In our experience, Open Government initiatives are usually implemented firstly at national level before being applied in regions and cities. This enables to test and experiment technologies and mechanisms prior to adapt them to more local administrative scenarios. The case of Argentina is different since it is the administration of the capital, the government of the city of Buenos Aires (GCBA), which pioneers in this matter.
Gonzalo Iglesias, Chief of the Cabinet at the Open Government Directorate in the Ministry of Modernisation of Buenos Aires, welcomed us in its office. Located in the very centre of the city, the building serves also as co-working space and laboratory for experimentation on Open Data and citizen-oriented tools. The first tasks of this young and passionate team gathered two years ago were to integrate and improve the existing digital services of the different directorates of the municipality; and at the same time to conceive new mechanisms promoting transparency and empowering citizens. The launch of the Open Data platform ensuing the Open Gobernment legislative decree in 2012 has been one of the main milestones in their work and has served as reference for similar initiatives in the country, such as the city of Bahia Blanca.
The team, composed by less than 20 members, focuses its efforts on two main fronts: First, to assist the numerous municipal sections and agencies on the process of releasing Open Data. This involves sharing know-how and sometimes even advocating for the benefits of sharing public information with the citizens. In order to address these challenges, the team organises a yearly unconference called GobCamp where civil servants have the opportunity to learn and exchange in small working groups how they can make data available and develop Open Government instruments. The second focus of the Open Government Directorate’s team is to ensure that all the information being released to the public domain is actually demanded and finally used. To achieve this, two hackathons and App Challenges, open to everyone interested, have been already organised and proved to be quite successful, if you consider the impressive amount of civic apps designed so far.
Buenos Aires counts with a FOIA law since 1998, but an equivalent at the national level is still missing. However, last year, the government has committed to initiatives such as the Open Government Partnertship, created its national platform to host and offer Open Data to users for download, and even organised a hackathon to encourage developers, designers, journalists and other interested to think of ways to turn the available datasets into something valuable for the society. But the fact that Argentina is a federal republic and also that the political party ruling the nation opposes the one in the capital make a collaborative political environment difficult. A closer cooperation where everyone could learn from other’s experiences could definitely accelerate the steps towards more Open Government in Argentina.