Open Government in action: OAS and Germany support new initiatives in Latin America

The OAS Fellowship on Open Government in the Americas is a regional leadership initiative for the next generation of Open Government activists from public administration, civil society, and the private sector. Between 2015 and 2017, it has built a network of sixty-nine Fellows from twenty countries across the Americas that implemented numerous projects in their countries and the region, and continue doing so. Recently, we published an Impact and Learning Report on the program’s first three years – its activities, partners, participants, and projects – to share with the community what was achieved and learned.

 

 

One of the shortcomings of the Fellowship’s first three cohorts was that the organizers lacked the resources to provide funding for the implementation of the Fellows´ projects to achieve the desired impact on the ground. The OAS supported the design of the projects with online coaching sessions in cooperation with The GovLab, with structured expert and peer feedback on the projects’ feasibility and relevance, and by establishing contacts with potential donors. However, neither the OAS nor its partners were able to provide seed funding. Therefore, important momentum was lost when Fellows presented their project ideas but did not find financing sources to further develop or implement them, which in turn jeopardized the impact and success of the Fellowship itself.

 

 

In September 2017, an agreement was signed with the government of Germany to set up a special Project Fund to provide the necessary seed funding for the most promising among the OAS Fellows’ Open Government projects of the last years. After a call for applications, the Fund received  twenty-nine proposals from a total of forty-two OAS Fellows. A jury of international experts selected seven projects, which in early 2018 received seed funding between five and twenty thousand dollars to allow them to pilot and/or implement their ideas. Today, we are happy to share what these  teams have come up with in the last months.

 

 

 

1. Transparency and Human Rights in prison

 

 

 

Prisons, by definition, tend to be one of the least “open” institutions in our societies, and the consequences of this lack of transparency are often disastrous. An explosive mix of general neglect, societal taboo, and rampant corruption leads to massive human rights abuses and precarious overall living conditions, in particular when it comes to health, hygiene, or food. A team of Fellows from Argentina, Brazil, El Salvador, and Uruguay had been working on the topic since their participation in the Fellowship’s 2016 cohort, and had now the chance to take the next step. They organized an international conference on the issue in Montevideo, in April 2018, and used this opportunity to launch the results of many months´ work: an online platform that aims at improving the human rights situation in Latin America’s prisons through enhanced transparency. The site includes a database with the sixty indicators the team developed to measure transparency standards in the region’s penitentiaries (focusing on institutional and health information and based on international norms on access to information, human rights, and the specific rights of prison inmates such as the UN´s “Mandela Rules”). In its initial phase, the project analyzes and visualizes the situation in eight penitentiaries in the Fellows´ four home countries regarding active transparency and the response to access to information requests. It also provides policy recommendations and contains an animated explainer video, the database, a blog, and other materials –check them out at abriendoprisiones.org!

 

 

2. Minas de dados

 

 

Let’s face it: If you look at the Open Data community in many countries, diversity is not exactly the name of the game. A Brazilian OAS Fellow 2015 wanted to change that and started an initiative aimed at better including afro-Brazilian women in the debate about Open Data and political participation in her country. Together with several colleagues she launched a call for applications and selected five young women from Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, and São Paulo with a background in either civic activism or programming/data analysis. The five “minas de dados” received a small scholarship to be able to work full-time on an intense four-week capacity development program on Open Data and data visualization; race and feminism; and transparency and civic participation, as well as the participation in a hackathon in São Paulo. During their training, the group developed a common project they call “Umunnas – Mulheres Negras decidem”, a network to promote the participation of black women in traditional politics backed by data about this demographic group. The team presented the project at a recent pitching event in Rio de Janeiro and is currently discussing long-term funding with a major donor – follow their activities on the project’s Instagram account and see what they’re up to next!

 

 

3. Belisar.io for president!

 

 

The missing connection between citizens and their political representatives is one of the main reasons for the lack of trust in our democratic institutions and the general disenchantment with politics. A team of three OAS Fellows 2016 from Bolivia, Guatemala, and Mexico aims at changing that – with technology. “Belisar.io” is a chatbot that answers citizens’ questions on Facebook. It reactivates the historical figure of Belisario Domínguez, a Mexican senator who was murdered after he gave a public speech against President Victoriano Huerta in 1913. Since its launch in early 2018, “Belisar.io” has interacted with almost 2,000 users, creating a community of citizens who actively discuss the 2018 election process in Mexico. Whether this information and accountability tool can indeed reduce the communication gap between citizens and legislators will depend on the use citizens make of it. For now, the Mexican House of Representatives launched a special version of “Belisar.io” as the Chamber’s newest communication channel. Check out the project website for the latest news or interact with “Belisar.io” on his Facebook page.

 

 

4. Blockchain for Government

 

 

There’s a lot of buzz these days about blockchain and what it can do to improve government transparency and accountability and increase citizens’ trust in democratic institutions. However, the debate has been characterized by high expectations and a low level of knowledge. Four 2017 OAS Fellows from Argentina, Honduras, and México set up a blockchain pilot, signed an agreement with the Argentinean city of Bahía Blanca, and tested the technology in a real-world scenario –the allocation of cultural subsidies through the municipality’s Art Fund. While the project had received support from the OAS as well as the Latin American Alliance for Civic Technology (ALTEC) before, the jury now decided to sponsor the documentation of the Bahía Blanca experience to make the results and lessons learned of this pilot project available to the wider open government community. So if you want to understand the technology, know what went well in Bahía Blanca and what didn’t, and learn what the pitfalls and opportunities of Blockchain for your government might be, check out their paper and the municipality’s pilot website.

 

 

5. Bogotá Indígena

 

 

The Colombian capital has an estimated indigenous population of 37,000 belonging to several different native peoples. However, most Bogotanos know little about these fellow countrymen (and women) in their midst, many of whom have been displaced during the country’s fifty-year armed conflict. That’s what a 2015 OAS Fellow from Colombia decided to change: Together with 13 indigenous and non-indigenous journalists, videographers, and web developers, she started a collective and intercultural initiative that works with citizens and immersion journalism to portray the realities of those often overlooked. The result is rich reportage that shows the diverse realities of Bogotá’s indigenous groups, documents their often harsh living conditions ,and tells their personal stories. The reportage, with extensive multimedia materials from data visualization, to classic text and photo, to extensive 360-degree-videos, can be found on the project website.

 

 

6. Mapatón Ciudadano de Xalapa

 

 

In 2016, the Mexican city of Xalapa saw its first “Mapatón Ciudadano”, a collaborative mapping exercise between a broad coalition of citizens, government, and civil society actors who all helped collect and generate data on public transportation. Since improving public transportation is a challenge countless cities in Latin America are facing, and citizen participation has proven to be one innovative way forward in this agenda, the jury awarded a grant to a team around one 2015 OAS Fellow from Mexico, to help them document the Xalapa experience and create a guide and toolkit for other cities in the region. So if you want to know how to organize a Mapatón in your city, learn how to identify and build alliances with other players in the field, work with citizen volunteers, structure and clean the data, run a publicity campaign, etc. – check out the project website, a video about the “Kit de Mapeo”, or a Facebook live of the toolkit’s presentation. The project team is currently discussing a potential replication of the Xalapa experience in cities in the Mexican states of Veracruz, Tabasco, and Puebla.

 

 

7. Open Government Summer School

 

 

Four women OAS Fellows from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay founded GIGA , an initiative to provide capacity development on open government in the Southern Cone (and beyond). On this occasion, the team received funding to conduct an Open Government Summer School they had proposed, a public seminar on transparency, access to information, open data, citizen participation, and public innovation in Santiago in April 2018. With a rigid curriculum, high-level guest speakers and lots of coffee, 30 students and young professionals had the chance to learn the ropes of Open Government from their peers, with a regional perspective and cases and examples from across Latin America. While there are a number of seminars on Open Government in some of the region’s countries today, most are organized by government or academic institutions, and very few are citizen initiatives like GIGA.

 

 

 

The OAS Fellowship team and the donor were amazed how much the seven teams were able to achieve with very limited resources over a short time, through hard work and partnering up with other like-minded OAS Fellows, governments, or civil society actors working on their issues.

 

 

 

Since this blog post can only give a brief overview of the projects, we asked the teams to share insights from their initiatives themselves, so all seven projects will publish more details on their results, challenges, and lessons learned in a series of posts right here in the coming weeks – stay tuned!

 

 
Authors: Matthias Jaeger
Filed Under: Champions