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¿What do civic apps need to strengthen their ecosystem and promote social change?

By Marcio Vasconcelos Pinto

Spanish

The field of technologies for social change has been active for more than a decade. Organizations such as: My Society (2003), Open Knowledge (2004) and Sunlight Foundation (2006) have been the pioneers of this field.

In Latin America, although the field is still emerging, there are several established initiatives such as Fundación Ciudadano Inteligente (Smart Citizen Foundation); communities such as Transparencia Hacker Brasil (Hacker Transparency Brazil) and Hacks Hacker Buenos Aires. Other initiatives, such as Desarrollando América Latina (DAL) (Developing Latin America) and the Fondo Acelerador de Innovaciones Cívicas[i] (Civic Innovation Accelerator Fund), have catalyzed more and new civic apps oriented towards systematic change.

For its part, the Accelerator Fund proposes an approach from a “Theory of Change”, which is based on the articulation of offline-online processes, so that civic-technological apps can leap forward and promote true transformation and social change in their ecosystems:

blogMarcio

In this ecosystem, many actors converge, such as civil society organizations, government, foundations, data journalists, civic hackers and citizens. In the Accelerator Fund we believe that civic developers are key for the ecosystem. That is why we focus our support on them, because they are fundamental for the ecosystem to exist, broaden and consolidate itself.

In this sense, one of our preliminary findings in these two years is that, mostly, civic app and open data projects are developed under a premise that is not always fulfilled:

The supply or increased access to information is reason enough to inspire collective actions and/or citizen participation capable of having an impact on the performance of the public sector and consequently in the quality of life of thousands of people.

But, is this a reasonable assumption? Is there evidence in that regard? A preliminary response fits this preliminary finding:

This assumption is reasonable if certain additional contextual conditions are given (social and of political culture), and if it settles in networks and active social tissues.

In the Accelerator Fund, we understand that the construction or adaptation of civic-technological platforms should be the result of a collaborative process that combines online technological interaction with offline experiences. For this, we work to create a critical mass that allows these complementary processes to dialogue and mutually settle in; building bridges of collaboration, and building evidence and learning that favors the expansion of apps and their replication in other contexts.

To reach this aim great progress was made in the development of strategic alliances between organizations with online and offline focus. Likewise, within our projects, we encouraged the construction of offline networks and articulations as an axis to promote the access and use of information and available data in the platforms.

The consolidation of alliances and networks has become a key precondition to achieve the vision of success of our Theory of Change. This means that…

The platform becomes a strategic tool for citizen-government dialogue and articulation, and for perfecting and implementing actions, practices and public policies that contribute in a relevant way to improve the quality of life of the citizen.

To add it all up, civic applications and open data are relevant as instruments of social transformation, but require articulation and intersectoral collaboration and an integrated vision of online-offline actions and strategies to add substantial value to their ecosystem and provoke systematic transformations.

Many are the questions that remain open: What other proper conditions are necessary to stimulate the active use of these apps by citizens? What kind of offline strategies must developers take into account to make their apps more powerful and promote a real impact? What other premises need to be revised and discussed in order not to build over supposed weaklings and fakes?

On the path to answer these questions lies our Fund. We invite you to maintain an open debate.

[i] The Civic Innovation Accelerator Fund  was launched in 2013 by Avina Américas, Fundación AVINA (Avina Foundation) and Omidyar Network. It is the first Fund in Latin America oriented towards financing the development of innovative applications with civic aims.

Marcio Vasconcelos

Author

Marcio Vasconcelos Pinto
Chief Technology for Social Change, Avina Foundation, and General coordinator of Latin American Civic Innovation Accelerator Fund

Master and Bachelor of Business Administration. Marcio has been working at Avina Foundation since 2007 and in 2012 he started as Chief Technology for Social Change, an area dedicated to supporting all areas of Avina in harnessing the potential of ICTs. He is also the General coordinator of Latin American Civic Innovation Accelerator Fund (an alliance among Avina Americas, Fundación Avina and Omidyar Network with the goal of fostering the development of software projects with civic purposes and open data standards). He coordinates the Open Data Latin America Initiative at Avina (an alliance among International Development Research Centre, Organization of American States, Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean and University of West Indies). He is a civil society representative for Latin America at the OGP Open Data Working Group Steering Committee and co-author of Techyredes: Method to boost social networks dedicated to causes using web tools and interaction protocols.

This blog bost is also available in Spanish.

Spanish

April 20, 2015

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