ICTs and Local Governance in Colombia

UNDP Colombia is keen in beefing up its support to e-governance in the country by focusing on local governments – as the office has an important portfolio of projects that support local communities (see for example http://bit.ly/1fr1H0h).

At the same time, the country has a rather large and well-known Digital Government (Gobierno en Línea) initiative which started almost 10 years ago and has now become a division within the Ministry of ICT. The initiative has also been supporting local governments by providing hardware, software and connectivity among others. However,  according to the CO, its impact on the ground in terms of public service delivery and governance issues is not the one initially expected. There is thus a gap here that UNDP could help close.

In this context, I made the following proposal to the CO.

For starters, we should bear in mind that  ICTs are a transformative enablers for human development if deployed under specific conditions and contexts. There is in fact no real evidence anywhere that deploying ICTs alone can bring socio-economic and governance benefits to stakeholders, communities and people in general. ICTs are thus necessary at best but not sufficient to ensure advances in human development.

There is also  a question of measurement here. ICT indicators are usually quantitative and tend to measure access to ICTs; but they do not link to economic or governance indicators that can shed light on real impact on human development. In this light, it is thus quite feasible to have excellent ICT indicators while human development remains stagnant or can even be declining (BTW, it will be interesting to do some research on this  using UNDP HDI stats!).

Real human development takes places at the local level  and thus local governments have a key role to play here.  But many local governments face massive challenges  that prevent them to effectively tackle even the most basic gaps and priorities. Parachuting ICTs in such conditions can perhaps bring more trouble than help – as we are could in fact be adding yet another issue that local governments need to effectively manage and support.

If Gobierno en Línea is keen in supporting local governments then the first thing we need  to do  is to assess their internal situation to be able to identify core issues, critical gaps and local priorities among others. This will allow us to know local demand and help us identify ICT solutions that could be used to strengthen local governments. In other words, by knowing  local demands we can the have a customized supply of ICT (and beyond)  solutions that can potentially address local development issues  -and not just connectivity and access to ICTs. Moreover, this will enable central government, CSOs and other partners and donors to provide support to local governments based on concrete local needs -and not on universal, abstract principles.

To get to this point we can crowdsource local government demands using both online and offline (SMS) tools. In the first round, a selected number of local governments can be used to pilot the initiative as proof of concept which can then be refined and scale up.  Depending on the size of local governments, there are at least two ways this can be done. One is by having a simple survey with 20 or so issues where local governments will rank them in order of importance. The second is to use longer surveys that will allow larger local governments to specify their challenges in more direct way.

One important point which cannot be ignored is the need to also involve community members in the process. After all, while local governments are certainly aware of their own internal issues, most are not aware of the local priority  demands for services, etc. that communities need to access.

Cheers, Raúl


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