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Technology Drives Citizen Participation and Feedback in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil

A common theme in the field of open government refers to the use of technologies as a means to foster citizen engagement. A closer examination, however, shows that most initiatives facilitated by information and communication technologies (ICT) have been characterized by low levels of citizen engagement.
In Brazil, the state of Rio Grande do Sul stands out as an exception. For instance, in a recent web-based policy crowdsourcing initiative supported by the ICT4Gov Program of the World Bank Institute (WBI) and the Open Development Technology Alliance (ODTA), “Governador Pergunta” (“The Governor Asks”), citizens were invited to co-design solutions to address health challenges in the state. The process has generated over 1,300 proposals, with more than 120,000 votes cast on the prioritization of the different proposals.
This initiative, which has been compared to U.S. President Obama’s “Open for Questions,” is implemented through the "Gabinete Digital” (“Digital Cabinet”). It consists of different channels (online and offline) directly linked to the Governor's Office for citizen participation and dialogue with civil society. In a similar vein, the state government has engaged over one million residents in its multi-channel (online and offline) participatory budgeting (PB) process this year (2012).
"This initiative goes beyond symbolic representation to one that is actually producing results. Unlike the common model in many political systems, this initiative is engaging citizens and taking their feedback very seriously (…) tying the engagement to actual impact is key," said Darrell West, Vice President and Director of Governance Studies and Founding Director of the Center for Technology Innovation of the Brookings Institution.
These are just a couple of examples of Rio Grande do Sul’s pioneering efforts to innovate in citizen engagement and feedback mechanisms that were shared at a recent World Bank event, entitled “Technology and the Demand Side of Open Government: Large-Scale Citizen Feedback Mechanisms in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil.” At the event, high-level officials in charge of the state’s ICT-mediated citizen participation and World Bank specialists in technology and accountability discussed their ongoing joint efforts to scale up innovations in effective citizen engagement for better public service delivery in Rio Grande do Sul.
“If we want to innovate the democratic governance agenda today, we cannot look askance at the immense possibilities of interaction and dialogue between citizens and public powers made possible by the revolutions of technology during the last few decades. We cannot overturn the challenge to seek dialogue with new stakeholders in the social networks of the 21st century. This is why we kicked off ‘Digital Cabinet,’” said Vinícius Wu, Coordinator of “Digital Cabinet” and Chief of Cabinet in Rio Grande do Sul State Government.
In the framework of a Sector Wide Approach (SWAp) operation, and with the support of the ICT4Gov Program, Rio Grande do Sul aims to leverage the potential of ICT for more inclusive and sustainable participatory democracy, and to share its successful experience across Brazil and worldwide.
“This uniqueness [of Rio Grande do Sul’s innovative and effective citizen engagement] needs to be studied and expanded," the World Bank’s Country Director for Brazil Deborah Wetzel concluded at the event.
Watch the Digital Cabinet video . Watch the recorded video of the event .
This article is cross-posted on the World Bank's People, Spaces, Deliberation blog.
(Photos: Tiago Koche / Digital Cabinet)