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Strengthening Citizen Engagement During a Pandemic: A Look at São Paulo, Brazil

Fortaleciendo la participación ciudadana durante la pandemia: El caso de São Paulo, Brasil

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Lucilla DiasandHenrique Góes|

Leia em portugues aqui.

The greatest lesson that São Paulo will carry from its second open government action plan is that collaboration matters and is an essential tool for effective answers to public challenges. In 2020, social participation during the implementation of our action plan has led our city to deliver one of its most innovative projects: the website Participe+, which launched during social distancing policies due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

From its inception to its development, Participe+ was established through extensive collaboration with civil society organizations in our Multi-Stakeholder Forum, as well as with civil servants, academic researchers and OGP community experts. Its core objective is to offer a publicly available catalog of online participation tools so that public policy in the city of São Paulo, Brazil can be built with its citizens, even if we cannot meet in person. Even before the pandemic, São Paulo’s long physical distances posed significant challenges for people to meet, making an online solution even more valuable. 

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The greatest lesson that São Paulo will carry from its second open government action plan is that collaboration matters and is an essential tool for effective answers to public challenges.

Henrique Goes and Lucilla Dias, São Paulo City Hall

Participe+ was built upon Consul, an open-source software created by the City Hall of Madrid (also a member of OGP Local), which has proven itself to be an effective solution for São Paulo. Our team has used Consul’s several tools and expanded the code to create new formats for polls (restricted by electoral colleges), public consultations (with texts structured by items), and making these processes transparent (all the results can be downloaded in open format). By using this software, Participe+ was cheaper and faster to develop, making it possible to ensure public and active participation during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Sao Paulo’s City Hall’s readiness in responding to social distancing was only possible because our MSF had already identified Consul’s suitability and discussed how São Paulo could implement it, a great example of the effectiveness of collaboration.

Since its release in July 2020, Participe+ has expanded the online civic space in the city, promoting an engaging platform for tackling São Paulo’s open government challenges, by means of public consultations, votings, public hearings and participatory budgeting. Over 100,000 people have accessed the website and 20,000 of them have registered for participating. Some highly relevant public policies have been submitted to consultation on the website, such as the 2030 SDGs Agenda for São Paulo and the City’s Plan on Green Spaces, Parks and Protected Areas. 

With Participe+, São Paulo has seen its online attendance to participatory processes rise outstandingly. The Citizen Budgeting process, for instance, has seen a rise in approximately 500% in participation (from 2.097 in 2019 to 12.354 in 2020), and the 3rd Open Government Multi-Stakeholder Forum election had 16 times more voters than its previous round (from 46 in 2018 to 737 in 2021).  We expect these numbers to yield greater engagement and visibility to public policies, enhancing the interaction between citizens and government.

In 2021, we plan to expand the use of Participe+ with the help of civil society organizations, assuring that there are frequent and adequate opportunities to participate in policies related to citizen’s fundamental interests. As of now, we have the opportunity to broaden open government culture within the City Hall to 1) show public officials the positive impact that participatory processes have in improving public policies, and 2) increase our levels of participation even further, allowing citizens to engage in even more public projects. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that there are several challenges to guaranteeing open government standards in atypical times – lack of access to the internet and educational inequalities are some of the limitations many cities like ours are still dealing with – but has also demonstrated that social collaboration is a crucial ally in ensuring high-quality policy for citizens. Hopefully, the open government agenda will keep on expanding in São Paulo and other local governments in Brazil, paving the path for an open recovery in a post-pandemic world.       

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