Follow the Money: Notes from Workshop Preview Webinar
Last week, my colleague Andrea Menapace and I hosted David McNair from the ONE Campaign and more than two dozen audience participants in a live webinar previewing the upcoming “Follow the Money” Workshop from the Transparency and Accountability Initiative (T/AI). A full archive of the event is available to play online. You can also download the slide presentation (pdf).
Some of the webinar’s best information came from audience members who posted links and descriptions of related projects in the event chat room. We’ve collected many of these “group-sourced” links in an earlier post. Our Workshop—which takes place in Berlin on January 20-21—is being planned to maximize collaboration and information-sharing among peers, so it was especially encouraging to see participants exchanging ideas.
Andrea Menapace, T/AI program officer for New Technologies, began by introducing our vision of “following the money”: the ability of citizens and others to access, monitor and make sense of information that can helps citizens hold governments and corporations to account about where money comes from, how it is used, and where and to whom it goes.
Combatting corruption, such as by tracking who is winning contracts and whether that process is based on bids or bribes. See, for instance, the Open Contracting Partnership.
Protecting the environment, such as by looking at who wins or loses from environmentally risky activities, and at how can we make polluters pay. See World Resource Institute’s Development Alert! or Digital Democracy’s Clearwater map.
Fighting political manipulation by learning who wields power because they have money and what methods of containment or enforcement exist. See the Global Witness “Great Rip-Off” map or the work of the Money, Politics and Transparency project.
Menapace described the community of practice we see emerging in this field—including many groups that joined the webinar and even more who we hope to see in Berlin. Across this movement, T/AI sees four key trends and related needs for action:
The work and interest in “Follow the Money” are growing, but a huge amount remains to do. It is an exciting time, but we need more practical and innovative action.
There is a potentially vital role for technology to play, but too often tech is not used well. Groups keep missing the chance to match the tools to context, to design based on user needs and to take the capacity of organizations into account.
Very big gaps remain in our collective ability to follow the money—and the data—across sectors and different data sets. Imagine, for instance, if we could make strong links between political donations and contract awards, or between missing budget allocations and spending.
New knowledge and lessons from experience are needed, but the groups with the most to teach other never talk or do not talk regularly. The urgent need for collaboration is one of the main reasons for the upcoming T/AI event.
From guest speaker David McNair, we heard about the ONE Campaign’s recent and upcoming work to improve fiscal transparency for better international development. “The real prize,” McNair said, comes from “following resources to schools and hospitals people really need.” Practitioners and advocates need to understand how money is mobilized at the national level, he said, for example through mechanisms like tax collection and budgeting allocation.
McNair used a photo from a Tanzanian village to illustrate some basic “Follow the Money” challenges. The picture, taken by ONE executive director Jamie Drummond, shows a village official with an out of date poster detailing government spending. Without smartphones to quickly spread new data, or local officials with great motivation and expertise, said McNair, many in the developing world lack a way to understand whether money from regional and national capitals is helping their community.
Through a large-scale grant from the Omidyar Network (also a key T/AI partner), ONE is now embarking on a multi-year campaign to support “Follow the Money” activities. While the program is still taking shape, McNair said some of the areas of focus would include building a base of evidence about how policy changes affect local communities; exploring better ways to communicate data and findings in high-tech, low-tech and no-tech settings; researching questions of political economy and working with the Follow the Money network to implement key projects.
Unfortunately, our second speaker, Khadija Sharife of the African Network of Centers for Investigative Reporting, was unable to join due to last-minute technical difficulties, but we look forward to sharing future materials about her work with InvestigativeDashboard.org.
Our Berlin Workshop will be a gathering of “money followers,” including activists, journalists, technologists and funders. As Menapace explained, the event’s main goals are to:
- Explore where technology can really help us Follow the Money
- Identify concrete areas of potential new work
- Foster collaborations that can have real impact
- Learn from each other
We also will work with attendees to plan for new resources that reflect what we’ve learned and promote the results from peers’ work.
The final Workshop agenda and participant list are still in development. While there is only limited budget to add participants, if you know someone who should to be there to help achieve the Workshop’s goals, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. (In light of the budget constraints, it will be easier to add attendees who can self-fund some or all of their travel and lodging expenses.)
Guest Speaker and Hosts
David McNair (@David_McNair) is Director of Transparency at the ONE campaign, focusing on government transparency, oil and gas transparency, open data, equipping citizens in developing countries to “Follow the Money” from resources to results. He holds a PhD in Social Geography from the Queen’s University of Belfast and was recently voted among the 99 most influential foreign policy leaders under 33.
Andrea Menapace (@andymenapace) is T/AI’s Program Officer, leading our workstream on New Technologies. He coordinates TABridge, a network of practice to foster better collaboration and knowledge sharing between technology groups and civil society organizations. He is also involved in brokering and supporting new research and learning efforts around tech interventions. Prior to joining T/AI, Andrea spent seven years as a consultant working on and researching digital media, governance and human rights, most recently as national researcher for the Independent Reporting Mechanism at the Open Government Partnership.
Jed Miller (@jedmiller) is an Internet strategist focused open government and the effective of adoption of digital media by NGOs. He serves as editor and co-organizer for T/AI’s TABridge program and also consults to Global Witness and the Natural Resource Governance Institute. Jed was previously director of Internet at the ACLU and interactive editor at NYTimes.com. He has taught digital communications at Columbia University and written for the Guardian, TechPresident and Open Society Foundations, among others.
Ruth Miller (@mcplanner) is Lead Technology Strategist for TABridge co-organizer Aspiration, where she researches and documents Aspiration’s best practices for justice-oriented technical development. Ruth comes to Aspiration from the world of city planning. She has degrees in city planning from MIT and UC Berkeley, and worked for years on state and local transportation policy. She has published papers on guerrilla street improvements, academic open access, and rural broadband.
To review last week’s webinar, please visit the event audio archive, or download the slide presentation (pdf). We’ve also collected a wealth of links to “Follow the Money” tools recommended by our savvy webinar audience.
Visit our Berlin Workshop page to learn more about next month’s event.