AI, digital and the climate crisis requires greater social accountability
Sarah Onduko reflects on key areas where the world must ensure citizens’ rights and government accountability
This year’s Open Government Partnership (OGP) Global Summit has just wrapped up. I and a colleague from World Vision Indonesia office joined civil society representatives, heads of state and government representatives, and policy makers in Tallin, Estonia, to consider the key areas which inform OGP’s strategic direction over the next five years: open governments, transparency, accountability and civic participation.
This year’s summit discussions evolved around: Open government in the digital age; the potential of technology to make governance and policy-making more transparent and accountable; anti-corruption; climate and environment; open justice; and public participation and civic space—as well as other emerging issues, such as democratic resilience.
This all provided attendees with a lot to think about, and now, as I reflect on my time there are a few things that stand out.
AI and digital governance
At the OGP summit in 2018 in Tbilisi Georgia, the global discussion of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and digital governance was already in motion. I was mesmerized to see humanoid Sophia who had interactions with the participants where she spoke about Public service and Innovation. By 2023 it now clear that that promised reality of AI is now here with us: the digital space has exponentially developed that it cannot be ignored.
With this new reality of the exponential development of digital technology and AI legal regulations both internationally and nationally must emerge to protect citizens. The EU countries are about to enter into a non-committal agreement on AI within their countries. Other regional blocks and countries will no doubt follow suit. In one of the side events I participated organised by Connected by Data, the discussions focused around transparency, participation and redress, and the need to equip civil society and governments and civil society on knowledge and skills to effectively govern data and AI.
My colleagues and I were glad to share our experiences of social accountability programming in two sessions: Connected Worlds: Co-Creating Ways to Improve Public Service by the Mutual Engagement of Citizens and Governments and Hearing All Voices: Linking Online and Offline Tools for Inclusive Community Engagement
World Vision is already working to harness the power of digital platforms to enhance our social accountability approach. The CVA Database and dashboards capture data from monitoring standards, community scorecards, and community interface commitments by leaders. The analysis dashboards are a rich resource for monitoring, identifying trends, and connecting local to national and global advocacy.
It’s evident that social accountability contributes significantly to open governance and can play a key role in reducing digital vulnerability. Our social accountability approach, Citizen Voice and Action (CVA) used in over 815 programmes since 2018 in 44 countries has leveraged both offline and online tools.
However how these emerging global realities impact citizen participation. Do citizens understand about digital/AI and how this will affect or is this already affecting their lives? With such rapid changes, are citizen voices informing the global, national and local conversation? What role then should civil society organisations like World Vision play when it comes to any new regulations and citizen participation?
Climate Change is one of the key focus areas for the new 2023-2028 OGP strategy. Discussions around climate change and climate financing evolved around the role of CSO to not only be at the periphery but be at the discussion table on issues of climate finance accountability.
The World Bank alongside other multilateral agencies have, over the years, set up climate financing arrangements that governments are tapping into to drive both infrastructure and programming around climate change. As governments receive these funds, it is imperative that the voices of the citizens are not lost in this conversation.
Recognising this need, the Global Partnership for Social Accountability (GPSA) are focusing on green accountability as one of its new programmes. It is therefore evident that generating evidence and demonstrating examples on citizen engagement is critical for climate change and the need to ensure ‘climate accountability’.
World Vision has a new Environment Stewardship Management policy that drives the implementation of our global programme work. One key focus is on citizen engagement around Environment Sustainability and Climate Action. We have gathered recent lessons from youth-led social accountability on environmental issues in Ireland and Tanzania, on how young people can be the agents of change and hold government accountable on climate change issues. Additionally, we have launched the budget advocacy toolkit with participatory methods on how communities can use these tools to engage on government budget eco-system from planning to monitoring of budgets expenditures.
What else can civil society organisations (CSOs) do to ensure more voices are heard on decisions about our climate future? How about the climate financing accountability mechanism? Who is providing this oversight?
Civic Space and Participation; An on-going challenge
In her address to the summit participants, Samantha Power the USAID administrator, ‘The question before us, are not the normative issues; whether Governments should be Open or Closed, but how it delivers benefit of services to communities.’
The discussion of Civic Space and Participation is an ongoing conversation in a world where too many government policies keep on changing to silence the voices of their citizens. Given these challenges I am grateful that the OGP platform provides an opportunity for CSOs to share examples and lessons where success, challenges and innovations have emerged to advance civic participations.
We are also grateful for the opportunity to work together with a range of academic, government, and other CSO partners right around the globe to this end. For example, World Vision supports the implementation of National and Local Open Government Partnership action plans alongside other partners across the world.
In this year’s summit World Vision Wahana Visi Indonesia was present in the OGP as part of the national collaboration at the level of the local OGP board, where they seek to work alongside other CSOs to support delivery of the agreed national action plan. Recently World Vision Malawi also participated in OGP regional summit in Morocco. As a result of this collaborative effort to alongside other CSOs, the Government of Malawi has recommitted itself to the OGP as declared by the President of Malawi at this year's OGP summit.
This year's OGP global summit brought to light the scale of the challenges that we must face if we are to realise open democracies embedded with values of citizen engagement around Information, Voice, Accountability and Transparency. In particular, the discussion on the reality of AI and digital government is something I will continue to reflect on as my colleagues and I seek to enhance our social accountability tools and digital platforms.
Learn more about World Vision's CVA and Social Accountability work here
Sarah Onduko-Obiri is Governance and Social Accountability Advisor for World Vision International. Contact her at Sarah_Onduko-Obiri@wvi.org