Initial findings from Para | Citizen monitoring of school lunches | MIT Center for Civic Media

Initial findings from Para | Citizen monitoring of school lunches

This month we’re excited to be sharing initial findings from the Phase II Promise Tracker case studies, developed over the past year with partners at the University of São Paulo’s Colaboratory for Development and Participation (Colab-USP).

With support from Humanitas360 Institute, Phase II of the the project was launched in spring 2016 with the goal of better understanding the ongoing use of Promise Tracker in the field. Over the course of 12 months, we worked with Colab-USP, the Social Observatory of Belém, Project SOL, the Federal University of Pará (UFPA) and the Ministry of Transparency, Supervision and the Comptroller General (CGU) to document citizen monitoring initiatives in three cities across the state of Pará, Brazil, where the tool was most actively being used.

In all three cities, monitoring campaigns focused on the quality of lunches served in public schools. Despite being one of the largest and most comprehensive in the world, Brazil’s National School Nutrition Program has been a source of challenges at all levels of implementation, and students in schools across the country have grappled with inadequate or missing lunches for years.

Across the three initiatives, school lunch was monitored in a total of 28 schools with over 26,000 enrolled students. Each case involved a unique set of actors and approach to advocating for improvements in the consistency and quality of what was served.

Included below are some of our initial observations gathered from three visits to Pará, focus groups, and 27 interviews with members of partner organizations, student participants, teachers, school directors, lunch preparation staff, and representatives of the Public Prosecutor’s Office, CGU, the State Secretary of Education, and the School Council.

To read more about these cases and our findings, see the overview of our Phase II findings in English here and the full report in Portuguese here.

School Lunch Outcomes
Participants in several schools reported an improvement in the quality of food preparation and storage of ingredients as a result of monitoring campaigns. Interviewees shared that school leadership in some cases had become more attentive to deliveries and taken initiative to improve the hygiene and organization of stock rooms.

Greater Awareness of School Lunch as a RightPhase IIStudents in all scenarios reported a better understanding of the PNAE legislation and the rights they had related to school nutrition. Many felt this awareness of lunch as a right contributed to less complacency and more willingness to mobilize around the issue.

Increased Curiosity and Engagement on Behalf of StudentsSome teachers and administrators noted that students involved in the campaigns demonstrated a desire to expand monitoring to explore additional challenges related to school lunches or other issues within the school community.

Citizen Monitoring as a Learning Tool
Experiences at UFPA in particular offered new perspectives on the value of Promise Tracker as a pedagogical tool to engage critically and creatively with new models for government oversight. For many students, the monitoring projects were the first time they had engaged in applied coursework outside of the classroom and they expressed excitement at being able to connect theoretical learning with real-world interactions with citizens. For the Ministry, the tool offered an accessible way to test at scale a concept that had been of interest previously but never implemented.

Power of Multi-stakeholder Partnerships for Monitoring
In Santarém and Belém, campaign organizers developed approaches to monitoring that involved active collaboration between civil society, government oversight agencies, and in the case of Belém, the academic community. Participants felt these partnerships were a powerful way to leverage skills, knowledge and networks in order to tackle complex shared challenges.

Value of Collaboration with Government Oversight Agencies
In all three cases, the Public Prosecutor’s Office or the Comptroller General played a key role as a recipient of information and advocate. Though government oversight agencies were not imagined as an implementation partner in the initial phase of the project, it has proved a mutually beneficial relationship for those involved.

Development and Consolidation of Partnerships
The development and implementation of campaigns appeared to provide an opportunity in all cases to build new partnerships or strengthen existing relationships. On the school level, interviewees reported feeling closer to other students, school lunch staff, teachers, principals, the Public Prosecutor’s Office, and the local executive branch as a result of campaigns. On the organizational level, initiatives provided an opportunity for actors who were previously acquainted to develop concrete projects together for the first time.

Technology as a Means to Facilitate Speed, Scale, and Visibility
Both campaign organizers and participants felt that as a technology platform, Promise Tracker allowed them to achieve greater scale, save time, and attract new participants and more media coverage. Students who had previously used Facebook to document the school lunch situation felt that Promise Tracker provided greater legitimacy and credibility to the information gathered. Actors in all roles noted the power of images in mobilizing the public around this issue and achieving a response.

We’ll be sharing these initial learnings alongside Phase II partners in a series of events in Brazil over the next 2 months that will convene actors from academia, civil society, government and tech sector in a broader dialogue around the role of technology in citizen monitoring and government oversight. Join the conversation in São Paulo on May 31st!