THE THIRD AND LAST DAY of the “unconference” on open governance, transparency, and technology brought two days of idea sharing down to ground level with lively discussions on how Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) can engage both government and the general public through technology.

The Technology and Open Government: A Collaborative Learning Event, an activity sponsored by the Southeast Asia Technology and Transparency Initiative (SEATTI), a partnership between the Omidyar Network and Hivos, and the Making All Voices Count initiative, was meant to bridge gaps between government, CSOs, and the public through the use of new technologies. The specific focus of the activity is the use of technology in order to foster transparency and open governance.

The key phrase that had to be defined was the term constructive engagement, a phrase that sometimes spawns endless debates between public officials and reformers both in government and in the private sector.

Participants agreed that constructive engagement must be depoliticized, or understood in a manner that is independent of political color and association. This means that government and CSOs need to understand constructive engagement as separate and distinct from political personalities and entities both in and out of government.

Some participants noted how some government officials tend to separate critics into those who are allies and those who are political enemies, and color the engagement with these sectors with these labels. As a result, criticisms, observations, and feedback from those perceived to be politically hostile may be filtered out.

The danger with this is that government would operate only in an echo chamber, where it only chooses to listen to observations from those it deems politically friendly.

At times too, some public officers tend to dismiss observations or engagements from other groups as coming from “a noisy minority,’ further alienating these groups.

“Are the best allies the best behaved, or are they those who are noisy and very active?” one participant asked.

Other times, public officials would engage only those whom they perceive to be “helping the government.” One participant noted the need to make distinctions between “helping the government,” and “helping in governance.” The former refers to those who choose to ally with an administration, while the latter refers to those whose framework is simply good governance, regardless of which administration is in power.

The later part of the morning was devoted to discussing technological innovations and concepts that both government and CSOs could tap in pushing forward the idea of transparency, open governance, and communicating messages and information to the public.

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