Themes to watch in 2011: E-democracy in Brazil

As Nat Torkington put it this morning at O’Reilly Radar, “people who consider tech trends without considering social trends are betting on the atom bomb without considering the Summer of Love.” Torkington was annotating a link to 2011 predictions and prognostications at venture capitalist Fred Wilson’s blog which center on the following presentation that Paul Kedrosky sent him from JWT, a marketing agency.

JWT’s thirteenth prediction will be of particular interest to readers of this blog: “Brazil as E-Leader.”

This digitally savvy, economically vibrant country will prove to be an e-leader. Social media is more popular here than in developed markets, and Brazil has the highest Twitter penetration (23 percent, as of October ComScore figures). PC penetration has reached 32 percent, and many Internet cafes further broaden access. Mobile subscriptions have 86% penetration. Already Brazil is ahead in electronic democracy (with innovations like online town halls and crowd-sourced legislative consulting), and its 2010 census was paperless, conducted electronically.

There are many other themes that will matter to the Gov 2.0 world in 2011 in there, including smart infrastructure investment, scanning everything, home energy monitors, and mHealth. Heck, seemingly mobile everything. Of course, as Mike Loukelides pointed out in his own watchlist of 2011 themes to track, “you don’t get any points for predicting ‘Mobile is going to be big in 2011.’” He thinks that Hadoop, real-time data, the rise of the GPU, the return of P2P, social ubiquity and a new definition for privacy will all play important roles in 2011. Good bets.

JWT does get points for this set of trends, however, and that prediction about e-democracy in Brazil strikes me as apt. Last year at the International Open Government Data Conference, I met Cristiano Ferri Faria, project manager in e-democracy and legislative intelligence at the Brazilian House of Representatives. Faria talked about his work on e-Democracia, a major electronic lawmaking program in Brazil since 2008. As the 112th United States House of Representatives goes back to work today, there are definitely a few things its legislators, aides and staffers might learn from far south of the border. You can download his presentation as a PDF from Data.gov or view it below, with an added bonus: reflections on open government data in New Zealand and Australia.

One caution: Faria concluded that “this kind of practice is too complex” and that e-Democracia “needs a long-term approach.”

Looks like they’re still in an e-government in beta down there too.

Iogdc 2010 Day1 Plenary

About Alex Howard

Alexander B. Howard is a DC-based a technology writer and editor. Previously, he was the Washington Correspondent at O'Reilly Media, where he covered the voices, technologies and issues that matter in the intersection of government, technology and society. If you're feeling social, you can follow him on Twitter, like him on Facebook or circle him on Google Plus In addition to corresponding for the O’Reilly Radar, he has contributed to the Huffington Post, Govfresh, Mashable, ReadWriteWeb, National Journal, The Atlantic, CBS News and Forbes. He graduated from Colby College with a bachelor's degree in biology and sociology. Currently, he is a resident of the District of Columbia, where he lives with his greyhound, wife, power tools, plants and growing collection of cast iron pans, many of which are frequently used to pursue his passion for good cooking.
  • Cristiano Ferri Faria

    Thanks Alex. Great article! Yes, I hope we’re going to have a wonderful e-2011 in Brazil as I feel there’s an increasingly social force online. Regarding Brazilian House’s e-Democracia, the new website is coming out next weeks with new round of experimental participatory tools, such as a discussion guide to give participants a quick context of the online legislative debate, new improvements in the wikilegis (our wiki tool for collaborative lawmaking) and a pairwise comparison system for brainstorming. Let’s see how it’s going to work.

    I believe we’re just beginning a long-term process as I’ve been mapping out the various challenges of e-democracy and they’re several. Digital divide, political inefficacy, lousy usability, technological gap in the public sector are just some of them.

    The only way to go forward is just keep trying…

    Best wishes

    Cristiano Faria

  • Tiago Peixoto

    Hello Alex,

    I do agree that the e-Democracia project is one of the things to be followed in 2010. Bearing in mind the difficulties that Cristiano Faria has pointed out, I would like to underline that, in my opinion, much of the novelty of e-Democracia resides in its institutional / organizational settings.

    One of the main problems of so-called “citizen engagement” initiatives of this type is the fact that, even though governments might use technologies to give a “voice” to citizens, normally they do not create internal mechanisms to actually integrate citizens’ input in the decision-making process. In other words, even when platforms to engage with external audiences are created, internally public actors continue doing their business as usual, in an organizational format that is traditionally not designed to take feedback into account.

    In a number of cases, I had the opportunity to identify that initiatives similar to e-Democracia function more or less in the following manner: citizens provide their feedback on Legislation online and this feedback is transferred to MPs (e.g. on relevant committees) and their staff. However, in the majority of cases, MPs and their staff members have neither the time nor the inclination to seriously consider citizen feedback. The core of this problem being you become overly dependent on the individual interest and goodwill of MPs and their staff in actually taking their time to hear what citizens have to say. In this scenario of absent appropriate channels for integrating citizens’ feedback, you would be lucky if citizens’ input becomes “bar talk” between a few motivated congressional interns. Cristiano and his team, aware of this problem, went beyond.

    In this respect, a major solution found by the e-Democracia team was that of methodically channeling citizen feedback to the Legislative advisory services of the House of Representatives. These services are composed by career civil servants of the House administration (admitted through public exams), who have the role of providing non-partisan and technical advice for the different thematic issues that are object of the Legislative process (e.g. environment, public security). In practice, these services of extreme high quality constitute an exceptional asset to MPs for advice on different matters for which neither MPs nor their staff have the appropriate expertise. Brazilian MPs, whenever taking decisions on legal propositions – or drafting them – will often rely on the technical expertise of the House’s legislative advisors to do so.

    With regard to citizen feedback, Legislative advisors (contrary to MPs and their staff) are keen on tapping the potential of external individuals’ expertise, systematically using citizen input that comes through e-Democracia as a valuable resource in their day-by-day work. Given that these advisors are the same people who provide MPs and Committees with technical advice, the final result is that you can actually see citizen input being fed into the Legislative process in a transparent and effective manner. In other words, citizen participation has an impact. In many cases that is visible by simply reading the input that is entered in e-Democracia and the draft of a specific bill.

    Ingenious isn’t it?