Marea Digital allows citizens to report local problems to the government, as well as local initiatives that are working for the communities’ well-being. Contrary to similar kind of initiatives, it’s innovative because it uses tech to allow the citizens to aggregate data about their communities’ problems, but also includes an offline strategy for the local government to design solutions with the citizens to solve the problems reported, fostering dialogue and collaboration to solve people’s needs.
Buenaventura is a city in the Colombian Pacific that suffers from cultural, institutional, and social democratic deficits that undermine governance. Although Buenaventura has established democratic institutions, levels of dissatisfaction with democracy rise with unmet human needs. According to data of Buenaventura Cómo Vamos, more than 70% of citizens disapprove public management, almost 50% believe that corruption has increased and, furthermore, 80% of citizens affirm that they have not participated in spaces for citizen participation. As a response to these pervasive problems, Marea Digital is a civic technology that fosters collaboration between the citizens and the local government. It is an innovative digital tool in the territory, complemented with an offline strategy, created after a participatory diagnosis that showed that, although the city had many leaders, they lacked an effective organization for collective action. Likewise, there were no effective participation channels or mechanisms to influence the local government.
Marea Digital is inspired by the experience of Caminos de la Villa in Buenos Aires, Argentina, a civic tech platform that empowers the population in the struggle for the fulfillment of their rights. This project provided an important reference framework to achieve, not a similar or identical solution, but a new platform, designed with the citizens using design thinking. With time, as the project was implemented, it has adapted to achieve the best results possible, from being solely a tech platform, to now including an offline strategy that allows citizen officials to dialogue with citizens about the problems identified by them in the platform.
The main objective of Marea Digital is to identify and prioritize the community’s problems through an exercise of community driven data and follow up on citizen requirements to achieve effective citizen advocacy with the local government. In addition, it has the potential to organize and manage citizen actions of political influence and community self-management, as well as the harmonization of citizen requirements in accordance with local political agendas. Likewise, it has innovated in constantly proposing improvement tactics to better respond to local needs, strategically combining online and offline approaches to face connectivity limitations in the territory. Both the citizens and local authorities of Buenaventura benefit from this innovation, because it has provided a space for them to discuss their needs, and provide solutions to problems faced by the community. To date, the platform has allowed for 27 official responses to citizens from local authorities and 17 actions to solve the problems reported. Ultimately, this has nurtured citizen participation and democracy in the city.
Thanks to the platform, citizens' requirements have been taken into account by the local government, contributing to the effective governance of the district and the strengthening of the leadership at the local level. The platform has created an offline movement of leaders which are working through a solid network for the wellbeing of the community, thus the platform allows also to identify good practices and initiatives that are contributing to the development of Buenaventura with the aim of making them more visible and positionate these experiences. To date, a thousand reports have been uploaded to the platform and public agendas are prioritized by the citizens. Accountability and the sense of co-responsibility regarding the decision making process has been a fundamental pillar for the achievements of the initiative.
This project is being carried out together with Fundación Corona, an organization which has been contributing to reducing the inequality gap in Colombia for more than 50 years, In the future, Marea Digital wants to continue positioning in Buenaventura as a platform that allows it to solve citizens’ problems, by providing an online and offline space for effective dialogue with local authorities. Likewise, conversations are in place for the project to be escalated to other Colombian cities based on Buenaventura’s successful example, although adapted to the context’s needs.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
Marea Digital is the first project of its kind in Buenaventura. Before Marea, citizens lacked a space that allowed them to collectively, visually, and in real time map the problems they face, from lack of paved streets to clean water. With Marea, citizens not only have a space where they can share their community’s problems, but they also have an offline strategy of dialogue with local authorities to solve the problems. Marea thus contributes to the generation of information from citizens for evidence-based decisions. In addition, it strengthens local capacities to promote citizen participation and involvement, enabling the collective analysis of problems and the prioritization of solutions. The people of Buenaventura have found in Marea Digital a bridge that helps them establish solid relationships between grassroots organizations and leaders of their neighborhoods, allowing for the generation of propositional dialogues with decision-makers.
What is the current status of your innovation?
The project has been tested, iterated, and is being implemented. Some of the requirements made by the citizenry were taken into account with an effective institutional response and we are developing a knowledge management strategy to identify lessons learned, best practices, and possible ways of establishing a sustainable path for the platform.
Collaborations & Partnerships
The platform was created within the framework of Activa Buenaventura, an alliance between USAID, Extituto, Fundación Corona, Ford Foundation, Gases de Occidente, the International Republican Institute, Movilizatorio, ProPacífico, Regional Port Society of Buenaventura and Carvajal Foundation. Each one contributed from their expertise in collectively designing and implementing the platform, hand in hand with citizens and government officials. This contributed to the improvement of the intervention.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
Marea Digital was built with and for the community. Social leaders, community-based organizations and presidents of community action boards participated in the process. Among the interested groups, the public sector, the private sector, civil society, academia and the general public stand out. This favored the project’s legitimacy and guaranteed that Marea Digital effectively responded to the community’s problems and helped governments to accomplish an effective and better local management.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
Marea Digital has favored and increased citizen participation and democracy in Buenaventura. Citizens have reported more than 1,000 problems, which has supported a total of 27 requirements prepared by civic leaders and delivered to decision makers. Additionally, according to the follow-up and monitoring instrument developed to measure the impact, in the late months of 2022, 66 community-based organizations, 22 public agencies, and 104 citizens actively participate in the process. Furthermore, 9 self-managed activities, 27 institutional responses, and 17 positive actions by decision makers have resulted from the requirements and the advocacy actions developed. It is expected that, in the future, citizens and policymakers perceive the platform as a strategic ally to solve the problems presented in their communities.
Challenges and Failures
During implementation, it became evident that in Buenaventura there are structural limitations related to corruption dynamics in the exercise of public management, which generated significant gaps between decision makers and citizens. This hinders the exercise of participation and enforceability that contributes to a fairer and more egalitarian territory. On the other hand, the constant disturbance of public order and the proliferation of violent acts by illegal armed actors have been a barrier for the project's implementation team when intervening in some areas or localities, i.e., to date, Marea Digital has intervened in person in eight of the twelve communes of the District of Buenaventura. To face this challenge, a transversal digital communications strategy was created to guarantee the use and appropriation of the platform without putting the implementation team at risk.
Conditions for Success
The necessary conditions for this type of innovation are:
- Appropriation of the tool by the community through socialization spaces, constant accompaniment, and the achievement of early victories that maintain and promote motivation for citizen participation.
- Achievement of early victories that maintain and promote the motivation for citizen participation, for which the conditions are political will and openness to listen to local institutions.
- Human and financial resources to maintain the advocacy cycle and platform support.
Marea Digital is inspired by the experience of Caminos de la Villa in Buenos Aires, Argentina, a civic technology platform that empowers the population in the struggle for the fulfillment of their rights. This project provided an important frame of reference to achieve, not a similar or identical solution, but a framework of citizen participation components supported by technology. The replication potential of Marea is based on the possibility that it offers not to be limited only to the areas of accountability. The strategy of appropriation of civic technology led by Marea Digital generates disruptive citizen participation and can be replicated in cases where the following objectives are to be met: effectively identifying viable problems to be presented to the competent authorities using different mechanisms of participation, to be inclusive in the logic of community-led development, or to have strategies for monitoring citizen complaints.
- It is important to design spaces for active participation, where communities can develop facilitator roles that allow the consolidation and collection of data in a more effective way attending to the particularities of the territory, whether at the rural or urban level.
- The information established within the community driven data model must be recognized, first, by the community and second, by governmental entities. To achieve this, the cycle identified in previous experiences is recommended: empowerment, mobilization (through campaigns), convincing (presenting the data as an input that highlights the relevance of an identified common issue), and review (accountability).
- The value of local knowledge: The main measure for the design of new products to be incorporated within a population group is based on the levels of end-user acceptance of the product. Prefabricated ideas that are brought may not coincide with the needs and expectations at local level.
- Implementation - making the innovation happen
- Evaluation - understanding whether the innovative initiative has delivered what was needed
22 November 2023