At the start of the summer semester, accounting students in two courses at the Federal University of Pará in northern Brazil teamed up with an unusual set of partners to develop proposals for civic audits using Promise Tracker. As part of their final course project, students studying public budgeting and accounting worked with representatives of the federal Ministry of Transparency, Supervision and the Comptroller General and the Social Observatory of Belém to design citizen monitoring campaigns to audit public spending in programs related to social services, health, school lunch and school transport.
Inspiration for the projects came from previous Promise Tracker campaigns implemented throughout the state of Pará with support from the Social Observatory, including the monitoring of Ver-o-Peso market last summer and the ongoing school lunch campaign in Santarém.
In preparing their civic audit proposals, accounting students researched legislation related to their selected topic, defined the objectives and target audience to contribute data, planned key milestones, and determined to whom they would present results. Groups developed monitoring campaigns to assess the condition of outdoor recreational spaces at local schools, the availability of prescription medications at state-run pharmaceutical distribution centers, and access to supplemental social services.
During the same period, students in the public budgeting course developed outreach and training materials to support new schools in adopting the “Égua da Merenda, João” campaign on school lunches. Materials porduced included short videos written and acted out by students, and animations explaining national and state legislation around school nutrition and how to use the Promise Tracker app for monitoring.
Despite the short duration of the project, the group was excited to have the opportunity to move from theory to practice, putting their knowledge to work on topics with real social impact, including the delivery of public services. As one student shared, “we see in the classroom that there is no lack of legislation around these issues. What’s missing are control mechanisms to make sure that the laws on the books are respected and money spent is actually getting to citizens. This project made me realize my potential as a facilitator to use what I know about the system to help people structure and direct their demands.” Students were enthusiastic about including the project in the curriculum for the next cohort of incoming students and hope that their proposals can be used as a foundation to help future classes expand and improve the work.
A special shout out to professor Lidiane Dias for taking the initiative to bring this tool into her classrooms and to Ivan Costa for the infinite creativity and dedication to seeking out innovative partnerships for piloting citizen monitoring campaigns. This early experience bringing together academia, public and government institutions and civil society groups has shown inspiring potential and we are looking forward to exploring how to expand the model into other departments and disciplines.