In their quest to improve citizen participation, build bridges of collaboration and restore citizen confidence in government, many local governments, along with civil society organizations, are seeking to better provide spaces for citizens to directly participate in, and influence, policy planning and implementation processes. These issues were at the heart of Global Integrity’s Follow the Money, Phase 2, project in Mexico. The state of Veracruz – a leader on open government at the subnational level – was selected to participate in the project.
The Follow the Money Project was implemented in collaboration with the National Institute of Transparency, Access to Information and Protection of Personal Data (INAI), GESOC A.C., a Mexican non-profit research center, and the Veracruz State Audit (ORFIS), with the additional involvement of relevant professional associations, academic institutions and the press.
The sometimes insurmountable gap between excellent intentions and their successful implementation is unfortunately still very evident in Veracruz, where public works often go over budget or remain unfinished. While some information on the flow of public resources is readily available, citizens and citizen groups are only rarely able to use that data to address local problems. Many questions remain about how available information should be collated, organized and shared with civil society, and how this data can best be used to improve municipal planning and project implementation.
Global Integrity’s Treasure Hunts method is a useful approach through which partner and citizen organisations can develop expertise in the use of fiscal data to address local development challenges. Key to the method is learning how to collaborate successfully and how to encourage and support further collaboration. This involves identifying target audiences, establishing dialogue with them, understanding their needs and challenges, and working with them to develop strategies that they feel they have some ownership over.
In particular, in Veracruz, partners were keen to look at issues relating to municipal public works, with a view to strengthening the work carried out by ORFIS, especially with regard to the System of Consultation of Municipal Works and Actions of Veracruz (COMVER).
Global Integrity worked with our partners to undertake a series of focus groups and interviews with a range of organisations whose input towards the design of the project was invaluable. These included the academic sector, the Association of Public Accountants of Xalapa A.C., the Colleges of Architects and Civil Engineers, as well as the press, academics, and municipal representatives. Our key objective was to empower civil society actors to effectively identify, select and present usable data to their constituencies, to promote its uptake by them, and work out ways to improve their data products and strategy designs.
As part of this work, we carried out a one day Treasure Hunt in Veracruz, through which to contribute innovative ideas towards improving the publication of municipal public works data, and identify and support promising citizen monitoring initiatives. Participants in the Veracruz Treasure Hunt were required to propose a public works project of their own choice and produce a written submission to support the proposal. Participants’ submissions were judged according to their clarity, innovation and creativity, and feasibility of implementation.
The winning entries at the Veracruz event focused on upgrading the city’s use of photographic reporting, developing participatory community structures to influence municipal planning, and enhancing the capacity of citizens to monitor public works.
According to project partners, the exercise facilitated the development and delivery of useful public knowledge for citizens, and made it possible to identify areas of opportunity based on citizen feedback. A range of improvements in citizen engagement and satisfaction will be made possible by this intervention, including increased citizen involvement, more accountable civil servants and better planning, implementation and monitoring of public works projects by town and city councils.
The Veracruz State Audit Institution reports that, “For the first time, we are following the flow of public resources in collaboration with citizens, learning how to effectively involve [them] in fiscal governance. Without a doubt, working with Global Integrity helped us learn how to connect with society.”