Tuesday, January 28, 2014

WORKING TOGETHER: some considerations coming from the City of Buenos Aires.

Silvana Fumega

Together with a team of researchers from Brazil  (Ricardo Matheus and Manuela Ribeiro) and Uruguay (Fabrizio Scrollini), we decided to embark on a project on Open Government Data policies in local governments in 3 important cities in the Southern Cone of Latin America: Buenos Aires, Montevideo and Sao Paulo.

In that context, I spent 3 weeks in Buenos Aires during June 2013 in order to gather information to build the study case. The most relevant aspect that I recall (possibly due to the influence of my current PhD research…) is related to the civil society actors surrounding the Buenos Aires Open Data initiative[1].

Independent developers as well as journalists, academics and members of transparency-oriented NGOs have just started to become aware of the need to collaborate with each other to better access and use open data for different purposes. The events held since 2009 in the City of Buenos Aires have contributed to bring these actors closer together. However, after several candid interviews and informal talks with many relevant actors, I realized that even though the actors with very dissimilar backgrounds and areas of expertise have managed, in some cases, to start collaborating with each other, to achieve a long-term sustainable partnership was not portrayed as a walk in the park.

One of the main obstacles for that partnership is the difficulty of finding a common language between developers and non-technical organizations. Short-term funding is also a major issue for many projects, as well as the need of NGOs for "in house" developers.

On the bright side, despite all these obstacles a small community has started to emerge around the use of open government data. In that sense, some projects have just begun to be implemented with limited resources but with a lot of dialogue among several stakeholders with different backgrounds and interests.

One of the examples of that work is the app[2] from Huesped Foundation – and NGOs aimed at fighting HIV/AIDS. I participated in one of the meeting held in the Government Lab[3] provided by the General Direction of Information and Open Government. In that meeting, members of Huesped Foundation together with developers (some of them volunteering their time) and public officials discussed, in a friendly and informal manner, the available resources and the possibilities to overcome the obstacles.

A few months after that meeting, they launched an application to promote awareness about centers for HIV free testing and for distribution of condoms. This initiative was developed without an allocated budget but with the assistance of independent developers and the expertise of the Office of Information and Open Government. This type of collaboration could be taken, in the future, as an example of what can be done with limited resources but with an efficient and productive collaboration from several actors interested in the topic.

[1] More info about the study case: http://www.opendataresearch.org/content/2013/573/opening-cities-case-city-buenos-aires-and-some-other-general-reflections-open
[3] The Gov Lab is a physical space in the Information and Open Government Office. This space was created to host meetings, every day of the year, among public officials, developers, NGOs members, academics, and other actors.
More info (in Spanish) http://digital.buenosaires.gob.ar/te-estamos-buscando-laboratorio-de-gobierno-de-la-ciudad/