Innovative use of social media for co-creation of the 4th National Action Plan (2018-2020) – Creation and use of 16 online WhatsApp groups
Innovative use of social media (Whatsapp) platform to increase participation and disseminate information for the creation of Paraguay's 4th National Action Open-Government Plan. These 14 online groups were created to allow citizens from the countryside, from marginalized and vulnerable groups, to be able to participate on an equal standing with other citizens from urban areas with access to policyholders. It is innovative because it was the first time we used this platform to involve citizens.
The problem the innovation solved was the lack of communication with marginalized, impoverished and hard to reach rural communities. The innovation was to create 14 online permanent whatsapp groups, which still remain, and empower their members to submit ideas, feedback and suggestions to enrich the co-creation of the 4th NAP. Furthermore, we innovated further by freely sharing the links to these groups and allowing anybody to participate, with no censorship or moderation. The objective or goals of the innovation were to increase public participation. More than 1,000 citizens who participated online benefited from this innovation. We envision that this innovation will continue in the future by having these groups empowered to monitor the 4th NAP and allowed to replicate on a local and provincial scale. What is very interesting, is that the invitation for the online groups was included in official communications and invites to participate in the creation of the 4th NAP.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
What makes our project innovative is that we created 14 online, uncensored and unmoderated public participation forums where we empowered and informed citizens to propose, suggest and edit 183 proposals for the co-creation of the 4th NAP. We hijacked the social media eco-system and allowed citizens, public official and NGO activists to widely share administration of the whatsapp groups, invite other participants and widely share the "invitation link" to these 14 online whatsapp groups. We used the whatsapp groups as platforms for suggesting ideas, receiving feedback and criticism, allowing citizens to meet each other and for citizens to self-organize into standing and autonomous groups, with no single agenda or leader, just a common following on a thematic purpose.
Collaborations & Partnerships
We worked with a consultant financed by international cooperation to design these groups, which are described below, We received feedback from citizens, government officials and NGOs on how to improve our 17 online whatsapp forums and how to promote them widely. Participation has been and remains massive.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
We invited a wide swath of individuals from all sectors to participate in these following groups: 1) Access to Information, 2) Environment and Water, 3) Fight against Corruption, 4) Employment and Social Security, 5) Open Data, 6) Open Justice, 7) Accountability, 8)Open Parliament, 9) Youth, 10) Cutting down redtape, 11) Education, 12) Social Inclusion, 13) Fight Against Poverty, 14) Health, 15) Public Participation, 16) Local Government, 17) Indigenous Affairs.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
The results and impacts we have obsered for the innovation has been impressive. We received through our whatsapp groups, suggestions and material to create and enrich the more than 180 proposals that formed the basis for the co-creation of our 4th National Action Plan. These proposals were discussed in physical meetings, voted-on and narrowed to 36 proposals which became the final version of the 4th NAP. Interestingly, is how these groups became the basis for social activits and citizens to engage and coordinate actions, such as citizen protests against corrupt local officials and politicians. These impacts and results were measured methodically by a team of consultants which was hired to co-create the 4th NAP. They calculated that about 1,000 citizens participated in 17 online platforms, almost the same amount that participated in 32 physical meetings. We expect these groups to remain active and allow us to monitor the objectives of the 4th NAP and to develop the 5th NAP.
Challenges and Failures
The challenges we have encountered were skepticism and rejection from some citizens, NGOs and public official in fully embracing the potential of allowing citizens to self-congregate, discuss public policy and take decisions in these online whatsapp platforms. We also encountered some setbacks in some groups with very intense debates on tangential issues (related to national elections or social issues) which distracted citizens from the main tasks. These challenges and failures were responded by promotion, education, occasional moderation and active monitoring.
Conditions for Success
The condictions for success were personal values and motivation of the STP Open Government team (2016-2018) and the consultants hired to create and occasionally monitor the groups. Crucial was the information we shared on the group and how we systematized the feedback we received from citizens. Prior to each physical, real-life meeting, we shared documents and information on these groups so they could share and discuss proposals.
We did not need any supporting infrastructure, services or financial resources. We did not need to change the policy and rules.
We are not aware that any other organization has replicated this innovation, but is very easy for anybody else to replicate and use. There is no copyright or barrier to access this innovation.
Lessons learned: it would be a good idea to allow several group leaders to moderate early on. We could have increased communication from an earlier stage and incorporated more participants from the online group. The key resources were the 3 to 4 young assistants that allowed us to sign up and widely distribute the whatsapp online invitation link. We could have kicked out some trouble makers earlier on.
You have to trust online social media platforms and let them run. This is the type of innovation which is politically risky, but has a huge pay-off.