Inclusion, openness, authenticity: key development themes for any year
In 2011, development bodies made encouraging progress on issues like these. We need more of that next year.
By: Linda Raftree, Senior Advisor, Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D), Plan International USA
Waking one lazy Sunday morning and checking my Twitter feed, the first link I clicked on was a video of the Egyptian military beating unarmed protesters. The second was a series of Lego reconstructions of key moments in 2011, including the now-famous campus policeman pepper spraying unarmed student protesters in the face. It's impossible to look back on 2011 without recalling the massive number of people who joined in worldwide protests to push for openness and inclusion – financial, political and social. No less memorable is the violence with which those protests were met.
As 2012 approaches, protesters across the world continue to occupy public spaces and fight for a voice in how things are run. They seek greater transparency, and new means of participating in social, financial and political life.
Many of 2011's more horrifying and memorable images – captured on mobile phones, and generating global outrage and solidarity – involved systemic repression by the powers-that-be. Progress has been made in some countries, but sadly it's not clear what the end result of the world's uprisings will be.
Inclusion was not only a theme of large-scale world events, it was also key in aid and development. Organizations continued to push for adolescent girls' inclusion in development initiatives and to emphasize that the most excluded and marginalized populations need to be reached in order to advance towards shared development objectives such as the millennium development goals. In June 2011, in a clear move forward on inclusion, the UN endorsed the rights of gay, lesbian and transgender people, yet the world still has a very long way to go.
Another central theme in 2011 was openness. Whether it was the World Bank's open data site, the Open Government Partnership (OGP), the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), the Busan high level forum on aid effectiveness, the increase in "fail faires", or grassroots initiatives pushing for more transparency – in aid and government funding as well as political decision making – "open" was everywhere.
As yet, however, the trend hasn't reached quite far enough, and it would be good if it expanded in 2012 to encompass banks and other private sector entities. Hopefully, openness can help to advance inclusion and itself become more inclusive. All this amazing, open data needs to be re-used and it needs to connect back with people who might not be technology or data experts, have an internet connection or speak one of the major languages.
I hope 2012 sees greater effort to support communities and local organizations to access and use open data. I also hope there will be more effort to understand what information communities and local groups need to improve their own situations and exact more accountability and better governance from aid agencies, governments, service providers and the private sector.
Along with inclusion and openness, authenticity was a key concept in 2011. I enjoyed seeing critiques of simplistic media pieces about "the poor" and "the excluded". Lakota youth, for instance, responded in a video to an ABC 20/20 piece about poverty and hardship on reservations, emphasizing: "We're more than that.". The Forbes piece, headlined "If I was a poor black kid", caused a huge stir and response. One close reading of simplistic mainstream journalism called out the author for habitually ignoring the complex, systemic causes of poverty and exclusion.
I look forward to hearing more voices in these debates in 2012, continued questioning of simplistic messages, and more authentic reporting. New media can help previously excluded people tell their own, unspun stories and comment on simplistic reporting about them elsewhere. I hope aid and development agencies will increasingly support this, not as a gimmick or marketing ploy, but as a core element of their work and a way to better understand and share the issues and opinions of the people they aim to support through their programs.
My wish for 2012 is that the world makes serious gains in reducing social, political and financial exclusion, in advancing participatory and accountable governance, and in achieving a better distribution of power and resources. Hopefully, aid and development organizations will continue to make progress in understanding what inclusion, openness, and authenticity in the global landscape mean for the kinds of programs they fund and support.
See Linda's original post on the Guardian.