This paper gives an overview of the state of information and communication technology (ICT)-mediated citizen participation in Brazil. Internet penetration still remains a major challenge in this country, with only around half of homes having connectivity. Opportunities to influence public policy frameworks and government strategies through the internet, or even through offline interaction, are limited. Even after the approval and implementation of the Brazilian Access to Information Act (Lei de Acesso à Informação, or LAI), which allows any citizen to make a request for government information/data through open data portals, there is a long way to go in terms of access to information. A worsening of the political and economic situation and the lack of strong institutionalisation of direct participation have contributed to the decline of participation initiatives in Brazil. In that context, the paper looks at two online consultation processes, Marco da Civil Internet and Copyright Reform, initiated by the government to understand the impact of citizen participation through technology on governance in Brazil.
As reported here, in 2009, the Brazilian Ministry of Justice partnered with an academic organisation, Center for Technology and Society, of the Getúlio Vargas Foundation (CTS/FGV), to build a platform for a public consultation about a draft bill on internet users' rights. The would-be bill was referred to as an "Internet Bill of Rights", or Marco Civil da Internet. The consultation process was considered highly innovative, nationally and abroad, and mobilised a wide range of interested sectors (corporates, government bodies, civil society, academia, individuals). A year later, the Brazilian Ministry of Culture put in place a similar process of public consultation for improving the copyright legislation, after having spent two years promoting open discussions in different cities with multiple stakeholders (a process they called Copyright Forum - Fórum de Direito Autoral). Both experiences shared the same institutional goal: to map arguments, commentaries, and insights, and use them as inputs and legitimisation strategies in the traditional lawmaking process. This case study draws a comparison between these two processes - their planning, implementation, and results.
The study concluded that ICT-mediated participation processes produce different effects from those created in traditional forms of participation. In the cases chosen for analysis, the collective construction of internet-related policies (Marco Civil da Internet and Copyright Reform) occurred on a digital platform, made available online. In the case of the Marco Civil, the Ministry of Justice chose to design an instrument that would allow social participation through the internet in order to increase the democratic character and legitimacy of the legislative process vis-a-vis social demands. The Copyright Reform, in turn, took place after the collective elaboration of Marco Civil da Internet, so the fears and insecurities regarding the effectiveness and legitimacy of the online public consultation process had been overcome. The Copyright Reform platform was ultimately built from the evaluation of positive and negative aspects of the Marco Civil consultation. The design of the participation platforms, thus, were highly relevant to determine the form of participation in both cases.
As for the consequences of the processes concerned, Marco Civil was subsequently approved by the Brazilian Congress. In contrast, the bill resulting from the public consultation on Copyright Reform was never even taken to Congress. Differences in political context, particularly, mobilisation of different stakeholders and strategies adopted, shed light on the outcomes. The political commitment to the process on the part of the public administration and unity of interests among supporters of the projects were key factors. In both cases, the online platforms made it easier to identify actors and their opinions and also enabled the overcoming of bureaucratic barriers. Moreover, the consultations allowed the organisation of civil society and the archiving of knowledge online, making it available for the construction of other legal texts.
However, as is noted here, participatory processes are experiencing a decline in Brazil. The Brazilian Congress is the most conservative since Brazilian democracy was re-established, which can jeopardise new experiences of ICT-mediated participation. In this sense, it is still uncertain whether of the state-society interaction can survive less progressive administrations.
This research brief is part of the IT-for-Change-led Voice or Chatter? - a multi-country case study analysis about how ICT-mediated citizen engagement can be empowering for citizens and transformative for democratic governance outcomes. Voice or Chatter? was funded by Making All Voices Count.
Making All Voices Count website, July 31 2017. Image credit: Netdeep Tecnologia