Resistance to transparency: how activists respond

Guillén Torres
Kersti Ruth Wissenbach

March 24, 2020, 4:30 p.m.
Rima B

Whilst FOI activism has a long-standing history, civic technology has boosted the agency of existing activists and introduced new actors to the field. However, research reveals that these new forms of political participation trigger persistent institutional resistance to the usage of information and data as a political tool.

Travelling from Mexico to Uganda, this talk showcases the repertoires of civic tech activists challenging institutional resistance to the flow of public sector information from governments to citizens.

Guillén presents research into FOI activism from two ends of the spectrum: institutional resistance and civic responses across the transnational Alaveteli community; and institutional resistance to transparency in the water sector in Mexico.

Institutional resistance to the use of civic technology is omnipresent across both consolidated and threatened democracies. Politicians at the local, national, and supra-national level are increasingly resisting innovative uses of public sector information, made possible by a wide range of tech and no-tech measures.

Although civic tech activists in the FOI arena have implemented diplomatic, brave and creative responses to institutional resistance, their ability to respond depends on their access to funding, technological expertise, safety networks and more. The result is a complex triangulation between technology-supported forms of FOI activism, various forms of institutional resistance, and activist responses that are strongly intertwined with local realities.

Guillen and Kersti are part of the DATACTIVE research collective at the Media Department of the University of Amsterdam: data-activism.net.