This piece was written by Alvaro Joaquin Herrero, Undersecretary of Strategic Management and Institutional Quality, City of Buenos Aires, Argentina. For more like this, see our digital government newsfeed.
Today, you can see more than 900 public works dotted across an online map of Buenos Aires on the BA Obras (BA Public Works) platform, demonstrating the flourishing of an ambitious infrastructure plan that is transforming the city.
Since its launch in 2017, BA Obras — a public works initiative created by the City of Buenos Aires and built on open source code — has become an information facilitator that helps citizens to understand how the government spends public money and contributes to keeping public works accountable.
Since the opening of the BA Obras source code, a new community has been growing around infrastructure transparency across Latin America, and cities in Argentina, Mexico and Brazil are replicating the open public works initiative.
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Why has BA Obras been such a successful tool? I believe there are three main reasons.
First of all, BA Obras keeps things simple. The platform was citizen-centred in its design, and displays the information in a friendly and interactive way for everyone. Through a map and graphics, it translates large amounts of infrastructure data — that previously you could only read on a data sheet — into a simple visualisation. As a result, it turns information into knowledge.
A new community has been growing around infrastructure transparency across Latin America
The second reason is the relevant, updated and quality data you can find on the platform. Today, BA Obras has become a valuable communication channel on infrastructure for residents, social organisations and journalists. It has also become a tool to provide information and evidence to engage residents in participatory events where public works issues are discussed: town hall meetings, co-creation, and co-design of infrastructure projects, visits to the work site, deliberative forums on urban design, and so on.
The third reason is collaboration. Open source code initiatives are becoming highly important for Latin American cities due to a lack of big budgets to start data-based projects from scratch. Therefore, BA Obras encourages other governments to create their own open public works platforms in a simple and inexpensive way. This represents an advance towards improving infrastructure accountability across the region.
Besides sharing open source code, the City of Buenos Aires is also using it. For example, the Consul platform — an open source initiative created by the city of Madrid — was used for the creation of the BA Elige (BA Chooses) program. The success of this initiative was huge: more than 600 projects were created and voted for by residents in over two years.
Little by little, the value of collaboration and exchanging experiences, information and open source codes with other cites has become part of the governmental logic in order to foster innovation in our region.
Just a year and a half after BA Obras was released, Vicente López (Argentina) and San Pedro Garza García (Mexico) became the first cities to launch their own open public works initiatives. In addition, there are at least four other Argentinian cities that are close to launching their own platforms.
Collaboration between cities makes reformers stronger
The City of Buenos Aires provides strategic and technical support throughout this process so that cities can overcome the challenges that emerge when carrying out the replication process, both in terms of data collection and the adaptation of their information and data to the software.
Moreover, collaboration helps to improve the source code and the functionalities of the original platform. With every new experience of replication, suggestions and ideas come up that contribute to added changes that end up improving the platform’s original version.
In addition, a community of practitioners is emerging as govtech and open government leaders around the continent work together to promote transparency, accountability and participation through open source code projects.
In a nutshell, the collaboration between cities makes reformers stronger and helps us all to move forward into deepening innovation. — Alvaro Joaquin Herrero
(Picture credit: Flickr/Henan Pinera)