August 2011

Privacy, Trust, NymWars, and Social Change

Submitted by Jon on Sat, 08/27/2011 - 09:26

Social change takes trust. You trust the thought leaders of the movement, you trust some set of information around the issue, you trust those who work with you to support you and not to expose anyone to undue risk.

Social change also takes privacy. If you are really pushing boundaries, you are at risk - of physical violence, imprisonment, or worse. There's value in being very public in this space as well, but that doesn't mean there's not a stage where protecting yourself through some layer of privacy is a better plan.

Social change also takes voice - citizen media platforms, and use of existing social networking sites which already have global scale and the ability to amplify a message.

Unfortunately, there's a lot of bickering around privacy, pseudonymity, and social networks - Facebook naturally, but even Google Plus is blocking pseudonyms from using the site reliably. I got tired of re-hashing the very valuable differences between using one's own name, being completely anonymous, and using a pen name - a well-storied way of getting an idea out while saving one's own neck:

Panels to support for an amazing SXSW 2012

Submitted by Jon on Fri, 08/19/2011 - 14:21

It's not to early to start making sure that your SXSW 2012 experience is fully awesome. How you ask? Why, by voting for awesome panels to attend.

To start off with some absolutely shameless self-promotion, I will be presenting with the my colleagues at Ashoka Changemakers on "Open Growth" and systems change. Create an account and vote for us here: .

Changemakers has a blog post on all our panels.

Some more panels worth voting for:

Care about there actually being some interesting tech talks at SXSW? Vote for Brandon Wiley's panel here: on launching your startup completely in the cloud.

Want to talk pirates and innovation? This might be your ticket:

Is the state of journalism getting you down? Check these out: and

Is it just your content strategy? Hear some real content horror stories:

Just unhappy in general? Work with happiness to make your business better:

Monitoring and Evaluation is broken. Let's really break it.

Submitted by Jon on Tue, 08/16/2011 - 16:17

One of the sad truths that emerged at the Technology Salon on ICTs and M&E was that failure in development is rarely about the project performance, but about winning the next contract. This means that monitoring and evaluation is less about tracking and improving progress towards social change and more about weaving an advertising pitch.

This is not for a lack of frameworks, tools, mapping measurements against a theory of change, or even the need for more real-time data in development. It is about incentives. What is incentivized at the macro level is getting big numbers on the board and nice clean upwardly-trending graph lines. Micro-level incentives for filing reports to fill out the monitoring side of things focus on report filing as a requirement for salary payments or other basic carrot/stick-driven models. Neither of these actually encourage accurate, honest data, yet only with that accurate data can we remotely hope to tweak models and make improvements.

So, let's break monitoring apart from evaluation.

So - What Next?

Submitted by Jon on Wed, 08/10/2011 - 15:46

The events in London over the past few days have been deeply interesting in the wake of last month's conversation on mobile and online activism during and after #ArabSpring. In this case, the actors are different, but the response patterns are similar - the embattled government pushing on technology providers to share private data or turn off mobile messaging services. In this case, it's RIM/Blackberry in the middle, with calls from MPs to "curfew" Blackberry messaging, and RIM itself offering to help policy by sharing message contents. This promptly led to the Blackberry site being hacked, with the hacker posting:

"We have access to your database which includes your employees information; e.g - Addresses, Names, Phone Numbers etc. - now if u assist the police, we _WILL_ make this information public and pass it onto rioters ... do you really want a bunch of angry youths on your employees doorsteps?"

Obviously, that's not a very nice thing to do, particularly considering it's unlikely any of these employees had much to do with this decision in the first place.

The lines are not quite as clear as one would like, though. All protests are messy, and it's rarely clear who is in the right. Many countries claim to be representative democracies of one flavor or another. If youth were protesting a regime in yet another Middle East/North African country, we would be globally shaming RIM/Blackberry for cavorting with the government. Of course, in the case of London, it seems to be more a gang of thugs and looters than a political statement.

The challenge, of course, is that the technology vulnerabilities might be useful to authorities during a riot, but are also useful to authoritarian governments in squelching a revolution. Not unlike wikileaks, you don't get to pick and choose who benefits from the technology, or who is made vulnerable by it.

Ashoka Changemakers is hosting a competition supported by Google to source innovative ideas in the Citizen Media space solving some of this tension around privacy, speech, and trust. There's some amazing thoughtwork in the space getting recorded at the Ashoka News and Knowledge blog.

All of that is a long introduction to the better-late-than-never summary of the July ICT4D Meetup. You know that it's a good technology discussion when it turns into a people discussion, and so went our conversation around Online Activism after #ArabSpring : What's Next?.

Our panelists discussed the strange role of being an Egyptian following along from abroad via social media, the roles of traditional and new media in civic engagement, and examples of online activism around the world, from Azerbaijan to Spain.

The core topic we kept coming back to was that the excitement around new technologies was justified, social media is a tool, not a movement. So while a cat-and-mouse game around technology will likely continue, the core of any social change is the people involved, not whatever tools they are using. Check out the twitter stream here.

Remember to join us online for future ICT4D meetups and get on the email list for ICT4Drinks!

User login

© Jon Camfield
Comments or Questions? Contact me
Privacy Statement | Disclaimer