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Crowdsourcing has propelled civic engagement to a level that is transforming societies and democratic processes throughout the world. In Brazil, an opportunity for change and reform is being offered through Cidade Democrática (Democratic City), a collaborative action platform that enables citizens, organisations and governmental institutions to report problems and propose solutions related to matters of concern in Brazilian cities. Founded by Rodrigo Bandeira in 2009, The key idea behind this Brazilian platform is to show young people how to get together and use collective intelligence to build a society of cooperation.
“Our mission is to be an innovative tool that manages communication and mobilization to build a better city”, says Bandeira, who holds a Master's Degree in Public Administration and Government. Through the website people can create their own proposals or support other people's ideas. The internet is the way for people to meet each other. “People are talking to people with the same ideas and perception. This movement creates a community of collaboration”, he says. In this way, Cidade Democrática brings together open innovation and civic engagement.
In three years and with 4,406 users currently registered, Cidade Democratica staff has received 1,764 proposals with 1,406 people pointing out problems. Also, 6,473 comments and 14,806 support posts has been put on the website. When Bandeira founded the platform he didn’t know exactly what the outcome would be. Now, he can understand why it has become a success in some cities, and a failure in others. “Success is determined by a group of people being able to use the tool and build it with good proposals”, he explains.
He has discovered that Cidade Democrática is used mostly by established civic groups and NGOs and less by everyday people. His perception was confirmed by a report from Transparency and Accountability Initiative (T/A Initiative) made last year. According to the report, mass users - whose voice the platform was aimed to amplify - were not sufficiently interested in urban changes or political accountability and not willing to invest their efforts in promoting urban reforms via the platform. On the other hand, some civic groups and NGOs have enthusiastically adopted the tool and have relied upon it for their advocacy activities.
The T/A Initiative report observed that often the factors that make some organisations effective relate more to features of the environment, such as the aims and capacities of the organisation relative to sources of resistance, and the complexity of the organisational field. The study considers, for example, the contrasting experiences of Cidade Democrática in Sao Paulo - an enormous city of ten million people - and in Jundiaí, a much smaller city of only about 350,000. Whereas NGOs (and citizens) seem to have managed to utilise the platform to publicise complaints effectively, mobilise pressure and obtain redress on a number of issues in Jundiaí, it seems to have delivered fewer successes in São Paulo.
After this analysis, Rodrigo Bandeira decided to reorient the focus. of Cidade Democrática. He no longer expected mass users to independently approach the platform, but rather launched a series of ‘web citizenship’ seminars, targeting young Brazilians with an interest in civil society and demonstrating to them how to benefit from technology that promotes social goals that are important to them.
Strength of Youth
Bandeira belives in a kind of Brazilian youth revolution giving more power to the decisions made by organized groups of people. “Our country is (still) very young. We are using a lot of social media on the Internet, and we also have more than enough political challenges. And from another perspective, we have available time and resources to do what we want”.
The main obstacles of this transformation, according to Bandeira are: (1) traffic and TV that are time-consuming; (2) the alienation caused by those who think it is good to buy durable goods and not necessary to struggle for social and political causes and the (3) individualism that weakens the bond between people and social cohesion that is based on trust.
According to Bandeira's vision, "if the Cidade Democrática and other similar platforms can provide a space and conditions for these young people to invest their time in cool activities (especially those that enable learning from all experiences), and also connect them with their deepest desires and aspirations, I am sure that a revolution will happen here".
Visionary -- maybe a bit of a dreamer -- Bandeira said that another world can be created. “So instead of buying what is being sold we will design and create what we want in all these fields by means of statements, based on our desires and aspirations and collaborative action around creating issues”.
Time will tell...
By Flavio Gut
Flavio Gut is Crowdsourcing.org's correspondent in Brazil.
Flavio's experience includes executive editor of Agência Estado and newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo, and reporter at Agência Folha, Agência Estado, and Jornal da Tarde. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org