"We must stop reinventing the wheel," says Dinorah Cantú-Pedraza, head of the Secretariat of Innovation and Citizen Participation of San Pedro Garza García, a municipality of the Monterrey metropolitan area in northern Mexico. "We have to see what already exists, who is doing it well and, instead of duplicating efforts, we have to scale up our efforts".
What Cantú-Pedraza refers to is an innovation that more and more cities are carrying out: the use of open source software in public administration.
Traditionally, governments depend exclusively on commercial software —which requires payment for the use of licenses. This software usually has use restrictions and any modification or improvement is under the exclusive control of the developer. On the contrary, open source software reverses that paradigm and changes the rules of the game: it guarantees access to the platform’s source code to users, that is, to the heart of the platform. This authorizes anyone to execute, copy, distribute, study, change or improve the original software, in order to encourage open collaboration.
In the face of the digital revolution, the governments of Latin America and the Caribbean are modernizing themselves to achieve more effective, efficient and open management. Today, Dinorah Cantú-Pedraza and many others are part of a new generation of public servants, passionate about the use of data, technology, collective intelligence and collaboration between cities to solve public problems.
"The cities of the region face similar problems. The problems have no borders, the solutions should not have them either," says Cantú-Pedraza.
The Argentine connection
In 2018, the Secretariat of Public Works of San Pedro Garza García launched an ambitious effort to be more transparent about the projects underway in the municipality. The idea was to allow citizens to see when public works in the city started, when they ended and how much they cost.
In a first stage, they developed a mobile application that allowed those responsible for the work to update its status in the municipality's database. But a key element was missing. "We already had the data, but we did not have a platform to disseminate them," says Yadira Medina, Secretary of Public Works of San Pedro. Now, how to solve it? The answer was more to the south, in a project carried out by the capital of Argentina: Buenos Aires.
Speaking with her Argentine colleagues, Dinorah and her team learned that learned that Buenos Aires had already developed BA Obras, a platform launched in 2017 to display more than 900 public works throughout the city, free through open access, and framed within the government's open source policies. "It was like a glove, it's just what we needed," says Yadira Medina.
Proyecto de visualización y análisis de la información de las obras del Gobierno de la Ciudad. - gcba/ba_obras
With support from Buenos Aires and in just one month, the San Pedro team adapted the code to their requirements and made the new platform available to citizens, demonstrating that open source has the potential to improve the social and economic development of a city. That, in addition to showing that collaboration between cities can become an efficient and agile solution for the problems that affect them.
In fact, today Buenos Aires is working together with ten other cities, eight in Argentina and two in Brazil, to adapt and implement BA Obras. "The code is alive. It is modified permanently to the extent that improvements arise from the implementation of other cities. So, it is a tool that is constantly alive," says Soledad Zárate, general coordinator of institutional quality for the government of the city of Buenos Aires.
Estamos muy orgullosos de terminar esta #SemanaDeGobiernoAbierto con esta gran noticia:— BA Gobierno Abierto (@BAGobAbierto) March 16, 2019
¡@SanPedroNL es la primer ciudad internacional que replica #BAObras!
¡Felicitaciones! 🇲🇽🇦🇷 https://t.co/Yt002BHs59
Beyond providing informative value to citizens about how and where the public works of their city are, the BA Obras platform —along with similar open source initiatives— promotes transparency and brings government work closer to those who inhabit the cities. "It is generating transparency from a tool that the citizen can use to access information that, in general, is not published. What it does is democratize the information that the State has, and puts the neighbor on an equal footing," says Zárate.
Code for Development
Knowledge no longer comes only in the form of a book or on paper. Today, digital transformation has changed the way we learn, disseminate and share knowledge thanks to the penetration of the internet in the region. And the code is, without a doubt, part of it.
The IDB was the first multilateral to recognize software as an official knowledge product, highlighting the value of projects such as BA Obras. "The added value of IDB investments is not money, but the knowledge linked to development projects," says Kyle Strand, specialist in the IDB's Knowledge, Innovation and Communication Sector.
Code for development - cool project from @the_IDB we could contribute to esp on #opengovcan and #gctools— Jaimie Boyd (@jaimieboyd) September 26, 2017
This is how the Code for Development initiative was born, a repository of digital open source tools that can be used in the implementation of programs and projects for economic and social development. In fact, BA Obras is available on the platform, so that anyone can download the code and adapt it to their needs.
To date, Code for Development includes 35 open source tools and counting, among which are a platform for citizen participation, a satellite image analysis tool or an algorithm for text classification. The tools published in the platform go through a quality control before being accepted to be part of the repository, in order to guarantee quality and reusability before releasing the code to the public. As part of the Code for Development initiative, the IDB developed a guide to publish open source projects, with good practices on how to document, analyze the quality of the code or choose a license.
“Open source does not always mean technically reusable”, says Kyle Strand. “It’s about more than just the license, it’s about making sure that the code has the necessary quality and documentation to make it easily and truly reusable. That’s what Code for Development aims to do, publish code that any government or anyone can easily reuse.”
Do you know any project that could help public administrations and that should be in Code for Development? Nominate a tool using our form
If you want to know more about open source and digital tools, you can visit the Code for Development website or our blog Abierto al Público.