ICT can contribute to fostering empowerment and participation and making government processes more efficient and transparent by encouraging communication and information-sharing among people and organizations, and within government.21
Using ICT, governments can improve the quality and responsiveness of the services they provide to their citizens as well as expand the reach and accessibility of services and public infrastructure. This is facilitated by e-government applications that provide services and information to citizens over the Internet and other communication networks. In the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, the government is introducing an experimental intranet computer network for government services and local information. This allows citizens to have faster and more transparent access to government services. For example, farmers can get copies of land titles for 10 cents that previously cost as much as US$100 from corrupt officials. Andhra Pradesh in India has also launched Internet-enabled integrated service centers providing access to different types of government services.22
ICT connects individuals and local communities with information and resources beyond their geographic boundaries, encouraging information dissemination, information exchange and communication. Citizens are encouraged to participate in the democratic process through ICT mechanisms such as electronic forums and bulletin boards, which enable participation in public discussions. This is especially relevant for marginalized communities and groups such as women, youth and ethnic minorities: they can share and exchange information of mutual interest, strengthen their collective power and shape their own development solutions. A women's group in Mexico City, for example, used email to ask sympathizers in California to do research on the textile factory where they worked. When the women's jobs were threatened, they came to management armed with information on the company, its profits and its ownership to negotiate better conditions and more secure tenure. 23, 24, 25
Organizations in developing countries also find it increasingly feasible to participate in information-sharing that strengthens governance and collective power, allowing them to influence political and institutional decision-making processes. Trade unions, for example, have used the Internet as a campaigning tool to organize labor globally in the fight against exploitation. Global networks played a crucial role in helping unionized Guatemalan workers to join with other union groups and lobby governments and multilaterals to gain recognition and wage increases from Pepsi-Cola in the mid-1990s.
SANGONet is an electronic information and communications network for development and human rights workers in Southern Africa. It provides relevant information to people working on development issues by allowing them to communicate with each other on its web site (www.sn.apc.org/sangonet), and by building capacity in electronic communications within non-governmental, community-based, government and private sector organizations. SANGONet's priorities include open government, ICT, education, health, economy, labor, women, human rights and the environment. SANGONet is a member of the non-profit Association for Progressive Communications (APC).
The lack of reliable and affordable telecommunications and power infrastructure is still a barrier to encouraging widespread utilization of SANGONet's functions. In addition, although people and organizations can effectively use ICT to improve their information exchange and communications, strong leadership and management capabilities are required to translate information into coordinated action.
© 2001 Accenture, Markle Foundation, United Nations Development Programme.
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