Civic participation and information: a relationship unprecedented in history

Flavia Milano

Flavia Milano

(^) photo credit: Mariano Nocetti.

We learned many things after successfully concluding the most important annual meeting in Latin America in matters of civic participation, in April 2019. Every year the agenda is prepared through lots of internal exchange to make the debate attractive to university representatives, chambers of commerce, associations, social enterprises, foundations and organizations. Specialists from the IDB Group participated, as well as international experts. This year, there were over 1000 people who signed up to the IDB Group-Civil Society forum, who came from 26 countries. They had the opportunity to analyze a central issue: the future of work, with panellists from Google, Laboratoria, among others.

These types of meetings are a unique opportunity to exchange information in person, deepening the analysis of compulsory topics to reduce poverty, adding to the perspective and strength of civic participation. Civic participation today goes beyond civil society organizations, governments and businesses. If we only think that 66% of the world’s population –around 5 billion people, have a mobile phone, we realize that accessing information is easier than ever before in history, thanks to the expansion and lowering costs of new technologies.

This is not a minor detail, but only represents the first step. Just as (or even more) important as the exchange of information is being able to evaluate its reliability. When we click on a content, do we check who creates it? Who shares it? What sources back it? Data shows that this does not happen, since fake news have a 70% greater probability of becoming viral on social networks.

Parallel to the dissemination of information, other regional factors like the increasing maturity of democratic systems, economic growth, the empowerment of the middle class and the growing environmental and social conscience of consumers and businesses, have changed forever the concept and reach of civic participation. Updating instruments for strategically linking these actors includes, but is not limited to, information campaigns that provide information and capture trends. This a key factor for all actors who wish to be seated at the discussion table for the upcoming years.

Development agencies such as the IDB Group, which leads these frameworks in Latin America and the Caribbean, elaborated a new Engagement Strategy for Civil Society. Today, we are carrying out its action plan, in which annual meetings will form part of our efforts to advance development not only by providing truthful information, but also capturing trends and perceptions to improve the quality of our decisions.

With regards to information for big development projects, such as infrastructure or involving the extractive sector, their size enables them for reaching the lives of a lot of people simultaneously. In this sense, access and dissemination of relevant, appropriate and understandable information is fundamental. In short, raising early awareness on the information that will be broadcasted in just one click from a mobile phone.

Civic participation today goes beyond civil society organizations, governments and businesses. If we only think that 66% of the world’s population -around 5 billion people, have a mobile phone, we realize that accessing information is easier than ever before in history

An example of this is the “Mesa de Buenos Vecinos de Sierra Gorda” (Sierra Gorda’s Good Neighbors Roundtable). This rural municipality from Northern Chile threatened to become a ghost community. Every year it would lose inhabitants. However, towards the end of the 90s the placement of various mining enterprises for extracting copper and gold revitalized the economy and local employment. Sierra Gorda began to repopulate itself.

But the inhabitants of the commune were worried about the possible negative effects of mining activity in the region. Businesses operated without the community truly understanding what they were doing. As a result of this concern, in 2006 the residents decided to create the Roundtable as a forum for exchange and dialogue with the businesses. At the beginning, it was composed by social organizations, but then included the municipality and other residents.

Currently, it has a systematic mechanism that is sustained by channeling social concerns and organizes together the work of businesses with the community. In this way, it involves the residents in the design of employment, education and environmental projects, maximizing the impact of social investment. This pioneering initiative has allowed the mutual recognition of businesses, the government and residents as valid interlocutors, in demanding and generating information. This is achieved under a framework of trust, to discuss how to take advantage of the opportunities for development to benefit the whole community.

There are many other good practices. Their value is found in the understanding of the complexity of development topics, requiring first-hand experience and knowledge, as well as voices from different perspectives, which is the best course of action to produce sustainable growth.

Transmitting trustworthy and true information is without a doubt the first step to building trust, as a cornerstone of public governance, and any intervention carried by businesses and civil society organizations. For these last two in particular, in the last few years there has been a disintermediation, since citizens have organized themselves in hashtags, and to stay relevant we need to be without doubt a reliable source of information.

 


 
To know more about civic participation in large-scale projects, check our public consultation tools and training opportunities. To know how we found out about this, check our Civil Society Engagement Strategy

 

Flavia Milano

Flavia Milano

Senior Operations Specialist and adviser to the Vice President for Countries in citizen participation and civil society engagement. Expert in citizen participation topics, and lead in the creation of the new IDB Group-Civil Society Engagement Strategy.