Over the past year, our team at Civic has been developing and testing Promise Tracker, a citizen monitoring platform that allows communities to track local infrastructure projects and hold elected leaders accountable for political promises. Building on takeaways from collaborative workshops run in Brazil in January and August, we have been creating a web and mobile toolkit to streamline the process of running a local monitoring campaign – from selecting an issue and designing a survey, to collecting data in the field and visualizing the results.
We recently returned from our 3rd trip to Brazil, during which we rolled out the full set of Promise Tracker tools for pilot testing with groups in São Paulo. Our goals for the trip were to get feedback on the new mobile data collection app and to test the full process of designing and running Promise Tracker campaigns on the ground.
Throughout the course of 2 days, we worked with partners at Rede Nossa São Paulo and residents of two different neighborhoods within the city to monitor political promises made by the current mayor of São Paulo and his administration.
Located on the south side of the city, Cidade Ademar is one of the poorest neighborhoods in São Paulo. Formerly an industrial periphery, the area has been long neglected by city administration and lacks basic health and education facilities to support its rapidly growing population.
Working with a long-time resident of Cidade Ademar and key participants from previous workshops, we gathered a highly motivated group comprised of “participatory councillors” (citizens elected to track the progress of government goals), members of the community social forum, and the former head of local government.
The team decided to focus on an education project that called for the construction of 5 pre-schools. After reviewing the project overviews and expenditures, the group designed 2 data collection campaigns — one focusing on the physical sites, the other on interviewing local residents to assess their knowledge of and need for the new facilities.
Throughout the afternoon, participants documented the state of 4 of the proposed school sites and interviewed 46 community members in the area.
Butantã is one of the oldest districts in São Paulo and is home to one of the most prestigious universities in Brazil. It encompasses a diverse range of neighborhoods, some of which have been transformed over the past decade by the expansion of public transit to the area and increased gentrification.
In the lead up to the Butantã workshop, we worked with a dynamic trio of councillors in the area who had participated in Promise Tracker sessions in August. With their help, we were able to bring in local residents and representatives from the departments of urban planning and environment within the local government to collaborate on a pilot parks campaign.
The group chose to monitor a project to develop a public park in a highly contested area bordering both favela communities and a group of luxury condos. Though only 1 member of our group had visited the site, all were aware of some of the obstacles blocking the park’s development, including controversial waste water drainage from the condos and a recent land occupation by favela residents.
The team decided to survey a section of the area in question to document drainage points, land occupations, and infringement on the territory demarcated for the park. Participants talked with local residents and documented 60 points of interest, represented on the map below.
The November workshops were some of the most exciting and fruitful of the sessions we’ve run in Brazil and we attribute that in large part to getting the right people involved. Having worked with the same partners throughout the year, we’ve built a continuity and trust that allowed us greater access into the communities this fall. Collaborating directly with residents of each neighborhood, we were able to target individuals that are deeply invested in their communities and actively engaged in local civic spaces. They believe in the potential of creating change through local councils and were willing to embrace the political goals — though perhaps incomplete or over-ambitious — as a necessary point of departure for advocating for accountability.
The groups had a wealth of ideas about how the tools could be practically applied to projects they are currently working on and issues they plan to address in the future. We hope to work on some of these together in the coming months.
Below are some of our initial takeaways from the November pilot:
Closing the loop between data collectors and audience
One of the key factors for success in running a monitoring campaign is ensuring that actionable information reaches the audiences and institutions that have the ability to create the desired change or apply pressure to those that might. By integrating representatives of local forums and government into the survey design and data collection processes, participants were able to create allies within some of the spaces that would be key target audiences for collected data.
Monitoring as a mechanism to further access to and dissemination of information
Though the mayor’s goals and promises for São Paulo are made publicly available online, few citizens have or make the time to review the hundreds of projects that may impact their communities.
Developing the strategy and survey for a monitoring campaign has been a great excuse for members of both civil society and local government to dig into the documentation and budgets available, and get clarity on what exactly has been promised. It was exciting to see how motivated participants were by the greater access to and understanding of the goals and how they further disseminated that information in the community during data collection trips. While gathering details on future school sites, participants spoke at length with local residents about the nature and timeline of the promised projects, many of which were entirely unknown to the community.
Clarifying goals & strategy during campaign design
The task of breaking down a complex issue or goal into specific, monitorable indicators is not a simple one. One of the ways we’ve approached this challenge throughout the project is by pushing users — both through workshop facilitation and through the tech tools themselves — to reflect on some of the questions we think are critical for success before even beginning to draft their survey.
Whether or not the data sets collected will be game changing, we have witnessed participants become more effective advocates throughout this process as their ability to organize their thoughts and articulate the challenges & factors related to a given issue improves.
Formalizing local knowledge through data collection
For most issues we set out to monitor, workshop participants and local residents had a great deal of first-hand or anecdotal information about the projects in question. Neighbors around the project sites were invaluable sources of information on when tenants were last seen on the property, whether the government had issued eviction notices for specific lots, and other details that were critical to determining progress.
Through the process of surveying sites, conducting interviews and capturing photos, groups were able to document and leverage the wealth of knowledge that resides within the community, creating a tangible, quantifiable and actionable data set that can be viewed on a map or in aggregate.
Next Steps for Promise Tracker
Over the next few weeks, we will continue to work with participants from Cidade Ademar and Butantã to develop the first iteration of data visualization tools and explore how to better support Promise Tracker users in presenting information collected.
We’ll be launching the first version of the Promise Tracker toolset at the end of December in partnership with De Olho Nas Metas, a Brazilian platform developed by Nossa São Paulo to help citizens access information on city goals and build community around monitoring.
We look forward to rolling out these platforms in tandem with community partners in Brazil this spring and will continue to share our findings from field!
For more information on Promise Tracker, check out the overview and collected writings on the project here.