BA Obras (Open Urban Works)
Online and interactive platform that allows citizens to access information on more than 1000 public projects of the Buenos Aires City Government (hereinafter, “GCBA”). Providing data visualizations and geo-referenced maps, BA Obras facilitates citizen control. The initiative seeks to increase transparency in public management based on real-time monitoring with up-to-date and structured data.
The government of Buenos Aires City published BA Obras code in Github, so other governments can replicate this platform and developed manuals with general guidelines on how to implement an open public works site using BA Obras code. There is a help desk for technical support to governments that wish to replicate it.
Closeness to citizens is a key value for the GCBA. A proximity government improves neighbours’ trust in the administration. As part of this strategy of proximity with the citizens and the conviction that the state should be accountable for its administration, the GCBA launched in November 2017, BA Obras a web platform which shows in a georeferenced manner almost 1000 public works of the City, in a citizen-friendly way.
Through the platform, neighbors can browse public works per neighbourhood and topic of interest, and access reliable and easy-to-understand data on public works, see renders and photos, get to know in detail the name, type of work, description, execution terms and progress status, location and budget of works and know which company is in charge, the amount of workers hired and access to information about the hiring process.
With this site, the City fulfilled one of the 54 Government Commitments undertaken by the Mayor, Horacio Rodriguez Larreta, at the beginning of his term, “to have an online system on open public works.” Likewise, BA Obras fulfils the subnational commitment taken on by the Ministry of Urban Development and Transport within the Third National Action Plan on Open Government (2016-2019) developed with the Open Government Partnership.
This platform constitutes one of the initiatives, which shape the Open Government Ecosystem of Buenos Aires City (www.gobiernoabierto.buenosaires.gob.ar); it centralises and unifies data about the public works carried out by 11 different areas of government. Thus, it improves the internal management of information. Moreover, such information can be downloaded in an open format, so it adjusts to the international standards of open government in terms of purchase, hiring and public works.
BA Obras has expanded, and it is currently much more than a portal on open public works: it is a new way of interacting, being accountable and enabling dialogue channels with neighbours through public works.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
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.
It also raises the bar, including more than 30 indicators looking 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. Buenos Aires neighbors can have access to trustworthy and easy data on public works, explore the projects in detail, and even ask for more information if they need it.
What is the current status of your innovation?
The first version of BA Obras was originally designed during 2016 as part of Mayor Larreta‘s 50 Government Commitments, and was expected to host only major public works, mainly infrastructure and transport projects. However, between March and May 2017 there was a pre-launch testing event, and a series of dialogue tables with members of different government agencies, civil society organizations and other stakeholders that provided feedback on the initiative.
As a result of this collaborative spaces the City Government took into account many of civil society demands and suggestions, and committed to enrich the initiative by adding new indicators, developing more participatory spaces, and scaling up the observatory to include information of all the public works carried out by the city government (today BA Obras contains almost 1,000 projects from more than 11 government agencies).
Collaborations & Partnerships
To enhance the platform user-friendly design the government contracted Sociopúblico, a communication agency focused on public issues.
Within the government, the General Secretariat and International Affairs worked with the Ministry of Urban Development and Transportation in the development of the website and the political and communicational strategy of the project.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
Citizens, civil society organizations and companies were asked for feedback when the first version of the platform was designed, and will be invited to take part on the collaborative design of indicators. Also, as it was mentioned before BA Obras is the result of different areas of government exchanging information, updating their databases, being open to outside feedback, and working as a team to enrich the innovation and scale it up to make it truly useful for both gov. officers and citizens.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
For us, public works is what changes and improves the quality of life of citizens, not only in the short-term but --specially-- 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 platform, citizen-oriented, also has an impact in terms of how accountability on public works happen at the internal level of government. By adding an extra 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.
Challenges and Failures
An important challenge that has been encountered in the development of BA Obras was to found “information silos” in many areas, especially in the ones whose main activities are not related with public works. So 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.
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.
BA Obras has a great potential to be replicated to address transparency, credibility and predictability to government management and contracting, and reduce the level of mistrust from civil society. In addition, it would help to provide better information and enable citizens to take part in the design and monitoring processes of construction projects that will have an impact on their community.
Finally, the Government of Buenos Aires City published BA Obras code in Github, so other governments can replicate this platform and developed manuals with general guidelines on how to implement an open public works site using BA Obras code. There is a help desk for technical support to governments that wish to replicate it.
Opening the code allows it to be improved and enhanced among all. A government does not have all the answers and this policy of collaboration gives us the opportunity to learn on how other governments adapt BA Obras to their local contexts.
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.