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.

Gordon Brown in successful speech shocker! Plus innovation…

Yes, despite having a rather bad week (again), the PM pulled off a pretty decent motivational sort of speech to the NESTA Innovation Edge  conference today at the Royal Festival Hall. He even told a few jokes! People laughed! Crumbs. Maybe this is the turnaround….

Anyway… here’s a quick summary of the two sessions I went along to for those of you who missed it.

1) Are online social networks the new cities? (Charles Leadbeter, Richard Leese, Jon Gisby, Michael Birch)

(er, no)

2) Are educational institutions living up to the innovation demands of the 21st century? (Julia Goodfellow, Paul Roberts, Nick Starr, Stuart Cosgrove, Andy Powell)

(….mmmaybe… actually, er, no.)

—- the most interesting thing that came out of the first discussion sessions was the idea of a virtual bothy raised by Ewan McIntosh which left me dreaming of some kind of virtual  hipflask sharing arrangement.

—- the most interesting thing for me in the second session was Andy Powell mentioning the ever present elephant in the room – the snobbery surrounding education in the UK that ingrains our two-tier system and prevents social mobility. People didn’t seem so interested in listening to that fact laid bare…

Anyway, gotta go now – busy getting some french responses from this guy, and minor death threats from this guy on Seesmic for being boring and I’ve only been logged in an hour! Actually…  maybe I’ll go and talk to the grass seed again instead…oh shit, maybe I am boring.