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Farewell … For Now

Submitted by on November 22, 2011 – 12:57 amNo Comment

This blog was born just over a year ago, in July of 2010, with a series of posts examining the work of Latin American civil society organizations like Artículo 19, the Center for the Investigation of Drugs and Human Rights, and Alternativas y Capacidades. The launch of the weblog coincided with the beginning of my consultancy with Open Society Foundations. I was hired by the foundation’s Information Program and the Latin America Program to help determine how each could most effectively collaborate with the other.

Consultants are routinely hired by foundations to “assess impact” and “scope out prospective interventions.” However, as Sameer Padania remarked at a conference on technology and philanthropy, the vast majority of intellectual capital produced by consultants remains left sitting tucked away on some hard drive, and out of sight from the larger public. Occasionally, the overworked staff of philanthropic foundations don’t have enough time to read the very reports that they themselves commissioned.

This weblog, then, was my effort to capture the state of the use of technology by civil society in Latin America, but to do so in an open, networked manner that invites wider participation beyond the same handful of experts that are regularly cited in reports and invited to conferences. I had also hoped to provide civil society with more information about how foundations make decisions by featuring a regular series of interviews with the program officers who ultimately decide which organizations receive grants and which do not. Finally, I had hoped to use this blog to promote the concept of “civic information;” that is, public information that is adopted and analyzed by tech-savvy civil society organizations to promote more citizen participation, government transparency, and, ultimately, accountability.

In its 16 months of existence I believe that this blog has been reasonably successful at drawing together a community of Latin American activists, analysts and technologists interested in the use of technology in civil society. They continue to develop innovative civic software such as Promesometro in Peru, Vota Inteligente in Argentina, Queremos Saber in Brazil, and Inspector de Intereses in Chile. Another sign of growing enthusiasm: the first weekend of December, dozens of civic hackers will meet in major cities across the region to dedicate 30 hours to developing applications that promote transparency.

I was less successful, however, at persuading philanthropic foundations to be more open and transparent in their strategizing and grant-making. Philanthropy remains a mostly exclusive, hierarchical practice, where the right social connections are more valuable than the right ideas.

Last month, my consultancy with Open Society Foundations came to an end. I am grateful to my former colleagues at the Information and Latin America programs who provided me with guidance, autonomy, and the opportunity to work with the most reputed civil society organizations throughout Latin America. I will continue to work on issues related to technology and transparency with Omidyar Network, the philanthropic investment firm of Pierre and Pam Omidyar. With my new position, however, I will not have enough time to dedicate to this blog. If you are interested in taking over editorship of the blog, please leave a comment on this post or via the contact page. The use of new technologies to promote greater government transparency is still in its infancy, and it is my hope that analytical, journalistic endeavors like this one continue to accompany the movement.

For now, I recommend that readers interested in technology and civil society in Latin America subscribe to the following blogs to keep apace of new developments:

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