What I learned at #FTMTech

What is it like to bring over 100 individuals together in a room to talk about the issues surrounding ‘Follow the Money’ (FTM) and the impact that technology and data have on it? On January 21st and 22nd in Berlin, FabRiders was fortunate to be able to support the efforts of the Transparency and Accountablity Initiative (TAI) and Aspiration to convene a meeting that aimed to find concrete areas where new approaches and new collaborations can give ‘follow the money’ efforts more impact. Simply put the goal of FTM work is to strengthen accountability for public resources in ways that improve their use for the public interest.’  As you can imagine, the informal network that has grown around FTM is incredibly diverse. Efforts for greater transparency is akin to pushing gigantic boulders up mountains. However, I have to say the meeting left me surprisingly hopeful. Not because there was any sort of earth shattering strategy or new technologies to explore, it was just the amount of passion, dedication and smarts that was on hand.

The interactive plenary (spectrogram) got us off to a great start, surfacing hot topics such as are our funders willing to be put under the same scrutiny as we are asking governments and corporations?‘ and ‘Is this just a movement for middle-class intellectuals?‘.  We then took a tour around the literal world, in world cafe style of FTM issues, surfacing how Ghana is making headway on FTM thanks to the work of investigative journalists and Nepal is making use of the airwaves with a radio and TV program entitled “Right to Information.”

By the end of the workshop we completed over 50 sessions such as: Presenting Data at Scale, Beneficial Ownership and FOIA, Tax Justice, Visualising FTM Data and Creating Theories of Change for FTM Work. I learned huge amounts about creating sessions on the fly by working closely with Gunner from Aspiration.  We culled session topics directly from participant inputs with the TAI staff: Vanessa Herringshaw, Andrea Menapace and Rajeesh Veerarashavan massaging titles and identifying potential facilitators.  Jed Miller also did an ace job at conceiving over a dozen of hot sessions topics based on participant go-rounds at the end of day 1.  We undoubtedly had over 40 participants take on facilitator duties on the fly, to run productive sessions over the course of the two days.

I ran a series of sessions that examined the viability of the FTM movement. We examined strategies for citizen engagement, what visions of success for the movement might look like and motivations for developing collaborations internationally.  My big ‘aha’ in these sessions is that we often conflate the terms ‘movement’ and ‘culture-shift.’ We talked about how citizens can be engaged around pain-points and concluded it was unrealistic to expect them to become the torch-bearers of the movement.  One of the participants pointed out that change where transparency and accountability are the norm is likely to happen over generations rather than years.  As we discussed potential visions of success for a ‘follow the money’ movement, it became clear that this was not a one size-fits-all issue and that we must embrace and engage the diversity of campaigns organising underneath this banner.  So we still need to prioritise efforts for engaging citizens ‘on-the-ground’ in FTM issues, but as long-term work.

Looking at the recent past it’s clear that there has been some very significant change in the last 10 to 15 years, with a greater emphasis in just the last five.  We need to do more to learn from recent history, as the impact of technologies and data on our expectations for transparency and accountability could be clearer.  My impression as far as culture shift is that we are past peak ‘big-data’. The onslaught of vast amounts of information available at our fingertips is becoming normalised in our culture.  What still remains is making ‘big-data’ accessible in a way that answers questions, rather than creating new ones.

I also learned so much working with Beatrice Martini (our local partner), Kristian Godfrey (TAI) and Ruth Miller (Aspiration) on how to seemlessly support the running of an event like this.  We also benefited hugely from a very flexible meeting space and the team at SuperMarkt.

Of course there was so much more at the event.  Be sure to check out these other blog posts about what happened at #FTMTech: