Youth driving social change: examples of how information and technology can be their tools

2014-06-20 11.15.08Increasingly, the value of using technology to facilitate access to information and for building the capacity of people to critically review information available to them, is being demonstrated.  Indeed, work being done in South Africa provides useful insight into the kind of information that it is believed citizens might find useful. The Parliamentary Monitoring Group (PMG), for example, recently partnered with mySociety (www.mysociety.org) and earlier this year, launched The People’s Assembly website – a parliamentary monitoring service for South Africans (www.pa.org.za).   A key feature of this site is to offer South Africans an easy way of identifying who represents them in government and an opportunity to monitor what these elected government representatives are doing.  The PMG points out that in the South African context, where we do not have constituency-based elections, vast numbers of people very often do not know who their assigned Member of Parliament actually is. Similarly, the Open Democracy Advice Centre (ODAC) site serves as a specialist data repository (www.opendemocracy.org.za).  ODAC provides information and training to citizens on legislation, scrutinising public service delivery and the utilisation of such information to promote a culture of accountability and openness.  Code4Sa’s (www.code4sa.org) Housing List Transparency Project and Parliamentary Bill Tracker Project liberates data with the aim of ensuring that – by improving access – citizens are more likely to take ownership of information necessary for making informed decisions about issues that potentially affect the quality of their lives.

Elsewhere on the continent, we note with excitement the role that young people have played in the collection and utilisation of information to drive social change. Enough is Enough Nigeria (www.eienigeria.org) for example, has successfully built a strong coalition of youth-led and youth-focused organisations all focused on building young people’s (especially 18 – 35 year olds who have access to technology) effectiveness to monitor – and respond to – issues related to good governance and public accountability.  EIE Nigeria’s RSVP campaign was established prior to Nigeria’s 2011 General Election. Its aim was to mobilise young people to participate in determining Nigeria’s future by Registering as a voter, Selecting a candidate, Voting … and then most importantly, Protecting their vote by tracking service delivery of Nigeria’s ‘servant leaders’ throughout their term in public office.  EIE continues to develop technological ways to support this (their ShineYourEye SMS and web platform –www.shineyoureye.org – for example, facilitates engagement with elected officials) and EIE see it as an important mechanism for arousing youth-led action focused on creating a demand for public accountability. The RSVP campaign continues as Nigeria prepares for its 2015 election.

The decoding of complex information systems is an important focus of EIE Nigeria’s work and it is easy to see how such a function is vital to supporting a campaign like RSVP, for example.  BudgITwas established by EIE to re-tell the Nigerian budget and public data in fine detail and across every literacy span.  Its aim is to redefine participatory governance by getting citizens interested in discussions on public data and sufficiently confident to participate in action aimed at improving good governance. As is probably the case worldwide, very large numbers of citizens have little or no knowledge of public financial management and are lost when confronted with the budgets of the various branches of government.  BudgIT decodes government financial data and presents them in simple tweets, interactive format and infographic displays, thereby offering a mobile and online solution that it is hoped will trigger discussions and mobilise action amongst young Nigerians.

In Kenya, election violence following the 2008 elections, fueled the birth Ushahidi  (www.ushahidi.com). Within days, a group of young technically-adept activists (techies) built what was essentially a technical platform to crowdsource information on where the violence was spreading.  This information was considered to be more reliable than the official reports of the United Nations and other monitoring agencies working in Kenya at the time. Ushahidi’s subsequent growth as a global crowdsource information tool drives home just how powerful harnessing the expertise of others can be.

While the role that young people have played in the development of these information sites must be applauded, it is tricky to find examples of how young people across the continent have used information to build their understanding of broader systemic issues in need of change.  Recently, the DG Murray Trust (DGMT) put out a call for ideas from young South Africans for addressing our key social challenges.  In part, this tactic was influenced by our belief that if we are to develop our young people as leaders for public innovation – a process of continuing improvement of programmes, policies, systems and institutions for public benefit – then we have to believe that they have the capacity to imagine an alternate reality; we have to raise our expectations of them and certainly, we have to support them to be audacious in their ideas. In short, we wish to see our young people drive change and, in thinking about the impact that we would like them to have, we are supporting an explicit focus on social justice.

More explicitly, we are interested in their ideas for mobilising their peers into taking action.  We hope that our call for ideas will provide some insight into what the youth of South Africa feel strongly enough about to mobilise their peers around; that we will gain some insight into the shape that this might take; and that we will learn more about what young people believe they have a responsibility to change in order to improve their own lives.

You can read our call for ideas here.

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