The office of Bogota’s ombudsman is responsible for preventing and detecting corruption and administrative inefficiencies. Under Jaime Torres-Melo, that work has become more collaborative and proactive. Building on an existing practice of training local citizen watchdogs, the ombudsman has partnered with business groups and activists on a citywide transparency index and created an online dashboard for complaint tracking. These projects are intended to help residents exert social control over government malfeasance, complementing the establishment and enforcement of preventive controls within government. The office’s experience with participatory problem-solving has also inspired it to become a leading player in spreading an innovation mindset throughout city government, through its LABcapital innovation lab.
Government waste, fraud and abuse are profoundly corrosive to the public’s trust. Even where governmental oversight offices have institutional independence and resources, they are unable to single-handedly prevent and detect all malfeasance, let alone keep up with the ways that technologies, management systems and institutional arrangements are evolving.
How’d They Do It?
The District Ombudsman (Veeduria Distrital) is one of three oversight bodies in Bogota’s government, and its role as a public advocate places it squarely at the intersection of citizens’ experiences and bureaucratic processes. Its mission includes detecting risks of corruption and addressing administrative inefficiencies, and the Veeduria Distrital has four main departments: oversight of citizen complaints and claims; oversight of hiring practices; oversight of administrative and budget efficiency; and participation and special programs. The latter department’s portfolio includes social control, citizen participation and peace-building.
Engaging residents in oversight
Systems of ‘social control’ act as a force multiplier, allowing the ombudsman’s office to detect more instances of potential malfeasance or inefficiency and perhaps, promote a more ethical and high-performing public-sector culture. Specific programs include:
- The Citizen Control Board, a public dashboard for tracking petitions submitted through the “Bogota te Escucha” (Bogota Listens to You) system. It shows trends in topics, agencies and locations, as well as average response times.
- The Bogota Transparency Index, a collaboration between the Veeduria Distrital, Transparencia por Colombia, ProBogota and the Bogota Chamber of Commerce. The first Transparency Index report, released in 2018, measured 34 participating public entities on their risk of corruption, within 15 administrative sectors. Each entity was ranked against its peers and placed into one of five risk categories: low, moderate, medium, high or very high. The Veeduria Distrital itself was ranked eighth in the city, with a moderate-to-medium risk of corruption.
- Commitment monitoring. The Veeduria Distrital developed a system of 39 indicators to allow close tracking of commitments made between citizens and the government. Public authorities can use the system to make pacts, i.e. pledging to improve the indicators in a specific timeframe.
- Citizen Observatories for each of the city’s 20 districts, providing space and training for residents to monitor local services. Residents can also join issue-specific observatories on health, environment or transportation, as well as ad hoc strategic observatories, such as one for the subway ‘First Line.’
- Online courses for civil servants and the public, on open government and how preventive and social controls can combat corruption.
The Ombudsman’s office has had positive experiences working with volunteer watchdogs to solve problems jointly, and this inspired them to consider how co-creation and innovation could serve their mission. In addition to preventing and detecting maladministration, could they help civil servants work side-by-side with residents to identify problems, generate creative approaches and incubate new tools? “How do we create an innovative culture in parallel?” innovation director Juan Felipe Yepes said.
LABcapital, the strategic project that Yepes runs within the ombudsman office, is designed to help the city experiment with and adopt participatory approaches to combating corruption and eliminating administrative inefficiencies. The LAB’s objectives include exchanging knowledge nationally and internationally; adapting control mechanisms to new management models, technologies and institutional arrangements; strengthening vertical and horizontal relationships of accountability between citizens and government; and contributing to innovative public problem solving.
LABcapital’s projects and products include:
- A Virtual Course on Public Innovation, designed to help civil servants and contractors identify problems from a citizen’s point of view, promote collaboration with citizens on the design and implementation of public policies, and strengthen the innovation ecosystem within each agency.
- District public innovation ecosystem. In December 2018, LABcapital held the first convening of innovators from across Bogota city government, including representatives of agencies that cover tech, community outreach, education, culture and special street services. It hopes to network innovators so they can share information and coordinate.
- Glossary of innovation terms like ‘service design’ and intraemprendimiento: the act of advancing an entrepreneurial activity within an organization.
- Innovation methodology (AEI of Innovation), which provides guided exercises through LABcapital’s three-step approach to user-centered design:
- Achieving empathy with counterparts/users by observing and hearing;
- Using intuition to define an opportunity or challenge and then create proposals; and
- Turning ideas into action through sketching, selection, prototyping and feedback.
- A collaborative platform where citizens and civil servants can propose ideas of how to solve public challenges the city faces, co-creating through the implementation of the AEI Methodology.
- Solving public challenges with different offices from Bogota’s Administration. Currently, LABcapital has worked with 8 organizations in designing solutions to problems related to single plastic use, the informal economy, victims’ participation and response to gender-based violence, among others.
- A portfolio of innovative tools for evaluating public policy. Some tools have been used in evaluations of policies on citizen service and the rights of LGBTI people.
How’s It Going?
- The Veeduria Distrital has trained more than 15,000 citizens on participation and oversight.
- Since 2016, 18 city agencies have completed the virtual course on public innovation.
- The second edition of the Bogota Transparency Index will be expanded to include 36 entities, and the city has a goal of improving the average score by five points (out of 100.)
- A home for pro-active reform. The city of Bogota separates two oversight roles which are often combined. The Veeduria Distrital serves as an advocate for the public at large, with a goal of making government cleaner and better at providing services. A separate agency (the Personería Distrital) investigates and/or mediates specific legal complaints from members of the public, including human-rights or civil-rights violations or other disputes (The Contraloría Distrital is a third body which handles fiscal auditing.)