BTOB: Mission to Colombia 4 – 5 March

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Taking advantage of my participation in the 2013 Global MDG meeting in Bogotá, I arranged with the CO to provide policy support for the upcoming innovation center programme as well as for any other initiatives they deemed relevant.  A couple of additional items did pop up.

National Innovation Center

The Government of Colombia via the Ministry of ICTs  (MTIC, http://www.mintic.gov.co/) is contributing close to a million USD to set up  a national innovation center (for additional information see my previous blog: http://blog.raulza.me/?p=1646). The project will be supported by both UNDESA and UNDP. While the former will focus on the regional and international components (which are expected to take over 60% of the budget) UNDP has agreed to support national and local components.

The meeting with MTIC representatives focused on working arrangements. The outcomes of the meeting were the following:

  • MTIC is still finishing putting in place the internal organization and personnel that will support the center. A reshuffling inside the Ministry has delayed things a bit but now seems to have been completed. In addition, 5 additional staff including a project director and two advisers will be recruited once the project is launched. It is very clear that strengthening the internal capacity of MTIC is one of the priority goals of the project. UNDP can certainly play a key role here as it has done in many other countries.
  • MTIC now has a dedicated e-governance unit which is focusing in trying to bring together the supply of and demand for online services. For the innovation component, two groups have been created: one for tools and one for innovation design. The latter also seem to be leading the charge in terms of vision and policies.  UNDP can also be a player here nu bringing both its internal expertise on the matter as well as it international comparative knowledge and experience.
  • The draft prodoc still needs additional work. The project has 5 broad outcomes but each of them has many activities which  now need to be aggregated. In addition, responsible parties per activity are split among the three partners involved. This could complicate  project management and impact on delivery of results. UNDP recommended to MTIC to streamline project activities and distribute management responsibilities in a more structured fashion
  • Management arrangements and governance structures also need to be further elucidated in the draft prodoc which should include an organogram.  These are UNDP recommendations.
  • Resources need to be spent in the calendar year as required by the Ministry. This leaves less than 10 months for full project implementation which might be a challenge. UNDP expressed this concerned to MTIC and clarified that the ball is in their court to start work as soon as feasible.
  • UNDP does have a niche when it comes to decentralizing center activities as it has many ongoing programme activities in several departments and municipalities around the country.  MTIC is quite keen on this as they are aware that actual implementation and development impact will only happen at these levels.
  • Unlike say UNICEF innovation centers, the Colombian initiative can provide fertile ground for exploring the way in which local social innovators can partner with government entities and try to scale-up smaller initiatives, replicate them on a national level and avoid duplication of efforts and micro-pilots. This in turn can help governments (especially local) to cope more effectively with increasing demands from stakeholders to provide better services and information and be more responsive and transparent.

Support to local governments

A quick visit to Barranquilla, a city of 2 million people in the Caribbean coast of the country, to meet  with local government official and discuss potential for collaboration on ICT and e-governance was also part of the mission. UNDP is already supporting the local government in the region but ICTs have not been part of the package. Meetings with the Office of Participation of the Secretary of Government of the city (http://tinyurl.com/bdmxhqe) revealed that this team, comprised of a talented and multi-disciplinary teams of young professionals, has already undertaken innovative work using ICTs to address some of the governance challenges the city is currently facing. Working with the local Community Action Committees (Juntas de Acción Comunal, JAC), the team has been trying to promote the use of new technologies to improve the way in which JAC leaders manage local affairs, including registration for electing JAC leaders. There are 179 JACs in the city.

  • Most of the efforts of the Participation Office have been focused on Internet technologies which not readily available for most JAC constituencies and leaders who happen to be in poor neighborhoods. While ICT training of leaders is certainly more than welcome, UNDP recommended to explore the use of mobile technologies and SMS crowdsourcing to scale up efforts and increase stakeholder participation. Same goes for the existing citizen participation portal which has average success. UNDP can contribute heavily in this regard.
  • Another opportunity for UNDP support relates to the annual “accountability” day which all governments (local, regional and national) must hold according to current Colombian legislation. According to local officials, past events have just been that, events, and participation and engagement of local stakeholders is either low or uninformed. This time around it could be possible to use for example JACs and ICTs (in addition to traditional communication channels) to inform people about the issues and foster greater participation. Given that this is an official and tangible event that could have large impact if implemented properly, the opportunity is clear for both the local government and UNDP.
  • The third issue local official are facing is related to the 75 “Town Councilors” (Ediles)  which represent the 5 districts in the city. JACs and Ediles have different functions but do not connect well in many cases. Competition and rivalry among them is thus not unsual, etc. Apparently most Ediles have Facebook accounts and use mobiles but they do not directly communicate with local officials or JACs.
  • UNDP suggested to the Office of Participation to use the “accountability” day exercise to bring all these together. Working on  single and officially required target using old and new ICTs can help bring some of the actors together while at the same time foster more participation of people in governance related issues.

UNDP’s Virtual School (TVS)

Back in 2009, TVS lauched a couple of course on ICT for development and e-governance. The courses were designed by a couple of international experts who I know very well. However, DGG was not consulted on the content of the courses. While the online courses got off to a good start, today the demand for them has decreased to the point that the courses are not offer any more – and bearing in mind that the courses are fee-based). A quick look at the course contents (see http://tinyurl.com/bfy7gz3), suggests it is now dated  -while also revealing a heavy concern for the “digital divide” and little for mobile technologies.

  • While the content needs to be not only updated but thoroughly revised, it is critical that TVS also understands new e-learning models where young users might not be willing to take a 13 week course (as is th case with the current ICT offerings) but rather demand fast learning in specific issues. If anything, social networks has atomized information access and knowledge sharing thus creating a new demand for knowledge captured, organizd and presented in different fashion. 
  • It is important to distinguish here between content production and creation and its distribution and consumption. While the latter will still have to be created and maintained, the latter now has new ways of being accomplished  -and a new clientele looking for very specific content and  knowledge. Thus, the presentation and distribution methods should change accordingly.
  • Being that as it may, discussion with TVS reveal potential interest on mobiles, crowdsourcing, social innovation and social networks. DGG can benefit from this as can TVS if they can innovate in the way they deliver now traditional e-learning.

 

Raúl Zambrano
Policy Advisor
BDP/DGG
UNDP HQ
10 March 2013

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