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Ideas about accountability via web technologies and vast quantities of collaborative moments

Written by Sherwin, published on September 21, 2010

Ushahidi software

I mentioned Ushahidi a little while ago in this post about Clay Shirky. And recently I’ve had the honour of speaking with friends about a lack of accountability, and a lack of responsibility, in various Canadian police forces.

As an aside, I should acknowledge that it’s not just a Canadian problem. I will indulge those that want to remind us, ad nauseam, that it’s worse in other countries. It’s also better in other countries, too. See that? It’s worse in some other countries and it’s better in some other countries. It’s simple. But the kind of soundbite that is repeated, ad nauseam, to remind us, ad nauseam, that conditions are worse in other places, is really a non sequitur. It is also a very strategic way of saying that we aren’t entitled to criticize what is wrong in our own communities. And, of course, we are entitled. More than that, it’s our duty to.

There’s a very basic ethical principle that says that we can’t have a moral obligation about something if it’s impossible for us to do something about it. The principle is: ought implies can. That’s logic talk for: if you can’t do it, then you can’t be obliged to do it. It just doesn’t make sense to tell someone that they have an ethical obligation to change the weather. Because they can’t. And we can’t change the way the market is organized in Asia. And we can’t change police forces in Poland.1

But you see where I’m headed. We can, as committed citizens, make changes to the way our own communities are organized. So, it is possible, at least in principle to have duties in regards to our own communities.We can’t have duties, even in principle, to the communities in Poland. Not really.

Now it would be an invalid argument, to assume the principle (1. ought implies can), assume the premise (2. we can change our communities), and then to conclude, that, (3.) we ought to change our communities. This would be what’s called, in logic circles, affirming the consequent. It’s bad. But it’s also common. But it’s really poor form.2

In order to conclude that we need to make changes to our police forces, we need instead to argue successfully that something is really really really wrong and it could be better. But I won’t do that here. I leave that as an exercise for the reader.

Enter Ushahidi. Finally. 3

I want some smart monkey developers and user experience experts to implement Ushahidi, or some other techie thingy, in a way that helps our communities to organize information about police in a way that “helps” them to be more responsive, more accountable and more responsible to all of the people 4 in our community.

  1. It is plausible that, through foreign policy, civil society public relations, activism, and market strategies, we can affect some small changes in Poland. But the extent to which our powers of influence are hindered there, relate directly to our moral obligation to do so.
  2. if A implies B, you can’t then infer that B implies A. You could infer, however, that not B, does imply not A.
  3. Wow, I kind of digressed there
  4. By “all of the people”, I mean not just wealthy straight white Christian business guys. I mean also brown people, women, poor folks, differently abled folks and people who are just generally further down the power hierarchy.
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