The Power of The Visible : Open up for Social change

Imagine this; a driver is stopped on a provincial road in India. They are asked to pay a ‘fine’ for some unspecified infringement of the road traffic laws. The men asking are dressed in police uniform and one seems to be carrying a weapon. They’d like the fine to be paid right now, in cash please. Much is left implied and unsaid as each party searches the other’s eyes for an understanding of the real nature of this transaction. The driver pays the ‘fine’ and is permitted to carry on travelling down the road. The driver is pissed off, but hey, this is normal – and its just the way things work round here – and what can one pissed off driver do about this stuff anyway?

Well, there is something that people can do now, they can speak out, and make these hidden transactions, the ‘bribe economy’ visible through initiatives like the India-based www.ipaidabribe.com . The site enables people affected by bribery to write about their experiences in public and to track the incidence of bribery in an open and transparent way, it aims “to tackle corruption by harnessing the collective energy of citizens.”

You can report on the nature, number, pattern, types, location, frequency and values of the bribes made, and the  reports add up to provide a snapshot of bribes occurring across any given city. They make formerly covert activities visible so that individuals who are sick of corrupt practice can build a stronger case for change, together, from the ground up.

And this idea of making things visible as a form of power and a force for legitimacy of experience can be brought to other contexts. One of the most powerful online tools out there is the interactive map. Geography and place bring things to life for people, and if you are not on the map then you’re not part of the ‘visible’ geography – you are part of a hidden world with little legitimacy as a home and a place to live. This is the case for many slum dwellings.

Take the example of Kibera in Kenya – Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya, was a blank spot on the map until November 2009, when young Kiberans created the first free and open digital map of their own community.

Map Kibera has now grown into a complete interactive community information project with the additon of Voice of Kibera – a portal for citizen reporting and community advocacy which has the map at its heart.

The Map of Kibera “has steadily emerged as a powerful tool for not just locating place, but also for influencing the social, political & economic spheres in Kibera and beyond.”

What else that is hidden or covert can be made visible through social media to make a real-world change? If you’re intersted in reading more check out this blog from Giulio Quaggiotto who works on Knowledge Management at UNDP Europe and CIS. There is much more that can be done through using these online tools to make a real-world difference.

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12 Comments

  1. In Nigeria – a new website is doing exactly the same thing. http://www.bribenigeria.com/

    It is early days but it would be interesting to see if it can not only help to track incidents of corruption but also bring about societal change by empowering people to think that they can live without paying bribes – I am really interested in how the ‘I didn’t pay a bribe’ section of the website might work to change behaviour (in a nudge, think, shove type matrix)

  2. Hi Ade, thanks for passing on the link – good to see that the idea is spreading. I’d be interested to see how making all this activity that people don’t like talking about turn into peer pressure, empowerment, and change.

    An interesting example of trying to shift persistent and ‘under-the-radar’ behaviourial norms (more through using films and meetings led by local people than online) is around ‘coordinated abandonment’ campaigns, notably on FGM abandonment, http://www.unicef-irc.org/research/217/ .

    Linking up the online and offline seems like the next step for the bribe-reporting sites – look how powerful making that step was for the map Kibera project too.

  3. Pingback: Is most of development work invisible? « Voices from Eurasia

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