Facing corruption with reflection and collaboration

Alma Rangel

Lee este post en español.

Last year, we launched a project to support Latin American organisations in reflecting and learning about how they use data and technology in their projects. As many organisations in the region are operating in environments where transparency, accountability and democracy are threatened, adopting a strategic approach to data and technology is an important part of creating sustainable solutions. This means that when working for social justice, civil society organisations need to be intentional about why they are applying certain approaches, how they design and implement them and which tools are most suitable for the context. Read the full series here.

Civil society organizations in Latin America face complex and dynamic challenges in fighting against persistent hierarchies and networks of corruption. In recent years we have more information than ever. However, the challenges are also more complex: power structures generate new corruption strategies and quickly adapt their cross-border operations.

In this context, technology and data have become essential tools in activist’s strategic responses to cross-border corruption, and seeking out creative solutions to collective problems is necessary to further the openness movement. Alongside these urgent processes, the activist community stands to benefit from reflecting on progress and contributing to mutually-held knowledge resources. 

To support this effort, we launched a project in July 2019 to assist three Latin American organisations in measuring their impact and exploring new approaches to data and technology. In October of that year, we held a community call to create space for project participants to discuss the challenges they’ve faced when incorporating data and tech in their work, and share some insights they’ve learned along the way. 

Reflections on our community call

To start the discussion, we were joined by Denisse Albornoz and Marieliv Flores from the Hiperderecho team who presented on Tecnoresistencias, a prevention and accompaniment program for victims of gender-based violence online in Lima, Peru. Juliana Galvis from Datasketch spoke to Letra Menuda (Fine Print) and Elecciones y Contratos (Elections and Contracts), two projects that analyze contracts to assist journalists, activists and civil society in discovering corruption patterns in Colombia. We’re sharing some valuable outcomes from the virtual call here, including insights into each project’s design and implementation process and how strategic applications of data and tech could make them more effective.

Being flexible with the process

We often learn through the process of working on projects, responding to needs as we go along.  We need to build flexibility within our strategies so that when unanticipated problems arise or new factors become apparent, we can still create a workable end product. 

Going beyond the data

Having data is not enough. In many cases, data without interpretation might be inaccessible for your target audience, and, depending on your dataset, it can take a lot of technical knowledge to understand and analyze it. We need to go beyond simply presenting data, and take care to communicate information so that the people we want to reach can may iterate on your findings or turn them into action. 

Showing openness & committing to collaboration

We can’t be experts in everything.  When we collaborate with compatible communities and incorporate diverse perspectives, the result is a deeper level of knowledge and stronger work.  Healthy communities and effective collaborations are built around consistent correspondence and a commitment to transparency. 

Take time for reflection

It’s useful to reserve time and resources for deliberate reflection at various stages within a project’s timeline to identify what’s working, what might not be, and opportunities to be more strategic. Ideally, this should extend beyond thinking about project results—you may want to consider team dynamics, outreach activities, interactions with other communities or allies, presentation of findings and contribution to organisational objectives.  

What’s next?

In the coming weeks we will continue to share learnings that emerged from the workshops with three organisations in the region. You can follow them through our blog, Twitter and our newsletter.

If you have any questions or want to learn more about our process, write to paola@theengineroom.org.

Illustrated by Matilde Salinas.