context is that it increases transparency. It is very difficult to talk condescendingly about “going to help the poor people” when you know that they are able to hear every word you’re saying.

For a long time development work has been presented from the perspective of the rich man generously giving of his time and money to help the poor man. This fits nicely with the ethnocentric worldview of the west, and so is a profitable marketing strategy to raise funds and recruits.

But it’s not the truth. True development is certainly not about rich people going and doing favours for poor people. It’s about rich and poor humbly working together in partnership – both genuinely accountable to each other, with the local community taking ultimate responsibility.

Thanks to increasing internet access through computers and mobile phones, information coming from NGO’s in the 21st Century has the potential to be read by anyone in the world. If an NGO wants to continue partnering with a local community, they must make sure that their communications reflect the reality of the situation rather than merely playing along to the narrative that the donors want to hear.

There has long been accountability between NGO’s and major donors. Now the open flow of information made possible by the internet brings all partners to the same table, and ensures the NGO is accountable not just to those with money, but much more importantly to the communities they are serving.

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