This literature review is divided into six sections. The first section briefly describes the theoretical and empirical background of debates about civil society and participation: the democratization process of the 1980s. The second section examines the first and second generation of studies of the best-known participatory mechanism in Brazil – participatory budgeting (PB). Next, this review turns attention toward research on policy councils, which fuelled more theoretical advances than studies of PB. A short section presents the few available studies about participation in the Northeast region of Brazil – a still largely unchartered territory in the literature. The fifth section discusses normative debates about the meaning and purpose of participation. Although the debate is not as contentious as it was in the early-2000s, two distinct views about participation still mark this literature. The last and longest section analyzes studies that treat citizen participation as a constitutive part of the representative system, which can help to improve government accountability and increase the quality of democracy.
A while ago in Brazil I had the pleasure of meeting the folks from Federal University of Minas Gerais who are using twitter data to monitor disease (more specifically dengue) epidemics. Their work is awesome, and worth taking note of.
And here’s a paper that provides a more detailed account of the experience:
*Dengue surveillance based on a computational model of spatio-temporal locality of Twitter∗
Gomide et al. (2011)
Twitter is a unique social media channel, in the sense that users discuss and talk about the most diverse topics, in- cluding their health conditions.In this paper we analyze how Dengue epidemic is reflected on Twitter and to what extent that information can be used for the sake of surveillance. Dengue is a mosquito-borne infectious disease that is a leading cause of illness and death in tropical and sub- tropical regions, including Brazil. We propose an active surveillance methodology that is based on four dimensions: volume, location, time and public perception.First we ex- plore the public perception dimension by performing sentiment analysis. This analysis enables us to filter out con- tent that is not relevant for the sake of Dengue surveillance. Then, we verify the high correlation between the number of cases reported by official statistics and the number of tweets posted during the same time period (i.e., R2 = 0.9578).A clustering approach was used in order to exploit the spatio- temporal dimension, and the quality of the clusters obtained becomes evident when they are compared to official data (i.e., RandIndex = 0.8914). As an application, we propose a Dengue surveillance system that shows the evolution of the dengue situation reported in tweets.
In times of open government one can come across many initiatives that claim to enable citizens to participate in the lawmaking process, but much less evidence is available about how effective that participation is.
This is one of the reasons why I believe the e-Democracia project by the Brazilian House of Representatives is an extremely important experience for those interested in online participatory lawmaking. Besides taking place in one of the worlds’ largest democracies, e-Democracia is one of the few experiences to have shown evidence of actual impact – albeit sometimes limited – of citizens’ participation in the lawmaking process (full disclosure, I advised the project in its early stages of implementation).
A new paper by Patricia Rossini (UFMG – Brazil) looks at a particular case of e-Democracia, in which citizens provided input for the drafting of the Brazilian Internet Bill of Rights. Below is the abstract of the paper - Is political participation online effective? A case study of the Brazilian Federal Chamber of Representatives’ e-democracy initiative.
In Brazil, the Federal Chamber of Representatives conducts an e-democracy initiative that enables people to participate in political decisions regarding legislation. There are forums in which people can discuss and propose amendments to draft bills, vote for surveys to decide on the most important issues and speak their minds regarding legislative activities. The goal of this paper is to analyze the effectiveness of citizens’ engagement in the e-democracy initiative through the case study of the discussion of the Internet Civilian Landmark – a bill to regulate Internet use in Brazil. After a brief review of literature on e-democracy, we intend to measure if the platform guaranteed citizens an opportunity to affect decision-making by evaluating if the amendments suggested by users through the initiative were effectively taken into account by the legislative committee.
And a small excerpt from the conclusion:
Even though there are many barriers (social, economical and cultural, to cite some) that need to be transposed in order to reach a greater level of citizenship and deliberation on online public spheres, our case study shows that those who were engaged in the Internet Civilian Landmark’s discussion were able to reach decision-makers and to effectively make amendments to this bill. Although the final decision was top-down, as the representatives had the power to decide on what suggestions they would take into account, they were clearly open to accept amendments proposed.
Adding pieces of evidence to the ROI of citizen participation. Highlights are mine:
Participatory budgeting, via which the common citizen is given the ability to interact with the elected politicians in the drafting of the local budget, became a popular political reform in Brazilian municipalities in the 1990s and attracted widespread attention across the world. This paper investigates whether the use of participatory budgeting in Brazilian municipalities in the period 1991-2004 has affected the pattern of municipal expenditures and had any measurable impact on living conditions. I show that the municipalitiesthat made use of this participatory mechanism favoured an allocation of publicexpenditures that closely matched the ìpopular preferences and channeleda larger fraction of their total budget to key investments in sanitation andhealth services. I also found that this change in the composition of municipalexpenditures is associated with a pronounced reduction in the infant mortalityrates for municipalities which adopted participatory budgeting. This suggests that promoting a more direct interaction between service users and elected officials in budgetary design and implementation can affect both how local resources are spent and associated living standard outcomes.
This paper [PDF] examines whether access to information enhances political accountability. Based upon the results of Brazil’s recent anti-corruption program that randomly audits municipal expenditures of federally-transferred funds, it estimates the effects of the disclosure of local government corruption practices upon the re-election success of incumbent mayors. Comparing municipalities audited before and after the elections, we show that the audit policy reduced the incumbent’s likelihood of re-election by approximately 20 percent, and was more pronounced in municipalities with radio stations. These findings highlight the value of information and the role of the media in reducing informational asymmetries in the political process.
Ferraz, Claudio, and Frederico Finan. 2008. “Exposing Corrupt Politicians: The Effects of Brazil’s Publicly Released Audits on Electoral Outcomes.” Quarterly Journal of Economics, 123(2): 703–45.
The Guardian has come up with an interesting piece on Porto Alegre’s participatory budgeting, highlighting some of the benefits (well-known to some) of the process:
The effects have been overwhelmingly positive. Within seven years, the percentage of locals with access to sewers doubled from 46 to 95. The rate of roadbuilding, particularly in the favelas, rose five-fold. Tax evasion fell, as people saw what their money was being spent on.
The main idea behind this project was to create a simple, low cost way to allow the youth living in the favelas to digitally map the socio-environmental risk factors that threatened their communities. We needed to do it in a way that would be publicly visIble so that the government and the public could be aware and respond.
Below a video on the first stage of the initiative
Definitely something to follow up on. It would be interesting to find out more about how they are planning to asses the impact of the initiative. In my very limited experience, most mapping initiatives are exciting to see but fail to show a link between outputs (e.g. maps) and tangible outcomes (i.e. impact). Let’s hope this initiative is one of the exceptions.