Developing online illustrative and participatory tools for urban planning: towards open innovation and co-production through citizen engagement


Virpi Oksman and Minna Kulju in the International Journal of Services Technology and Management: “This article examines the challenge of involving various stakeholders in urban planning through user-driven innovation and collaborative design and leveraging these processes to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes. Consequently, we introduce a novel illustrative and participatory tool combining mixed reality visualisations with user-centred interactions and feedback-tools so as to promote user insights and involve them in design.

This article analyses how these co-design services should be designed and offered to users in order to effectively support public participation and citizen-governance collaboration in future urban planning projects. We conclude that, in order to provide real benefit and value for urban planning and smart city solutions, participatory service should be integrated as part of the decision-making. Adoption of this kind of services system also means reforming of some of work processes in governance and planning how to exploit the results of the participatory processes to make informed decisions….(More)”

Innovation Contests: How to Engage Citizens in Solving Urban Problems?


Chapter by Sarah Hartmann, Agnes Mainka and Wolfgang G. Stock in Enhancing Knowledge Discovery and Innovation in the Digital Era: “Cities all over the world are challenged with problems evolving from increasing urbanity, population growth, and density. For example, one prominent issue that is addressed in many cities is mobility. To develop smart city solutions, governments are trying to introduce open innovation. They have started to open their governmental and city related data as well as awake the citizens’ awareness on urban problems through innovation contests.

Citizens are the users of the city and therefore, have a practical motivation to engage in innovation contests as for example in hackathons and app competitions. The collaboration and co-creation of civic services by means of innovation contests is a cultural development of how governments and citizens work together in an open governmental environment. A qualitative analysis of innovation contests in 24 world cities reveals this global trend. In particular, such events increase the awareness of citizens and local businesses for identifying and solving urban challenges and are helpful means to transfer the smart city idea into practicable solutions….(More)”.

7 lessons learned from $5 million in open innovation prizes


Sara Holoubek in the Lab Report: “Prize competitions have long been used to accelerate innovation. In the 18th century, Britain offered a significant prize purse for advancements in seafaring navigation, and Napoleon’s investment in a competition led to innovation in food preservation. More recently, DARPA’s Grand Challenge ignited a decade of progress in autonomous vehicle technology.

Challenges are considered a branch of “open innovation,” an idea that has been around for decades but became more popular after the University of California’s Henry Chesbrough published a book on the topic in 2003. Chesbrough describes open innovation as “a paradigm that assumes that firms can and should use external ideas as well as internal ideas, and internal and external paths to market, as the firms look to advance their technology.”…Here’s what we’ve learned…:

1. It’s a long game.

Clients get more out of open innovation when they reject a “one and done” mentality, opting instead to build an open innovation competency, socialize best practices across the broader organization, and determine the best moments to push the innovation envelope. …

2. Start with problem statement definition.

If a company isn’t in agreement on the problem to be solved, its challenge won’t be successful. …

3. Know what would constitute a “big win.”

Many of our clients are tasked with balancing near-term expectations while navigating what it will take for the organization to thrive in the long term. Rather than meeting in the middle, we ask what would constitute a “big win.” …

4. Invest in challenge design.

The market is flooded with platforms that aim to democratize challenges — and better access to tools is great. But in the absence of challenge design, a competition run on the best platform will fail. ….

5. Understand what it takes to close the gap between concept and viability.

…Solvers often tell us this “virtual accelerator” period — which includes education and exercises in empathy-building, subject matter knowledge, rapid prototyping, and business modeling — is of more value to their teams than prize money.

6. Hug the lawyers — as early as possible.

… Faced with unique constraints, we encourage clients to engage counsel early in the process. …

7. Really, really good marketing is essential.

A key selling point for challenge platforms is the size of their database. Some even monetize “communities.” …(More)”

Selected Readings on CrowdLaw


By Beth Simone Noveck and Gabriella Capone

The Living Library’s Selected Readings series seeks to build a knowledge base on innovative approaches for improving the effectiveness and legitimacy of governance. This curated and annotated collection of recommended works on the topic of CrowdLaw was published in 2018, and most recently updated on February 13, 2019.

Introduction

The public is beginning to demand — and governments are beginning to provide — new opportunities for the engagement of citizens on an ongoing basis as collaborators in public problem-solving rather than merely as voters. Nowhere is the explosion in citizen participation accelerating more than in the context of lawmaking, where legislators and regulators are turning to new technology to solicit both public opinion and know-how to improve the legitimacy and effectiveness of the legislative process.

Such participatory lawmaking, known as crowdlaw (also, CrowdLaw), is a tech-enabled approach for the collaborative drafting of legislation, policies or constitutions between governments and citizens. CrowdLaw is an alternative to the traditional method of lawmaking, which is typically done by the political elite — politicians, bureaucrats, and staff — working in legislatures behind closed doors, with little input from the people affected. Instead, this new form of inclusive lawmaking opens the legislative function of government to a broader array of actors.

From Brazil to Iceland to Libya, there is an explosion in new collaborative lawmaking experiments. Despite the growing movement, the field of participatory lawmaking requires further research and experimentation. Given the traditionally deep distrust of groups expressed in the social psychology literature on groupthink, which condemns the presumed tendency of groups to drift to extreme positions, it is not self-evident that crowdlaw practices are better and should be institutionalized. Also, depending on its design, crowdlaw has the potential to accomplish different normative goals, which are often viewed as being at odds, including: improving democratic legitimacy by giving more people a voice in the process, or creating better quality legislation by introducing greater expertise. There is a need to study crowdlaw practices and assess their impact.

To complement our evolving theoretical and empirical research on and case studies of crowdlaw, we have compiled these selected readings on public engagement in lawmaking and policymaking. For reasons of space, we do not include readings on citizen engagement or crowdsourcing and open innovation generally (see GovLab’s Selected Readings on Crowdsourcing Opinions and Ideas) but focus, instead, on engagement in these specific institutional contexts.

We invite you to visit Crowd.Law for additional resources, as well as:

CrowdLaw Design Recommendations

CrowdLaw Twitter List

CrowLaw Unconferences:

Annotated Readings

Aitamurto, Tanja – Collective Intelligence in Law Reforms: When the Logic of the Crowds and the Logic of Policymaking Collide (Paper, 10 pages, 2016)

  • This paper explores the risks of crowdsourcing for policymaking and the challenges that arise as a result of a severe conflict between the logics of the crowds and the logics of policymaking. Furthermore, he highlights the differences between traditional policymaking, which is done by a small group of experts, and crowdsourced policymaking, which utilizes a large, anonymous crowd with mixed levels of expertise.
  • “By drawing on data from a crowdsourced law-making process in Finland, the paper shows how the logics of the crowds and policymaking collide in practice,” and thus how this conflict prevents governments from gathering valuable insights from the crowd’s input. Poblet then addresses how to resolve this conflict and further overcome these challenges.

Atlee, Tom – vTaiwan (Blog series, 5 parts, 2018)

  • In this five-part blog series, Atlee describes in detail Taiwan’s citizen engagement platform vTaiwan and his takeaways after several months of research.
  • In order to cover what he deems “an inspiring beginning of a potentially profound evolutionary shift in all aspects of our collective governance,” Atlee divides his findings into the following sections:
    • The first post includes a quick introduction and overview of the platform.
    • The second delves deeper into its origins, process, and mechanics.
    • The third describes two real actions completed by vTaiwan and its associated g0v community.
    • The fourth provides a long list of useful sources discovered by Atlee.
    • The fifth and final post offers a high-level examination of vTaiwan and makes comments to provide lessons for other governments.

Capone, Gabriella and Beth Simone Noveck – “CrowdLaw”: Online Public Participation in Lawmaking, (Report, 71 pages, 2017)

  • Capone and Noveck provide recommendations for the thoughtful design of crowdlaw initiatives, a model legislative framework for institutionalizing legislative participation, and a summary of 25 citizen engagement case studies from around the world — all in an effort to acknowledge and promote best crowdlaw practices. The report, written to inform the public engagement strategy of the Autonomous Community of Madrid, can apply to crowdlaw initiatives across different contexts and jurisdictions.
  • CrowdLaw advocates for engagement opportunities that go beyond citizens suggesting ideas, and inviting integration of participation throughout the legislative life-cycle — from agenda-setting to evaluation of implemented legislation. Additionally, Capone and Noveck highlight the importance of engaging with the recipient public institutions to ensure that participatory actions are useful and desired. Finally, they lay out a research and experimentation agenda for crowdlaw, noting that the increased data capture and sharing, as well as the creation of empirical standards for evaluating initiatives, are integral to the progress and promise of crowdlaw.
  • The 25 case studies are organized by a six-part taxonomy of: (1) the participatory task requested, (2) the methods employed by the process, (3) the stages of the legislative process, (4) the platforms used, from mobile to in-person meetings, (5) the institutionalization or degree of legal formalization of the initiative, and (6) the mechanisms and metrics for ongoing evaluation of the initiative

Faria, Cristiano Ferri Soares de – The open parliament in the age of the internet: can the people now collaborate with legislatures in lawmaking? (Book, 352 pages, 2013)

  • Faria explores the concept of participatory parliaments, and how participatory and deliberative democracy can complement existing systems of representative democracy. Currently the first and only full-length book surveying citizen engagement in lawmaking.
  • As the World Bank’s Tiago Peixoto writes: “This is a text that brings the reader into contact with the main theories and arguments relating to issues of transparency, participation, actors’ strategies, and processes of institutional and technological innovation. […] Cristiano Faria captures the state of the art in electronic democracy experiences in the legislative at the beginning of the 21st century.”
  • Chapters 4 and 5, deep dive into two case studies: the Chilean Senate’s Virtual Senator project, and the Brazilian House of Representatives e-Democracy project.

Johns, Melissa, and Valentina Saltane (World Bank Global Indicators Group) – Citizen Engagement in Rulemaking: Evidence on Regulatory Practices in 185 Countries (Report, 45 pages, 2016)

  • This report “presents a new database of indicators measuring the extent to which rulemaking processes are transparent and participatory across 185 countries. […] [It] presents a nses ew global data set on citizen engagement in rulemaking and provides detailed descriptive statistics for the indicators. The paper then provides preliminary analysis on how the level of citizen engagement correlates with other social and economic outcomes. To support this analysis, we developed a composite citizen engagement in rulemaking score around the publication of proposed regulations, consultation on their content and the use of regulatory impact assessments.”
  • The authors outline the global landscape of regulatory processes and the extent to which citizens are kept privy to regulatory happenings and/or able to participate in them.
  • Findings include that: “30 of the sampled economies regulators voluntarily publish proposed regulations despite having no formal requirement to do so” and that, “In 98 of the 185 countries surveyed for this paper, ministries and regulatory agencies do not conduct impact assessments of proposed regulations.” Also: “High-income countries tend to perform well on the citizen engagement in rulemaking score.”

Noveck, Beth Simone – The Electronic Revolution in Rulemaking (Journal article, 90 pages, 2004)

  • Noveck addresses the need for the design of effective practices, beyond the legal procedure that enables participation, in order to fully institutionalize the right to participate in e-rulemaking processes. At the time of writing, e-rulemaking practices failed to “do democracy,” which requires building a community of practice and taking advantage of enabling technology. The work, which focuses on public participation in informal rulemaking processes, explores “how the use of technology in rulemaking can promote more collaborative, less hierarchical, and more sustained forms of participation — in effect, myriad policy juries — where groups deliberate together.”
  • Noveck looks to reorient on the improvement of participatory practices that exploit new technologies: a design-centered approach as opposed a critique the shortcomings of participation. Technology can be a critical tool in promoting meaningful, deliberative engagement among citizens and government. With this, participation is to be not a procedural right, but a set of technologically-enabled practices enabled by government.

Peña-López, Ismael – decidim.barcelona, Spain. Voice or chatter? Case studies (Report, 54 pages, 2017)

  • Peña-López analyzes the origins and impact of the opensource decidim.barcelona platform, a component of the city’s broader movement towards participatory democracy. The case is divided into “the institutionalization of the ethos of the 15M Spanish Indignados movement, the context building up to the decidim.barcelona initiative,” and then reviews “its design and philosophy […] in greater detail. […] In the final section, the results of the project are analyzed and the shifts of the initiative in meaning, norms and power, both from the government and the citizen end are discussed.”
  • A main finding includes that “decidim.barcelona has increased the amount of information in the hands of the citizens, and gathered more citizens around key issues. There has been an increase in participation, with many citizen created proposals being widely supported, legitimated and accepted to be part of the municipality strategic plan. As pluralism has been enhanced without damaging the existing social capital, we can only think that the increase of participation has led to an improvement of democratic processes, especially in bolstering legitimacy around decision making.”

Simon, Julie, Theo Bass, Victoria Boelman, and Geoff Mulgan (Nesta) – Digital Democracy: The Tools Transforming Political Engagement (Report, 100 pages, 2017)

  • Reviews the origins, implementation, and outcomes of 13 case studies representing the best in digital democracy practices that are consistently reviewed. The report then provides six key themes that underpin a “good digital democracy process.” Particularly instructive are the interviews with actors in each of the different projects, and their accounts of what contributed to their project’s successes or failures. The Nesta team also provides insightful analysis as to what contributed to the relative success or failure of the initiatives.

Suteu, Silvia – Constitutional Conventions in the Digital Era: Lessons from Iceland and Ireland (Journal article, 26 pages, 2015)

  • This piece from the Boston College International & Comparative Law Review “assesses whether the novelty in the means used in modern constitution-making translates further into novelty at a more substantive level, namely, in the quality of the constitution-making process and legitimacy of the end product. Additionally, this Essay analyzes standards of direct democratic engagements, which adequately fit these new developments, with a focus on the cases of Iceland and Ireland.”
  • It provides four motivations for focusing on constitution-making processes:
    • legitimacy: a good process can create a model for future political interactions,
    • the correlation between participatory constitution-making and the increased availability of popular involvement mechanisms,
    • the breadth of participation is a key factor to ensuring constitutional survival, and
    • democratic renewal.
  • Suteu traces the Icelandic and Irish processes of crowdsourcing their constitutions, the former being known as the first crowdsourced constitution, and the latter being known for its civil society-led We the Citizens initiative which spurred a constitutional convention and the adoption of a citizen assembly in the process.

Bernal, Carlos – How Constitutional Crowd-drafting can enhance Legitimacy in Constitution-Making(Paper, 27 pages, 2018)

  • Bernal examines the use of online engagement for facilitating citizen participation in constitutional drafting, a process he dubs “Crowddrafting.” Highlighting examples from places such as Kenya, Iceland, and Egypt, he lays out the details the process including key players, methods, actions, and tools.
  • Bernal poses three stages where citizens can participate in constitutional crowddrafting: foundational, deliberation, and pre-ratification. Citing more examples, he concisely explains how each process works and states their expected outcomes. Although he acknowledges the challenges that it may face, Bernal concludes by proposing that “constitutional crowddrafting is a strategy for strengthening the democratic legitimacy of constitution-making processes by enabling inclusive mechanisms of popular participation of individuals and groups in deliberations, expression of preferences, and decisions related to the content of the constitution.”
  • He suggests that crowddrafting can increase autonomy, transparency, and equality, and can engage groups or individuals that are often left out of deliberative processes. While it may create potential risks, Bernal explains how to mitigate those risks and achieve the full power of enhanced legitimacy from constitutional crowddrafting.

Finnbogadóttir, Vigdís & Gylfason,Thorvaldur – The New Icelandic Constitution: How did it come about? Where is it? (Book, 2016)

  • This book, co-authored by a former President of Iceland (also the world’s first democratically directly elected female president) tells the story the crowdsourced Icelandic constitution as a powerful example of participatory democracy.
  • “In 2010 a nationally elected Constitutional Council met, and four months later a draft constitution was born. On the 20th. of October 2012, The People of Iceland voted to tell their Parliament to ratify it as its new constitution.” Four years later, the book discusses the current state of the Icelandic constitution and explores whether Parliament is respecting the will of the people.

Mitozo, Isabele & Marques, Francisco Paulo Jamil – Context Matters! Looking Beyond Platform Structure to Understand Citizen Deliberation on Brazil’s Portal e‐Democracia (Article, 21 pages, 2019)

  • This article analyzes the Portal e‐Democracia participatory platform, sponsored by the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies. Since 2009, the online initiative has provided different opportunities for legislators to engage with constituents and representatives through various methods such as surveys, forums, and collaborative wiki tools. Hence, the article examines the participatory behavior of Brazilian citizens during four particular forums hosted on Portal e-Democracia.
  • The researchers confirmed their hypothesis (i.e., that debates with diverse characteristics can develop even under the same design structures) and also drew several additional conclusions, suggesting that the issue at stake and sociopolitical context of the issue might be more important to characterizing the debate than the structure is.

Alsina, Victòria and Luis Martí, José – The Birth of the CrowdLaw Movement: Tech-Based Citizen Participation, Legitimacy and the Quality of Lawmaking

  • This paper introduces the idea of CrowdLaw followed by a deep dive into its roots, true meaning, and the inspiration behind its launch.
  • The authors first distinguish CrowdLaw from other forms of political participation, setting the movement apart from others. They then restate and explain the CrowdLaw Manifesto, a set 12 collaboratively-written principles intended to booster the design, implementation and evaluation of new tech-enabled practices of public engagement in law and policymaking. Finally, the authors conclude by emphasizing the importance of certain qualities that are inherent to the concept of CrowdLaw.

Beth Simone Noveck – Crowdlaw: Collective Intelligence and Lawmaking

  • In this essay, Noveck provides an all-encompassing and detailed description of the CrowdLaw concept. After establishing the value proposition for CrowdLaw methods, Noveck explores good practices for incorporating them into each stage of the law and policymaking process
  • Using illustrative examples of successful cases from around the world, Noveck affirms why CrowdLaw should become more widely adopted by highlighting its potential, while simultaneously suggesting how to implement CrowdLaw processes for interested institutions

Augmented CI and Human-Driven AI: How the Intersection of Artificial Intelligence and Collective Intelligence Could Enhance Their Impact on Society


Blog by Stefaan Verhulst: “As the technology, research and policy communities continue to seek new ways to improve governance and solve public problems, two new types of assets are occupying increasing importance: data and people. Leveraging data and people’s expertise in new ways offers a path forward for smarter decisions, more innovative policymaking, and more accountability in governance. Yet, unlocking the value of these two assets not only requires increased availability and accessibility (through, for instance, open data or open innovation), it also requires innovation in methodology and technology.

The first of these innovations involves Artificial Intelligence (AI). AI offers unprecedented abilities to quickly process vast quantities of data that can provide data-driven insights to address public needs. This is the role it has for example played in New York City, where FireCast, leverages data from across the city government to help the Fire Department identify buildings with the highest fire risks. AI is also considered to improve education, urban transportation,  humanitarian aid and combat corruption, among other sectors and challenges.

The second area is Collective Intelligence (CI). Although it receives less attention than AI, CI offers similar potential breakthroughs in changing how we govern, primarily by creating a means for tapping into the “wisdom of the crowd” and allowing groups to create better solutions than even the smartest experts working in isolation could ever hope to achieve. For example, in several countries patients’ groups are coming together to create new knowledge and health treatments based on their experiences and accumulated expertise. Similarly, scientists are engaging citizens in new ways to tap into their expertise or skills, generating citizen science – ranging from mapping our solar system to manipulating enzyme models in a game-like fashion.

Neither AI nor CI offer panaceas for all our ills; they each pose certain challenges, and even risks.  The effectiveness and accuracy of AI relies substantially on the quality of the underlying data as well as the human-designed algorithms used to analyse that data. Among other challenges, it is becoming increasingly clear how biases against minorities and other vulnerable populations can be built into these algorithms. For instance, some AI-driven platforms for predicting criminal recidivism significantly over-estimate the likelihood that black defendants will commit additional crimes in comparison to white counterparts. (for more examples, see our reading list on algorithmic scrutiny).

In theory, CI avoids some of the risks of bias and exclusion because it is specifically designed to bring more voices into a conversation. But ensuring that that multiplicity of voices adds value, not just noise, can be an operational and ethical challenge. As it stands, identifying the signal in the noise in CI initiatives can be time-consuming and resource intensive, especially for smaller organizations or groups lacking resources or technical skills.

Despite these challenges, however, there exists a significant degree of optimism  surrounding both these new approaches to problem solving. Some of this is hype, but some of it is merited—CI and AI do offer very real potential, and the task facing both policymakers, practitioners and researchers is to find ways of harnessing that potential in a way that maximizes benefits while limiting possible harms.

In what follows, I argue that the solution to the challenge described above may involve a greater interaction between AI and CI. These two areas of innovation have largely evolved and been researched separately until now. However, I believe that there is substantial scope for integration, and mutual reinforcement. It is when harnessed together, as complementary methods and approaches, that AI and CI can bring the full weight of technological progress and modern data analytics to bear on our most complex, pressing problems.

To deconstruct that statement, I propose three premises (and subsequent set of research questions) toward establishing a necessary research agenda on the intersection of AI and CI that can build more inclusive and effective approaches to governance innovation.

Premise I: Toward Augmented Collective Intelligence: AI will enable CI to scale

Premise II: Toward Human-Driven Artificial Intelligence: CI will humanize AI

Premise III: Open Governance will drive a blurring between AI and CI

…(More)”.

The role of policy entrepreneurs in open government data policy innovation diffusion: An analysis of Australian Federal and State Governments


Paper by Akemi TakeokaChatfield and Christopher G.Reddick: “Open government data (OGD) policy differs substantially from the existing Freedom of Information policies. Consequently OGD can be viewed as a policy innovation. Drawing on both innovation diffusion theory and its application to public policy innovation research, we examine Australia’s OGD policy diffusion patterns at both the federal and state government levels based on the policy adoption timing and CKAN portal “Organization” and “Category” statistics. We found that state governments that had adopted OGD policies earlier had active policy entrepreneurs (or lead departments/agencies) responsible for the policy innovation diffusion across the different government departments. We also found that their efficacy ranking was relatively high in terms of OGD portal openness when openness is measured by the greater number of datasets proactively and systematically published through their OGD portals. These findings have important implications for the role played by OGD policy entrepreneurs in openly sharing the government-owned datasets with the public….(More)”.

The ethical use of crowdsourcing


Susan Standing and Craig Standing in the Business Ethics. A European Review: “Crowdsourcing has attracted increasing attention as a means to enlist online participants in organisational activities. In this paper, we examine crowdsourcing from the perspective of its ethical use in the support of open innovation taking a broader system view of its use. Crowdsourcing has the potential to improve access to knowledge, skills, and creativity in a cost-effective manner but raises a number of ethical dilemmas. The paper discusses the ethical issues related to knowledge exchange, economics, and relational aspects of crowdsourcing. A guiding framework drawn from the ethics literature is proposed to guide the ethical use of crowdsourcing. A major problem is that crowdsourcing is viewed in a piecemeal fashion and separate from other organisational processes. The trend for organisations to be more digitally collaborative is explored in relation to the need for greater awareness of crowdsourcing implications….(More)”.

Collaborative Platforms as a Governance Strategy


Chris Ansell and Alison Gash in the Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory: “Collaborative-Platforms-as-a-Governance-Strategy?redirectedFrom=fulltextCollaborative governance is increasingly viewed as a proactive policy instrument, one in which the strategy of collaboration can be deployed on a larger scale and extended from one local context to another. This article suggests that the concept of collaborative platforms provides useful insights into this strategy of treating collaborative governance as a generic policy instrument. Building on an organization-theoretic approach, collaborative platforms are defined as organizations or programs with dedicated competences and resources for facilitating the creation, adaptation and success of multiple or ongoing collaborative projects or networks. Working between the theoretical literature on platforms and empirical cases of collaborative platforms, the article finds that strategic intermediation and design rules are important for encouraging the positive feedback effects that help collaborative platforms adapt and succeed. Collaborative platforms often promote the scaling-up of collaborative governance by creating modular collaborative units—a strategy of collaborative franchising….(More)”.

A Framework for Assessing Technology Hubs in Africa


Paper by Jeremy de BeerPaula MillarJacquelen MwangiVictor B. Nzomo, and Isaac Rutenberg: “This article explains the importance of technology hubs as drivers of innovation, social change, and economic opportunity within and beyond the African continent. The article is the first to thoroughly review and synthesize findings from multi-disciplinary literature, and integrate insights from qualitative data gathered via interviews and fieldwork. It identifies three archetypes of hubs — clusters, companies, and countries — and discusses examples of each archetype using Kenya as a case study. The article discusses potential collaboration, conflicts, and competition among these archetypes of hubs, and concludes with recommendations for future researchers….(More)”

Going Digital: Restoring Trust In Government In Latin American Cities


Carlos Santiso at The Rockefeller Foundation Blog: “Driven by fast-paced technological innovations, an exponential growth of smartphones, and a daily stream of big data, the “digital revolution” is changing the way we live our lives. Nowhere are the changes more sweeping than in cities. In Latin America, almost 80 percent of the population lives in cities, where massive adoption of social media is enabling new forms of digital engagement. Technology is ubiquitous in cities. The expectations of Latin American “digital citizens” have grown exponentially as a result of a rising middle class and an increasingly connected youth.

This digital transformation is recasting the relation between states and citizens. Digital citizens are asking for better services, more transparency, and meaningful participation. Their rising expectations concern the quality of the services city governments ought to provide, but also the standards of integrity, responsiveness, and fairness of the bureaucracy in their daily dealings. A recent study shows that citizens’ satisfaction with public services is not only determined by the objective quality of the service, but also their subjective expectations and how fairly they consider being treated….

New technologies and data analytics are transforming the governance of cities. Digital-intensive and data-driven innovations are changing how city governments function and deliver services, and also enabling new forms of social participation and co-creation. New technologies help improve efficiency and further transparency through new modes of open innovation. Tech-enabled and citizen-driven innovations also facilitate participation through feedback loops from citizens to local authorities to identify and resolve failures in the delivery of public services.

Three structural trends are driving the digital revolution in governments.

  1. The digital transformation of the machinery of government. National and city governments in the region are developing digital strategies to increase connectivity, improve services, and enhance accountability. According to a recent report, 75 percent of the 23 countries surveyed have developed comprehensive digital strategies, such as Uruguay Digital, Colombia’s Vive Digital or Mexico’s Agenda Digital, that include legally recognized digital identification mechanisms. “Smart cities” are intensifying the use of modern technologies and improve the interoperability of government systems, the backbone of government, to ensure that public services are inter-connected and thus avoid having citizens provide the same information to different entities. An important driver of this transformation is citizens’ demands for greater transparency and accountability in the delivery of public services. Sixteen countries in the region have developed open government strategies, and cities such as Buenos Aires in Argentina, La Libertad in Peru, and Sao Paolo in Brazil have also committed to opening up government to public scrutiny and new forms of social participation. This second wave of active transparency reforms follows a first, more passive wave that focused on facilitating access to information.
  1. The digital transformation of the interface with citizens. Sixty percent of the countries surveyed by the aforementioned report have established integrated service portals through which citizens can access online public services. Online portals allow for a single point of access to public services. Cities, such as Bogotá and Rio de Janeiro, are developing their own online service platforms to access municipal services. These innovations improve access to public services and contribute to simplifying bureaucratic processes and cutting red-tape, as a recent study shows. Governments are resorting to crowdsourcing solutions, open intelligence initiatives, and digital apps to encourage active citizen participation in the improvement of public services and the prevention of corruption. Colombia’s Transparency Secretariat has developed an app that allows citizens to report “white elephants” — incomplete or overbilled public works. By the end of 2015, it identified 83 such white elephants, mainly in the capital Bogotá, for a total value of almost $500 million, which led to the initiation of criminal proceedings by law enforcement authorities. While many of these initiatives emerge from civic initiatives, local governments are increasingly encouraging them and adopting their own open innovation models to rethink public services.
  1. The gradual mainstreaming of social innovation in local government. Governments are increasingly resorting to public innovation labs to tackle difficult problems for citizens and businesses. Governments innovation labs are helping address “wicked problems” by combining design thinking, crowdsourcing techniques, and data analytics tools. Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Brazil, and Uruguay, have developed such social innovation labs within government structures. As a recent report notes, these mechanisms come in different forms and shapes. Large cities, such as Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Quito, Rio de Janeiro, and Montevideo, are at the forefront of testing such laboratory mechanisms and institutionalizing tech-driven and citizen-centered approaches through innovation labs. For example, in 2013, Mexico City created its Laboratorio para la Ciudad, as a hub for civic innovation and urban creativity, relying on small-case experiments and interventions to improve specific government services and make local government more transparent, responsive, and receptive. It spearheaded an open government law for the city that encourages residents to participate in the design of public policies and requires city agencies to consider those suggestions…..(More)”.