Congreso Visible

Quick Look

Congreso Visible is a platform for citizens to inform themselves and communicate with their representatives in Colombia's Congress.

Project Scale: 
Specific Tools: 


The University of the Andes is the leading academic institution in Colombia, with highly qualified professors and students. Its innovative project Visible Congress was started in 1998 by a group of academics and students concerned with the deteriorating performance of their Congress and its members. The Congress of Colombia consists of a 102-seat Senate, and a 166-seat Chamber of Representatives. Members of both houses are elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms. Colombian society was polarized and disenchanted by their elected politicians.

The project began with a public campaign called "Visible Candidates" which provided information about the profiles and curricula vitae of the candidates before the 1998 congressional elections. More than a decade after its creation it evolved into a watchdog of all activities related to the Colombian Congress. Its work is recognized in national and international circles as a leading model of accountability and transparency in parliament to help inform voters. Once the Congress was elected, Candidatos Visibles became Congreso Visible, an initiative to provide citizens with timely, accurate information from a non-partisan source about the Colombian Congress.

It provides information about Colombian members of the Congress,Political Parties , Legislative Activities , and it recently launched Agora Magazine a public space to inspire open debate about important matters for citizens. It includes up to 1859 profiles of members of the Congress and aspiring candidates, 5614 legislative documents and almost 1133 voting records.



What are the biggest obstacles to your success?: 

Sustaintability. After a decade of hard work and continuous learning, we believe that it is a weakness that the private sector and other institutions are not supporting our efforts. They are not aware of their social responsibility on political affairs. It is a pity to rely on the generosity of international donors and small contributions by partners on specific projects.

How do you plan on overcoming those obstacles?: 

We want to show to our donors the relevance of our work for the public good and for the future of our country. It is really hard to obtain funding, even after a decade of hard work.

What problem is your project aiming to overcome?: 

Basically we fight against obscurity and uninformed political decisions. We promote transparency and accountability in Colombia's congress and provide tools to different sectors of civil society to help them better understand the activities that take place inside Congress, and its impact on their lives. Also we want to create and promote a culture of accountability and political responsibility both from the politicians and the people who elected them.

1. We track, analyze and distribute information about the Congress and its activities.
2. We create profiles of candidates and members of the Congress to promote a responsible, informed, conscious vote among citizens.
3. We build partnerships with local actors to train them and inform them about the importance of political processes inside Congress.

What are the roots of that problem?: 

Too often authorities just don't care about real access to public information and citizens are not aware of the impacts of laws on their lives. That is why access to information is not enough, it is necessary to provide tools to help people understand the information, evaluate it and form their own opinions about the current political affairs in Congress. As a result, citizens become proactive, participative and will have arguments to demand accountability from their representatives.

Why did you personally become involved in this project?: 

I am a researcher. I just graduated from the university and one of my professors was the Director of Congreso Visible. It was inspiring for me to become a member of such successful initiative. Most of the members of the team are young but qualified professionals in different areas. We are a multi-disciplinary team.

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

Yes, we provide accessible and comprehensive information. The government does not go beyond the requirements by law, and sometimes the laws are discretionary and the information channels are too slow. Our work is helping the congress, media and politicians to improve their work, but also to interact with the people and communities they represent.

Why is the government not providing the information?: 

The law does not require the Congress to go beyond access. They do what the law orders them to do: to provide access to public information without requiring timely access in adequate formats. In the dynamics of bureaucracy it is acceptable to publish a document six months after it was produced. That is acceptable according to the law.

Also it is a problem of technical skills - or lack thereof - inside the congressional staff.

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?: 

It is transforming and improving the quality of our representatives, of the laws they approve and of the relationships between citizens and politicians. It is radically changing the congressional information system. Information per se is not relevant. It becomes relevant when we use it. Our main objective is to share information and by doing so, to empower citizens and incentivize an exchange between citizens and institutions, to build bonds between citizens and their authorities, to modernize our Congress.

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

The Congress invited us to comment on their Information System Renewal Project. They want to implement a similar system, to follow our steps. It is a recognition of our efforts and good results, and it inspired us to work harder. It is important that the Congress will improve their communication channels with citizens. It is important to provide adequate access to information that matters for them.

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

It is a full time job as a researcher together with a team of 11 peers, young professionals that are just starting their masters.

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

The value is to provide a tool to access updated, systematized and comprehensive public information. It allows citizens to easily track the activities of the members of the Congress and it is an important statistical tool to analyze data related to elections and the efficiency of the Colombian Congress.

We built engagement combining our online tools with offline activities. We facilitate workshops to educate people with our partner organizations and we also organize face to face meetings with representatives of the Congress.

How do you verify the identities of participants on your website?: does not require registration to access and download all the information on its Website. One can registry using different options such as Twitter or Facebook accounts to leave comments, write articles and other collaborative activities, but such registration is optional.

How do you attract new participants?: 

It depends and our methodologies have evolved with time but for Colombians it is attractive to read the profiles of the candidates. The interest increases when elections are close. The increase of Internet access in Colombia increased our potential followers. There are up to 9 million Facebook users. Now we are increasing the use of social networks, adapting our project to the new social networking environment. It allows our project to attract youth and students who are more engaged in our project than before.

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

It depends on the audience. The printed press has closely collaborated with us, and also radio. Social networks are playing an important role as well. Our transition to Web 2.0 tools and an interactive Website is transforming the way we communicate with citizens. Colombia has active social networks, almost 9 million users in Facebook. Virtual communities are important to spread awareness or our project. That is why we are using Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and a YouTube Channel.

What are your biggest referrers? Where does most of your traffic come from?: 

Social networks matter in Colombia. We changed the design of our website and incorporated social networks as part of our strategy to reach people.

Where is your content re-posted? What effect has that had on your project?: 

Our ideas and debates are spread via different media, not exclusively on line. Many of our team members also write for private publications and it helps to gain visibility among civil society organizations.

Has legal action been taken against your website?: 


What metrics do you use to judge your own success?: 

- Numbers of unique visitors in our website.
- Number of information requests.
- Number of contributors in our online forum.
- percentage of visited pages.
- New information available in our Website.
- Website usability.

On top of it, we built a visibility index to provide information about the number of members of the Congress engaged with our project, here you can download the most recent Index of Visibility (in Spanish).

What are the incentives to participate in your project?: 

Congreso Visible works with students as volunteers. It is an attractive experience for students of political and social science to engage in an initiative closely related with the law making process.

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

We need an expert on funding and international aid, to understand the dynamics of such complex field in order to obtain the resources we need to sustain our project. Sometimes it is really difficult for a researcher to obtain good results when applying for funding.

How do you plan on financially sustaining your project? : 

It is necessary to increase the awareness of local sectors, to increase their contributions to our projects.

What other organizations are you working with?: 

We have alliances with different organizations. Local NGOs play an important role in our project. Since 2004, they have been actively involved in training and collaboration programs. We organized meetings to connect them with their representatives in Congress, we have trained them and provide them with tools to evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of their representatives. Local NGOs went beyond the expected: they have replicated our efforts and spread our knowledge among grassroots.

Journalists from printed press and radio are important partners as well, they contribute with their information channels helping us to distribute information about our work. They also benefit from our network, a useful tool for their research and analysis that help them improve the coverage on issues related to the congress and its activities. As a result, citizens have better sources of information. Among our partners I can mention Caracol Noticias, Revista Semana, El Espectador, El País, Vanguardia Liberal, Colprensa y La Opinión.

Have you thought about developing your own tools?: 

No. Our tools are developed by Monoku

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

We are in touch with the members of the Congress and their advisors.

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


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

Yes, in fact we facilitated workshops and shared our best practices with different sectors from the civil society. Our most important achievement was the meeting we held with the Colombian Congress and their efforts to replicate and institutionalize their work based in our models.

Also we provide technical assistance to the provincial program, "Nariño Visible."

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

Further Questions

Can you describe the evolution of your adoption of ICTs and its role on your project through time?

As you can imagine, Congreso Visible and new technologies have evolved in parallel. We started with spreadsheets and PDFs. At the beginning of our project we built databases to generate reports but soon such an information architecture became obsolete; its capacity was limited to using, manipulating and distributing the information. So we move to a Web 2.0 platform and our project became an interactive platform with tools to access, share ideas and interact with members of the Congress. It changed both the visualization of data and the experience of citizens. The access to Internet in Colombia incremented exponentially our opportunities to spread our ideas and increase the public debate.

And what about Colombian citizens and the way they interact with your project?

New technologies have changed the way citizens use our website, the demographics of our visitors, and it has increased our audience. We adapted our project to take advantage of social networks, since millions of Colombians are connected and using them, especially young people.


A good example of information well contextualized

This is a good example of a project that collects a variety of sources of information and gets advantage of an interesting variety of promotion and disseminating of information. That said, it seems useful to underline one of the news the site shared: an analysis of the voter's behavior. According to an article published by the Mission of Electoral Observation, the behavior of Colombian voters changes in every election and follows the candidate strategies. This could be a good point of discussion to be included in the project. There's an interesting discussion space inside the site, with the comments, the Agora and the blogs that share information and opinion. However, some points to start the discussion around the citizen participation seems to be necessary when the changes are as remarkable as it is indicated in the article published by ( . This way, a good source of analysis around what people see in every candidate could be done, and the discussion could include also the changes of strategies based on people responses.

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