International Journal of Management Science and Business Administration
Volume 4, Issue 6, September 2018, Pages 26-33
Municipality and Open Government. Case study of Guazapares, Mexico
1 María del Carmen Gutiérrez-Diez, 2 Laura Cristina Piñón Howlet,
3 Alma Lilia Sapién Aguilar
1 2 3 Facultad de Contaduría y Administración, Universidad Autónoma de Chihuahua, México
Abstract: How real is the promise of an open and close government to the people? Have technologies allowed this promise to become a reality? The objective of this research is to describe the situation concerning the Open Government model in the municipality of Guazapares, located in one of the most remote areas in the Sierra Tarahumara, in the northern state of Chihuahua, Mexico. The study was done through a case study methodology that made a description of the situation the municipal government regarding open government; an in-depth documentary investigation, and in-depth interviews with those responsible for transparency of the municipality in question. The results found strong barriers to the digital inclusion of municipal authorities and for the teachers who work in this municipality. These findings allowed to conclude that because of this gap, the promise of an open government is still far away from being real in this municipality.
Keywords: Municipalities, Digital inclusion, Citizen participation
It seems that the promise of an open and close government to society could be within reach. However, there are still several barriers that prevent this from being the truth. Although the Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) seem to be a panacea in many ways, in Mexico there exist different conditions within the same reality that prevent achieving this goal. The deep digital divide observed between the different regions does not create the opportunity to achieve the objective of an open government close to the citizens.
It is of particular interest to observe that the practices of open governments in other countries are the guidelines for the elaboration of public policies, hand in hand with the participation of its citizens, all thanks to digital inclusion. In Mexico, at a federal level, significant advances have been made in this aspect; as an example, the design of the National Digital Agenda (ADN in Spanish). At the state level, Chihuahua has already introduced its strategic action plan. However, the municipal governments, are the ones who have the opportunity to start implementing these practices of Open Government (OG).
To achieve the above, there is an imperative need to reduce the digital divide in order to obtain close, open, and emanated governments, with true citizen participation. At a federal level, a plan to reduce digital illiteracy has been elaborated, but still has not been fully deployed. Municipalities continue to be the first order of government, the one closest to the citizens; but their authorities still show severe deficiencies in technology literacy, which in turns avoids the inclusion of their citizens, and the elaboration of public policies. Such is the case of Guazapares, Chih., located in the Sierra Tarahumara. Guazapares is one of the 67 municipalities of the Mexican state of Chihuahua, in one of the most remote areas of the Sierra Madre Occidental; it has an extension of 2,146 square kilometers, and approximately 8,998 inhabitants, most of them indigenous.
Due to this characteristics, the municipality is of particular interest to carry out descriptions and diagnoses regarding the digital divide situation among townships, as well as the different elements associated to Open Government, such as citizen participation, accountability, and transparency. These findings will help establish adequate strategies for digital inclusion with citizens and coordinate efforts towards the development of an open, close, and participatory government within similar municipalities. Therefore, this work has the following objectives:
1) establish a theoretical framework for Open Government and
2) make the corresponding description regarding the situation that prevails in the Guazapares municipality in relation with the Open Government framework.
This diagnosis will allow the implementation of an Open Government strategy, appropriate to specific characteristics and particular needs, that contributes to the development of the municipality itself. At a national level, an Open Government framework was materialized along with the Federal Law of Transparency and Access to Government Public Information on June 2003, accompanied by the Information Requests System (SISI in Spanish). In such way, that law requirements can be accessed via web page as of February 2007. Then, on January 1st, 2009, the Government Accounting Law was implemented to enforce an adequate accounting harmonization by public entities, which established general principles that would regulate government accountability. Currently, Mexico´s government, through the action plan 2013-2015, outlined its course of action under five objectives: 1) government focused on citizenship; 2) open and participatory budget; 3) open data for development; 4) empowerment and citizen participation, and 5) governance of natural resources. For the development of the plan, the following organizations collaborated: civil society, academia, business, and government experts (Auditoria Superior del Estado de Chihuahua, 2014).
In May 2015, the Federation´s General Law was published, in the official gazette. The principles of Transparency and Access to Public Information were established, as well as the general bases and procedures to guarantee the right to access the information for those in possession of any authority, entity, organ or body of powers, in any branch of the government, such as Legislative, Executive and Judicial, autonomous bodies, political parties, trusts, and public funds. Also, any individual or control bodies which receive and exercises public resources, or carry out acts of authority belonging to any government level, were affected by this law. The National Transparency System is composed of the institute, the guarantor organizations of the Federative Entities, the Superior Audit of the Federation, the Nation´s General Archive, and the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INAI, 2014).
At state level, between 2014-2015, the Superior Audit of the State of Chihuahua launched the “Strategic Plan for the Strengthening of Transparency and Accountability for the State of Chihuahua 2014-2016 “, composed of three axes: a) Open Government; b) Inclusive Government; 3) Strengthening Transparency, Accountability and Inspection (Auditoria Superior del Estado de Chihuahua, 2014). At the local level (municipality) in December 2014, the National Institute for Information Access (INAI in Spanish) and the COMAIP (Mexican Conference for Access to Public Information), proposed a strategy to advance towards the consolidation of an Open State in Mexico, based on the implementation of Open Government exercises at the local level (Auditoria Superior del Estado de Chihuahua, 2014).
At the international level, the concept of Open Government (GA) began in the 1950´s decade in the United States, where the most recognized political parties were committed to consolidating open access to public information. Later, in the 1960’s, the Access to Information Law was born. In the 1970’s, in the United Kingdom, Open Government was linked to government secrecy and initiatives to open data from the public sector to gain accountability and diminish bureaucratic opacity. Later, in the 1980s, Latin America began to modernize public administrations and began to acquire greater strength to face the severe crisis of legality in the area. Then, in the 1990’s, Latin American governments began to promote crucial policies and actions focused on corruption control. An act of citizen rights about open government was published, which reflected a big part of these principles as obligations for public services (OAS, 2010).
It is until the beginning of the 21st century and the end of the nineties, that the advance of society regarding the access to information, faced a great revolution: the commercialization of the large-scale Internet. During 1996 Beetham and Boyle raised the need to count on a) a free and fair electoral process; b) open, transparent, and accountable; c) the guarantee of civil and political rights and freedoms, and d) a democratic or civil society. (OAS, 2010). The publication in 2009 of the “Transparency and Open Government Memorandum” by the US President Barak Obama represents another milestone.
Through this instrument, President Obama committed his administration to obtain a level of government openness without precedents and to work hand-in-hand with society for the creation of a system of transparency, participation, and collaboration to foster public trust and the strengthening of democracy. This memo had a profound impact and echo on other democratic countries in response to the effects and consequences of the financial crisis of 2008.
In September 2011, the Open Government Partnership (OGP), which is an international voluntary effort program that aims to increase government performance, promote citizen participation, and develop government’s accountability towards citizens, started working with governments to accomplish its goals. In its first two years, OGP grew from 8 to 60 participating countries, which work along with local civil societies to develop and implement a plan for national action for open government. These national action plans include commitments to promote transparency, empower citizens, combat corruption, and take advantage of new technologies to strengthen governance (OGP, 2015). The purpose of the alliance is to Open Government, which establishes four fundamental principles: 1) Citizen participation; 2) Innovation and technology; 3) Accountability; and 4) Transparency.
3. Literature Review
3.1 Open Government
What is Open Government (GA)? According to the (INAI, 2014), it is a management model that incorporates principles, policies, or actions of transparency, access to information, accountability, citizen participation, and government co-creation, supported in ICT and aimed at achieving levels of openness and collaboration that can generate collective benefits. The Open State are all the instances that coexist within the state apparatus, including public entities, companies, organizations, and society, all of them collaborating toward the creation of open governance.
Those who apply these GA models are federal, state, and local governments, municipalities, legislative, judicial, trusts, political parties, and autonomous organs. Those who participate in these models are public institutions, companies, civil society organizations, academic institutions, and citizens in general. The Open Government, which establishes four fundamental principles, defined by the OAS (2010) are as follows:
- Citizen participation. Governments should encourage citizens to be interested and involved in public debate, providing the appropriate channels (open access to information and consultation spaces) and through innovations that lead to a more effective and responsible governance, which meets society needs. Citizen participation is a central axis to implement Open Government, along with a collaborative government and social networks tools, which are the cornerstone that allows the proximity between government and citizens, in order to develop public policies.
- Information on decisions and government work must be open, complete, timely, free, and easily accessible to the public. It assumes that public data must comply with parameters and standards commonly recognized, such as being available in raw format, susceptible of being processed, accessed through ICT tools, among others. According to this model, there are the following categories of Transparency:
- Reactive (passive), right of citizens to access public information to learn about the government’s decisions, citizens’ control, and pay accounts. (i.e., Laws of transparency and access to information)
- Active (proactive), refers to web portals with government information related to background, organisational structure, functions, and attributions about public officials or hired personnel. (i.e., Mexico´s web portals like gob.mx and datos.gob.mx), both open to the public and updated every four months.
- Collaborative refers to joint work using virtual networks, like open data portals, dashboards, and data visualization tools (i.e., gob.mx and datos.gob.mx).
- Focused, information that promotes knowledge generation that helps to improve decision making. (i.e., Transparency Portals for local authorities).
- The existence of regulations, procedures, and mechanisms for public servants to justify their decision making, in order to comply with the regulations or commitments emanated from positions. And ultimately, take responsibility for their acts or omissions, when they deviate from them. The citizen may demand the government assume its responsibility regarding their activities and to guarantee public services.
- Innovation and technology. Currently, the generally accepted idea is that government should guarantee its citizens access to the latest technologies, as well as perform a relevant role in the development of innovation, in such a way that the citizen can be empowered.
An Open Government is a government that opens its doors to the world, co-innovates with everyone, especially with citizens; shares resources that were previously jealously guarded; and harnesses the power of massive collaboration. Transparency should be visualized as a whole, it does not belong to an isolated department or jurisdiction and works as a new and genuinely integrated organization for the citizens.
Accordingly, with Open Government theory, public administration offers the probability of creating substantial benefits for citizens, such as 1) establishing a greater confidence in the government; 2) increase efficiency in the use of public resources; 3) increase access to the design of public policies to other actors; 4) promote innovation and other economic activities; and 5) increase the use of citizen knowledge (Güemes & Ramírez-Alujas, 2012).
In addition to the abovementioned benefits, it is necessary to comply with specific conditions for the Open Government to take place (Ozlak, 2013), as governments with a disposition to desist from secrecy; public officials with initiative to attend and answer responses and criticism from citizens and willingness to convene them to participate in the development of goods and services; preparation for accountability; and a management of technology to obtain of a fluid communication between the government and the citizen.
Those necessary conditions are of particular interest for this analysis since it is difficult to resolve them, given the deep digital divide that occurs among most of the rural municipalities in the country; being Guazapares no exception for this situation. This digital illiteracy includes both sides of the equation: public administration, as well as citizens. This situation prevents the appropriate implementation and exercise of Open Government strategy.
3.2 Digital Inclusion and Citizen Participation
The use of technologies established as a critical element to provide citizens with greater access to information and thus increase their participation within the models of governance. The idea of citizen participation has expanded to include both citizen’s voice, as well as their ability to influence and demand accountability from their rulers. It is then that ICTs constitute an opportunity for the citizen since they reduce the barriers to their participation.
Consequently, digital inclusion becomes relevant, being necessary to determine the extent to which citizens can access technologies that allow them to participate actively in the decision making of the government. But beyond just defining the term of digital inclusion as the set of related public policies for the development of Internet access opportunities, it is necessary to include as well, technological and information capabilities of the users. To determine what citizens can or cannot do with these technical opportunities and skills, it is necessary to evaluate the wide range of ICTs available, but include the abilities of the people as well. This refers to their capacity to transform these options into real opportunities for the achievement of their personal and work objectives, including their active participation in the civic activity of their community (Gigler & Bailur, 2014). This digitalization measures the impact on the development of a country in three dimensions: economic, social, and political. This measure must consider different aspects such as affordability, the reliability of the infrastructure, accessibility to networks, as their capacity and use; besides the preparation of human talent for the development of digital products and services (National Digital Strategy, 2013).
3.3 Enabling Factors: the Role of Intermediary Organizations
Intermediary organizations play a critical role in the process of introducing ICT to local communities. Gigler & Bailur (2014), propose to classify them in: a) technical intermediaries, who provide adequate support to neighbors in the use and adaptation of technology, come from outside the common area (i.e., Internet Service Providers, like Telmex ®); and b) social intermediaries, who belong to local institutions (i.e., school teachers or local authorities).
Traditional information systems and the “ecology of information” within the communities represent a critical factor in enabling or limiting the skills of individuals to expand their information capabilities. This theoretical framework analyzes the local social context since a common cause of failure of ICT programs is the perception of key members of the community that new technologies undermine existing information systems and that technologies challenge the role of “Knowledge agents” of community organizations. Therefore, it is indispensable to analyze the inter-relation between existing social structures and the ICT intermediation, to improve the circumstances of those who have less access to technologies. Moreover, intermediaries can identify and provide access to ICT products and services which could be adapted to the information needs of the communities, support the generation of relevant local content and continue to provide training. Frequently, Internet content does not reflect the realities of local communities, in addition to the language used, so this becomes a significant barrier to their understanding.
It was established that for the implementation of an Open Government strategy, there are different tools that involve the participation of different actors or intermediaries: 1) instruments that necessarily involve the government; 2) instruments that include the collaboration between government and actors outside the democratic institutions (civil society organizations, private sector and/or citizenship); 3) instruments that necessarily involve civil society and the citizenship (OAS, 2010).
To obtain a detail description of the situation in the municipality of Guazapares, Mexico, regarding the Open Government framework used as a reference, the following was performed:
- A review of the normative structure related to transparency and access to public information from the State-level government (Chihuahua in this case).
- An in-depth interview with the official responsible for the information access system of the Municipality of Guazapares: Iris Y. Portillo.
- Review of available indicators through the INAFED and the Superior Controllership of the State of Chihuahua, consulted online.
All of these tasks were performed from the perspective of a case study since it is appropriate to examine contemporary events within a real-life context where the researcher has little or no control (Yin, 1984). Also, a description of the current situation in the municipality in question, which includes both qualitative, as well as quantitative data.
5. Result and Discussion
Data used in this analysis was collected in 2016.
5.1 Citizen Participation: Organisms and Mechanisms
Civil Society Organizations (CSO). So far, the organization “Participación de Mexico” have made two diagnoses through the Information Unit of the City Council. Currently, the municipal organizational structure lacks an exclusive function solely oriented to empower citizen participation. The COPLADEMUN committee (Committee for Planning and Development of the Municipality, in Spanish) has not had any meeting, up until 2016. The actual mechanisms of citizen participation in the municipality are:
- Citizen comptroller, the local authority has a Complaints and Suggestions mailbox, and there is an official in charge of reviewing and following it up. There is no information system that supports this function, but there is an alternative through institutional email.
- City Council, in an open session, implemented in the annual government reports in the town public square.
- Binding councils or committees, with the participation of the local health committee.
- Social Participation Council.
- Municipal Collaboration and Development Council, works through the Civil Protection Council.
- Municipal Council for Planning and Development.
- Social Development Committees, which are the base committee of the Community Learning Center (CLC).
- Municipal Council for Sustainable Rural Development, is a collaboration between the federation in charge of SAGARPA (Secretariat of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fishing and Food, in Spanish) and the City Council.
Additionally, the Social Audit Direction, from state government, has installed a Feedback mailbox in the mayor’s office, along with the hardware and software needed to submit requests for information, via INFOMEX (federal information system). But, the municipal official, who is responsible for the mailbox and follow up requests, did not carry out this task in a proper manner, because inquiries were not reviewed by those in charge. In 2015, only eight applications were submitted. Besides, related regulations are significantly outdated, more than ten years since their last update.
At present, the municipality showed both types of transparency, according to previously established categories:1) Reactive (passive), which was found in transparency and access to information laws, through the electronic portals established for this purpose, developed by the state government, 2) Proactive (active), being this one obtained through the information application system (INFOMEX), at a federal level, where citizens can post their requests for needed information.
The only regulation established by law is the publication of Finance statements, every three months, and evaluated through the Index of Accountability (Indice de Rendicion de Cuentas, IRC in Spanish), which could be consulted on the State government web page: http://irc.auditoriachihuahua.gob.mx/municipios.aspx.
The compliance with this regulation is evaluated using a traffic-light system, where green means fully approved, yellow means partial fulfillment, and red not approved. At the moment of this analysis, Guazapares had a green code.
5.4 Innovation and Technology. Inclusion and Digital Literacy in the Municipality
In 2011, Internet coverage came through Infinitum Telmex ® for the first time to the township. At the end of that year, the open and distance learning university of Mexico (Universidad Abierta y a Distancia de Mexico, UnADM) offers online classes in collaboration with Technological University of Chihuahua. In August 2015, a collaboration agreement was signed between Guazapares and Chihuahua State Government through the Secretariat of Education, Culture and Sport for the creation of the open and distance learning university of Chihuahua (Universidad Abierta y a Distancia de Chihuahua, UDCH) for the nine municipalities located at the Copper Canyon. In May 2015, the city council requested to the Coordination of the Information and Knowledge Society and to the Ministry of Communications and Transport (SCT, in Spanish) to supply Internet, via satellite, in eleven schools away from an inhabited area.
5.4.1 Digital Inclusion Program
From the information obtained through the official in charge of the public information system (Portillo, 2016), and according to the Electronic Government Index, up to 2012, there are: 32 computers, one Internet access, one website, 18 telephone lines, and zero information procedures; which established an Index of .4021, established as an Average level of Electronic Government (INAFED, 2012).
In the municipality of Guazapares, there is a significant lack of knowledge and digital skills, in particular among school teachers. Even among teachers who are supposed to be the basis of education, their abilities in ICT were limited to basics aspects. Therefore, the municipality proposed a “Digital Inclusion” campaign, oriented toward two different sectors:
- Local government employees, with two modalities: Basic and Advanced courses, about computer utilization and the Internet, both with a 40-hour duration each. In total, 17 employees attended, for both classes.
- School Teachers: from elementary school and community leaders from CONAFE (Consejo Nacional de Fomento Educativo, in Spanish). This course had a duration of 60 hours over a four-month period from August to December. In this case, 37 people were enrolled in this course, 13 belonged to CONAFE and 11 school teachers, with a total of 24 students who completed the course. These courses included the following topics: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, the creation of email accounts, for both classes the creation of a personal blog, professional social networks, subscription to video channel, and preparation of requests for access information.
Additionally, the digital tools used for the Government-to-Citizen interaction within the municipality are:
- Institutional email, provided by the state government of Chihuahua, through the Municipal Development Directorate.
- Email accounts, each dependency of the city council has a personalized email account on the Outlook server, in such a way that each area properly manages its information,
- Web government portal (http://www.chihuahua.gob.mx/info/guazapares), also provided by the Directorate of Municipal Development which mainly contains information procedures and a small number of interactive actions.
- Transparency Portal, it has a direct link from the government website, but it is necessary to select which municipality to consult.
- INFOMEX (Sistema de Información Mexicano, in Spanish), Guazapares had a small number of information requests annually. The local Information Unit is the agency responsible for responding to citizens’ requests in an appropriate manner.
- Google+ ®, as a social network, is being used to provide citizens with real-time information and events. However, there is a lack of interest from the municipality officials to publish their projects.
SEDESOL (Secretaría de Desarrollo Social, in Spanish), at the federal level, coordinates an area of “micro-regions”, responsible for Community Centers at the state level, and for providing ICT training to citizens who attend these centers. However, even their employees cannot provide adequate training (Portillo, 2016).
From the above description, this research concludes the following:
- In the first instance, it is clear there is a lack of preparedness regarding digital inclusion in the municipality. Less than seven years ago, Guazapares received the benefit of an Internet signal, but this is only accessible in the main town, some schools, and a few households. This situation denotes a lack of digital literacy that must be addressed first to accomplish an Open Government strategy implementation successfully.
- A fundamental aspect of this digital illiteracy, derived from the same technological backwardness, is the fact that public officials and citizens, lack of the necessary knowledge to use ICT. This situation becomes an indispensable condition to attain the necessary communication between both parties (citizens and public administration). Although a basic education program has been developed for the use and application of these tools, aimed at officials and relevant members of civil society; this knowledge is still insufficient, as well as the availability of technologies to obtain a basic literacy. Not to mention not being able to enact the necessary skills to use these tools for their benefit. It is a process that requires time to reach maturity.
As established by Gigler & Bailur (2014), the participation of intermediary agents, both individuals, and civil society groups is necessary to support this transfer of knowledge to the community. These intermediary agents can be the teachers who work in the municipality and who are in charge of classrooms and have the necessary experience to teach. Digital literacy will allow the dissemination of knowledge and skills, in order to digitally integrate the municipality of Guazapares, Mexico.
As established by the theoretical framework of GA, which contemplates dimensions of Transparency, Participation / Collaboration, and Accountability, the situation of the municipality regarding these concepts is as follows:
- Transparency: through the current regulations, it is presented in its basic forms, such as laws and specific purpose portals. But even if they are regulated, they do not fulfill their purpose, so citizens do not bother to request information.
- Participation / Collaboration: although there are no bodies of councils derived from civil society, the legislation requires the creation of several committees that must be appointed, but there is no adequate follow-up to them. The same regulations that define and operates these mechanisms, is outdated, for more than ten years. The Social Participation Council is the one with the greatest number of participants.
Accountability: in the same way that transparency is passive/reactive, according to the results obtained, this condition is not satisfied in the municipality. Only what is requested by transparency law is complied with, in this case, Financial statements were published.
In general, there is little interest from citizens to get involved in the public life of the municipality. It is from this perspective that the following recommendations are made to ensure that an open government strategy is successful in this locality. These recommendations are oriented to attain a complete inclusion of Guazapares to an Open Government model, according to its dimensions of Transparency, Participation / Collaboration and Accountability:
- The development of a Digital Agenda, which defines specific objectives regarding the use of ICT within the municipality.
- Regulate teacher’s participation for the dissemination of knowledge to avoid the digital gap. They can play the role of social intermediaries and agents of change, and ultimately, bring out citizenship empowerment.
- Develop a digital platform for collaboration and citizen participation, through the most well-known social networks, that allows communication between authorities and citizens.
- Follow up on the committees established by law, which favors the formation of interest groups by civil society, which eventually can be derived from well-established bodies that fully monitor the initiatives and accountability.
- Follow up on the committees established by law, which favors the constitution of interest groups with the participation of society. These committees eventually can be derived from well-established bodies that monitor initiatives and local authorities.
- Continuous education and awareness for both municipal officials, as well as for citizens in the use of technological tools to achieve a real inclusion into digital society.
This description of the prevailing situation in the municipality of Guazapares, Mexico is similar to many other rural townships throughout the country. They require specific strategies to help integrate them into this new knowledge society. In such way, they obtain the long-awaited development of their communities which allows them to gain a government close to their people that respond in an efficient way to their particular needs.
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