At the same time that Latin Americans have been known for their history of political restlessness, the region has been marred by corruption and civic apathy. However, the tide seemed to turn in the past few years with a wave of protests against the political and social status quo sweeping over the continent in countries like Brazil, Guatemala, Mexico and Argentina. This civic unrest rekindled the question of how engaged people in the region are and how much impact they can actually generate. But, what is citizen engagement really? How can we measure it?
Inspired by those questions, Humanitas360 has partnered with the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) to investigate civic participation in political processes and civil society across six countries in the Americas. The goal is to develop the Americas Civic Empowerment Index. This project aims to enrich the body of knowledge in the field and raise awareness about the importance of civic engagement.
As an organization based in the U.S. with its focus in Latin America, H360 decided, for this first edition of the index, to include the U.S. to serve as a reference country in which citizen participation in public spaces is at a more mature level. The Latin American countries included are Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico. Those five countries were selected based on a representative sample of the region, considering factors such as location, population size, demographic makeup, economic and political development, data availability and stage of economic/political development. Venezuela will also be included in the research as part of a comparative analysis, although will not be included in the full index due to obvious difficulties, especially regarding data availability .
While there is significant research and measurements in the area of civic engagement and citizen participation, there are no metrics which look at the holistic environment, on everything from the enabling environment for engagement to the actual outputs -or what we call Civic Empowerment. This Index seeks to be an instrument of reference in regard to the civic engagement landscape in the Americas.
Based on a framework initially designed by the EIU and H360 team, the index is being developed through qualitative and quantitative research of driving factors of citizen engagement and civic participation such as access to information and education, freedom of expression, and safety and security.
The project started in September 2017 with the stages of research and analysis by specialists in the field. In November, a panel of experts from different countries made a major review of the index framework. Among the specialists were Miguel Paz (Poderopedia/Narcodata), Brian Winter (Americas Society/Council of the Americas and Americas Quarterly), Tiago Peixoto (World Bank), Angela Dannemann (Itaú Social), Nathalie Alvarado (Inter-American Development Bank), Lelia Mooney (United States Institute of Peace) and David Smolansky (Venezuela politician).
The index will be officially launched in March 2018 with a special event in Sao Paulo, Brazil. After that, H360 and the EIU will host other events in different countries to continue the dialogue about civic engagement and participation. As H360 seeks to foster a more equal and just continent through participatory initiatives, the Americas Civic Empowerment Index will be a landmark project in the organization’s trajectory.