Why is open innovation important for Latin American politics?
Open innovation (OI) can address barriers to service delivery faced by Latin American governments, as proven by initiatives led by the government of Rio de Janeiro. In Brazil, citizens regularly protest generalized corruption and question the existence of ‘good politicians’ . As a result of this widespread discontent and mistrust of local and central government, Rio has extremely low levels of citizen engagement. This is a crucial issue for the its public sector, which turned to OI to create innovative solutions that require more engagement from its citizens and prioritize learning in its operating model .
Through participatory challenges , OI responds to the need to improve processes and the quality of product development in policymaking. This tool can create positive communication channels that reinforce the trust and accountability of government and citizens. In a way, these challenges flip the script on policymaking. In simple terms, policy is usually driven by political leaders (and teams), evaluated by appropriate agencies, and implemented accordingly. While these policies are informed by citizens, all beneficiaries are not usually directly involved in the process. However, OI can increase people’s agency and satisfaction by adding them as collaboration partners to propose policies/legislation that will ultimately affect their lives.
What is Rio doing to change policymaking?
The government of Rio launched innovation challenges, starting with “Agora Rio” for the 2016 Olympic Games. Pressured by the bad publicity from the World Cup, Mayor Eduardo Paes asked: “What should the legacy of the Olympics be to our city?”  The government asked citizens to submit ideas in an e-platform regarding infrastructure, roads, public transport, and the Olympic village. The results were promising: approximately 2500 comments, 17500 evaluations, and 500 idea submissions were received, out of which the 25 most voted proposals were considered . Ten ideas were partially incorporated and three were fully incorporated in Rio, but the implications of OI were much broader.
Initially, the government was not only encouraging citizens to participate, but also gathering their preferences on proposals to inform policymaking. To do so, the government partnered with Crowdcity to both help manage the process and help overcome infrastructural barriers. For example, they launched forum meetings as a response to citizen’s lack of access to internet. In this way, they encouraged more diverse ideas (given different socioeconomic statuses) and broadened the innovation funnel. As a result, the quality of Agora Rio solutions was highly praised, showing how challenges are effective for design, creative or aesthetic projects .
In the medium-term, the government of Rio is focusing its resources to make initiatives more sustainable by partnering with Brazil Lab . For example, this opened up OI beyond citizens to include the private sectors outside of Rio, as Brazil Lab also channels ideas from start-ups. In collaboration with the Rio government, creators are provided training to providing goods/services to improve public service. Consequently, the government has clarified its priorities to not only empower citizens directly, but also do it through successful enterprises that can collaborate and share their expertise in process improvement as well.
What should they do moving forward?
In the short-term, I would recommend improving the challenges’ feedback loop. Currently, the information flow from citizens happens primarily in the brainstorming phase (ideas/voting). However, OI could also be used to test reactions to prototypes by appealing to extrinsic factors (financial/reputational rewards) . For example, sharing the blueprint and plans for new facilities or buildings and request feedback providing rewards (e.g. public awards) for more rapid iteration. Besides, adding this step can assure that citizens will be engaged throughout the project lifetime and provide transparency from design to execution, and force the government to truly listen. This is crucial given the long time-horizons of projects and traditional lack of communication between citizens and government.
In the long-term, Rio should focus on creating partnerships with other governments in and out of Brazil. By establishing these relations, they can share/learn from best practices in creating these challenges (processes) as well as the solutions proposed (services). For instance, the Colombian government has launched a challenge to improve its Transmillenio bus (major route in Bogota), through an open request for proposal focused on urban art, creating safe spaces, and the bus routes targeting specific population groups (designers, engineers, security staff) separately . While this can pose an issue in terms of the ownership of solutions from Brazilian citizens, there are ways to mitigate these risks through the local voting and feedback required for any proposal considered.
There are still open questions regarding OI’s application in this context. Is it only effective for a subset of policies, such as urban developments, rather than more politically-influenced debates (e.g. healthcare)? How can governments ensure OI remains action-oriented during economic downturns or political party changes?
 Carneiro, Thiago Lopes, Torres, Cláudio Vaz, & Ekman, Joakim. (2016). Political Participation in Brazil and Sweden: The Role of Stereotypes and Contagion. Psicologia: Teoria e Pesquisa, 32(spe), e32ne223. Epub March 27, 2017.https://dx.doi.org/10.1590/0102-3772e32ne223
 Thapa, B. E. P., Niehaves, B., Seidel, C. E., & Plattfaut, R. (2015). Citizen involvement in public sector innovation: Government and citizen perspectives. Information Polity, 20(1), 3-17. Accessed November 12, 2018. https://doi.org/10.3233/ip-150351
 Participatory challenges: In this context, these are open requests for ideas from citizens with regard to specific public policy changes launched by government agencies.
 Crowdcity Website. Crowdsourcing the 2016 Olympic legacy. News article. Accessed November 10, 2018. https://crowdicity.com/customer-stories/government-of-rio-de-janeiro
 Latinno Review. Agora Rio Challenge. Accessed November 12, 2018. https://latinno.net/en/case/3218/
 Boudreau, K. J. & Lakhani, K. R. (2013) ‘Using the Crowd as an Innovation Partner’, Harvard Business Review, 91(4), pp. 60–69. ‘
 CY Global Centers. Brazil Lab launches its 2017 challenges in Rio. Accessed November 10, 2018. https://cu-global-centers.site.drupaldisttest.cc.columbia.edu/news/brazil-lab-launches-its-2017-challenges-rio
 Wirtz, B.W., Weyerer, J., & Rösch, M. (2017). “Citizens and Open Government”, International Journal of Public Administration.
 Transmilenio website. Accessed November 10, 2018. http://www.transmilenio.gov.co