BA Obras is a collaborative initiative to open information on public works in the City of Buenos Aires, seeking to increase transparency in the management of public resources. It consists on a portal through which all the residents of the City can track the works in real time; so they can see what works are being done in their neighborhoods, know the dates of start and end of them, and the investment they require, while they can monitor progress.
BA Obras is a website that shows information on almost one thousand public works in a user-friendly way to the neighbor. It is a new way of bonding, being accountable and fostering dialogue channels with neighbors through public works.
The strategic objectives are:
- Bring the information of the public work to the neighbor
- Generate a new form of communication with the neighbor through public works
- Improve the internal management of government information
- Collaborate with other governments in the implementation of open government tools.
BA Obras completely defies the status quo of provision of public work information in the City of Buenos Aires since it now provides a complete and integrated dataset in open format that is periodically updated and can be easily downloaded. At the same time it introduces a “one – stop” site that concentrates all the information about public works that has been disperse. Previously this information was disperse, and public officials and managers in each areas used different standards to collect, update and share the data.
It also includes more than 30 indicators that seek to comply with the highest international standards on data and transparency.
Furthermore, the participatory and collaborative axis of the initiative gives to BA Obras an innovative approach and highlight that open government innovations are not just about technology. Firstly, Buenos Aires neighbors can have access to trustworthy and easy to understand data on public works, explore the projects in detail, and even ask for more information if they need it. Secondly, there is an ongoing process of citizen engagement and collaboration, in which civil society was consulted to provide honest user feedback that enabled adjustments to the platform before it was officially launched. In the following steps, we will use a collaborative design of new indicators.
Also, in 2018 the Government of Buenos Aires developed a strategy of diffusion and presentation of BA Obras in different instances of communication between government areas and neighbours, in order to make it known and explain them how to use it. This allows government to learn about user experience and have feedback, which results in constant website improvements. Moreover, the observatory plays an important part in government accountability and closing the feedback loop of citizen engagement.
Finally the Government of Buenos Aires City has published BA Obras code in Github, so any government can use it and create its own open public infrastructure works website.
The opening of the information made possible through the web BA Obras made its quality improve. On the other hand, it collaborated in the organization of information within the government and helped to improve its quality. On the other, it helped to consolidate a diagnosis regarding the need for a data policy.
BA Obras is more than a website, it's a new way of framing conversation, being accountable and exchanging views with neighbors about public works. It is also an innovative tool to improve the quality of government information for more efficient administration. And it is a way to collaborate with other governments in the development of open government projects.
We hope to build a stronger relationship of trust with citizens. For us, public works is what changes and improves the quality of life of citizens, not only in the short-term but -especially- in the long term. Investment in infrastructure is 23 per cent of our annual budget. Therefore, citizens would benefit from learning that what we do is out there from them to check, compare and learn. It is a way of being accountable.
We hope this citizen-oriented platform also has an impact in terms of how reporting on public works happen at the internal level of government. By adding an additional layer of accountability, we hope the product improves the quality of delivery of commitments made within government. In addition, a better quality of public works data contributes to a more efficient administration and the development of evidence-based public policies.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
The initiative is innovative because it makes available to the neighbors all the information about the public works of the City. It allows navigating the works by neighborhood and by topic of interest; see renders and photos, know in detail the name, type of work, description, location and budget; know what the company in charge is, the number of workers it employs and have information about the hiring process. It has also collaborated with the improvement of internal processes of public administration, and based on the pillar of collaboration, has open source to be easily replicable by other entities.
Collaborations & Partnerships
Within the government, the General Secretariat and International Affairs worked with the Ministry of Urban Development and Transportation, Communication and Communal Management in the development of the website and the political and communicational strategy of the project.
The civil society organizations collaborated by pointing out fields that the platform should have, and co-creating the participatory plan.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
Citizens, civil society organizations, companies, academic institutions and data journalists are the users of the platform. They can monitor which works are being done and how they are progressing, and provide feedback on the usability of the platform.
Also the different areas of government improved in several ways: exchanging information, updating their databases, being open to outside feedback, to enrich the innovation and to make it truly useful.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
The platform is a dynamic initiative and we are constantly evaluating it using different tools. Some outstanding results so far are:
- The website received more than 136,000 visits.
- It has been presented in more than 70 meetings between the government and citizens, events with civil society and journalists, local governments and international events.
- Increase in the quality of information and transparency of almost 1,000 public works of 11 different government agencies and improvement of the internal management of this information.
- Local governments are working to replicate BA Obras and adapt it to their own context.
In addition, it is worth mentioning that the initiative constitutes a commitment of government of the city over which the head of government is constantly reporting (buenosaires.gob.ar/compromisos), was contemplated in a report of good practices of open government in Iberoamerica carried out by UCCI, and is part of the Third National Open Government Plan.
Challenges and Failures
One of the first hurdles the project had to overcome was the disorganization of the information related to the public works. The data was dispersed in several government areas, and each one had different criteria to classify and manage it.
To break these barriers and modify this situation, first it was important to clearly communicate the Mayor's vision and the goal we would strive to achieve and show which were the gains and incentives for achieving the goal. Secondly, to develop a standardized protocol on how to manage the data, and finally provide constant support and guidance on the “conversion” process.
Another big challenge the project addresses is how to impulse and spread the usability of the platform. The Government assumes different strategies of closeness and citizen participation to encourage its use, keep it updated, receive and apply improvements, and understand and improve the user experience.
Conditions for Success
The main condition that is necessary for the success of an innovation such as “BA Obras” is political willingness at the highest level of the administration to adopt open government tools and standards. To execute that mandate it is important to designate a person or agency to be the project leader, to coordinate the individual efforts of the agencies and guide them in how to implement the different steps of the process. At the same time, each of the dependencies involved should designate a public work data officer who would be responsible of accomplishing the required standards of data quality and keeping the database updated. Of course, supporting infrastructure and services such as those required to design and launch a web platform would be needed.
The BA Obras code is published in an open format and it is accessible from its website, so other governments can download and replicate it. Furthermore, the City is actively working to make this happen. First of all, it participates in several spaces to share the experience with other governments. But, also, it provides technical assistance and monitoring in order to facilitate and assist the ones that want to replicate the platform in its implementation. Some of the government that are working to replicate it are: Bahía Blanca, Mar del Plata, Olavarría, Vicente López, San Pablo, San Pedro, Ghana, Barcelona, Basque Country, Yakarta and Los Angeles.
1. Have a clear understanding of which is the baseline regarding data availability and management in each area. Do not expect that it will be homogeneous across the government dependencies
2. Do not underestimate the importance of designating a coordinating agency to support and provide guidance to the areas for the collection, management and standardization of information.
3. Open the process to civil society scrutiny in early stages of design and implementation, since this will provide you with very useful feedback about what type of information citizens and private organizations expect to find in these platforms and the use they will give to it.
4. We believe that for civic technology to have an impact and really respond to citizen needs, it must be conceived as a dynamic tool and be accompanied by different dissemination and feedback strategies. It’s important to think on how to improve the impact of civic tech initiatives from the user experience perspective.
5. The infrastructure for planning and monitoring of management is a precondition for the viability of complex open government projects. Although, for example, BA Obras is available in open source and can be replicated free of charge by any city or subnational entity, its implementation requires a minimum level of information -generated periodically, sustained and reliable- without which it is impossible to advance . In other words, the political will to promote open government reforms of medium or high complexity must be accompanied by a series of management tools that are so frequent.
6. The policies of open government require, among other things, great efforts of awareness and cultural change.
7. Open government involves managing public affairs with a focus on the citizen, through the implementation of policies that promote transparency, participation and citizen collaboration to co-create public value. This is one of the most important challenges for the city since there are still many areas where these practices can be strengthened.
BA Obras collaborates in the achievement of the Objectives of the 2030 Agenda, especially in relation to objective 16, which aims to promote inclusive societies for sustainable development and create efficient and responsible institutions, by opening up information to the public and optimizing of information process management. At the same time, it contributes to the implementation of Objective 9 regarding industry, innovation and infrastructure, since it gives an account in an innovative way of the different public works that promote the development of the City.
9 April 2017