LabHacker is a space within the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies open to citizen participation and experimentation. It works with a network of citizens, lawmakers and public employees in projects that enhance transparency and participation. One of the main projects is an open source website - e-Democracia - that enables citizens to suggest amendments to bills and to participate in public hearings.
LabHacker is a laboratory for innovation within the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies open to citizen participation. One of its main goals is to work with a network of Citizens, Lawmakers and the Public sector, in projects that enhance transparency and participation. (http://labhackercd.net/) LabHacker was created in 2013, following the positive experience of the first Hackathon of the Chamber of Deputies. During this event, Hackers developed civic apps and gave invaluable feedback on the Chamber of Deputies’ open database. Hackers proposed then a permanent space to experimentation and continuous collaboration within the Chamber. Two months later, LabHacker was created.
Since its inception, LabHacker has been an open space and has held several events that brought together specialists, hackers, students, politicians and public employees to discuss new technologies and new ways of promoting participation and transparency. All events are broadcast live on youtube and open to online participation. We have been developing technologies concerning popular participation and transparency.
Our main project is the e-Democracia web portal (https://edemocracia.camara.leg.br/) that offers several tools, like “Wikilegis” and “Audiencias Publicas” The “Wikilegis” tool enables citizens to suggest amendments to any portion of a Bill. Users can like or dislike the suggestions of each other or simply support the original version. This way, we intend to offer the rapporteur interesting ideas that can help improve the Bill. The “Audiências Públicas” tool enables participation in public hearings in real time. Citizens can watch the hearing, interact with other users and send questions to lawmakers and guest speakers. Any logged-in user can vote on the questions sent by other users. The most voted questions rank first and will have the preference to be answered by lawmakers or guest speakers, in case there are too many questions.
To develop this new version of the e-Democracia webportal, and its tools, we have made several usability tests. Civil servants and regular citizens have participated in those tests and made decisive contributions to the web portal. We have devised a new version that features a responsive Web design so users can access it on their cell phones and tablets. We have been making technological improvements on one front. We strive to collaborate with other units so to see all those possibilities of participation really implemented. We are co-creating with those units a participatory culture in the Chamber.
Feedback from users on one end and civil servants on another can help us engage lawmakers in increasingly using these tools. We have been gradually integrating the e-Democracia webportal with the Chamber’s main website. When citizens look for information on the committees’ work, they can find icons indicating the possibility of participation on a public hearing or session. We are also working on a new tool called Tenho dito (“I have said”). This is intended to be an improvement of an earlier concept where bubbles showed the most discussed topics. The bigger the size of the bubble, more discussed was the topic.
However, “Tenho dito” now shows a map where you can see which topic is being most discussed by lawmakers of an specific state. And, additionally, you can have a far better understanding of all the topics that concern the lawmaker, through a comparison between his speeches and propositions. (http://tenhodito.labhackercd.net/)
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
Labhacker was created in 2013 meeting a request from Hackers themselves. It is the first case in the world which an innovation Lab is institutionalized in a national Legislative Branch. The main project of Labhacker, the e- Democracia webportal, offers a tool to citizens to make suggestions of Amendments to Bills. Some actual laws in Brazil were developed in this participatory model centred in the e-Democracia Program, such as the Civil Rights for Internet Users, Youth Statute and the Act for Disabled persons.
What is the current status of your innovation?
We consider the Lab itself to be a breeding hub for innovation. Our current endeavors largely involve citizen participation. This takes different forms, according to the type of participation, the level of expertise of the participating citizens, We have had much freedom to propose ideas. We have monitored that the participation online in Public Hearings has increased. We hope that with “Pauta Participativa”, a new a tool that enables citizens to participate in the definition of the legislative agenda, the participation rate in e-Democracia will further increase. One case of spread of this innovation was the creation of a LabHinova, an innovation lab, inside the Chamber of the Federal District. We helped them with some advice and by sharing our experience. Now we are proud to say that, as they are experimenting so much on their own, we’re also learning from them now.
Collaborations & Partnerships
In the earlier version of e-Democracia webportal, the broadcast of a Public Hearing needed a direct demand from a Committee. We had to management the creation of a Participatory Chat for each request. But with the new version, the IT team of the Committee Department has developed a way that now the whole process is automatic. The new application “Tenho Dito” is having the support of the Committee Department. We are sure that through this collaboration we’ll have a fully reliable application available to the wide public in the next months.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
We had several user tests that help shape the applications within the e-Democracia Portal, mainly the “Audiencia Publica” and “Wikilegis. Hackers and Civil Society organizations are regularly invited to share their opinions on our work and evaluation.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
Among the results:
1) A complete new version of the e-Democracia website (design responsive and suitable to all screen formats) and an increase in participation rates as a consequence.
2) New work processes, devised with the Committee Department, to better use the e-Democracia website and enable better participation. An increase in interest in Open Parliament concept by some Lawmakers and other civil servants. More discussion about these concept, through events, meetings, lectures and talks.
3) LabHacker became a space within the Chamber where people can come to discuss ideas to implement changes in processes that can foster participation, and we provide them with support for that, suggesting ideas.
4) A space to experiment social technologies. Some were abandoned like “Mapa Participativo”. But we learn from our Failures. “Retorica Parlamentar”, for instance, gave us experience to a new project, “Tenho dito”.
Challenges and Failures
We thought at first that collaboration would be continuous. But we've learned that this is not always the case and that we should keep working in the applications development, communicating our efforts, so that the door to collaboration is always open. We can say that we see more and more potential collaborators coming, as we proceed. One initial challenge was political turbulence and a misunderstanding of the work of LabHacker. However, with our efforts of spreading the news, we've noticed a growing interest and respect for our work.
Conditions for Success
An accessible space for social meetings and a space to computers are certainly necessary. Support to allocate people to the lab, a director with some expertise - or at very least committed - with participation and transparency, the understanding of the whole staff of need of collaboration, and an open mind to try new projects, considering new tools, like Design Thinking.
The innovation can be replicated in Legislatures, for there is a need of innovation in Legislative processes everywhere. We had our beginning through a Hackathon, but that is not necessary to have a innovation Lab such as ours. What is needed is a political will and commitment to increase participation and transparency in a Legislature. An innovation lab, in collaboration with other units, can help.
It's possible to have a space as our within a public institution, as long the experimentation process is fully explained. Its necessary to have the freedom of trial and error. It is important to constantly receive feedback from citizens to our work.