Having finished my Master in Urban Management and Development at IHS in 2017, I was craving for work experience in the public sector. Since 2015, I have been entirely devoted to academic research, so I was feeling a bit rusty about the professional world. Fighting the sick feeling in my stomach, my eagerness to learn pushed me to the Municipal Planning Department of Teresina (BR), my hometown. In January 2018 I began to work as a volunteer in the Agenda Teresina 2030, a think tank for innovation within the local government. Teresina 2030 prototypes smart solutions to support government and civil society in monitoring and achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development from United Nations.
Having a background as MSc in Urban Management and Development, with a specialization course on Strategic Urban Planning and Policy, I was excited about finding an innovative oasis within a bureaucratic desert of Brazilian public administration.
Advising the local government in innovation is not an easy task in Brazil, though. My country has a worldwide known face: corruption. Lack of transparency, extortion, blackmail and robbery involving public funds kill more than homicides or health diseases, because they exert a domino effect in all areas that matter for the good functioning of a society. Vulnerable populations, such as lower income classes, suffer the most the impact of political corruption, for they live in scarcity and inequality, under unsustainable environmental and social conditions.
Moreover, while innovation demands an environment that is open to risk-taking, to actually experiment on the public sector of a metropolis of the developing world involves spending scarce public funds and thus taking calculated risks. Within this frame of reference, the Municipality of Teresina provided us with enough flexibility and freedom to innovate, transforming an old-fashioned municipal department into a fertile ground for creativity to flourish.
A practical output of our approach is inducing government to open the black boxes of decision making use of low cost tools and methodologies. Open data is useful in this regard. We strongly believe that using valuable open data to strengthen information governance helps increase social control over public policies, planning, projects and actions. Even the most vulnerable sectors of population may overcome some of the challenges of sustainable development if they are able to access information in a just manner. A key component of Teresina 2030 innovation strategy is, then, to empower social groups to access and shape open data, and thus, share the responsibilities for the sustainable development.
Using open data to empower civil society and the government in the developing world is a challenge, in particular due to digital divide, in its technical and educational facet. In an effort to overcome the educational barrier within the municipal administration, the first step is to prepare civil servants to migrate from a paper-based workflow to digital-based one, in which open data helps to increase transparency, public engagement and accountability.
In April,Teresina 2030 organized a two days training targeting 50 civil servants from 20 municipal departments, addressing topics such as climate change, sustainable development, digital revolution and open data. On this occasion, I had to stand in front of many skilled professionals, sometimes with several years of working experience in the public sector, and to advocate for a new idea: a transition to an open government model.
As any IHS alumni should know, the way we communicate our ideas is critical to achieve a successful negotiation, to maximize civic engagement and to raise awareness about sensible issue. Bearing this in mind, I designed a gamification methodology that simplifies complex concepts related to open data, and makes it easier to the civil servants to come up with their own solutions for opening the government, based on their experience and daily challenges.
I believe gamification is a more engaging approach for people to become active in acquiring skills and embrace new tasks, for it adds “additional motivational factors that will in turn result in increased involvement” (Thiel, 2017, p59). However, gamification has already proven to be only partially successful in a variety of domains such as e-commerce, education and health. As Thiel (2017) argues in her article Let’s play urban planner: The use of game elements in public participation platforms, the use of games as a learning and communication tool in public sector is still in its infancy. Because public sector organizations, especially across the “Global South”, are structured in a bureaucratic manner, advancing changes or disruptions that could lead to innovative services or processes is a field yet to be explored.
The result of the Teresina 2030 open data card game was positive. Participants played for more time than we initially planned, and understood why the implementation of a local open government strategy should be further discussed in their own departments, which widened the reach of our training. They also suggested new rules and possibilities for the use of the cards. As any prototype, after the first trial, we improved the game based on the users’ feedback.
Since then, I’m not a volunteer anymore. Teresina 2030 hired me as a specialist in urban planning and innovation. My current duties involve proposing innovative solutions to critical challenges of sustainable urban mobility and gender equality, to update our communication channels and to write and design reports on our progress. The question that guides my entire work is what can be done differently?
The open data card game is under an open license, available in English and Portuguese for free download here: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1KgdMIG5P6RNPvI15FZhCJ_qSRKxHIqQB
Thiel, S. K. (2017). Let’s play urban planner: The use of game elements in public participation platforms. plaNext – next generation planning. 4: 58-75. DOI: 10.24306/plnxt.2017.04.005.
About the author:
Mariana Fiúza is a 26 years old Brazilian architect and urbanist. She has been researching urban development for more than five years. She had the opportunity to study at IHS twice: during her graduation, as part of a scholarship programme and last year, when she graduated from the Master in Urban Management and Development at IHS, Erasmus University Rotterdam. Her main research interest is strategies for innovation in urban planning and development. She currently lives in Teresina, Brazil.