Congresso Aberto

Quick Look

Congresso Aberto tracks, visualizes, and analyzes official data from Brazil's Congress.

Beginning Date: 
July 1, 2009
Annual Budget 2009: 
Annual Budget 2010: 
Project Scale: 
Types of Tools: 
Specific Tools: 


Two Brazilian political scientists, César Zucco and Eduardo Leoni, who research Brazil's Congress and political elections, realized they were both looking for the same information about the politicians and were duplicating their work. The two researchers joined efforts and centralized the information on a single platform, making it available to any person interested in using this data. In addition, they wanted to make sure the website had an accessible format, where the data could be easily discovered, and that it automatically generate basic statistics on the data available.

In 2009, they created the site Congresso Aberto (“Open Congress”). The objective is to provide official data in a more accessible way to promote more transparency in Brazilian Congress. It also includes academic research and basic statistics about the behavior of politicians, such as the politicians’ voting records. Congresso Aberto was modeled on two other international websites: Open Congress (United States) and Vote Watch (European Union).

The site is maintained by volunteers, especially Zucco and Leoni. It contains: 1) data and analysis about Brazilian Congress such as elections, politician’s voting, politician's absence, research on the behavior of politicians and others; 2) profiles and information about Brazilian politicians; 3) information about Brazilian political parties; 4) proposed bills and legislation. The information comes from official sites of Brazilian Congress. The updates and statistics on the site are automated.

The founders have two problems to support Congresso Aberto: 1) updating the site because the access to data is not centralized on the congressional website and 2) financing. Zucco says, “We have to search the information in all government’s sites. We hope when Brazil has a Government Information Law, we can more easily access the data that we need. Our idea is that the basic activities of the site will be automatic and nobody will need to update it. Our effort would be in favor of increasing the amount of information and improve analysis in Congresso Aberto.”


What are the biggest obstacles to your success?: 

We need some institutional support to create a fixed frame of contributors, and get direct access to the bases of the Câmara dos Deputados (Chamber of Deputies).

How do you plan on overcoming those obstacles?: 

We invested some time in recent months looking for institutional support, and closed an agreement to incorporate the CongressoAberto in a project maintained by the Legislative Studies Cebrap and funded by FAPESP, both instutions from São Paulo, but the first is a civil association and the second one is a state governamental fund for scientific projects. If the project is approved, CongressoAberto enter into a new phase from mid 2010. With the institutional bond, will plead direct access to the bases of the Brazilian Congress.

What problem is your project aiming to overcome?: 

The objectives are to analyze and disseminate information related to Brazilian Congress, including the conduct of parliamentary, electoral data, campaign contributions, so our problem is that data of Brazilian Congress could not be be easily understood by the general public.

What are the roots of that problem?: 

Government information is often complex and the data, which are available, is not very accessible.

Why did you personally become involved in this project?: 

For personal interest and professional interest too.

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

We do not believe the government should provide information previously analyzed and ready for general consumption. The main reason is that to delegate the government the task of providing information analysis implies the decision about what is important to analyze and how the data should be disclosed. So, to maintain independence, these decisions must be taken by civil society. The government's role should be to facilitate access to raw data that are produced and stored by the government in the normal performance of their duties. With ample access to these data by groups and individuals interests, society itself can decide what should be disclosed, and how this should be done.

Why is the government not providing the information?: 

The government "provides" this information through various channels. We would like to get access to more data the government already owns, but which cannot be franchised. And also we would like to have access to data that are already public in structured format, without having to resort to web scraping. We believe that the government does not allow more direct access to its databases for security concerns that could be easily solved.

Is there a freedom of information law in the country where this project is based?: 
What is an example of how information on your website has led to a concrete change?: 

Our site is relatively new and small. Not enough time has gone by to measure impact. With the project's expansion next year we believe we will have a greater impact, mainly on the 2010 election.

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

For about two months we are dedicated enough to the project, but in recent months the project has been run more or less automatically, with some corrections and adjustments are needed.

What are the most time consuming tasks?: 

The project design was made for the maintenance of what is consuming almost no time. We would like to expand the project, but the expansion would consume more time and resources we can invest at this time.

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

We sought to summarize large amounts of data in indexes, figures and rankings of understanding easier and faster.

How do you attract new participants?: 

We do not have a more aggressive strategy at the moment for lack of resources

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

We do not know.

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

We need a programmer who is experienced with web and sql, one or two researchers with knowledge of the Congress and someone to perform the function of blogger.

How do you plan on financially sustaining your project? : 

Through funding from any international institution or government.

Have you thought about developing your own tools?: 

Most part of CongressoAberto was developed by us, using existing platforms.

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

Informally, we have had contacts with various officials of the Brazilian Congress and Brazilian electoral organizations. But nothing at the institutional level.

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

The proposed law on access to information would facilitate our work, but there have been no legal obstacles to the project.

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

We would hire a programmer and a web-designer to professionalize the presentation of the site and consolidate the various routines and functions that we created quite amateur. We'd also like to bring on a blogger to summarize and distribute information from the site.

What are your plans for 2010 and 2011?: 

Making Congresso Aberto sustainable, with increased staff and linking to some institutions whose goals are compatible with ours.



Congresso Aberto is a very interesting project because it does not rely on opinions. Sure, it’s nice to collect opinions but sometimes it’s better to have empirical analysis. Instead of asking people what they think, the coordinators of the project use government data (data from Brazilian House of Representatives) to show how the representatives vote and other information concerning their activity. And, by analyzing the data, the founders of the project, who are political scientists, offer high quality in-depth studies on the behavior of the politicians and their political parties.
However, the strong point of the project is, at the same time, its weakness: I believe the project, at the present stage, is too scientific and too sophisticated. As there’s a great number of illiterate Brazilians (according to a survey released last year, 28% of Brazilians are illiterate in practice whereas only 25% are fully educated), the rich information offered by Congresso Aberto is hugely ignored and/or underused.
I’m glad to hear Congresso Aberto is about to gain institutional support and it’s good news the project intends to hire a blogger. Nevertheless, I believe a blogger won’t be enough.
I might be mistaken, but I feel the project won’t reach popularity and leverage citizens’ consciousness about the parliamentarians’ activities by only having a blog “translate” the statistical analyses. Perhaps the project will need to train citizen journalists or something like that in order to reach its goal. I hope the institutions which will likely support the project have this in mind. It would be great to consider and implement training strategies because the project is awesome and more people need to get in touch with the findings of Congresso Aberto.

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