I’m excited about what seems to be a growing community of citizen engagement and participation initiatives in Lima, Peru. A good example is Todos Somos Dateros (We Are All Data Providers). This project began in response to a flare-up of conversation among citizens about a new rapid transit bus system, and has evolved into an online platform run by a small team that is working hard to understand how to transform citizen reports into the kinds of offline responses that are necessary to keep people participating.
Lima already had a culture of citizen monitoring of transit systems using paper and pen – for more on the analog system in Lima I recommend this post at the World Bank’s Transport for Development blog and this one at MIT’s CoLab Radio. The online project, a platform for visualizing citizen feedback and attempting to channel it to government officials, was therefore inspired by existing communities.
I spoke to Camila, who got the idea for Todos Somos Dateros after seeing similar initiatives in the Netherlands while she was living there, about what has (to date) worked best and what has been the hardest. Here’s what I could glean about what she and her team has done that works:
1. Immediately connecting with a tech partner. Camila had no developer skills, so hooked up with Rodrigo Derteano, who does. (Rodrigo is also a partner on their consultancy, La Factura).
2. Contacting officials right away. They got in touch with individuals within the part of the government in charge of the new bus system, the Metropolitano, and told them about their plan. While, officials said it was a great idea but that they wouldn’t help in any way, having the project on their radar couldn’t have hurt.
3. Partner with an NGO. Todos Somos Dateros partnered with Ciudad Nuestra, which came up with the categorization system for citizen feedback, and was in charge of turning citizen reports into publications that could then be sent to officials. This is so key.
4. Tap into existing conversations. There is a small but active community of people who care about the bus system and who care about cyclists’ issues. This was, therefore, the channels for citizen reports that they chose. Channels were determined not because the team’s interests, but because there were already active conversations happening online about these topics. This helps to prevent the creation of a ghost town.
Caveat: The main challenge for any initiative trying to incorporate citizen reports is a lack of citizen reports. Tapping into existing conversations may be a great way to try and avoid that, but it’s not a panacea. These pockets of citizen activity around transportation issues in Lima are, after all, quite small, and online participation has recently tapered off.
Another reason for this slowdown in participation may of course be that there is not enough action happening in response to the citizen feedback. Members of the local government in Lima still don’t have much incentive to respond – and aren’t.
What’s next for Todos Somos Dateros? Great news: they’re on the verge of releasing all of their code so that others can replicate their platform. Having not seen the code yet I can’t vouch for it, but I do think it’s important to note that this tool was created specifically for documenting citizen reports of processes over long periods of time. On the other hand, the Ushahidi platform was built specifically to document citizen reports of time-bound events like crises. They are also about to launch a new category of citizen reports on the issue of accessibility for the disabled in Lima. Again, this is in response to a small but active community of disability rights activists in Lima, and executed in partnership with two institutions: the Instituto de Derechos Humanos at the Universidad de Lima and OMAPED, the government agency that deals with disability issues.
Know anyone who might want to use Todos Somos Dateros’ code for a project of their own? Share!