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FEATURE STORY May 5, 2020

Can data resolve the next major problem?

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La participación de los usuarios latinoamericanos en el proceso de políticas públicas promueve la transparencia y mejora la prestación de servicios. 


Reliable information and citizen participation are keys for preparing the region for future crises.

A data-driven society is not the future; it is already changing the way in which governments and organizations make decisions that affect everyone today.

From fully disclosing government spending to improving access to basic health services, data-driven decision making is having a big impact on economies around the world. Indeed, it is estimated that enhancing access to data and sharing it brings economic and social benefits of between 1% and 2.5% of global GDP.[CN1]

Many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have made strides in designing and implementing data-based initiatives. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development[CN2] , 73% of the region have developed digital strategies, most of which are focused on bringing basic public services closer to residents.

Despite the advances, more must be done. It’s not enough to simply upload information on a government website. Governments must also consider how they present the data and what they do to promote citizen participation [CN3] and protect individuals.

Clear formats

Specific and high quality information is crucial for designing public policies as well as for making resources available and addressing people’s needs. For this to be possible, concerted criteria must be developed for compiling information that facilitates its integration and dissemination. This will unlock the true value of the data and make it possible for data-set comparisons and interoperability.

The Open Contracting Data Standard makes it possible to connect the information generated by a government with the needs of users who want to analyze public contracting. By establishing a common and simple model, the tool fosters a more profound analysis of contracting data in real time.

Access to open, accessible, and timely information not only helps citizens and organizations to identify problems, but it also alerts authorities so they can resolve them. This generates tools that guarantee the review and continual improvement of processes by both internal and external users.

Argentina is making progress in this. In 2019, the National Highway Administration used the Open Contracting Data Standard to adapt its databases. With the World Bank’s support, the administration created an open platform that provides information on all contracts from 2016. The platform is designed to enable daily tracking of more than 150 roadworks implemented in the country, with a budget totaling 52 billion pesos.

Citizen participation

Of course, data alone are of little use if citizens do not become involved and exercise their right to access information.

A government budget is of significant interest to citizens, and this should encourage governments to make public spending more transparent and inclusive. A more effective control improves governance and service delivery. Brazil, Mexico, and Peru are world leaders in the construction of open budgets, according to the Open Budget Survey.

Other initiatives are promoting citizen contributions based on better visibility of data. Paraguay’s open budget project seeks to provide citizens with user-friendly explanations of key information by translating complex calculations into transparent data.

With support from the World Bank and the Center for Environmental and Social Studies-CEAMSO, Paraguay’s Ministry of Finance launched a website and an app in 2019 to enable citizens to learn more about these discussions and voice their priorities. This information should enrich congressional discussions on the national budget.

Critical privacy

Although new technologies enable more data to be generated and used more effectively, doubts can arise among users.

Security violations of public data can expose the personal information of millions of users. The real challenge is to ensure that sensitive information does not fall into the wrong hands without forcing users to become isolated or disconnected. Citizens are increasingly demanding that governments and firms safeguard their personal data to prevent hackers from benefitting from that information.

Worldwide, good data management is indispensable for achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and ending poverty. It is the only way to make better decisions that improve public services, promote transparency, and stimulate economic growth.


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