Introducing the award-winning Monitoring the City project in social technology

Introducing the award-winning Monitoring the City project in social technology

This project was initially developed in a partnership between H360 and MIT; learn about the developments and future plans of this technological civic platform

Winner of the Social Technologies Award by Banco do Brasil Foundation in 2021, the Monitoring the City app is the result of a long history of collaboration between Brazilian and foreign institutions. Between 2014 and 2015, the Humanitas360 Institute was one of the investors in the project, supporting the import of the platform software originally developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the exchange of experiences with Brazilian researchers. It was used for the first time in Brazil to monitor the quality of school meals in the state of Pará, by the public school students themselves.. The experience later expanded to several states. The experience later expanded to several states. As the software developed by MIT adapts to the demands of citizens, the work grew and began to be used also in the inspection of water quality and other data on the environment. We spoke with professor Gisele Craveiro, from the University of São Paulo, and researcher Manoel dos Santos, two of the creators of the Monitoring the City Brazilian version, to recall the history behind the enterprise and its latest updates after the comeback of in person activities two years after the pandemic. Read below the interview.

Can you tell us a little bit about the beginning of the Monitoring the City project in Brazil, and how it was collecting data on school cafeterias in Pará?? 

The beginning of Monitoring the City dates back to 2014, when the software was being created to support the monitoring of the goal plan and, therefore, it was called “Promise Tracker” or, in literal translation, something to monitor political campaign promises. Its diffusion in the national territory took place between 2015 and 2016 among Brazilian civil society organizations mainly related to the Brazilian Social Network for Just, Democratic and Sustainable Cities. In Pará, members of the civil and academic society and control bodies were already carrying out joint accountability actions when they realized the potential in using the software for collaborative data collection. Thus began the collection campaign “Awesome lunch, João!”. The Belém Social Observatory, Prof. Lidiane and Accounting students at the Federal University of Pará (UFPA), the Union Comptroller General in Pará, the Student Movement Pact for Education in Santarém. At this stage, there was a partnership between the creators of the technological platform from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Center for Civic Media, the Humanitas360 Institute (H360) and the University of São Paulo (USP) Collaboratory for Development and Participation to document the use of the platform and the listening processes for the improvement of technological interface elements, methodology and discussion of mutual learning with the processes that took place in public schools in three cities in Pará. This phase of recording lessons learned to guide decisions about the project, had the financial and strategic collaboration of H360, which made it possible to conduct an investigation and was involved in visits to the territory and exchange events between active participants in the campaigns. The use of Monitoring the City in Pará has proved fruitful and several other far-reaching initiatives have been derived or inspired from those described.

How has Monitoring developed since this first moment? What other cases would you highlight among the projects?

One of the great virtues of the Monitoring the City platform is that it is flexible enough to be used for different contexts, problems and to support the collection of various types of data in the territory. The monitoring of meals in Pará and also the Federal District Comptroller General Driven Students Project, which monitored various elements of the school infrastructure, showed how organizations that work with social control could count on a tool that enabled a large collection scale by the community itself or by the beneficiaries of a public policy. Therefore, the formulators and participants of collaborative data collection campaigns have great merit. These are the people who design, inspire, engage and take the data collected with Monitoring the City to the social and political transformation they aspire to. So, between 2016 and 2019, several initiatives were carried out using Monitoring, some at the local level, others covering several Brazilian states. Some on lunch, others supporting the data collection from students of USP’s Problem Solving discipline or, yet, analyzing the quality of water in the Biomonitoring Project by the Federal Public Ministry and Embrapa.

Video produced by H360 in 2017

How does the project help the development of a sense of citizenship?

The technological civic platform Monitoring the City is a tool that promotes democratic innovations through the process of citizen participation with technological mediation for the participatory monitoring of public policies and services in interaction with inspection and external control bodies. Thus, the use of technology is no longer just an end in itself, in favor of the constitution of participatory, collaborative and co-productive processes through the connection between citizens, the State and members of the civil society. The performance of inspection and control bodies in social services represents an advance and innovation in public management, translating into a process of modernization of the State and acting as a means of combating practices of corruption, clientelism and physiology in government agencies. Engaging in this monitoring is “a method of providing knowledge about a specific plan and which, at the same time, involves a group of people, without information or the people being necessarily from the academy” (as highlighted by Marisa Villi in her master’s thesis ). This mechanism is necessary to encourage the exercise of active citizenship, because of this monitoring of public policies, citizens can influence the democratization of collective decision-making. So, it is understood that participatory monitoring initiatives with the technological mediation of the Monitoring the City platform allows the expansion and potentialization of citizen participation in the exercise of digital citizenship, enables the construction of an empowered engaging governance and the influence of citizens in government decision-making. The use of civic technologies for networking is important in the accountability process, allowing the production and articulation of collaborators and participants in the mass production of data and information in different bases, allowing for analysis, reporting feedback and impacting the political culture, organizational conditions for design, implementation and evaluation of public policies. 

What was the impact of the pandemic on Monitoring the City? What are the next project plans?

First of all, it is important to note that several campaigns for participatory monitoring of school meals were carried out before the Covid-19 pandemic, between 2016 and 2019, with the use of the civic technological platform Monitoring the City by school communities in initiatives with interaction between socio-state accountability bodies and in the face-to-face format. 

We worked with the Pará Regional Controllership (CGU-PA), together with the  the Federal University of Pará (FAICON-UFPA) Faculty of Accounting Sciences and the Belém Social Observatory (OSB Belém) in Belém, Pará, in 2016 and 2017, covering 15 schools. In addition, with the Federal District (CG-DF) Comptroller General, with 104 public schools involved in the participatory monitoring campaign, between 2016 and 2019. There was also the State of Bahia (CGU-Bahia) Comptroller General, between 2018 and 2019, involving three initiatives for participatory monitoring of school lunches in state schools in Bahia. In the first stage, a pilot project was implemented in 11 schools in Salvador. In the second stage, the initiative was expanded to 21 schools between Lauro de Freitas and Jequié. Finally, the State of Goiás (CGE-GO) General Controllership, in 2019, covering 105 schools. The external control body’s expectation was to expand to 246 municipalities and serve 300 public schools in Goiás.However, the Covid-19 pandemic, caused by the new coronavirus, closed schools in a global and national context, thus limiting the strategic planning  of State of Goiás (CGE-GO) General Controllership, preventing the campaigns of participatory monitoring of school lunches with technological mediation during the year 2020.

Today, further studies need to be carried out to verify the ways in which they dealt with control in the pandemic and the use of digital in this context. In 2021, CGE-GO resumed the initiative promoting citizen participation in participatory monitoring with technological mediation through civic audit in partnership with the Goiás State Department of Education. The next steps for Monitoring the City in this post-pandemic are to structure an Executive Center to expand its scope of action, to systematize the learnings of using the platform in order to communicate its actions to the communities of practice; establish new institutional partnerships to ensure its economic-financial sustainability; resume relations with historical partners such as the Comptroller General of the Union – CGU, State Comptroller’s, Federal Public Ministry and Civil Society Organizations to redesign and improve their performance in the process of expanding their activities in the school environment and in other contexts, fostering mutual support between supporters, developers and/or campaign implementers; and also, to develop and use applied research to improve Monitoring the City aiming to promote the democratic empowerment of citizens and society, to achieve public interest; to participate in the spaces that constitute the ecosystem of inspection and external control bodies to publicize the technological civic platform Monitoring the City; and implement a service structure for the development of methodological processes, participatory monitoring campaigns, training workshops and service to citizens and users.

About the Researcher

Manoel dos Santos graduated in Pedagogy – FACE Valença-BA, and in Vernacular Letters by Santa Cruz State University – UESC.He is currently studying for a doctorate in Social Change and Political Participation at the University of São Paulo – EACH/USP.

About the Professor

Gisele da Silva Craveiro holds a bachelor ‘s degree in Computer Science by the Federal University of Mato Grosso do Sul 1995. She has a PhD in Electrical Engineering by the University of São Paulo (2003) and a Master’s in Computer Science from the State University of Campinas (1998).She is currently a professor at the University of São Paulo, where she leads the Collaboratory for Development and Participation research group (Colab-USP) and also a participant in the Postgraduate Program in Social Change and Political Participation (PROMUSPP).