Research summary

How Kenyan and South African transparency and accountability initiatives choose digital technology tools

In 2015, The Engine Room, the Network Society Lab and Mtaani Initiative interviewed 38 organisations in South Africa and Kenya that had chosen digital technology tools to use in projects that aimed to increase transparency and accountability.

We asked why they had chosen a particular tool, how they chose it, and if they were happy with the results.

What did we find?

Almost half the organisations decided what tool to use before they even knew how they wanted to use it.

Less than a quarter were happy with the tools they had chosen.

40% did very little research on their potential users, and what those users wanted.

Almost half found that the users didn’t use the tool in the way that they had hoped - or didn’t use it at all.

Few compared their preferred tool with any other tools before starting to use it.

One quarter had already started looking for another tool because they were not happy with their original choice.

More than half built an entirely new tool, often without checking if existing tools could do the job.

Organisations that built entirely new tools were more likely to experience technical problems and delays. The tools they created were often not used by their target audience.

Hardly any tried a tool out with the people they wanted to use it.

Organisations that tested tools with their users were more likely to be happy with the choice they made.

So what?

Through learning by doing, many organisations were starting to gain valuable knowledge about how to choose tools well.

However, this learning was hampered by a lack of user research or trialling, difficulties accessing relevant advice from peers, advisers or technical partners, and limited awareness of their own knowledge gaps.

We found some steps that organisations could take to help address these problems.

So, we created Alidade, an interactive tool that can guide activists and organisations through them.

Short on time? Start with our Six rules for choosing technology.


Alidade is based on a research project conducted in Kenya and South Africa over 2015-2016.

The project had three elements:

  1. An online survey of 304 Kenyan and South African civil society organisations’ approach to using digital technologies.
  2. Semi-structured interviews with 38 Kenyan and South African organisations that had recently chosen a tool for a transparency and accountability project, or were about to choose one.
  3. Creation and testing of Alidade, an online framework to help organisations make more effective tool choices (then known as the Tool Selection Assistant) with four organisations over a three-month period.

Analysis was led by Indra de Lanerolle (the Network Society Project (University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg)) and Christopher Wilson (The Engine Room), with Tom Walker (The Engine Room) and Sasha Kinney (Mtaani Initiative (based at Pawa 254, Nairobi)). The project was supported by Making All Voices Count.



This research benefited from the input and support of Duncan Edwards and his colleagues at the Institute of Development Studies, Making All Voices Count (MAVC), the MAVC Community of Practice in South Africa, SANGONET, Buntwani, Blair Glencourse, Brooks Marmon and Accountability Lab, Liberia.

Initial findings were presented at the 2015 Buntwani meeting in Johannesburg, and at a meeting of the MAVC Community of Practice in Johannesburg. We are grateful for the useful feedback we received from participants.

Lastly, we would like to thank the participants in Kenya and South Africa that contributed to the study. Kenya-based participants include MapKibera Trust, Thamani Gems, The Slumcode Group, Africa’s Voices, Amnesty International (Kenya office), Society for International Development (Kenya Dialogues Project), and Transparency International Kenya (Uwajibikaji Pamoja).

Alidade development

We would also like to thank organisations in South Africa and Kenya that invested time in piloting and testing the tool, providing useful feedback that aided its development.

We would also like to thank people and organisations that participated in user testing of the second iteration of the tool. These included Seember Nyager - Public Private Development Centre (Nigeria), Jenni Sawyer - Simavi (Tanzania), Kate McAlpine - Caucus for Children’s Rights (Tanzania), Ernesto Peralta - Borde Politico (Mexico), Claire Launay - Transparencia Colombia, Ana Harumi - Causa Natura (Mexico), Maria Jaraquemada - Espacio Publico (Chile), Vanja Karth - Democratic Governance and Rights Unit (South Africa), Sekar Ratnaningtyas - Transparency Indonesia; and Brian Byakuma - Rural Movement Initiative (Uganda).

The Alidade Research