This is the third entry in the “No Hash Tag blog series: Low-Tech Approaches to Open Government and Transparency.”
The format varies: From the latest smartphone or digital video camera to old cellphones shooting grainy, dark, shaking images.
The idea is simple: to record the sessions of the board of aldermen across Spain and share them via the Internet – or through transcriptions.
The rationale is apparent: Bringing the concept of open government to citizens.
Simple. Direct. That’s how Graba tu Pleno (Record your Aldermens’ Meeting) works.
“We believe that the [board of aldermen] meetings discuss vital themes for the communities they represent, plus they are public, by law,” said Oscar Gagliardi Uribe, one of the founders of the organization. “Under the law, we are allowed to record [the meetings] so we can study them later or post them on the net.”
Beyond bringing the meetings to the local audiences, Graba tu Pleno seeks to empower citizens and local governments in rural areas of Spain by teaching them how the Internet and other technologies can help improve their communities.
“We turn ordinary citizens into the media,” he said. “That’s how we push for more transparency in local institutions.”
Sometimes, especially in the smaller cities, a corp of volunteers transcribes and upload on the internet the procedures, he added.
But the organization’s recording initiatives have not always been welcome by local councils, Gagliardi added, and many of them have sought legal action to stop them since Graba tu Pleno started in September of 2001.
“But we have had numerous rulings in our favor,” Gagliardi, from Mojácar, a town in the southern province of Andalucía, said. “And several ombudsmen have also supported us.”
Presently, the organization is seeking support for a proposed bill, to be introduced in the Spanish parliament, that would stipulate the right to record these meetings and broadcast them through electronic media. “The current Spanish constitution, approved 30 years ago, states that every citizen has the right to receive and spread information through every possible media, but because it was approved so long ago, it does not rule about recording and broadcasting via the Internet,” Gagliardi added.
In the meantime, Graba tu Pleno continues recording meetings all over Spain, an effort supported by thousands of volunteers. Volunteers are constantly uploading videos, so it is hard to keep count on how many there are at the site, but in Facebook the organization has 7000 followers, said Mónica Sánchez, a co-founder of the platform.
“We are one of many organizations in Spain working for change,” Gagliardi said. “And change will not come by staying at home.”
— Julio C. Urdaneta.