Posted 12 November, 2014 by Ela Stapley

What’s Going on with Latin American Transparency and Accountability Advocacy?


(Credit: Sudestada)

Last month the engine room launched the Matchbox project, a technology and strategy support program for organizations working on transparency and accountability (T/A) in Latin America and Southern Africa. In the months before the launch, the team at Matchbox was busy mapping each region looking for who was doing what in the world of transparency and accountability. We sought out patterns and trends and tried to identify what subjects mattered most to advocacy groups. Below are our findings on Latin America.

T/A projects in Latin America often go hand-in-hand with open data. Over the last few years, the region has seen an increase in advocacy groups pushing governments to open up data to the public. This push for transparency has been led in large part by Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Costa Rica. These countries are considered leaders in the field and have inspired advocacy groups from nearby countries to demand greater openness from their governments. In countries with a vibrant and participatory civil society culture, as well as a stable Internet connection, open data and transparency movements are starting to make their mark.

And it is not just about making government more transparent, civil society organizations are also shaping the conversation on what type of information is released. Over the last few years, the region has seen advocacy groups pushing governments to open up data in their specialized field and this is helping to shape the type of projects that NGOs are working on. While we identified some transparency and accountability trends in areas such as the environment and improving cities, but what really stood out were the number of projects working on accountability and freedom of speech, as well as topics related to parliamentary transparency.
Accountability and Free Speech

Greater access to public data is directly impacting the way journalists cover issues related to transparency and accountability in the region. Using open data and data journalism, media workers are reporting on a wide range of stories from mapping election funding to tracing public expenditure. In general, this style of reporting is not produced within traditional media outlets, but instead by respected journalists who have set up their own investigative journalism organizations. The engine room has identified a range of organizations working in-depth on T/A issues in a variety of countries.

The nexus of power in Latin America is of great interest to civil society. Both political and economic power is often concentrated in the hands of a few. One organization working to expose links between power, politics and money is Poderopedia. This crowd-sourced platform uses data visualization to show who is who in politics and business. With chapters in Chile, Colombia and Venezuela, Poderopedia is used by both civil society and journalists to hold governments and private businesses accountable. The investigative journalism organization Sudestada in Uruguay also uses open data to challenge corruption by revealing the people and businesses behind campaign donations. Consejo de Redacción and Ojo Público, in Colombia and Peru respectively, focus on accountability in public funds and government spending. Each organization stresses both the importance of raising awareness around transparency issues, as well as the necessity of public engagement on public spending issues.

Government Transparency

Initiatives focused on government and parliamentary transparency are noticeably more popular than other T/A topics within Latin America. In recent years, Latin America has seen a surge in organizations monitoring government institutions. The engine room found that there are more than ten organizations working in over six countries in Latin America on this same issue. Organizations are linking up, creating both formal and informal networks, leaving the door wide open to collaboration and with it, the sharing of ideas, technology and best practices.

Civil society organizations are clearly interested in what is happening in congress. The Argentine organization Fundación Directivo Legislativo provides citizens with an in-depth breakdown on current laws that are being debated and also fosters interaction between civil society organizations and government. Another organization focusing on helping government and society communicate with each other is Congreso Transparente Guatemala. They present parliamentary data in a clear, easy to understand way with a focus on showing citizens what their congress representative has been up to. A similar project, 131 Voices, run by Reflexión Democrática in Peru, teaches the public how to get involved in parliamentary processes. And in Mexico, Borde Politico not only monitors the appearance of politicians in the press, but also gives citizens the opportunity to rate their congress representative.

Mapping transparency and accountability projects throughout the region has allowed us to see the big picture. More importantly, it has helped us to identify organizations that are keen to work with technology but are not sure how to get started. If you are part of an advocacy organization in Latin America or Southern Africa working within the topic of T/A and are interested in incorporating a tech component, Matchbox could provide the support you need. Our application process is rolling and we keen to hear your thoughts and ideas.

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