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Legislative Branch and Open Data: the Case of São Paulo City Council

São Paulo City Council innovated in 2011 when initiated one of the first open data policies in Brazil. The City Council Open Data Portal[1] was launched before the federal government Dados.Gov[2] (Brazilian version of national open data portal). While the legislative Portal was launched on September 2011, the federal government version was presented on June 2012.

The Act 1156 created the Open Data in Parliament Program on June, 2011.  It contains the basis of implementation for the open data policy in the City Council such as objectives, principles, concepts and limits.  The main objective of the open data program is to offer resources to society for monitoring and participating in the political-administrative decisions of the legislative through the availability of databases with non-confidential information in electronic form and open format.

For the implementation of the program, it was created a web page in the City Council Portal containing data of the Parliament in open format (especially in XML[3] and TXT). For example, the Portal provides data on bills, personal information of aldermen and human resources.

The 1st Hackaton

First Hackathon in São Paulo

Aiming to promote the use of data on the portal, they also developed the first hackaton[4] organized by a government institution in Brazil on May 2012. The event was denominated 1st São Paulo City Council Hackaton “Open Data Challenge – Apps for São Paulo”.

During a month many teams worked to propose apps with participants and spent a weekend camping in City Council developing projects. The winners were[5]:

1.      Siga os vereadores de São Paulo (“Follow aldermen from São Paulo”): the project aims to create a platform with actions of the current aldermen, making it possible for users to follow the alderman selected and see their actions in the City Council, including information about their votes;

2.      Radar Parlamentar (“Parliamentary Radar”): a mathematical analysis of the data from bills to determine "similarities" between parties in parliamentary action. These similarities are presented in a two-dimensional graph, in which circles represent parties and the distance between these circles represent how similar these parties vote. It was used the open data available about voting, in 2010, 2011 and 2012;

3.      CMSP Wiki (“São Paulo City Council Wiki”): an application that generates content in a wiki format.

 

CMSP Wiki

 

The Challenges    

Despite the importance of this initiative in Brazilian context, it is important to highlight some challenges for improving the City Council Open Data Policy:

Firstly, the datasets presented in the Portal only cover a minority of the information that City Council keeps digitally. Currently, it is possible to visualize 21 datasets about some legislative activities, digitized documents, human resources and budget. The Portal still has challenges to achieve the eight principles of open  government data[6].

In particular, the City Council initiative did not attend completely at least four principles:

  • Data must be complete: the Portal did not contain all information available as we mentioned above. The published list is still small compared with the datasets produced by City Council;
  • Data must be primary: there is aggregated data;
  • Data must be machine processable: the most part of the datasets are in XML or TXT formats. However, it is possible to find many documents in PDF such as bills and requirements;
  • Data must be non-proprietary: some documents remain in PDF.

There are also technical limits such as scarcity of civil servants in the information technology area[7] and infrastructure problems, especially with information systems that have been using for many years by City Council and are not prepared to guarantee the open data standards.

Finally, during the implementation of the program appeared some political limits.  Part of the civil servants and aldermen were resistent to the Open Data program because of sensitive datasets such as the publication of wages in the Portal. It also exists a lack ofinformation between the departments of the organizationto defineinformation systems rules.

Since its launch in 2011 the open data portal changed a little bit. Furthermore, the City Council did not create initiatives to verify usage or impacts of the Open Data in Parliament Program.

Institutionally, the open data policy is guaranteed by the Act 1156 that created the Open Data in Parliament Program, the open data portal and two departments responsible for the portal maintenance. On the other hand, the initial idea of producing all City Council digital content in open data stopped with the change of presidency of the organization in 2013. Thus, even with iniatives as hackaton that promotes the use of City Council Data and the pioneering of the legislative, it is not possible to guarantee the public policy continuity.

 


[5]  The awards were 7000 reais for the first place (US$ 3044,00), 2000 reais for the second one (US$ 870, 00) and 1000 reais for the third one (US$  435,00). The prizewas offeredby  Itau Bank.

[7]The team was composed by 18 civil servants (2 supervisors, 4 leaders and 12 analysts).