Citizens’ Observatories in Bogota, Colombia
Citizens’ Observatories are collaborative spaces where citizens voluntarily participate in a public request and accountability process, based on the implementation of the “District and Local Administration Follow-up Tool”.
Veeduría Distrital seeks to improve the management of district bodies based on a collaborative work model. It has developed an innovative approach that looks beyond the traditional accountability model.
Commencing in 2012, one of the key strategies of this approach was to establish Citizens’ Observatories. Observatories are collaborative spaces where citizens can participate voluntarily in the discussion and decision-making process of public affairs, individually or on behalf of an organisation or group. The objective of the observatories is to create and sustain open, transparent and permanent dialogue between government and citizens using the District and Local Administration Follow-up Tool (as per international ISO18091:2014 standard). This provides the opportunity to improve public administration, prevent corruption, promote transparency and cultural change in the city’s public affairs and in-turn provide residents with a better quality of life.
Background and objectives
Citizens’ Observatories are comprised of people of all ages and backgrounds participating as individuals or on behalf of organisations and social groups. The diversity of participants ensures different viewpoints and knowledge of the areas where they live.
In Bogota, 93% of citizens believe the city government’s accountability is not consistent (National Statistics Bureau (DANE), Political Culture Survey (ECP), 2015); 83% of citizens believe access to public information is not facilitated (DANE, ECP, 2015); and 89% of citizens consider over 50% of public servants working for the city government to be corrupt (Corpovisionarios organisation, EC, 2016)
- To promote social control by allowing citizens to administer and monitor public affairs with a view to remove or mitigate administrative inefficiency and corruption in District administration, as well as to strengthen citizens’ involvement in the decision-making process of the District and Local Administration.
- To strengthen the institutional capacities of District bodies and the city government by promoting citizens’ support of the public administration of the city and to prevent incidences of corruption.
- To provide spaces for dialogue between citizens and public agencies at a District and Local level and to monitor plans, programmes and projects.
The District and Local Administration Follow-up Tool aims to establish an environment where citizens cancontribute to and evaluate the effectiveness of public management within the district government. The Follow-up Tool proposes to draw citizens’ attention to jurisdictional matters in the district bodies in Bogota.
The District Follow-up Tool is centred on the following four pillars of analysis:
- Institutional development for good governance
This pillar covers topics including: execution efficiency (budgets and compliance with development plan goals); planning (contracts and institutional coordination); citizens’ involvement; promoting social control; anti-corruption plan; and response to comptrollers.
- Sustainable economic development
This pillar covers topics including: informal sales; street markets; increased competitiveness; connectivity and road infrastructure; public transport system; cycle paths; road network; tourism; career development; advancement of the farming sector; revitalising rural life; promoting tourism; and expanding road infrastructure and mobility education.
- Inclusive social development
This pillar covers topics including: the provision of public services; promoting sport, recreation and leisure; promotion of gender equality; outreach for vulnerable groups; promoting public health, housing improvement and programmes; promoting public education, citizens’ culture and the preservation of heritage.
- Sustainable environmental development
This pillar covers topics including: air quality; landfills; protection and care of the environment; forest reserve; mining activities; management and care of water resources; cleaning and solid waste management services; management of public areas; care and protection of natural resources; and promoting environmental education.
The implementation of the District and Local Administration Follow-up Tool comprises several stages. It commences with the execution of agreements between Citizens’ Observatories and the Government on the evidence brought forward by different sub-indicators and reflecting public management. The quality of evidence is then verified in roundtable discussions between citizens and authorities. A traffic light-like opinion is then drafted to test the state of every indicator and sub-indicator using the District Follow-up Tool, leading to a report on the results of its application. There are follow-up roundtable discussions aimed at reinforcing two-way dialogue between citizens and public authorities in order to improve or examine the matters covered by the Public and District Administration Follow-up Tool.
Within this framework, the Tool becomes an instrument to make decisions on public affairs, prioritising investments, identifying public interest topics on account of their progression, advancement, regression or stagnation.
The establishment of Citizens’ Observatories includes three core players:
- Veeduría Distrital: Responsible for technical assistance to adapt and use the District and Local Administration Follow-up Tool in the context of Bogota. They are also responsible for training citizens, local Town Hall administrators and District Secretariats on the implementation of the tool and the assistance and development of the methodology established for social control.
- Citizens of Bogota interested in social control within the framework of Citizens’ Observatories.
- Local town halls and district public bodies: responsible for delivering the documentation and information accounting for the results of the execution of plans, programmes and projects designed and implemented based on their jurisdiction and missions.
Financing and resources
Veeduría Distrital is the lead entity and provides full financial support to the project. Additionally, an administration team supports the Citizens’ Observatories and provides technical assistance to monitor the management of the Local and District Administration and ensures cooperation between both parties.
Results and impacts
- 382 spaces for public discussion between Citizens’ Observatories participants and entities at a District and Local level where they can monitor the administration’s plans, programmes and projects, as facilitated by Veeduría Distrital.
- 16 Local Observatories and one District Observatory conducting permanent social control and requests/accountability, assisted by Veeduría Distrital.
- 16 Local Governments have strengthened their accountability and social control processes through the implementation of Citizens’ Observatories using the District and Local Administration Follow-up Tool.
- Since 2012, 207 citizens have taken part in Citizens’ Observatories organised by Veeduría Distrital to incentivise social control and promote permanent accountability/request processes at a local and district level.
- Citizens’ Observatories have prepared reports and recommendations on the results of examining the local administration to improve the performance of district bodies involved in different territories, some of which have resulted in Public Accountability Hearings.
- An educational model has been generated, focusing on the implementation of changes that strengthen the sense of joint responsibility between citizens and local government to build reliable and transparent processes and policies.
Barriers and challenges
- There is strong mistrust by citizens of District institutions. This situation is due to the lack of access to public information and opportunities to influence decision-making and the actions of the District Government historically. Moreover, the city has experienced many corruption scandals over the last 15 years which have undermined citizens’ trust in the government, district institutions and public servants.
- During the first year of implementation of the initiative, there was a lack of political transparency by some Local Administrations, this made it difficult to consolidate some Citizens’ Observatories after the implementation of the District and Local Administration Follow-up Tool.
- Despite progress being made, there are still ongoing difficulties for public bodies in the District to provide all information requested by citizens, in terms of quality and timing. This makes it difficult for citizens to conduct the analysis based on the results of the implementation of the District and Local Administration Follow-up Tool.
- In some cases, Citizens’ Observatories are still highly dependent on the technical assistance of Veeduría Distrital to monitor processes for district and local public administration. But in most cases, Citizens' Observatories are self-sustainable without accompaniment of Veeduría Distrital. Moreover they can contribute to strengthening articulation with other social, academic and private sector organizations.
Lessons learned and transferability
- The Citizen’s observatories in Bogota have served as a model for the establishment of other citizen security observatories in cities in Brazil, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, more than 500 specialists from around the Americas have participated in the observatory’s training and exchange programs.
- Studies by the observatory assisted the formulation of the “quadrant plan,” a system in which police have improved citizen security by focusing law enforcement resources on high-crime areas. The plan has been widely applied by other cities in Colombia.
- Generating conditions that encourage a constructive dialogue between different stakeholders can help influence the preparation, execution and monitoring of public policy in a positive manner.
The use of a common tool makes it easier not to misinterpret the progress and challenges of public administration in the District, but to base dialogue on its arguments and evidence.
Veeduría Distrital. (Agosto de 2017). Resultados de la aplicación de la Herramienta de Seguimiento a la Gestión Pública Distrital. Obtenido de http://bit.ly/2ApcQ4W
Veeduría Distrital. (Julio de 2017). Resultados de la aplicación de la Herramienta de Seguimiento a la Gestión Local en diez localides de Bogotá D.C. Obtenido de http://bit.ly/2jbo3MO