A recent article by IRIN examines the role of social media in monitoring development aid and promoting transparency.
“An emerging body of websites that can provide instant feedback on the use of aid money is sparking debate about whether such online tools could not only revolutionize non-profit fundraising, but also boost aid accountability.”
After Kwale Subdistrict Hospital in Kenya announced on German fundraising site betterplace.org that it needed money to buy antibiotics to control a cholera outbreak, the first contributions came in after several people people vouched for the project, including one who blogged about a visit to the hospital.
“The ‘web of trust’ that these different actors build will sway the member’s fundraising chances, said Joana Breidenbach, one of the co-founders of betterplace.org. Breidenbach said these sites herald an era of more transparency whereby programme feedback is a click away and can be shared immediately with thousands – and with pictures as proof.”
“Nick Stockton, head of HAP-International, an organization that evaluates and certifies aid agencies, said the new tools have had a positive impact”. Jonathan Waddingham, from fundraising website JustGiving, cited supporters of charity: water who raised money though an online funding event – termed a “Twestival”. A few weeks later, the supporters could see the wells that they has funded being drilled, live on Internet.
“But Ben Ramalingam, head of research and development at ALNAP, an organization that aims to boost humanitarian performance through better learning and accountability, said while encouraging feedback is a positive development, people should not assume web-posted feedback is representative”.
Ramalingam questioned whether “such mechanisms give a balanced range of information about a particular project” and if they might “give prominence to the most controversial, visible viewpoints.” “Project evaluations should be impartial, independent and balanced”, he said.
“A number of studies have shown that many donors focus more on the act of giving rather than on its long-term impact”, Ramalingam noted. “Givers often lose interest as complex messages start to filter through. How do you better involve the donor in the process of giving and responding to feedback and adapting their giving practices accordingly? I am not sure these websites do that yet…instead you get a snapshot of what has worked and what hasn’t.”
But HAP-International’s Stockton said such feedback is “democratizing the aid business” and betterplace’s Breidenbach added that “projects become viable only through building trust among project implementers, beneficiaries and donors.” “The control comes from the [online] community,” she said. “If you have a critical mass of people involved, then you develop intelligent crowd-sourcing mechanisms…We don’t necessarily remove really silly projects – but they tend to get badly ranked.”
Breidenbach noted that even well-established brand names like Care International, the German Red Cross and World Vision, drawn by online fundraising’s low-cost and efficiency, have posted on fundraising sites in recent months. Experts estimate that traditional “offline” fundraising methods, such as direct mail campaigns, use on average one-third of fundraising revenue.
“These sites do have the potential to add a missing element to the accountability and transparency puzzle,” Ramalingam told IRIN. “If the context is right, a well-articulated and timely bit of project feedback might well trigger an aid agency to change or improve something…but it won’t happen every time.”
Source: IRIN, 07 Oct 2009