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Opening travel spending through civic intelligence, participation and co-creation

Joel Salas Suárez|

When we were appointed by the Senate as Commissioners of the Access to Information Institute in Mexico (IFAI), we identified two high profile issues that had negatively affected the Institute’s image: the acquisition of its new building and the lack of transparency on international travel expenditure of the former Commissioners.

IFAI has to lead by example, so my fellow commissioners and I decided to tackle these two problems with transparency actions to send a clear message to the Mexican society and the international community in our first hundred days in office. First we created the website sede.ifai.mx to publish all the information about the new building procurement (a 45.6 million USD lease). Secondly, we decided to start our first civic innovation project, a joint venture with civil society organizations, to find the best way to publish information related to travel spending by IFAI’s public servants. 

Travel expenditure of IFAI is comparatively smaller. During 2013 it allotted to 186,760 USD, 0.5% of the Institute’s budget (38.2 million USD). However, this expenditure has historically been of public interest and it should be. According to the 2013 Mexican Government Expenditure Review (the latest available) the Federal Level (Executive, Legislative and Judicial Powers, and Autonomous organs) spent close to 633 million USD in official travel (Chapter 3000, concept 3700). Therefore, we decided to tackle the problem and design a platform that would allow us to effectively publish information related to the public money spent on travel by public officials and the results obtained during these trips.

In order to do this, we worked with civil society experts in public participation, accountability and technology, Codeando México, SocialTIC and IMCO. Together we launched a public challenge to create an open source web application to publish information on official travel spending.

The challenge #RetoViajesTransparentes was a very successful experience. Close to a hundred participants registered 14 projects that competed to develop an app that IFAI would officially use and to win a 3,500 USD prize. The jury selected 3 finalists, who presented their projects on a public Google Hangout. The winner app is named Viajes Claros and is being used to publish travel expenditure information of IFAI at viajesclaros.ifai.mx.

This challenge has allowed us to shift focus from the inputs of official travel (i.e. the money spent) to the outputs or results attained in each trip. Viajes Claros opens relevant information to understand and evaluate the activities performed by the public servants during their trips. It also allowed us to co-create with society an open source tool that can be replicated in Mexico and other countries. 

We are now working in team with the developers of Viajes Claros -Daniel, Sonny, Diana, Luis and Jafet- to finish the implementation and to institutionalize the app at IFAI. We are also working to design and develop an open source backend that allows us to manage and open official travels in an easy and efficient way. This new part of the app will allow us to integrate different tasks and departments to redefine an administrative process that can also be replicated in other institutions. To enhance the replicability of this open platform, including the administrative process behind the information, we are documenting every step and we will assist any institution that wants to adopt it.

#RetoViajesTransparentes and @ViajesClaros represent a new style of doing things according to Open Government principles and prove #NewIFAI’s commitment to lead by the example to build an #OpenState in Mexico. We detected a social demand and worked together with society to create the solution.

There is virtue in opening spaces to participation and working in team with society. I firmly believe that society is an endless source of ideas, and not only New IFAI but every public institution should consider them and take advantage of civic intelligence.

Photo: Flickr; Author: hpaich

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