In open government and civic tech circles, it’s common to hear about the exciting work underway in San Francisco, Chicago, and Chattanooga. And exciting work it is. These innovative cities have been at the vanguard of a movement that has inspired countless other cities to advance, many through assistance from GovEx. But there is plenty of inspiration to be tapped around the world and one city, “The Paris of South America,” is at the leading edge of government innovation.
Buenos Aires, a place most Americans associate with Malbec, steak, and the tango, is home to nearly three million residents within the city limits and more than 13 million in the greater area. With an annual budget of more than 100 billion Argentine pesos (~$6.5 billion), the expansive city government runs most services in the health, transportation, education, environment, and public safety sectors.
Mayor Horacio Larreta, who served as the previous Mayor’s Chief of Staff and performance czar, has embraced performance management as a means to accomplish the city’s ambitious goals. He quickly stood up a Delivery Unit and announced 50 commitments with specific targets and timelines that the city tracks in recurring performance meetings and on a public dashboard. The city’s broad jurisdiction and responsibility, coupled with the Mayor’s devotion to transparent performance management, has created an opportunity for large-scale open government innovation that could be replicated in other cities. Here are three programs that are underway in Buenos Aires that could be replicated in the U.S.:
1. Expanding digital engagement by focusing on the young and old. Buenos Aires is ensuring that young people become part of the digital world from a young age, committing that all students will receive digital education from five years old onward. To achieve this, the city distributed 5,000 laptops to schools, enhanced the use of mobile technology in classroom, and rolled out trainings for teachers on digital education.
At the other end of the age spectrum, Buenos Aires has also made it a priority to close to digital gap among seniors by bringing 100,000 older adults in the digital world. The city developed a digital app called “+simple” that includes an easy-to-use interface with news, health, social, education, email, and other pages designed for people who are using a computer for the first time. Recognizing that access to a computer is also a challenge for seniors, the city has already distributed more than 20,000 tablets to people aged 6o or older that come pre-loaded with the +simple interface.
2. Giving the people a voice in budgeting. In April 2017, Buenos Aires unveiled a new participatory budgeting platform called Elige (“Choose”) that gives residents an opportunity to propose projects and select those that receive government funding in the 2018 city budget. Inspired by Decide Madrid through the Open Government Partnership pilot program for subnational entities, Buenos Aires devised a four part process (see below) and committed more than $30 million to ideas originating from the people. In just one month, the city has received more than 25,000 proposals that residents will have an opportunity to vote on. Selected projects will then be placed on the city’s open procurement site and will be tracked transparently on the city’s open public works platform.
3. Bringing data and evidence into the conversation. Mayor Larreta has embedded progress updates, charts, and maps into the way he interacts with the public. He has held a number of town halls where more than 100 residents of the city are invited into City Hall for a progress update and conversation about the city’s performance on its stated commitments. Participants ask unfettered questions and the Mayor takes time to respond to the concerns of the public. Further, speeches, press releases, communications, and public service announcements that the city issues include supporting data to help tell the story about why residents should pay attention. Part expectation setting, and part transparency, this approach helps to reinforce the culture of progress and accountability that Buenos Aires seeks.