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Translating Information into Power

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Technology can serve as a powerful vehicle for connecting citizens and generating and sharing information.
Countless new Web and cell phone applications are
sprouting up across the developing world that combine communication, digitalization and data processing technologies in
innovative ways in pursuit of humanitarian and development
goals. A key objective is to narrow or eliminate the “information
asymmetry” between the world’s poorest people and better-off
individuals, corporations or the state. A pursuant and arguably
more ambitious objective is to translate information gains into
greater accountability and performance from the institutions
that serve the poor. The Brookings Blum Roundtable’s discussion
assessed the challenges for meeting these two goals.

Technology can reduce barriers to information flows in
at least seven ways. First, it can provide convenient, low- or
zero-cost platforms for search and exchange. Second, it can
help overcome geographical constraints by bringing information to populations in remote areas. Third, it can anonymize
individuals seeking information, thereby reducing the scope for
discrimination. Fourth, it can expand the volume of information
that can be transferred, allowing more frequent information
exchanges and the sharing of more detailed information.
Fifth, it can facilitate common information solutions—such
as gap-filling, aggregation and analysis—whether through
social networking, crowdsourcing or the processing of Big
Data. Sixth, it can generate information systems and platforms
(often open source) that can be easily replicated and brought
to scale, such as the Janaagraha’s I Paid A Bribe portal. And
seventh, it can enable information to move more quickly, increasing the scope for real-time analysis and feedback.

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Authors

L

Laurence Chandy

Former Brookings Expert

Director of Data, Research and Policy - UNICEF

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