Many claims have been made about the potential of the next generation of information and communication technologies (ICTs) for community empowerment and democratisation. Open source information crowdsourcing platforms like Ushahidi, and open mapping and data initiatives like OpenStreetMap, are enabling citizens in developing countries to generate and disseminate information critical for their lives and livelihoods. In some cases these open ICTs contribute to the creation of a new information commons, a shared set of information resources.
These tools, which are used in conjunction with commercial Web 2.0 services and an array of digital media, are seen to create new architectures of participation that have the potential to change the relationship between producers and consumers of information, putting communities in the driving seat.
This report draws on an original empirical investigation of Map Kibera, a community information platform that takes advantage of open ICTs, and similar initiatives to provide key insights on the challenges and opportunities for vulnerable and marginalised communities presented by this latest wave of ICT innovations. The contributions made by these projects to local capacity building and the build up of a new information commons needs to be understood in conjunction with:
- challenges emerging from efforts to sustain participation and govern the new information commons in under-resourced and politically contested spaces
- complications and risks emerging from the desire to share information freely in such contexts
- gaps between information provision, transparency and accountability, and the slow materialisation of projects' wider social benefits.
The study also highlights:
- the role of the open source social entrepreneur as a new development actor
- the complexity of the architectures of participation supported by these platforms and the need to consider them in relation to the decision-making processes that they aim to support and the roles in which they cast citizens
- the possibilities for cross-fertilisation of ideas and the development of new practices between development practitioners and technology actors committed to working with communities to improve lives and livelihoods. The report concludes by setting out a research agenda that builds upon this initial work.
Institute of Development Studies, Brighton, UK, 83 pp.
Mediating voices and communicating realities. Using information crowdsourcing tools, open data initiatives and digital media to support and protect the vulnerable and marginalised. Final project report.