Interview with Blair Glencorse
A seasoned international development professional and social entrepreneur, with significant experience across issues of governance, accountability, institutional reform and political-economy transitions. Learn more about Blair here
Hey Blair, could you introduce us to Accountability Lab?
Hi this is Blair Glencorse, the executive director of the Accountability Lab. The Accountability Lab works with young people all around the world to find creative, bottom-up, ways to make governments more accountable, and transparent, and open. We've done all sorts of things, from running the first TV show to celebrate honest government officials in eight or nine countries, to creating networks of young people who are using Right to Information laws to to push for transparency, to setting up coworking and innovation spaces for civic activists all across South Asia and Africa.
What has been the largest project you've worked on with Accountability Lab?
We run one project, called Integrity Icon, in eight countries to name and fame - rather than name and shame - honest government officials. It's now a massive, massive project. In places from Pakistan to Nigeria to Mexico, any citizen can nominate an honest government official - we get thousands of nominations. We round them up, we find the top five - with the help of a panel - and then we put them on television. We film them, and on radio, and people vote for their favorites through an app, SMS, and by WhatsApp. And then we work with these icons once they're selected, to build coalitions of integrity within institutions, and begin to try and shift norms away from individual integrity into collective institutional shifts in behaviours and decision making. And it's amazing. Some of the impacts have been incredible - we've got some of the winners now going on to be ministers, running agencies, and really pushing for reform for within inside governments.
It says you deploy "open-source" systems, what is that exactly and how does it help fight corruption?
Open source systems are systems through which the information is open to the public. We try and be as transparent as we can about everything, everything we do. For example: on our website we have an open budget app where you can see exactly where we're getting our money, you can see how much where we're earning, where we're spending it, what it's being used for, because we want to walk the talk. As an accountability organization, and trying to set new standards for organizations everywhere. So you can see all of our policies, you can see exactly how we operate - because we think through transparency we can create trust. And through trust, build the kind of change that we'd like to see in the world.
Have you found any particular way of working conducive to better teamwork within Accountability Lab?
We work now across eight contexts, eight very different countries, thirteen time zones across these eight countries, very different cultures, languages, and so, of course, work can be tricky, bridging some of the differences can be tricky at times. But we've really created - I hope - a sense of family, a sense of common cause. We're incredibly supportive of each other, we really lift each other up. When you're doing something hard, like trying to make governments accountable, I think it's important to really celebrate even the smallest things; to share each other's work; to give positive, constructive feedback; and that, I think, is a big piece of what we've been trying to do. But I think we're also collectively just very committed to this work. We understand it's really at the core of global problems - unless we can get this relationship right between governments and citizens, then it's very difficult to deal with all of the other challenges that we face collectively. And I think everyone that joins our team believes that, and those are the kind of people that are drawn to our organization. So we use that as the energy to fuel us to come together and push forward.
What is something that recently inspired you? Could be an article, film or a really good meal...
The things that inspire me the most at the Accountability Lab are the people that we have the privilege and opportunity to work with. I was recently sitting in on a training for some young activists, we call them 'accountapreneurs' - people with entrepreneurial ideas for accountability. And I was sitting in their training in Pakistan, and it's just incredible to see the creativity and the ingenuity and the the energy and dedication that some young people in Pakistan have. There are people who are building block chain technologies to safeguard elections. There are disability rights advocates, pushing for accountability for those rights. There are radio DJs who are doing all sorts of really interesting things with civic education. There's street theater leaders, who are engaging people on the street around some of these critical issues using the arts - just really really amazing stuff, even in some quite difficult situations. So that's really what gets me going, gets me inspired.
Could you tell us a little bit about your future plans for Accountability Lab?
We're doing a few things now with the Accountability Lab. One is scaling more deeply in the places we already work: really building our networks out further, trying to better understand our impact, building the communities and the learning around our work. We're also scaling horizontally, by partnering with other organizations. We have codified what we do into handbooks and toolkits which, in some cases, we are now licensing or partnering with other organizations to roll out in other countries. For example, we did that in Sri Lanka last year, and that's going very well. Uganda and Morocco are also on the radar, if any of your audience are working in those places. And then, we're really trying to get better at advocating around what we do: making sure that our learning and our ideas are fed up to really influence policies in meaningful ways, at the national and international level.