BTOB: Support to Costa Rican Social Security Agency (CCSS) – 10/14 September


This mission responds to commitments UNDP made back in June (see my previous BTOB here: to support the modernization of CSSC which is under national scrutiny amid a global fiscal crisis which is also affecting Costa Rica. On 26 July CCSS sent a formal letter to UNDP San José requesting support to tackle cost and efficiency issues within the institution by supporting the strategic deployment of state of the art ICT tools and applications (the letter needs to be scanned as it was sent by fax to UNDP CR).

To start the process, UNDP has secured the services of a national expert who used to work in the public sector and led a similar execise in 2011 at the national Comptroller’s Office. UNDP also enlisted the services of an international expert who has done similar work in the region and in Southern Europe. The ToRs for the international expert, who will be in the country three weeks or so, is here: TDR-ConsultorInternacional-CR-2012; and the draft agenda for the mission can be seen here:Agenda Misión CCSS 2012-09-10.


Had separate meetings with the international consultant, UNDP CR and then the national consultant recruited to accompany the process. We then met altogether to  devise an engagement strategy. We discussed at length  process and governance issues that need to be addressed to ensure delivery at the end of the day. We are focusing on three initial deliverables:

  • Methodology for diagnostic study and engagement, including a workplan  – to be completed by end of this week
  • Diagnostic of CCSS situation in terms of services, hardware, software, business processes and people (human resources and capacity) -completed by early November
  • High-level strategy focused on why and what with a few quick wins to launch the change process  – expected to be approved by CCSS Board of Directors by end December

In terms of governance, there will be an operational team composed of the consultants engaged by UNDP and the focal point that CCSS has already appointed for the exercise. A reference/sounding board group comprised from representatives of all CCSS divisions will be nurtured and maintained throughout the process and used for consultations and discussions. The operational team will report to the management team comprised of UNDP CR governance focal point (and supported by BDP/DGG ICTD/e-governance advisor) and CCSS’ director of IT services (ITS).   The Director of the Infrastructure and Technology division (ITD) will be kept in the loop and bought in as needed and demanded by the ongoing processes.

The team should make sure that both top-down and bottom up approaches are part of the overall engagement  process. The team must also ensure that both top-level decision makers and middle managers (including non IT staff) are kept informed and are also part of the process. Communicating on and documenting the process will be undertaken by the operational team under the oversight of the management team.


The mission team meets  the Director of ITS and the General Manager of ITD, one of the six large divisions that are part of the overall internal CCSS structure.

The emphasis we put on the table is one that puts FOSS on the background and instead brings the concepts of innovation, modernization, and internal capacity building to the forefront. In the end, FOSS is just one of the enablers to promote the former. The aim here is to start breaking internal resistance within ITS who has already informed us that there are no FOSS developments in CCSS whatsoever and that previous attempts to start work on this have failed. We are also aware that the focal point CCSS has named to accompany the mission is not exactly a friend of FOSS. It is not clear to the mission why this person has thus been appointed.

I asked the head of of IT services to allocate office space for UNDP consultants and endure they have  adequate Internet access. This will become one of the ongoing issues for the mission consultants.

In the afternoon, we meet with the various groups that comprise ITD. Almost 20 people are cramped into a relatively small and windowless conference room in the basement of on of CCSS buildings. As expected, the initial reception is on the cold side and the introductory speech by the focal point does not help in changing the mood or breaking the ice. As we speak and clarify issues, the level of interest of the audience increases substantially as do the number of questions. In the end, we see that there is lots of interest by many CCSS employees to try new things and bring new cost-effective solutions to their daily work.


I meet with the National University (UNA) team what is completing the report on FOSS and public administration in Costa Rica. The latest version of the report they have prepared is here: 20120921 estudio_SL_administracion_publica_FMataenviadoRZambranodespues de reunion. We have a long discussion on the report structure. But we agreed to have the report completed by the end of this month.

I also meet with a representative from the national Digital Government programme. I am told a e-gov mission from UNDESA took place a couple of weeks ago. And they have agreed to work on issues such as indicators and capacity building among others. I focus on interoperability and institutional building while highlighting public policy issues. We agree to have a meeting with the Director of Digital Government before the end of my mission to discuss potential ares for collaboration.

In the afternoon, we have an informal meeting with one of the 9 members of CCSS Board of Directors. As we are scheduled to make a formal presentation on UNDP’s support to the board the following morning, we are seeking some intelligence from within to adjust the pitch and we aware of the internal operation of the board. The board member brings along the Director of CCSS Human Resources division (another of the  big six CCSS divisions). He tells us that they have been developing, deploying and using FOSS since 2009. Most HR applications are actually running on FOSS. He also acknowledges the fact that ITS is not directly involved in the process but that they are aware of such developments. This contradicts reports we have received from ITD, a fact that makes the board member quite unhappy. It seems clear that we are indeed facing strong resistance from ITD/ITS. There is also need to bring other divisions into the picture and liaise with them if the mission is to complete a realistic diagnostic of the status of ICTs in CCSS.

The proposal that emerged from the discussions is to suggest to the board the creation of a dedicated team of managers, innovators, techies and users to drive the process. The board however will not make such decision in the short-term.

I hear from our consultants working from CCSS that they cannot connect to the Internet. Apparently, ITS blocks all access to machines that do not use the Windows operating system. Security, we are told in no uncertain terms, is the reason for this. At this point, we do not know if we should laugh or cry (or both).


The presentation (CCSS-presentation-JuntaDirectiva-2012-09-13) to the Board of Directors goes very well. One of the board members raises issues around the impossibility of migrating of all IT services to FOSS  -we quickly clarify that thus is certainly not the objective of the initiative. My presentation was focused on innovation, modernization and internal change of CCSS, not on migrating platforms  -which in some cases can led to failure and ensuing backlash against FOSS. Other board members raise the issue of security which is the standard objection used against FOSS. We quickly address the issue and bring the cases of the White House and the US National Security Agency (NSA) both of which use FOSS platforms and technologies.

We recap in one of the small and windowless rooms ITS has provided to the mission. Connectivity is still an issue and I can’t connect either. ITS then decides to open access for the day, “breaking all of the rules of the institution” we are told.

We design and a agree on a table of contents for the diagnostic report (see One of the key issues for the mission now is to get all relevant information and data from CCSS to produce a sound report. Obstacles are on the way and need to be sorted out.

The follow-up meeting with the Director of Digital Government (DG) sort of confirms the agreement reach in the first meeting. The Director is very close to the President of the country and this provides DG with lots of space to undertake initiatives. DG has little interest in the policy and institutional aspects of e-governance and instead sees itself as an implementing flagship programmes and projects. It already has plans for becoming one of the “state enterprises” (building on an existing outfit, RACSA (, entity created back in 1920 as the national telecom operator) to achieve this goal. The issues this new outfit might face to long-term sustainability and competition with other public and private outfits who might have similar goals and can profit from them.


We spent the whole morning with the Director of HR and his very young team of developers (mostly women!). They have indeed done an impressive amount of work using FOSS and have also been careful to follow standard business practices for software development, using corporate infrastructure and hardware. HR also secures a larger room with plenty of natural light for the mission and promises to look in detail at the connectivity issue  -which again is not working at all.

In the afternoon, we sit with mission team members to discuss follow-up before my departure the next morning.We agree to prepare an online survey for all CCSS staff and organize a wide meeting with all CCSS personnel to talk about innovation and FOSS and respond to any questions user might have about the process.

The Director of HR introduces us to the head of corporate communications who is also planning to use FOSS for the official CCSS web site and has prepared a proposal in this regard to be presented to the Board next week. We are now 100% sure that FOSS is indeed alive and well in CCSS, in spite of ITD/ITS claims.

This however raises delicate political issues that the mission needs to carefully sort out. Support from UNDP CR here is critical if we are to produce a report that is evidence-based and credible to all CCSS stakeholders.

Raúl Zambrano
Senior Policy Advisor
Democratic Governance Group
Bureau for Development Policy
UNDP New York

22 September 2012

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