Promise Tracker launches civic monitoring campaigns across Brazil | MIT Center for Civic Media

Promise Tracker launches civic monitoring campaigns across Brazil

After a year of collaborative development with partners in Brazil, our newest tool, Promise Tracker, will officially launch in São Paulo this week on March 24th. Over the past 6 days, we ran 5 workshops in 4 different cities throughout the country to introduce the tool to civil society organizations and get some initial feedback. These workshops were the first in a series over the next 2 months that will introduce Promise Tracker to groups across the country that make up the Brazilian Network for Just and Sustainable Cities.

We were overwhelmed by the excitement and energy with which the project was received and by the desire of partner groups to leverage Promise Tracker and civic monitoring initiatives to engage a wider network of actors within their respective cities.

São Luis do Maranhão
On Sunday we flew up north to the capital of Maranhão. The state is the poorest in Brazil and currently in the midst of an exciting political shift. After 50+ years of oligarchy under the notorious Sarney family, Maranhão finally voted new leadership into power in the fall 2014 elections and is welcoming the state’s first governor from the Communist Party. There is a palpable sense of excitement amongst civil society groups in the region and a real desire to take advantage of this opening to transform participation and engagement within the state.

Our partner in Maranhão, Nossa São Luis, is an incredibly motivated movement that works under the wing of a coalition for corporate social responsibility in the city. We had an inspiring group of 15 participants for the workshop, including university students and civil society veterans that have been working in education, transportation, waste management and a variety of other issues for over a decade. Throughout the course of the day, we created campaigns to monitor bike lanes, trash collection sites and the construction of elementary schools. 

Unlike in São Paulo, the local government in São Luis has not yet published a set of goals and promises specific enough to facilitate the type of monitoring we have carried out in other workshops. While preparing a campaign to track the construction progress on promised elementary schools, our education group came across a significant stumbling block. Without a list of the proposed construction sites, how could the group begin to monitor progress?

Throughout the course of the workshop, leaders of Nossa São Luis and other participants got out their cell phones and began calling contacts within City Hall and the Secretary of Education to try to get ahold of the needed information. Though we received only a partial list by the end of the day, Nossa São Luis members recognized this very process as perhaps one of the most important for the use of the tool in Maranhão. If citizen monitoring can increase the demand for detailed documentation on political promises, it has the potential to make significant strides for improving access to information and encouraging accountability of local leaders.

Building on the momentum and energy generated during the workshop, Nossa São Luis will be working with us to develop a team of local trainers in Maranhão and organize a formal launch event for Promise Tracker in São Luis, gathering companies, local government and civil society groups around the tool.

Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais
Following the debut in São Luis, we traveled to the capital of Minas Gerais to run a workshop with partners at Nossa BH. Founded in 2008, the organization brings together community leaders, residents, representatives of local civil society groups and companies to improve quality of life in Belo Horizonte.

Nossa BH invited a group of 10 to participate in the workshop, including university students, urban planners, and a representative from the city transportation authority. The group developed 2 campaigns to track transportation goals related to the new bus system. The first campaign focused on handicap accessibility in stations, the second on the accuracy of arrival times posted on new electronic displays. As a group, we boarded the same bus line and dropped off participants at each of the first 6 stops to collect information at each station. Initial data is available on the Promise Tracker site for accessibility and estimated arrival times.

We will be meeting with Nossa BH this week to discuss the organization of a more extensive accessibility campaign throughout the city and next steps for replicating the workshop with other interest groups in Belo Horizonte.

Betim, Minas Gerais
On Thursday we traveled to Betim, about 45 minutes outside of Belo Horizonte in Minas Gerais. The city is an industrial center, home to Fiat Chrysler’s largest manufacturing plant and a Petrobras oil refinery. Well aware of their impact on the city, some of Betim’s largest companies have joined together to support civil society organizations such as Nossa Betim and fund a local vocational school, SENAI.

We worked with a group of 10 participants including members of Nossa Betim’s leadership, a civics and philosophy professor, and a group of technical and communications students from SENAI. The group created 2 different surveys focused on handicap accessibility and maintenance of local parks. The team monitored 6 parks near the city center.

Participants had excellent ideas about how to modify the tool to facilitate more active engagement in and discussion of data collection campaigns. Nossa Betim’s leadership is excited about getting this younger and more tech savvy group involved as local multipliers and partnering to run other workshops with city councillors in Betim in April.

Butantã, São Paulo
To close the week, we gathered a group of local participatory councillors and community leaders who have been engaged throughout the past year in the collaborative development of Promise Tracker in São Paulo. Building on our experience from the week, our goal was to refine the methodology and materials for running future workshops with groups throughout the country.

Together we built the basis of a Promise Tracker trainers’ guide, including a workshop presentation, notes for facilitators, and documentation of key preparation and follow up steps for participants and workshop organizers. Over the next 2 months, we'll be refining the guide and working with local trainers to replicate Promise Tracker workshops around the country.

We look forward to sharing news from the official launch on the 24th and stories from the field as communities across Brazil begin to use Promise Tracker to monitor political promises in their cities!