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3. The importance of participatory and accountability digital approaches 

Published onJun 17, 2021
3. The importance of participatory and accountability digital approaches 

Governments at all levels seek to obtain results in the short, medium, and long term. In order to do so, they must plan strategically. The processes are varied and each country and institution has its peculiarities to plan for, but at the heart of this planning conception is the need to use tools, instruments, and procedures that allow it to obtain agreements and objectives of general interest and to understand what resources it will need to get where it is intended (Máttar & Cuervo, 2017).

However, these strategic planning processes are often accompanied by a more open and participatory modality between the Government, civil society and the private sector. This is what is called a participatory planning approach and it seeks to guarantee the representation of the interests of all the actors involved and enable a better coordination of efforts (Sandoval, Sanhueza & Williner, 2015). But to achieve this, mechanisms or methodologies are needed to enable these participatory processes. Specifically, we need open government models.

The new paradigm of open government that has been permeating throughout many public administrations around the world has made possible new forms and mechanisms of accountability. These processes are characterized by being based on the principles of transparency, integrity, responsibility, and participation of all interested parties (OECD, nd). However, these processes not only have the ability to improve the transparency and accountability of any level of government, but also have the potential to renew the relationship between policy makers and citizens (OECD, 2017).

By promoting the creation of better and more adequate spaces for collaboration between citizens and the government, public policies and administration objectives not only gain more legitimacy, but also allow innovation, reformation and contribute to the construction of institutions that respond to current and future needs (CEPAL & AECID 2018; Ryan, et al., 2020).

All this leads us to reflect on the possibilities of generating participatory planning processes based on the open government paradigm. And the fact is that these possibilities are endless, mainly when there are so many advances in the area of ​​public administration and management, but also in more specialized areas such as information technology.

All this leads us to ask: how do we enable the processes of participation in planning in a more coordinated, representative, legitimate, and comprehensive way? Although there are many possible answers, this section of the guide focuses on understanding the Collective Intelligence (CI) model and, more precisely, Crowdsourcing as one of the tools to be used in open government and participatory planning processes.

What is collective intelligence?

The National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) defines CI as “the enhanced capacity that is created when people work together, to mobilise a wider range of information, ideas and insights. Collective intelligence (CI) emerges when these contributions are combined to become more than the sum of their parts for purposes ranging from learning and innovation to decision-making ” (NESTA 2020). This conception arises from the idea that groups of independent, motivated and well-informed people can come together and work collectively, to make better decisions compared to if they were isolated (Milotay & Sgueo, 2020).

The latter applied to the public sector is of special importance, since the capacities and internal knowledge of the government to be able to face the great public problems of our times are increasingly limited. This limitation occurs mainly due to the speed, scale and complexity of these problems (Ryan, et al., 2020). It is for this reason that administrations look to the networks of experts, specialists and citizens for vital support in order to understand, generate and execute effective and representative public policies.

“No amount of individual knowledge or leadership skill is a substitute for engaging with others to understand and define the problem to be solved and to harness distributed intelligence and experience to refine problem definition, design solutions, create partnerships and coalitions to implement those solutions and distribute the work, to take action and measure what works.” (Ryan, et al., 2020)

Some examples of collective intelligence include diverse and representative work tables to define planning objectives and goals, mobile applications to map urban ideas and proposals, and platforms to propose citizen legislation.

Although it is not a rule in CI processes, in recent years they have been accompanied or supported by digital technologies (NESTA, 2020; Oszlak, 2013). And it is that the use of digital mechanisms to generate collective intelligence processes makes everything more fluid, easier and reaches more people (CEPAL & AECID, 2018). This has occurred mainly due to the fact that innovations in technology increasingly manage to better connect citizens with the government (Oszlak, 2013).

However, the importance of ICTs is clear. They offer citizens and organized civil society the possibility of strengthening their voice and claim in politics and encourages the creation of new civic spaces, which ultimately contributes to both the political and socioeconomic development of any territory (Mulgan y Albury, 2013). The use of electronic participation channels aims to “improve access to information and public services, as well as promoting participation in the formulation of policies, both for the empowerment of citizens and for the benefit of society as a whole” (DESA, 2013).

But, what would be the specific tool to use to carry out all this that has been previously discussed? Up to this point, a clear relationship can be seen between planning processes, open government, citizen participation, and technology. More specifically, we can see the fundamental role of collective intelligence in achieving adequate participatory planning processes supported by technology.

In general, there are hundreds of tools and methods that emerge from collective intelligence that manage to support this type of process: open innovation, prediction markets, citizen science, deliberative democracy and crowdsourcing. The latter is the one that interests us for the purposes of this guide.

What is crowdsourcing?

The term refers to the “act of a company or institution that takes a role once performed by employees and directs it to an indefinite (and usually large) network of people in the form of an open call” (Howe, 2006). This process works excellently in collective intelligence processes, since it manages to obtain the knowledge and experience of large numbers of people (or groups) quickly, efficiently and collaboratively.

In the case of the public sector, the adoption of this collective intelligence serves to involve citizens, use open innovation and can be the spearhead to solve complex public problems (Liu, 2021). The reasons for using crowdsourcing are many, from lack of staff to do repetitive tasks, to obtaining citizen input to improve processes, laws, etc. This last possible use is of utmost importance, as it helps to complement traditional public participation processes for governance and planning for development (Bradham, 2013).

This is precisely what was sought when creating through PubPub. The platform allowed us to generate a crowdsourcing process between citizens, civil society, private and public sector, to complement and co-create the 2030 Strategic Plan. Thanks to this platform, not only was it possible to carry out a participatory planning process for the State of Nuevo León, but it was also possible to set a precedent for open government and collective intelligence on a large scale.

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