Buenos Aires is implementing an open government ‘ecosystem’ strategy to promote sustainable transparency and resident engagement, in its own government and beyond. It used its participation in the Open Government Partnership’s Local Program to coordinate and strengthen transparency initiatives across departments, set up new dialogue mechanisms with civil society, and interact with counterparts around the world.
Governance reforms can be difficult to achieve and even more difficult to sustain over time, particularly if they are associated with a particular administration or political party.
"For us, an open government is a government near to citizens' needs, opinions, perceptions and ideas. It is a government that does not govern for the citizens, [but] governs together with them."
-City Government of Buenos Aires, Midterm Self-Assessment Report (City of Buenos Aires in the OGP)
How’d They Do It?
The City of Buenos Aires has had transparency, open data and e-government as priority issues for years, with the aim of achieving an increasingly modern and agile public administration that works collaboratively with citizens to solve problems of public interest. Then in 2016, the City was accepted into an initial cohort of local governments participating in the global Open Government Partnership (OGP,) which calls on governments and civil society to co-create action plans that make government more inclusive, responsive and accountable.
The City viewed OGP as a framework for change that could deepen and strengthen its efforts on openness and modernization. Integrating OGP processes with existing agendas and actions resulted in the Open Government Ecosystem, which brings together a range of policies and actions and works through open government tools to achieve an improvement of internal and external processes and generate more efficient public services.
Investment in Process
The administration of Horacio Larreta viewed the OGP co-creation process as a mechanism not only for publishing executive information and deepening resident engagement, but for creating an “open state” across the three branches of city government and for promoting openness in other local governments in Argentina. It created a working group with three government bodies and four civil society organizations to govern the OGP process; decision-making was shared equally among members, and the City created a shared document repository for the task force’s meeting minutes and reports. Twenty-five roundtables were held with participation from 16 different government offices, and 21 civil society organizations and two university research institutes participated in different stages of the process.
Diversity of Approaches
The guiding thread for initiatives that make up the Ecosystem is to involve residents in decision-making processes, turn them into participants in the management of the City's challenges, and offer useful information for the type of active people who live and work in Buenos Aires.
- Publishing as much government data, budgeting documents, and other materials as possible online, and coordinating data production and publication with other governmental agencies, such as the Buenos Aires judiciary.
- Harnessing open data and feedback to improve residents’ sexual and reproductive health, education and transit.
- BA Elige (Buenos Aires Choose), which brings participatory budgeting into the digital age using an open-source platform developed by Madrid. Both Madrid and Buenos Aires are part of the OGP Local Program, which facilitated the exchange of the Consul tool and the collaboration between the cities. (Read our coverage for more information.)
Other initiatives are in the Ecosystem but outside the OGP Action Plans, including:
- Opening a continuing forum for engaging hundreds of residents in debate and constructive dialogue on critical issues that faced the city. Not necessarily knowing about the technical details on all of the issues that they were considering, elected officials and bureaucrats trusted citizen experts to help form their actions on these critical and sensitive policy topics through this forum, called Dialogando BA.
- An online asset declaration webpage that allows users to search for a public official’s initial assets declaration (when starting the position), final assets declaration (when resigning a position), and statement of regular annual returns.
- An open-contracting website, called BA Obras, allows residents to track the progress of public works projects. BA Obras contains user-friendly infographics and charts to show the distribution of projects by commune, the number of employees on each project, and which government ministry or agency is responsible for the contract. A map places each project in its geographic context, and users can search projects by type (school, health facility, park, etc.), commune, stage of completion, and more. Each project has a profile page which shows total investment costs, number of building sites, progress/project completion percentage, estimated time for completion, and number of workers employed. It also provides a gallery of photos for each project in addition to a short description.
- A website to track the processes and public works for the 2018 Youth Olympic Games held in Buenos Aires, which is now an archive of those investments and their impact.
- A ‘collaborative management’ site that invites residents to make and up-vote service requests.
- A citizen-participation online hub to advertise ways for residents to engage with their government.
The City has paid special attention to smart feedback loops that capture demands and insights from citizens to improve the quality of service delivery. For example, its commitments in health, education and inter-governmental coordination all included reporting mechanisms so that residents could channel requests and feedback to the responsible parties in government.
How’s It Going?
- In 2017, stakeholders familiar with the OGP process in Buenos Aires articulated four lessons learned from the first cycle:
- civil society has limited resources to participate with government on an equal footing,
- the government must reach citizens with innovative mechanisms,
- the concept of open government is not widespread, so initiatives must involve an element of civic education, and
- dialogue between government branches is key for finding concrete opportunities for improvement.
- 280 executive-branch datasets are available as open data, organized by sector.
- Online asset declarations are available for the entire Larreta cabinet: annual reports for each minister since 2015, along with other city officials with Cabinet rank, such as the Media Secretary and General Prosecutor.
- The BA Works Open Contracting Portal contains information for just under 1,000 projects for the 2016-2019 contracting cycle, representing more than 40 billion Argentine pesos (over 900 million USD) in investment. The projects employ over 9,000 workers and were 82 percent complete as of Spring 2019.
- In 2018, Buenos Aires hosted the international open-data community for a set of complementary events:
Clarifying objectives & motivations. Multi-stakeholder initiatives like the Open Government Partnership can provide an effective vehicle for civil-society groups and government reformers to find one another and align their efforts around specific and shared goals. But there are pitfalls and opportunity costs with any organizing vehicle. With OGP, these can include participants who primarily want a public-relations win (and are engaged in a public-sector version of ‘open-washing’) or are seeking accountability outcomes that cannot be achieved through transparency and civic engagement alone.