Crowdsourcing legacy: How Rio is changing policymaking

The government of Rio de Janeiro asked its citizens to propose ways to build a legacy for Rio after the 2016 Olympic Games.

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’ [1]. 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 [2].

Through participatory challenges [3], 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?” [4] 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 [5]. 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 [6].

In the medium-term, the government of Rio is focusing its resources to make initiatives more sustainable by partnering with Brazil Lab [7]. 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) [8]. 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 [9]. 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?

 

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[1] 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

[2] 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

[3] Participatory challenges: In this context, these are open requests for ideas from citizens with regard to specific public policy changes launched by government agencies.

[4] Crowdcity Website. Crowdsourcing the 2016 Olympic legacy. News article. Accessed November 10, 2018.  https://crowdicity.com/customer-stories/government-of-rio-de-janeiro

[5] Latinno Review. Agora Rio Challenge. Accessed November 12, 2018. https://latinno.net/en/case/3218/

[6] Boudreau, K. J. & Lakhani, K. R. (2013) ‘Using the Crowd as an Innovation Partner’, Harvard Business Review, 91(4), pp. 60–69. ‘

[7] 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

[8] Wirtz, B.W., Weyerer, J., & Rösch, M. (2017). “Citizens and Open Government”, International Journal of Public Administration.

[9] Transmilenio website. Accessed November 10, 2018. http://www.transmilenio.gov.co

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9 thoughts on “Crowdsourcing legacy: How Rio is changing policymaking

  1. This is a really interesting way for a government and it’s citizens to interact. Given the traditional lack of engagement and trust, I’m curious what metrics the government was using to measure the success of the open innovation project. Additionally, how were they able to encourage participation on a broader scale? I agree with the recommendation that the feedback loop should be strengthened to not only get feedback throughout the project life cycle but to also give feedback about what was actually implemented to those who participated. This would encourage continued participation and engagement.

  2. I like this idea in principle, but I am slightly skeptical. I feel that most common citizens feel that they are not heard through normal voting processes as much doesn’t change (or at least takes a very long time to change). So this idea is an interesting way to change that a bit. However, your point around the feedback loop is critical. If this is not done correctly and expeditiously, I feel that this changes nothing. Governments tend to move quite slowly, lets hope this is an exception, for open innovation’s sake.

  3. As somebody who is passionate about public policies and the political process, I found this piece very interesting and thought-provoking. OI seems to possess significant potential as a medium through which all citizens can take agency and participate in policymaking. I do wonder whether similar engagement levels and enthusiasm can be replicated in the absence of strong impetuses such as hosting the Olympic Games on home soil. In addition, I am not knowledgable about the Brazilian political environment but I can see similar efforts in the U.S. today drawing less participation due to the general cynicism around politics in America. To address your questions, I personally believe that this OI model is the most effective when addressing real economic issues that citizens face. Your examples of public transportation and urban development are exactly those. Public discourse and innovation will likely break down when dealing with politically charged topics and areas requiring significant expertise. In terms of ensuring its continuity through political party changes, there could be a public bipartisan commitment to support OI projects, much like government agencies (EPA, Small Business Administration, NASA, etc.) receive support regardless of which party is in charge.

  4. I love this piece and found the idea of applying OI in the public sector extremely thought provoking. I think your question of how sustainable engagement with OI is across variable political conditions is an important one. I think one of the most detrimental ways this could manifest is citizens engage with the process but are disgruntled when they don’t see their idea come to fruition and do not know why. I think your solution of having a more robust feedback loop and bipartisan buy-in is very helpful to mitigating those issues. I also think it would be helpful to push a stronger relationship aspect to these platforms. A recent HBR article entitled Open Innovations Next Challenge: Itself (https://hbr.org/2010/02/open-innovations-next-challeng.html) posits that a strong way to improve the efficacy of OI is to ensure it helps create more relationships and these relationships and subsequent brainstorms could lead to stronger innovation, community connection, and more as people connect and build on each others ideas.

    I think there are two key ways that engagement and reputation can be preserved during these scenarios. The first s

  5. I think that the concept of increasing community engagement with the government through open innovation is one that offers multiple benefits for citizens and leadership alike. Being able to foster a community that cares and has accountability for the success and direction of a city / country will undoubtedly lead to more positive and rapid improvement. However, I think the question around the topic of the innovation is important. Topics where there is no political or funding pressures would be far more suitable than those that are more sensitive to other factors. Finding those topic areas and encouraging engagement from the community should be the focus of the government. I hope that other cities learn from this and best practices can be shared across borders.

  6. I love this idea and cellebrate that governments are moving to more decentralized democracies. However, recent experiences in this field are quite dissapointing, as usually public officers implement those tools out of “electoral” reasons and then forget them. Case in point, 2500 comments in a 6.3M inhabitant city does not seem to be a lot.

    To improve this, I fully agree with you that the government should take the lead and proactively engage with the citizens by runing pilots and tests on the platform, provide real time feedback on what has been submitted and provide real incentives.

  7. I think applying Open Innovation is a fantastic idea and would love to see more governments adopt this approach. In my perspective, there are a few clear benefits. First, it increases community buy-in and engagement with ongoing city projects. I believe the more engaged people are with city politics, the more likely they are to support government funding initiatives — which will thereby increase the number of services the government is able to offer and potentially create a stronger sense of community. Second, OI challenges effectively force governments to engage directly with the opinions of the community, which ensures a broader diversity of opinions are considered.

    In contrast to some of my section mates’ above, I do worry, however, about incorporating community feedback too extensively in the project planning process. While I agree that governments should be as transparent as possible about city plans, an influx of community opinions could lead to slow progress on a given project. It can be very challenging — nigh impossible — to get a community to agree on specific plans or initiatives, and I fear that too much community involvement could be counterproductive and lead to disagreements.

  8. This concept of engaging the public in decision making is thought provoking and is recently being tried out by various organizations. On a small scale, I have worked with a school that was driving student body decisions the same way and making improvements by getting feedback from students. While this idea works very well in the inception phases for the government, there are limitations on how far this can be scaled. If major policy decisions are to be made about the nation, security plays a huge role in evaluating its success. The more open the information about government plans is (be it about construction projects), there are enough avenues for people to make inappropriate use of it.

  9. I love the idea of using open innovation to make people’s voices heard – especially in a country where people are increasingly dissatisfied with their government. However, coming myself from a pretty corrupt country – this just makes me wonder.. would people actually believe in this, or would they feel more skeptical about it? It could be seen as a way of making people feel heard, but at the end the power will stay in the hands of the corrupt politicians. This could be a big barriers to taking OI to the next level and increasing participation.

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