Last week, Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff signed a decree for starting the National Open Government Plan (Portuguese). The main objectives are:
- Increased availability of governmental activities information, including spending and performance
- Support for social participation in decision-making
- New technologies for managing and offering public services
- Increased public information transparency process and technologies
- Better accountability and corruption prevention
By this act, Brazil has adopted a very straightforward position in global politics. Greg Michener believe that Brazil is not yet mature for such big step into democracy, criticizing the plan for going too far without counting on the intermediate steps.
Brazilian Open Government initiatives are indeed very young. One of the best known projects in that sense didn’t came from the government at all: the Hacker Bus is a crowdfunded group of hackers that will travel around the country to organize open data workshops.
But this is usually the way Brazil’s policies evolve: someone throw out a new idea and the rest figure out how to cope with it. I won’t be surprised if we have very weird initiatives using the label Open Government within the upcoming years, like using proprietary formats for sharing data.
The decree text mention technology usage and transfer three times, but no technology development at all. I’m sure that there are already software companies lobbying for adoption of their Open Government kits. Importing technology without developing enough knowledge about them will put accountability into risk. By enough I mean not only knowing how it works, but how it could be used for specific Brazilian needs.
As far as I understand the situation, the Free Design approach we are developing at Faber-Ludens Institute is a good fit for this trend. We go further than sharing data; we actually engage people into figuring out what to do with data. We develop metadesign tools for manipulating data and coming up with something creative. And we do that together, supporting group co-creation.
Accountability is for sure very important for democracy, but it’s halfway towards true citizenship. Citizenship comes when someone can make part of the decision-making process. The every-two-year vote election is currently the single opportunity that Brazilian citizens have to impact their political system. With the Open Government act, I see many opportunities for new kinds of citizen participation, but I see as well many possibilities for new kinds of corruption. It’s important to remember that the election system is one of the major object of politician corruption in Brazil. Opening decision-making process create disputes and the morality of the game follows culture.
Let’s keep an eye on it and work constructively towards an ethical participatory culture!