Sunday, October 9, 2011

Governing the World One Map at a Time

It’s no longer a question whether or not governance will move beyond the state, because it already has. Governance was once almost solely at the discretion of individual countries and their leaders. Now the state shares that responsibility with industry, the media, civil society and even technology.

The aspect that I find the most interesting is technology that plays a role in governance, particularly in developing areas where you wouldn’t expect technology to play such a large role. Usually technology is a tool wielded by NGOs.

Livingstone brings up the great example of Ushahidi. Ushahidi is a free and open source software that began in the wake of Kenya’s 2007 political unrest that collects data about ongoing violence that is submitted through e-mail, social networking sites and text messages Then the information is all compiled to essentially digitally map the area and keep people informed about what’s going on where. And even though Ushahidi started in Kenya, it’s now been used worldwide in 128 countries, in all kinds of conflict zones and natural disasters. From earthquakes in Japan and Haiti to violence in the Congo, and even right here in DC during the blizzard in 2010, Ushahidi was used as a tool. 

In this case, it is a combination of technology, an NGO and regular citizens that act as the players in governance. Without the people who send in information, Ushahidi would not work. It’s fueled by crowd sourcing. The one player Ushahidi does not need to function is the state.

So we’ve established that Ushahidi takes the state out of the equation, but what makes it governance? Livingstone uses this definition of governance: “complex of formal and informal institutions, mechanisms, relationships, and processes between and among states, markets, citizens and organizations, both inter- and non-governmental, through which collective interests on the global plane are articulated, rights and obligations are established, and differences are mediated. (Weiss and Thakur, 2010).” Ushahidi fits this definition perfectly. It is a mix of formal and informal institutions, relationships and processes between citizens and organizations, in this case non-governmental. Collective interests are articulated and differences are mediated, in addition to public safety being provided for. Ushahidi and other technological tools like it are great examples of a new form of governance. 

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