Why you should apply for the ISIF Asia Awards: advice from past award winner

By Robert Mitchell, APNIC

With nominations for the ISIF Asia Awards 2016 now open, we thought we’d check back with some of our previous award winners to understand how the award benefitted their projects and get some advice on what to include in your nominations.

Khairil Yusof is the cofounder and coordinator of the Sinar Project, which received an ISIF Asia Grant in 2013 in recognition of their work using open source technology and applications to systematically make important information public and more accessible to the Malaysian people.

Established in 2011, the Sinar Project aims to improve governance and encourage greater citizen involvement in the public affairs of the nation by making the Malaysian government more open, transparent and accountable.

Sinar project in action

Sinar project in action

What are the benefits of these kinds of Grants/Awards?

Here’s what Khairil had to say about ISIF Asia’s Grants and Awards:

These awards and grants recognize the difficult and highly technical work that a few civil society organizations do, which is often not understood or appreciated by other traditional awards or grants (for Rights) programs.

Also, being invited to an award ceremony at large event such as the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), provides you with lots of exposure in an environment where you can meet potential partners and donors that understand your work.

 

What were three key outcomes that the ISIF Asia Grant allowed you to achieve?

  1. The money from the Grant helped our part-time/volunteer effort to register as a proper organization.
  2. It also helped one of our founding members to work full time on funding applications.
  3. Attending the IGF in Turkey provided us with the opportunity to speak with potential donors, which eventually led to initial funding for the establishment of Malaysia’s first fledgling civic tech NGO, and allowed us to continue our work full time.

How has your project progressed after receiving the Grant?

The opportunity to showcase our work to donors led to further funding, which helped with consolidating open standards government data. In turn, this provided open data via REST APIs.

Other achievement include:

  • Powering Malaysia’s Open Parliament efforts [1,2] and the same in Myanmar [1, 2, 3]
  • Uncovering corruption and promoting transparency [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]
  • A civil society led open data approach, combining civic tech and open data with traditional social audits
  • Starting a Digital Rights initiative backed by a team with technical capacity, and funded by Access. We are now building partnerships with the TOR Project to collect and report on network interference data and build Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) like alerts for digital rights incidents. We are also providing policy input on Internet and digital rights issues such as trade agreements

What should nominees include in their applications?

  1. Don’t be shy with sharing your methodology and the insights you’ve learned along the way, even if you might think it is trivial. If you’re a very technical team, run your methodology by non-technical friends or family members to get their insights. What you think is mundane, might be inspiring to others.
  2. Review all the outputs you have done; blogs, reports, software, photos, etc. If you’ve been passionately working on your ideas and project, you will be surprised at how much you have achieved. List the highlights in your proposal and reference the other outputs in an appendix or link.
  3. Do Google alerts for mentions and links to your project. It might feel a bit narcissistic, but again you might be surprised at who is referencing or mentioning your project internationally or is inspired by your project work.

Sinar Project: Promoting Governmental Accountability in Malaysia

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Malaysia has been governed by the same political party, Barisan Nasional, since it gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1957. Barisian Nasional’s policies, which strongly favor ethnic Malay’s, have begun to lose support among young and minority voters, culminating in the 2013 elections when opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim won the popular vote. Despite the polling results, and amid allegations of voter fraud, Ibrahim lost the election.

The 2013 elections were a high-level indicator of the systemic lack of transparency and accountability in the Malaysian political system. According to the World Bank’s Governance Indicators, Malaysia is in just the 37th percentile for “voice and accountability.” These measures indicate an individual’s ability to participate in selecting their government, freedom of expression, freedom of association, and a free media.

The Sinar Project, an ISIF Asia award winning non-profit organization, is seeking to fill the void in governmental transparency and accountability in Malaysia via open-source technology. Sinar is producing platforms which help monitor all levels of government, from local municipalities to parliament.

Corruption Monitoring

In Ernest and Young’s 2013 Asia-Pacific fraud survey, almost 40% of respondents said that corruption and bribery are widespread in Malaysia. That figure is nearly double the average of the rest of the region. In order to bring awareness to the corruption of the Malaysian political system, Sinar launched their Accountable platform in 2012.

Accountable is a web application which actively tracks the people, issues, and organizations related to Malaysian corruption. The data is presented in a searchable, tab separated manner, allowing the Malaysian public to easily monitor the activities of, and allegations against, their elected officials. Sinar will soon add an additional monitoring feature to Accountable, indicating the status of individual cases, including data on the case out come (i.e. false allegation, money returned, and criminal charges brought).

A second anti-corruption tool that Sinar has developed is their Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB) database. Corruption in the Malaysian construction industry is at a “serious level”, according to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission.

Utilizing scrapers, the CIDB monitors and aggregates construction project data in real-time, producing a readable CSV document. The CIDB database provides detailed information on all public-private projects, including contact information for company directors, budgets, contractor details, and registration numbers.

Governmental Accountability

Sinar’s most advanced accountability project, AduanKu, was launched in January of 2014. The platform enables users to report problems (think potholes, faulty street lights, etc.) directly to their local municipalities. Problems can be reported through a web portal with a smartphone or computer, and an app-based platform is coming soon. Once a user submits a problem, AduanKu sends an official report via email to the relevant Council. These reports contain mapping info of the problem location, a detailed description, and photographs when available.

The local user is then able to monitor their council’s response, and utilize a feature in AduanKu to publicly comment on whether appropriate action was taken. This interaction makes local municipalities directly accountable to their taxpayers, with municipal performance data publicly available through AduanKu. The Subang Jaya Municipal Council, for example, has had 292 problems reported, fixing 115 of them. AduanKu is currently available in a limited number of municipalities, but Sinar plans to expand the service throughout Malaysia.

Sinar also has a variety accountability projects on the national scale. Their BillWatcher application enables Malaysian citizens to monitor the status of upcoming bills in both the national parliament and state assemblies. Their Malaysian Representatives project aims to provide citizens with background information on all members of Parliament, including contact information, work history, and known assets.

While these applications are informational in nature, they help create transparency in the Malaysian political system by educating the voting public about the actions of their elected officials. For a nation with a voter turnout of over 84%, this sort of transparency can go a long way to bringing about change.

All of the Sinar Project’s code is open source, and can be found on GitHub here.