Cidade Democrática

Quick Look

Cidade Democrática is a software platform that enables Brazilians to document and discuss municipal problems and solutions.

Beginning Date: 
October 1, 2009
Annual Budget 2008: 
Annual Budget 2009: 
Annual Budget 2010: 
Project Scale: 
Specific Tools: 


Rodrigo Luna, the founder of Cidade Democrática ("Democratic City"), observed that when citizens complained about their city's problems they typically blamed those problems on "others". He realized that there was not enough communication across different demographic communities about the issues a city faces. After learning about online technologies and the possibilities of collaborative websites, he decided to create a site with the goal of being an open space so that people could point out problems, propose solutions, and generally share their opinions about their city.

In October 2009, Cidade Democrática was inaugurated by the Seva Institute, a NGO based in São Paulo, with a platform that enables citizens, organizations, and government institutions to comment on problems and propose solutions on a variety of issues related to their city.

The content published on Cidade Democrática is organized by category, user-defined tags, city, and neighborhood. Registered users can: 1) document problems and propose solutions 2) support proposals created by other users; 3) comment, question, and discuss problems and proposals; 4) publicize a proposal and/or problem by email; 5) create a profile to follow particular topics and places of interest.

There are currently 1233 registered users based in 23 of the 26 states in Brazil. According to their profiles they define themselves as: citizen (1168), conference (1), business (9), public manager (5), social movement (6), NGO (29), and parliamentarian (13).

Despite its short time of existence, the site already has already yielded some results. A discussion about the city of Jundiai, which pointed out that there was no public hearing to discuss the municipality's Master Plan led City Hall officials to schedule a public audience later this year.

In addition to enhancing functionality of the Cidade Democrática website, Luna and his team will also launch another website to discuss how the internet is being used in relation to Brazil's public sphere. Called Webcidadania ("Webcitizenship"), the site will also examine the projects Adote um vereador and Voto Consciente.



What are the biggest obstacles to your success?: 

We are proposing something innovative that is not readily understood (or accepted) by all. When one understands and accepts, goes there, and invite friends to get involved then it works. But most people think the Internet is a place for fun. Some see as a way to communicate with friends and colleagues by email and others see as a way to obtain information passively. Thus, the barrier requires a paradigm shift; cultural change for citizen participation.

How do you plan on overcoming those obstacles?: 

By working hard over the next 30 years. Writing articles, holding events in places to raise awareness, identifying critical agents of change and bringing them into the project, enhancing the tool to make it easier to use, seeking funds to help us do these things.

What problem is your project aiming to overcome?: 

Governments, companies with social responsability, NGOs and others do not have clarity about the problems that citizens face on a daily basis. Cidade Democrática enables citizens to document, support and resolve these problems. Moreover, Cidade Democrática organizes these questions by showing what happens in each city, state and neighborhood by topic.

What are the roots of that problem?: 

The origin of Brazilian State, top-down, from outside to inside. The majority of Brazilians believes that the country, the state, the city, their neighborhood, the street, the sidewalk and the bus are the responsability of other people. Brazilians wait for someone else to solve their problems. This passivity can not help us to build a country that we can live in.

Why did you personally become involved in this project?: 

Because this project has contact with my essence: family, professional history experience (experience in NGOs, governments and companies), academic history (undergraduate in bussines, specializing in administration for the third sector and master degree in public administration and government) and job.

Are you providing unofficial channels of information that should be provided by the government?: 

I think, but I am not sure. I think this channel should exists (which is why I made Cidade Democrática), but I believe that it should necessarily be provided by governments. Certainly, without these channels it is not possible to govern. But Cidade Democrática concentrates society, including workers, students, entrepeneurs, leaders and others.

Is there a freedom of information law in the country where this project is based?: 
Is there a right to information law in the country where this project is based?: 
How does the information published on your website turn into offline change?: 

This information allows citizens and organizations to recognize problems and solutions from their own points of view. On the site it is possible turn this information into a proposal (build more parks, for an example) or in a region (Bahia, Salvador or Manaus, for an example) in as it relates to a particular theme (health and pollution, for an example) or any combination of themes and regions (pollution in São Paulo). Thus, anyone, I, you, the governor or a local business, can think ways to get involved in solving these issues.

What is an example of how information on your website has led to a concrete change?: 

I have four examples in Jundiaí, a countryside city in the state of São Paulo.

1) the first one is the creation of a bicycle master plan. Local residents had the support of 70 members on the website. The town deputy, Peter Bigard, then promised to allocate $200,000 for the construction of bicycle paths.

2) Another proposal on the website that was strongly supported asked that the city change its schedule of public hearings, which is currently held in the morning and thus prevents the public participation of workers and students. With the support of various movements, officials are now considering changing the schedule.

3) Another project, presented by Alderman Sergio Paulo Martins, was to make mandatory an open vote in the case of vetoes made by the mayor, which would make the actions of the city council more transparent. The bill has been approved and the measure is already being enforced.

4) Finally, there was a complaint on the website by residents of Jundiaí to protest the lack of a public hearing for consideration of the city's Master Plan. After the presentation of the proposed site, a hearing was scheduled for February and now they are collecting signatures for a second hearing to take place.

How many people work on your project?: 
How many hours a week do you personally spend on the project?: 

About 45 hours.

How many hours does the whole team spend on the project?: 

124 hours per week.

What are the most time consuming tasks?: 

The development of the tool, and then follow-up activities on the website (content mediation, etc.) Developing partnerships and seeking funding partners. Online publicity (through social networks) and offline (meetings, lectures, events and others).

How do you extract value from large amounts of data? How do you build engagement around it?: 

We use the concept of web 2.0 where people create content and allow these contributions to be seen and noticed how the user wants (different types of content in the portal). Soon, we will have an open API (application interfaces) so that other developers can have access to the portal's content, access information, and build their own reports and research.

How do you verify the identities of participants on your website?: 

Through consultation by e-mail address, telephone information or using the network of friends and others who are present in the same territory. I found that only users with different profiles (parliamentary, business, NGOs and others).

How do you attract new participants?: 

The tool has features, which invite others to support an idea via email. Moreover, we use social networks and we do outreach events and use public relations.

What has been the most effective method of spreading awareness about your project?: 

In mass media - we had the opportunity to be on the radio.

What are the incentives to participate in your project?: 

Resolving problems faced daily and to get credited for the ideas. Also to become a person who is consulted about a particular subject in a given territory.

What skills and expertise would be of assistance to your project?: 

Ability to develop devices for linking social networks, knowledge management for distribution and collaboration.

How do you plan on financially sustaining your project? : 

Through sponsorship from companies, foundations, and institutes that are interested in the project. Also through the sale of services to promote citizen participation, map social networks, human networks and stakeholders.

What other organizations are you working with?: 

Yes. We had been worked with MOB that maps networks, with the aid which helps us in the business and partnerships with companies. We also worked with NEX that offered us some of the development services voluntarily, and with the Institute Seva that brings much of their knowledge to think of solutions to the issues we are facing. Also with the ELOS Office that helps us with our hands-on methodology, and with the Vote Aware Movement that also helps us with our methods. Finally, with the Citizenship Forum to mobilize local groups. Also many others whom we are approaching.

Have you thought about developing your own tools?: 

We already have done that.

Has there been any communication between your project and government officials?: 

Yes. We have some council members as registered members. We talked with many people in Sao Paulo, Minas Gerais, Brasilia and others regions of Brazil on ways to encourage participation in public initiatives. We are supported by CEPAM that, in Sao Paulo, provides consulting services for municipalities and is helping us to reach them. We are very open and want to work collaboratively with the government.

Are there any legal obstacles to your work? Any laws that should be changed?: 

It is important that there is more freedom for politicians, public officials, candidates and others to work on the internet to say what they think and do, and to learn more about the needs of ordinary people. This, in our opinion, should be encouraged and not regulated.

Have there been any attempts to replicate your work elsewhere?: 

We have been talking with several organisations from Argentina. Our project can be easily setup in any country of the world.

What other projects in your region should we know about?: 

There are other projects that are within what we call webcidadania, or "web citizenship": Conscientious Vote, Adopt an Alderman, Vote Web, Urbanias, Pirate Party, Adopt a City Council Member, and others who work with government like Network 2.0 CIM and Web MG.

If someone gave you $30,000 how would you use the money?: 

I would create more awareness about the project in the periphery of Sao Paulo and the countryside. I would use a small part to develop logo and visual identity for the portal.

What are your plans for 2010 and 2011?: 

In these two years, we are in the consolidation phase of the portal. We have to expand the number of subscribers to 5 thousand by May 2010 (difficult to estimate so far because our strategies change much according to our learning along the way). Up until July, we will complete development of the features we consider essential (search engine, widgets for other social networks like Ning, including all districts of the 5564 Brazilian municipalities in our database, creating space for users to publicize their events associated with areas and topics, geo-location of the issues, creating a graph that shows the communities of collaboration on the portal and other minor details. In 2011 we aim to implement the platform in Argentina and other countries in South America and the Caribbean.


Great project; needs only a few adaptations

Cidade Democratica is a very good idea. Its webpage is simple and intuitive. The concept of the project and its implementation are simple and pratical, like all great ideas. Cidade Democratica uses digital tools to gather people, collect impressions from them and classify what they are saying. And that's the strength of the project: connect people with similar ideas in order to create advocacy groups.
However, I feel that Cidade Democratica can do more out of its webpage so as to form stronger and more active advocacy groups. To me, the problem of the webpage is that it's too open and lacks some guidances. I sure like open platforms, but sometimes your gains in scale does not make up to your focus. My point is that when you allow everything and offer no guidances, you sometimes lose focus. And when the objective is to create advocacy groups, one must have focus. I believe the project is going to be even more successful if it manages to guide people's energy whenever a topic emerges. When someone says that there's too many plastic bags in the world and this problem gets a considerable number of supporters, the project should incentive this group by guiding them towards a more concrete and tangible object. My example was based on a real problem appointed: "Too many plastic bags in the world" (yes, in the world) is the third most supported problem appointed within the theme "environment". If the project does not point out a tangible problem (e.g. "supermarkets use too many plastic bags"), one cannot think of a serious proposal for that problem. Of course, this does not mean the project should guide people's contributions from the very beggining. I believe the guidance should appear only when some vague problem (or solution) becomes popular. In sum, I believe Cidade Democratic should think of ways of transforming vague topics into something concrete. After all, it may not be a coincidence that the success cases mentioned by the founder of the project are as specific as a bicycle master plan.
Another problem I feel is one that is always found in Internet-based project: as the people who participate are the ones with Internet access - which means middle-class or very rich people -, problems concerning poor people rarely shows up. Sanitation, for example, is a huge Brazilian problem, but it does not appear in the tag clouds. It is so because people with Internet access do not have problems with sanitation. Fortunately, the founder of the Cidade Democratica explained he intends to expand awareness of the project towards poor parts of the cities. That's great news, because only by including vulnerable groups in the project, their issues will be seriously considered.

Thank you Fabiano!

Hi, Fabiano! Thank you for the excelent feedback! We are already concerned about some of the issues you have pointed. It would be great to work closer to you and learn more form your experience. Also, we are looking for people who could help us in the development of the tool (Ruby on Rails) in a voluntary basis. If you know someone who fits this profile, please, put them in contact with us ( Thanks again! Cheers! Rodrigo

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