May ICYMI: Citizen Power, Mapping Tech, & Iraqi Transparency

May was a flurry of activity at the Hub, with events on citizen power, mapping technology, and the Muslim experience in America. Check out below for what you may have missed with three takeaways from each of our events!
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Enabling Openness and Transparency in Iraq

Challenges are plentiful regarding the political, economic, and security situations in Iraq. In this brownbag lecture, we'll be discussing what enables and what prevents openness and transparency in Iraq.

Three Takeaways:

  1. A major challenge to greater political oversight in Iraq is the fact that the same political parties in the parliament are also within the executive branch, so the legislative branch has no real incentive to hold the government accountable.
  2. Another major hurdle to greater transparency and openness in Iraq is the reality of complex accountability relationships: many of Iraq's corrupt politicians enjoy foreign support (from countries like Iran, Turkey, the US and others, who select certain Iraqi politicians to advance their own external agendas), so they feel emboldened domestically and that they will not be held to account for corrupt practices.
  3. In theory, all the basic mechanisms, structures, and institutions for accountability actually exist in Iraq's political system (ex: independent oversight commissions, etc.); however, in practice they are all politicized and are thus ineffectual. However, one reason for some optimism is the political consciousness that many Iraqis feel as evidenced by popular calls for reform last year.

Wistla Socialable Network Demo

We hosted a demo from Wistla, a startup and new social network that reaches beyond the static isolation bubbles of the status quo. Wistla is currently taking part in PeachTech Lab's Accelerator Program, the first major international peacetech program powered by cloud innovation and dedicated to scaling startups around the world.

Three Takeaways:

  1. With over a third of the world on social media and people spending an average of 5 years of their lifetimes on social media, young people today are somehow the most connected generation but also the most isolated and alone. Wistla takes a "digital humanist" approach that creates technology meant to enhance and encourage rather than replace face-to-face interactions (being 'sociable').
  2. Wistla is being created to serve as an online hub for offline activity. It has been used for a number of major culture, charitable, and other events to help draw and maintain crowds who share the same interest. It seeks to scale genuine face to face connections by having users first join crowds and then gain access to "whistles"/calls for people to gather at specific events.
  3. Users whose geolocation indicates they are actually at events can then engage with each other and collectively create a living 'scrapbook' of the event (with photos, livestream, etc.). "Buzz" (or the social currency in Wistla) is measured both by the size of the crowd as well as by the level of interaction between people (by chatting with each other, sharing media, etc.)

Learn more about Wistla by visiting their website.

Introduction to Esri & ArcGIS Online

Three Takeaways:

  1. Esri is a 50 year old software company and producer of the world's leading mapping software, arcGIS. It focuses on "the science of where" and has donated over $1lbn worth in software to nonprofits in recent years. Esri has been a sponsor of the Open Gov Hub since its founding, and offers software subscriptions to Hub members.
  2. Through arcGIS online resources such as the Living Atlas of the World (which includes numerous visualizations based on existing data from the Human Development Index to population density maps, climate maps and much more), it is very easy to overlay your data on top of an enormous wealth of existing data from other sources to glean new insights. arcGIS online also offers numerous Apps (such as Insights and Story Maps) that allow you to easily create interactive data visualizations and combine text and visuals to tell the story of your data in a compelling way.
  3. One "web map" you create can feed into hundreds of web apps that allow you to retell and reuse your data in numerous ways. All apps have open APIs and are completely reconfigurable. The arcGIS Maps for Office App also essentially acts as an extension within all Microsoft products including Excel, which allows you to instantly take a wealth of information in Excel and create sophisticated web maps and data visualizations and update them in real-time.

NGOs and Power: Combining Policy, Advocacy, and Citizen Action for Transparency & Accountability

Conventional distinctions are starting to blur between formal civil society organizations (small groups in principle representing citizens to elites) and nonviolent social movements (larger groups of citizens directly making claims to elites). New hybrid forms of civic groups are emerging in the Transparency Participation Accountability (TPA) field that transcend this dichotomy, combining informed policy recommendations and advocacy with community organizing and voluntary citizen action. Power - particularly people power - is central to their modus operandi to create change.

We were joined by Ana Babović and Shaazka Beyerle to lead the conversation.

You can watch the full brownbag discussion on our YouTube Channel.

Three Takeaways:

  1. Serbia on the Move is a hybrid between a civil society NGO and social movement that combines policy expertise with people power. Since 2009, it has engaged thousands of Serbians on numerous campaigns, including successful efforts to reduce corruption in health care, and ensure women receive benefits during maternity leave. It has always operated on the principle of "not representing anyone but instead enabling citizens to represent themselves." For example, rather than having the Serbia on the Move head testify in front of parliament to advocate for legislation for maternity leave benefits, they organized 250 moms to hold 250 one-to-one meetings with their representatives.
  2. Founder Ana Babović strongly recommended that organizations invest in their people, as human resources are the only truly self-sustaining resource (the more you spend on it, the more resources/capacity you have). She stated: first ask who are your people, then ask what their problems are. She also emphasized giving your volunteers and members a transformational not transactional experience to ensure your work is sustainable and grows. Engage volunteers in designing strategy and tactics, rather than just assigning them mundane tasks, and once they are trained immediately make them leaders of their own teams to continue broadening your engaged base.
  3. Should NGOs take a collaborative or confrontation approach to government to achieve the reforms they seek? Moderator and anti-corruption expert Shaazka Beyerle pointed out that one organization might take more confrontational or collaborative approaches to government at different times (as Serbia on the Move has), so the answer to that question should depend on your specific strategy and context. And its important to offer citizens low risk tactics in repressive environments, like Shayfeenkom in Egypt under Mubarak distributed tea glasses that read "we're watching you" to raise awareness about corruption. And Ana stressed the importance of entering any citizen-government collaboration on equal footing.

Related Readings: "Scaling Accountability through Vertically Integrated Civil Society Policy Monitoring and Advocacy" Jonathan Fox, December 2016.

Implications of Designating the Muslim Brotherhood as a Foreign Terrorist Organization

Hub Member Institute for Social Policy and Understanding works at the intersection of research and Muslim American civil society, working to promote pluralism and democratic participation.

The Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamic organization founded in Egypt in 1928, has
become the center of controversy in the U.S. Senator Ted Cruz’s “Muslim Brotherhood
Terrorist Designation Act of 2015” bill, and pressure from some public officials in the
Trump administration to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a “Foreign Terrorist
Organization” has generated both controversy and concern. While proponents of the bill
invoke national security, the many opponents of the measure believe that not only will it
make America less safe, but it is an ongoing attempt to vilify Muslims, cripple Muslim
American civil society, and feeds into the Islamophobia industry.

Three Takeaways:

  1. On its face, this effort is part of a broader conservative battle against so called“radical Islam.” The MB hasn’t been actually linked to a terrorist attack in the US,proponents of this measure point to international cases to support their argument, and most of those decisions were actually motivated by politics as opposed to credible evidence of involvement of terrorist activity. This designation has everything to do with fear, politics, and prejudice. We should emphasize the unconstitutionality of this designation and the impact it’ll have on civil liberties and Muslim organizations.
  2. We should insist on people knowing their rights and making sure rights and knowledge are available and accessible in the different languages and recognize what’s at stake. All of us should do more on information protection, we should think about how our information and organizational member lists may be vulnerable. Think about encryption, the concrete means to protect ourselves against undue suspicion and surveillance.
  3. Designating and criminalizing bad ideas and ideas that are not mainstream threatens American democracy. There needs to be reform within the law enforcement and national security arenas: looking at behavior versus ideology. We shouldn’t be policing bad ideas; instead we should focus our efforts on catching criminals.

Open Data for Development: A Conversation with Fernando Perini

This event was organized by Hub Member Open Data Watch.

Three Takeaways:

  1. Founded in 2010, Open Data for Development (OD4D - is the leading global partnership for promoting the availability and use of quality open data to help improve citizens lives in countries around the world.
  2. An external evaluation was conducted that found OD4D is meeting many of its stated objectives. The evaluation found that it is best performing in meeting goals like facilitating regional and global open data action plans (including through its convenings) and robust cross-country comparisons, it has reached medium results on developing evidence for open data's impact and attracting more resources to support this agenda, and it has achieved lower results so far in adapting and measuring open data applications that increase socio-economic impact.
  3. Moving forward, OD4D will focus more on structuring networks and partnerships around problems, capturing learnings from one IODC convening to another, ensuring open data can benefit the poorest and most marginalized citizens, and further building the evidence base for open data's development impact on societies. OD4D may do a 'state of open data'-type report as well, reflecting on what's been accomplished and what's been learning about open data across regions and sectors.