Why isn’t tech for accountability working in Africa?

Expanding mobile networks and falling costs could transform communication between African citizens and governments. So far, however, attempts to harness new technologies to improve transparency and accountability in Africa and elsewhere have had disappointing results. What is going wrong? Research suggests that an important reason for this failure is a poor understanding of technologies and limited skills in developing and using them.
 
It seems that civil society organisations (CSOs) and governments often ‘re-invent the flat tyre’: experimenting with new tools without finding out what has been tried (often unsuccessfully) before. They also do not follow best practices in how to source, develop and test technologies to ensure these are ‘fit for purpose’. Decision makers should focus on building an effective innovation ecosystem with better links between technologists and accountability actors in both government and civil society to enable learning from successes – and mistakes.
 
Recommendations:
  • those with responsibilities in creating the innovation ecosystem, including funders, should focus on building a supportive innovation ecosystem
  • funders should shift their focus from supporting short-term pilots to building institutions capable of success over time, and invest in strengthening links between initiatives and disseminating learning resources across the continent
  • those who are leading and managing innovation initiatives – in government and CSOs – should focus on getting better and smarter at managing the innovation cycle
  • research suggests the following ‘rules of thumb’ will lead to better outcomes: acknowledge what you do not know, think twice before building a new tool, get a second opinion, test technologies in the field, plan for failure, budget to iterate, and share what you learn