Reflections on Sarajevo’s Communityboost_r Camp on Tech, Data, Transparency and Accountability

keishataylor's picture

In the smoky cafe and outdoor tents, on gigantic bean bags and cushioned wooden seating in a cosy section of the University of Sarajevo's Center for Interdisciplinary Postgraduate Studies in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) NGO reps, civil society activists, and techies (accidental and intentional), congregated from throughout the Western Balkans (BiH, Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia, Macedonia and Kosovo) for Communityboost_r camp 2013 on 7 - 9 November 2013. Participants arrived as their schedules and border crossings allowed (9 of the 13 Kosovo participants were initially denied at one border, but succeeded on another border crossing attempt), yet everything carried on smoothly. This is the reality of the Balkan region, one that is infectious, that inspires, and encourages resilience in spite of adversary. It was not just co-operation but the simple act of gathering that enabled that very co-operation, which is vital for progress.  

Fundacja TechSoup along with and Zašto ne (BiH) in partnership with Dokukino (Serbia), IPKO Foundation (Kosovo) collaborated to organise a local and participant driven event around improving transparency and accountability in the region with an emphasis upon the use of data. It was what we like to call an unconference, and this conference was by and for the new generation of Balkan activists who want to use tech to dialogue, to heal, to create solutions and to build collaboration in a region whose very name is often used to signify the impossibility of collaboration.

Many workshops were locally run highlighting much of the amazing work being done to promote transparency and accountability in the region. I would suggest you have a look at the Communityboost_r site to find out more about what has been happening. There were also welcome fun breaks teaching us how to make paper (I made my first page!) and how to creatively use newspapers and magazine clippings in activism.

There were other workshops that brought new ideas and experiences to the region. For example, Sam Lee from the World Bank spoke about the success of their efforts to bring open financial data to offline communities in Bali, Indonesia. Gabi Sibley from Tactical Tech presented and showcased practical and cool data visualisation tools, and the TechSoup team in Warsaw also gave a cool data visualisation workshop. The Open Knowledge Foundation’s School of Data did Data Expeditions, investigating Election Data in Montenegro and Bosnia as well as a session on how to use Google Refine to clean up messy data. Paul Maasen from the Open Government Partnership spoke of the involvement of civil society in OGP work and ways that the region could be involved. The Sunlight Foundation’s Eric Mill also presented about how real-time data is helping others in the US publish news even before established news outlets.

TechSoup Global organised a participant driven workshop “Your social benefit marketplace: What data would you need”? Paul van Haver, who directs TSG’s Global Data Services program, based in London, spoke about what a global ‘give and get’ marketplace, where people can exchange value, could mean for civil society and social impact.  Techsoup Global is trying to build and support such a marketplace. The infrastructure developed will help to provide not only our own services but those of others in a user driven and community/networked way, which can help those in the Balkans and anywhere else.

To help this discussion along we asked participants what problematic issues were foremost on their mind and arrived at a consensus that the top 2 topics were Educational programmes for Journalism and Where does funding from government and philanthropists go?. We then explored these topics via useful categories such as:

  1. What Data is needed?
  2. Data Sources
  3. Actors/Stakeholders
  4. Tools/Skills
  5. Opportunities/Blockers

This list could have expanded but given we just had 1 1/2 hours for the session we had to stop there. Some obvious but also less evident thoughts, suggestions and ideas came through as we did this simple exercise, and it was clear that the methodology could be applied to a huge range of social issues. Sheetal Singh, Senior Director of Global Media introduced HackerHelper, a simple but powerful tool that TechSoup has developed; HackerHelper asks people to document their available data and other resources on various issues locally, nationally, regionally and internationally, using the framework of the Millennium Development Goals. With this tool and information, those working on social benefit projects and in hackathons can get to results much more quickly. And new activists can build on what’s been done before.

All the information from our session is now here and will be added to HackerHelper soon.

Sometimes simple ideas can spark big impact; tech provides us with loads of examples of this. Wikipedia anyone?  This fits in well with the idea of the global marketplace we are pursuing and intend to support for communities like those in the Balkans to use on their terms and in their own very special way.