Civic Tech in the Global South

New book edited by Tiago Peixoto: “Civic Tech in the Global South is comprised of one study and three field evaluations of civic tech initiatives in developing countries. The study reviews evidence on the use of 23 digital platforms designed to amplify citizen voices to improve service delivery, highlighting citizen uptake and the degree of responsiveness by public service providers. The initiatives are an SMS-based polling platform run by UNICEF in Uganda, a complaints-management system run by the water sector in Kenya, and an internet-based participatory budgeting program in Brazil. Based on these experiences, the authors examine: i) the extent to which technologies have promoted inclusiveness, ii) the effect of these initiatives on public service delivery, and iii) the extent to which these effects can be attributed to technology….(More)”.

Bridging Governments’ Borders

Robyn Scott & Lisa Witter at SSIR: “…Our research found that “disconnection” falls into five, negatively reinforcing categories in the public sector; a closer look at these categories may help policy makers see the challenge before them more clearly:

1. Disconnected Governments

There is a truism in politics and government that all policy is local and context-dependent. Whether this was ever an accurate statement is questionable; it is certainly no longer. While all policy must ultimately be customized for local conditions, it absurd to assume there is little or nothing to learn from other countries. Three trends, in fact, indicate that solutions will become increasingly fungible between countries…..

2. Disconnected Issues

What climate change policy can endure without a job-creation strategy? What sensible criminal justice reform does not consider education? Yet even within countries, departments and their employees often remain as foreign to each other as do nations….

3. Disconnected Public Servants

The isolation of governments, and of government departments, is caused by and reinforces the isolation of people working in government, who have few incentives—and plenty of disincentives—to share what they are working on…..

4. Disconnected Citizens

…There are areas of increasingly visible progress in bridging the disconnections of government, citizen engagement being one. We’re still in the early stages, but private sector fashions such as human-centered design and design thinking have become government buzzwords. And platforms enabling new types of citizen engagement—from participatory budgeting to apps that people use to report potholes—are increasingly popping up around the world…..

5. Disconnected Ideas

According to the World Bank’s own data, one third of its reports are never read, even once. Foundations and academia pour tens of millions of dollars into policy research with few targeted channels to reach policymakers; they also tend to produce and deliver information in formats that policymakers don’t find useful. People in government, like everyone else, are frequently on their mobile phones, and short of time….(More)”


Democratic Resilience for a Populist Age

Helmut K. Anheier at Project Syndicate: “… many democracies are plagued by serious maladies – such as electoral gerrymandering, voter suppression, fraud and corruption, violations of the rule of law, and threats to judicial independence and press freedom – there is little agreement about which solutions should be pursued.

How to make our democracies more resilient, if not altogether immune, to anti-democratic threats is a central question of our time. …

Democratic resilience demands that citizens do more than bemoan deficiencies and passively await constitutional reform. It requires openness to change and innovation. Such changes may occur incrementally, but their aggregate effect can be immense…

Governments and citizens thus have a rich set of options – such as diversity quotas, automatic voter registration, and online referenda – for addressing democratic deficiencies. Moreover, there are measures that can also help citizens mount a defense of democracy against authoritarian assaults.

To that end, organizations can be created to channel protest and dissent into the democratic process, so that certain voices are not driven to the political fringe. And watchdog groups can oversee deliberative assemblies and co-governance efforts – such as participatory budgeting – to give citizens more direct access to decision-making. At the same time, core governance institutions, like central banks and electoral commissions, should be depoliticized, to prevent their capture by populist opportunists.

When properly applied, these measures can encourage consensus building and thwart special interests. Moreover, such policies can boost public trust and give citizens a greater sense of ownership vis-à-vis their government.

Of course, some political innovations that work in one context may cause real damage in another. Referenda, for example, are easily manipulated by demagogues. Assemblies can become gridlocked, and quotas can restrict voters’ choices. Fixing contemporary democracy will inevitably require experimentation and adaptation.

Still, recent research can help us along the way. The Governance Report 2017 has compiled a diverse list of democratic tools that can be applied in different contexts around the globe – by governments, policymakers, civil-society leaders, and citizens.

In his contribution to the report, German sociologist Claus Offe, Professor Emeritus of the Hertie School and Humboldt University identifies two fundamental priorities for all democracies. The first is to secure all citizens’ basic rights and ability to participate in civic life; the second is to provide a just and open society with opportunities for all citizens. As it happens, these two imperatives are linked: democratic government should be “of,” “by,” and for the people….(More)”.

Index: Collective Intelligence

By Hannah Pierce and Audrie Pirkl

The Living Library Index – inspired by the Harper’s Index – provides important statistics and highlights global trends in governance innovation. This installment focuses on collective intelligence and was originally published in 2017.

The Collective Intelligence Universe

  • Amount of money that Reykjavik’s Better Neighbourhoods program has provided each year to crowdsourced citizen projects since 2012: € 2 million (Citizens Foundation)
  • Number of U.S. government challenges that people are currently participating in to submit their community solutions: 778 (
  • Percent of U.S. arts organizations used social media to crowdsource ideas in 2013, from programming decisions to seminar scheduling details: 52% (Pew Research)
  • Number of Wikipedia members who have contributed to a page in the last 30 days: over 120,000 (Wikipedia Page Statistics)
  • Number of languages that the multinational crowdsourced Letters for Black Lives has been translated into: 23 (Letters for Black Lives)
  • Number of comments in a Reddit thread that established a more comprehensive timeline of the theater shooting in Aurora than the media: 1272 (Reddit)
  • Number of physicians that are members of SERMO, a platform to crowdsource medical research: 800,000 (SERMO)
  • Number of citizen scientist projects registered on SciStarter: over 1,500 (Collective Intelligence 2017 Plenary Talk: Darlene Cavalier)
  • Entrants to NASA’s 2009 TopCoder Challenge: over 1,800 (NASA)


  • Number of submissions for Block Holm (a digital platform that allows citizens to build “Minecraft” ideas on vacant city lots) within the first six months: over 10,000 (OpenLearn)
  • Number of people engaged to The Participatory Budgeting Project in the U.S.: over 300,000. (Participatory Budgeting Project)
  • Amount of money allocated to community projects through this initiative: $238,000,000


  • Percentage of Internet-using adults with chronic health conditions that have gone online within the US to connect with others suffering from similar conditions: 23% (Pew Research)
  • Number of posts to Patient Opinion, a UK based platform for patients to provide anonymous feedback to healthcare providers: over 120,000 (Nesta)
    • Percent of NHS health trusts utilizing the posts to improve services in 2015: 90%
    • Stories posted per month: nearly 1,000 (The Guardian)
  • Number of tumors reported to the English National Cancer Registration each year: over 300,000 (Gov.UK)
  • Number of users of an open source artificial pancreas system: 310 (Collective Intelligence 2017 Plenary Talk: Dana Lewis)


  • Number of submissions from 40 countries to the 2017 Open (Government) Contracting Innovation Challenge: 88 (The Open Data Institute)
  • Public-service complaints received each day via Indonesian digital platform Lapor!: over 500 (McKinsey & Company)
  • Number of registered users of Unicef Uganda’s weekly, SMS poll U-Report: 356,468 (U-Report)
  • Number of reports regarding government corruption in India submitted to IPaidaBribe since 2011: over 140,000 (IPaidaBribe)


  • Reviews posted since Yelp’s creation in 2009: 121 million reviews (Statista)
  • Percent of Americans in 2016 who trust online customer reviews as much as personal recommendations: 84% (BrightLocal)
  • Number of companies and their subsidiaries mapped through the OpenCorporates platform: 60 million (Omidyar Network)

Crisis Response

Public Safety

  • Number of sexual harassment reports submitted to from 50 cities in India and Nepal to SafeCity, a crowdsourcing site and mobile app: over 4,000 (SafeCity)
  • Number of people that used Facebook’s Safety Check, a feature that is being used in a new disaster mapping project, in the first 24 hours after the terror attacks in Paris: 4.1 million (Facebook)

Building a Better Relationship Between Citizens and Governments

Felipe Estefan at Positive Returns: “Right now you don’t have to look very hard to find evidence of the tense, often broken, relationship between between citizens and their governments around the world.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in Brazil. In just the past couple of years the country has faced the impeachment of a President, numerous major corruption scandals, and most recently the news that investigations are being opened into the conduct of more than 100 high-ranking political officials.

Each of these incidents has deepened the distrust of government and those that hold privileged positions of power in Brazil. At the same time this is reinforcing the belief that those in power operate to a different set of rules that are focused on self-interest rather than public good….

When governments fail to listen to and provide the services citizens need, opportunities are removed. If we are to restore the relationship between citizens and governments many things need to change. Not the least is the ability of citizens to have their voices heard and their needs met by government, and in turn for governments to be more efficient and effective in their responses….Colab — a Brazilian civic technology startup which provides a social network for engagement between citizens and local governments.

Colab provides citizens an opportunity to report local issues and suggest urban improvements, such as potholes, illegal car parking, public lighting, broken sidewalks, among others. It also allows citizens to proactively participate in the decisions that will impact their future and the futures of those around them.

For local governments, Colab offers a workflow management and engagement tool, as well as a data analytics system to manage and respond to citizens’ requests and to better evaluate their own performance.

Colab has already reached over 130 municipalities in Brazil, including Santos, Campinas, Niteroi, and Teresina. Across the country, they have over 150,000 members. So far the platform has enabled citizens from across these municipalities to submit more than 85,000 reports, with local governments responding to over 75% of those.

For instance, in Niteroi a citizen reported an issue with the drainage in the streets. Government resolved the issue and informed the citizen through the Colab platform. In a similar case in Pelotas, a citizen reported an issue with a pothole which government didn’t address correctly. Using the Colab platform the citizen engaged with government again to ensure to appropriate resolution of the issue. Similar cases in which government has successfully addressed the issues reported by citizens can be found in municipalities from Teresina to Recife.

Colab has been so successful at creating a vital bridge between citizens and local governments that it is now being used for a wide-range of purposes, from conducting participatory budgeting consultations to managing the outbreak of Zika….(More)”.

Participatory budgeting in Indonesia: past, present and future

IDS Practice Paper by Francesca Feruglio and Ahmad Rifai: “In 2015, Yayasan Kota Kita (Our City Foundation), an Indonesian civil society organisation, applied to Making All Voices Count for a practitioner research and learning grant.

Kota Kita is an organisation of governance practitioners who focus on urban planning and citizen participation in the design and development of cities. Following several years of experience with participatory budgeting in Solo city, their research set out to examine participatory budgeting processes in six Indonesian cities, to inform their work – and the work of others – strengthening citizen participation in urban governance.

Their research looked at:

  • the current status of participatory budgeting in six Indonesian cities
  • the barriers and enablers to implementing participatory budgeting
  • how government and CSOs can help make participatory budgeting more transparent, inclusive and impactful.This practice paper describes Kota Kita and its work in more detail, and reflects on the history and evolution of participatory budgeting in Indonesia. In doing so, it contextualises some of the findings of the research, and discusses their implications.

    Key Themes in this Paper

  • What are the risks and opportunities of institutionalising participation?
  • How do access to information and use of new technologies have an impact onparticipation in budget planning processes?
  • What does it take for participatory budgeting to be an empowering process for citizens?
  • How can participatory budgeting include hard-to-reach citizens and accommodate different citizens’ needs? …(More)”.

Policy Diffusion at the Local Level: Participatory Budgeting in Estonia

 and  in Urban Affairs Review: “The existing studies on participatory budgeting (PB) have paid very limited attention to how this participatory tool has spread across local governments (LGs), what kind of diffusion mechanisms have played a predominant role, and which actors and factors have influenced its adoption. Our article seeks to address this gap in the scholarly discussion by exploring the diffusion of PB across LGs in Estonia, where it is a rather new phenomenon. Our qualitative study demonstrates that the diffusion of PB in Estonia has so far been driven by the interaction of two mechanisms: learning and imitation. We also find that an epistemic go-between, information-technological solutions, and the characteristics of the initial adopter played a significant role in shaping the diffusion process….(More)”

Power To The People! (And Settings for Using It Wisely?)

Public Agenda: “From its inception in Brazil in 1989, participatory budgeting (PB) has incorporated, to varying degrees, both direct and deliberative democracy.

In deliberative democracy, citizens become informed about an issue, talk about their concerns and goals, weigh different policy options and find common ground. They may give policy input to public officials, develop action ideas for implementation by other people and organizations or work to implement ideas themselves, or they may engage in some combination of the three. Advocates of deliberative democracy believe in the potential of citizens to be effective learners, advisors and volunteers.

In direct democracy, people have the opportunity to vote on policy questions through initiatives and referenda. Advocates of direct democracy believe in the potential of citizens to be effective public decision makers.

This white paper examines the extent to which North American PB processes are applying deliberative principles and practices, explore the tensions and challenges in making PB more deliberative, suggest questions for further research and offer recommendations for public officials and practitioners for improving their PB processes.

Boosting deliberative engagement in PB processes could have a variety of benefits for communities. First, higher levels of deliberation might produce greater empathy among citizens who hold different opinions or value different things about their communities—and greater understanding between residents and city staff. Second, more deliberative discussions would be more likely to bring to the surface issues of race, religion, class, immigration status and other differences that are always influential but seldom addressed in public life. Finally, the budget ideas produced might be more likely to represent compromises between different groups or opinions, and they might inspire greater efforts by participants to help implement them, beyond the decision to allocate public money.

PB organizers might improve the level and quality of deliberation in their processes in a number of ways:

1. Be more explicit about the importance of deliberation in the process…

2. Ensure participants have the chance to share their stories…

3. Connect the PB process to a broader discussion of city and/or district goals and priorities…

This report is the companion to “Brazil Has Reduced Inequality, Incrementally—Can We Do the Same?,” which focuses on the intersection of PB and economic inequality. Both draw on the data gathered by local PB researchers and by Public Agenda; on local evaluations of PB processes; and on interviews with public officials, also conducted by Public Agenda…(More)”.

Portugal has announced the world’s first nationwide participatory budget

Graça Fonseca at apolitical:”Portugal has announced the world’s first participatory budget on a national scale. The project will let people submit ideas for what the government should spend its money on, and then vote on which ideas are adopted.

Although participatory budgeting has become increasingly popular around the world in the past few years, it has so far been confined to cities and regions, and no country that we know of has attempted it nationwide. To reach as many people as possible, Portugal is also examining another innovation: letting people cast their votes via ATM machines.

‘It’s about quality of life, it’s about the quality of public space, it’s about the quality of life for your children, it’s about your life, OK?’ Graça Fonseca, the minister responsible, told Apolitical. ‘And you have a huge deficit of trust between people and the institutions of democracy. That’s the point we’re starting from and, if you look around, Portugal is not an exception in that among Western societies. We need to build that trust and, in my opinion, it’s urgent. If you don’t do anything, in ten, twenty years you’ll have serious problems.’

Although the official window for proposals begins in January, some have already been submitted to the project’s website. One suggests equipping kindergartens with technology to teach children about robotics. Using the open-source platform Arduino, the plan is to let children play with the tech and so foster scientific understanding from the earliest age.

Proposals can be made in the areas of science, culture, agriculture and lifelong learning, and there will be more than forty events in the new year for people to present and discuss their ideas.

The organisers hope that it will go some way to restoring closer contact between government and its citizens. Previous projects have shown that people who don’t vote in general elections often do cast their ballot on the specific proposals that participatory budgeting entails. Moreover, those who make the proposals often become passionate about them, campaigning for votes, flyering, making YouTube videos, going door-to-door and so fuelling a public discussion that involves ever more people in the process.

On the other side, it can bring public servants nearer to their fellow citizens by sharpening their understanding of what people want and what their priorities are. It can also raise the quality of public services by directing them more precisely to where they’re needed as well as by tapping the collective intelligence and imagination of thousands of participants….

Although it will not be used this year, because the project is still very much in the trial phase, the use of ATMs is potentially revolutionary. As Fonseca puts it, ‘In every remote part of the country, you might have nothing else, but you have an ATM.’ Moreover, an ATM could display proposals and allow people to vote directly, not least because it already contains a secure way of verifying their identity. At the moment, for comparison, people can vote by text or online, sending in the number from their ID card, which is checked against a database….(More)”.

Budgeting for Equity: How Can Participatory Budgeting Advance Equity in the United States?

Josh Lerner and Madeleine Pape in the Journal of Public Deliberation: “Participatory budgeting (PB) has expanded dramatically in the United States (US) from a pilot process in Chicago’s 49th ward in 2009 to over 50 processes in a dozen cities in 2015. Over this period, scholars, practitioners, and advocates have made two distinct but related claims about its impacts: that it can revitalize democracy and advance equity. In practice, however, achieving the latter has often proven challenging. Based on interviews with PB practitioners from across the US, we argue that an equitydriven model of PB is not simply about improving the quality of deliberation or reducing barriers to participation. While both of these factors are critically important, we identify three additional challenges: 1) Unclear Goals: how to clearly define and operationalize equity, 2) Participant Motivations: how to overcome the agendas of individual budget delegates, and 3) Limiting Structures: how to reconfigure the overarching budgetary and bureaucratic constraints that limit PB’s contribution to broader change. We suggest practical interventions for each of these challenges, including stronger political leadership, extending idea collection beyond the initial brainstorming phase, increasing opportunities for interaction between PB participants and their non-participating neighbors, expanding the scope of PB processes, and building stronger linkages between PB and other forms of political action….(More)”