Creating Technology for Social Change

Workshop Stories from Minas Gerais, Brazil

A few weeks ago, part of the Civic Media team traveled to Brazil to facilitate a set of workshops in São Paulo and Belo Horizonte (a city in the state of Minas Gerais) to explore how citizen monitoring might be useful in holding elected officials accountable for promises they make about infrastructure. These workshops were part of our ongoing design process to create a mobile phone tool that will support citizen monitoring and data collection related to political promises. 

In both São Paulo and Belo Horizonte, we conducted three-day workshops. In this post, I want to give a brief account of the workshop we held in Belo Horizonte, as well as share a few profiles of our attendees to give some more insight into the motivations of our participants and their rich lives outside of the event. In the coming weeks, I’ll produce a few more posts to describe the São Paulo workshop in more detail, and explain some of the design considerations that have come out of both workshops. The main difference between the two workshops was the availability of concrete, documented political promises. In São Paulo, there exists a set of 123 goals that the city government developed through a participatory process, and has committed to achieving by the end of their term in office. In Belo Horizonte, by contrast, we tried instead to monitor the priorities of a specific community, and how those priorities linked to government responsibilities and policies.

The Belo Horizonte workshop took place in a neighborhood called Aglomerado Santa Lúcia. Santa Lúcia, a group of favelas, is located in central Belo Horizonte and is surrounded on all sides by more affluent neighborhoods. Many residents of Santa Lúcia feel simultaneously ignored and antagonized by their city government and the communities that surround them. For example, they noted that while the streetlights in their neighborhood were not maintained and the trash was not being picked up, the government was paying enough attention to appropriate houses and force residents to leave their homes through a controversial city program called Vila Viva (more on that later).

The Workshop

Video produced by Movimento Minas, from their post about the event


Our participants were affiliated with a neighborhood advocacy group called UBRAFA (Brazilian Union of Favelas). On our first day together, we discussed the goals and priorities our twenty participants had, and how those might translate into something that could be monitored. The Belo Horizonte group had many goals and priorities related to housing appropriation, trash pickup, the accessibility of the stairways in their community, education, and sanitation. We talked with the group about how some of the more complex issues education, for example may be difficult to monitor, but we were urged by the community that just because such issues were difficult to monitor did not mean that we should not try.


After this initial conversation, we developed a series of data collection forms related to each topic using Open Data Kit and loaded these forms on a set of Android phones. Some topics that people cared about were more straightforward to monitor; locations of trash or abandoned cars, for example, could be photographed and geo-tagged. We took the feedback of our participants to heart, and for the more thorny issues like education we developed a form that would allow our participants to record the stories of individuals who had been affected by educational inequality using audio and video recording.


On our second day together, we got feedback from our participants on the forms we had made, and did a treasure hunt activity using mobile phones to ensure that everyone was familiar enough with the tool for the following day’s activities.


The third day was our busiest. In the morning, we split into groups related to the various interests of our participants (two groups chose housing appropriation, and one group each monitored education, accessibility, and trash) and set out to monitor each topic with the mobile phones. We returned in the afternoon and printed out aerial maps of the area, as well as the photographs each team had collected in the morning. We discussed with the group how this data could be used to make arguments to various audiences, the first step in our continuing efforts to understand how data collection and visualization can help advocacy efforts. The groups presented their data to various fictional audiences: journalists, public officials, friends and family, and neighbors at a community meeting.


The attendees at our Belo Horizonte workshop varied in terms of occupation and interest, but were united in their motivation to make change within their community.


Here are some of their stories:


Bruno Da Silva


Bruno, 30, is a reporter and community representative on Minas Gerais TV Globo. He was hired as part of an initiative to surface stories of everyday life from communities across the state. He also teaches capoeira. He has lived in Santa Lúcia all of his life.  
Bruno says that his job looks a lot like the idea of Promise Tracker — he talks about the on-the-ground realities of life in the favela and shares authentic stories from his community. Bruno says that when people talk about the favelas, they don’t tell the truth because they talk about them with a vision of people who live outside of the slums. “We have a lot of problems like the ones we talked about yesterday, and a lot of good stories too,” he says.
Bruno tells me people in his community don’t feel represented on television. “It’s almost like physical and cultural apartheid, spatial segregation,” he says. He did a story about this topic once on Globo. “Outside of the favela, street lights are beautiful and organized. Here they aren’t broken. They are just turned off.” He tells another story about how he ordered a pizza, and the delivery man asked him where he lived — the man refused to deliver the pizza once he heard that Bruno lived in the favela.
Bruno says it is impossible to change the minds of people who live outside of the favela because there is too much stigma surrounding the neighborhoods, but he thinks the most important thing is not to change the minds of people who live outside, but to make people in the community more aware and help amplify their stories.
“Globo is a big company, very respected,” Bruno says, and he got the job just by being himself  he doesn’t have to dress fancy or speak correctly. “I’m more free than the newscaster William Bonner,” he laughs.
Júlio César Evaristo de Souza
Júlio, 36, is from Morro do Papagaio, and has lived there most of his life. He works to prevent crime in the neighborhood, and also manufactures and sells t-shirts.
In the past, Júlio was addicted to crack and cocaine, and was a drug dealer within the neighborhood. 5 years ago, he was released from jail on probation. “I came back with a very different mindset,” he says. He wants to help young people in the neighborhood stay out of trouble and find outlets to make money other than selling drugs. To do this, he tries to tell his story and tell young people what he has been through. Júlio says: “I always tell the kids, if crime was good, I would have continued doing it.”
Júlio started working at a t-shirt factory when he was 12 years old. At 17, he started using crack and left the factory. Now he makes beautifully designed t-shirts which he sells, and works with youth to teach them the process of silkscreening so they can make some money in a productive way.
One of Júlio’s custom-illustrated shirts

Beatriz Imaculada da Paz Souza

Beatriz, 36, has a law degree and works at the Department of Social Defense (SEDS) in the Minas Gerais state government. Her responsibility at SEDS is to establish a dialogue between her organization and other state government committees. She works to analyze quantitative and qualitative data in order to monitor indicators of local crime.
She has lived in the Santa Lúcia neighborhood for 14 years. In addition to her work at SEDS, she works with her church on issues related to human rights and racial equality and participates in other activities to benefit the community.
At the workshop, she worked with her team to present the data they collected to explore multiple sides of the Vila Viva program — a government project that aims to move citizens who live in favela homes into government-run apartment-style housing, or give them money to relocate to other homes. While the program provides new housing for individuals, the homes are considered to be too small to accommodate families. Additionally, the amount of money the government is offering for people to relocate is not enough for many families to find a suitable replacement home.
This was an important issue for all of the participants in the workshop, and one that they were most interested in documenting. During the data collection process, many groups visited individuals who were being removed from their homes, to document the homes themselves and the stories of the inhabitants.
We hope a tool like Promise Tracker can help community and interest groups rally around an issue they care about, like housing appropriation, to create action-oriented advocacy campaigns.
More posts on our continued progress since returning from Brazil coming soon!
See Ethan’s post for further context on this project, and for a detailed analysis of some of our assumptions going into the workshops, check out Chelsea Barabas’ post.
Thanks so much to Ricardo Kadouaki for helping me conduct these interviews, and to the entire Minas Gerais Office of Strategic Priorities team for helping us coordinate the workshops!