Building on the Open Government Partnership in Liberia in 2014: Knowmore LIB

ImageBy: Lawrence Yealue and Carter Draper. This post was originally published by the Open Government Partnership.

As Liberia welcomes 2014, it is an opportune moment to look back at the impressive progress Liberia made in terms of open government in 2013. The Open Government Partnership (OGP) Summit in London in October last year was an important step forward in the broader West African movement for openness, transparency and accountability. Sierra Leone applied for membership, for example; and Liberia sent a high-level government and civil society delegation to the meetings. Ideas were formed, hands were shaken and commitments were made- but the key going forwards, of course, is to maintain this momentum through progress on the ground.

In Liberia, the Accountability Lab and iLab Liberia are working in partnership this year to support the government and civil society to do just that through Knowmore LIB (“Knowmore” is a knowledgeable person in Liberian English; “LIB” is local slang for Liberia)- a project to assess, find, collect and visualize information and datasets on key government services. The team is working with the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism (MICAT); civil society groups such as CENTAL (the local chapter of Transparency International) and CEMESP; journalists; and creative artists to build a dual purpose website. This will function as an open data hub and as a government navigation portal to help citizens understand and use public services more effectively.

So far, we’ve been doing a lot of listening and asking questions to build consensus on what Knowmore LIB could be. We want to make sure this is led by us- as Liberians- and avoid any feeling, as pointed out by the Indigo Trust recently, that the OGP is somehow a “Western framework”. In Liberia, the OGP is owned and spearheaded by the government and domestic civil society- with the support of groups like ours that can provide ideas, linkages and inputs where relevant. Talking to Liberians around Monrovia and beyond on a daily basis, we know that transparency and accountability of government is an issue that matters to them more than almost anything else.

In response, we’ve been helping to carefully and collaboratively design open government tools that are as useful and useable as possible for the Liberian people. We are trying to learn from similar efforts elsewhere in Africa- like the Edo State Data Portal in Nigeria or the Africa Open Data tool– and avoid some of the problems that have begun to plague tools like Kenya’s Open Data Portal. We are working hand in hand with civil society groups to support their ideas, and we’ve set up weekly coordination meetings between all the key stakeholders.

We’ve also facilitated several open government and open data workshops. Through these meetings we have begun to differentiate between the types of information Liberians want to know (“how-to” information; rights, responsibilities and laws; and statistical datasets); and how best to prioritize the collection and synthesis of this information (key priorities include facts on health, transport and agricultural issues). Meanwhile, the Accountability Lab has been working with the Daily Talk to bridge the digital divide and begin to put out information of this type through chalk billboards in the capital city of Monrovia. Recently, the Daily Talk ran a series including pictures and explanations of road signs and rules- and had everyone from passersby to policemen asking for further information.

Liberia will complete an interim report on its progress against key Open Government Partnership commitments in July 2014- just a few months from now. There is not time to waste. The country has both the head-start and capacity needed to lead the movement for greater transparency and accountability in the West African region. Now is the time to seize the momentum and turn promises into action. 

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Making power-holders accountable in the developing world

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