News banner image


Some Latin Americans see improvements in government services

Service supermarkets in Colombia, results-based monitoring in Brazil, centralized certificates in Chile are making a difference in peoples lives

For many Latin Americans, getting basic government services is often an ordeal of long lines, rude service and even bribes. Now, several new initiatives, from one-stop government services centers in Bogotá to crime mapping technologies in Santiago, are showing novel ways of better serving citizens who are demanding more from their elected officials.

These initiatives were discussed during a two-day seminar on the topic held at the Inter-American Development Bank, on April 10 and 11, featuring top government officials and experts in the Innovation in Government Week.

As more citizens rise above the poverty line and become more technically savvy thanks to the internet, they are demanding better schools, safer streets and superior healthcare, with more equitable access for all.

This is forcing budget-constrained governments to come up with new and creative ways of providing these services, with political leaders often battling longstanding cultures of unaccountability, inter-agency turf wars and bureaucracies more focused on internal processes than on improving citizen services.

Stephen Goldsmith, the director of the Innovations in American Government Program at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and a former deputy mayor of New York would go out with garbage collectors to hear out their ideas of how things could be done differently. “Innovation is top-down bottom-up at the same time,” he said.

Goldsmith said governments can be clever about how they formulate goals to achieve policy objectives, such as tasking an agency with reducing homelessness, rather than increasing the number of available beds.

Fewer murders and child deaths

Public sector innovation translates into more effective governments. Better monitoring programs to ensure goals are being met –and making adjustments when they are not – not only makes the interactions between public officials and citizens more agreeable, it can save lives by bringing down murder rates or the number of infant deaths.

When the Brazilian state of Pernambuco implemented tough monitoring and results measurement systems in 2007, its murder rate fell by a third over five years and infant mortality dropped six percentage points to 15 percent. A similar results-based system in Peru lopped off ten percentage points from the infant malnutrition rate in the 2007-2012, to 18.1 percent.

“We measure information more accurately,” said Eduardo Campos, the governor of Pernambuco who instituted the results-based framework. That meant looking beyond general homicide rates to ask more detailed questions about when, where, how, and why the homicides were happening. Through information gathering and mapping, the state of Pernambuco was able to restructure its police force, retiring ineffective officers and training new ones in tracking and publicizing this data.

Innovation through the use of technology also leads to more efficient governments, making services cheaper and faster. The municipality of Bogotá created a “services supermarket”, known as SuperCADE, a one-stop shop for all municipal services, thus limiting the dreaded service windows runaround. The “Chile Atiende” program is a digital repository where no agency would require a citizen to bring a certificate that is not already in the government data bases. The program is expected to save Chileans 280,000 hours per month waiting for a clerk.

Finally, innovation in the public sector means more open governments, bringing more accountability to the public sphere. Brazil and Mexico were among the founding members of an Open Government Partnership. Launched in 2011, the initiative is overseen by a steering committee of governments and civil society organizations. Today, 15 Latin American nations have joined the 58-nation partnership, which promotes more transparent government. Also, an IDB-supported program invited Bolivians to take part in a contest to identify the worst instances of government-provided services. The winner was a mother who waited 11 hours before her child was given emergency assistance.

To help government institutions improve, the IDB set up the Institutional Capacity Strengthening Fund (ICSF) in 2009, thanks to the contribution of China when it joined the Bank. So far 98 projects have been approved, for a total of 45 million, from access to information in Colombia and El Salvador to better monitoring of fiscal projects in Brazil.

These initiatives are led by the Institutional Capacity of the State Division (ICS) of the Institutions for Development Department (IFD) of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).