Smart Governance & the Local Government Connection

  • Tony Garrastazu

Last week USAID’s Global Development Lab hosted a digital development forum on Central America in the City of San Salvador.

Themes focused on ways information communication technology (ICT) tools can open and shape the democratic space throughout the region. From digital financial services, economic development, education, monitoring and evaluation to public private alliances, web based platforms and data driven initiatives for enhancing citizen engagement, the two day forum brought together a heterogeneous group of more than 200 experts—private sector, academe, tech enthusiasts, and development specialists—from 170 organizations to learn and share innovations on the state of the art in digital development. IRI applied to participate in a series of lightening talks to showcase best practices on technology for governance, its relevance for enhancing city services and, more importantly, building citizen buy-in and support at the local level. Our knowledge intensive, demand driven, bottom-up approach, smart governance and its relevance for local government, was accepted.

IRI’s smart governance Sr. Assistant Program Officer, Vera Rodriguez, shared practices on using readily available, low cost technology to better city services and connect local governments with citizens. The notion of a smart city. As Vera noted, do not over promise with expensive, unsustainable tools and build local stakeholder support for increased transparency and communication. This approach builds the foundation for applying smart governance best practices to municipal projects. Doing so, facilitates and supports better planning and decision making. Vera stressed the essence of what makes a technology project useful, inclusive, and efficient, providing tips on how to generate tech savvy, inclusive practices. For starters, cities can incorporate crowdsourcing techniques; use open data to lower costs and increase transparency; utilize participatory budgeting to build trust and make citizens feel part of the decision making process; and use social media to inform on municipal happenings. These are easy, low cost ways to implement and enhance smart municipal plans. The conversation also emphasized the importance of generating data driven initiatives and alliances between a diverse and broad cross section of society—academe, private sector, civil society and media—to ensure both sustainability and replicability.

The two day forum stressed a Fourth Industrial Revolution emerging across the developing world, increasing the importance of innovation in democratic governance. It reinforced the notion that technology is shaping the economic, political and social landscape. Participants agreed, however, that in the developing world there still remains an enormous technological gap. As one participant noted, 80 percent of citizens throughout Latin America live in cities and yet are not taking part in the digital revolution. Bridging this digital divide remains a monumental task and innovation in public policy and discourse is needed to help mitigate this challenge. 

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