Managing the Shift Towards Transparency: CIC Experiences Open Data in Mexico

Customer: Citizen Integration Center (CIC) | Site: data.cic.mx

When Mexico announced its National Digital Strategy, the Citizen Integration Center (CIC) -- a non-profit organization in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon -- heeded the call by launching its open data portal, data.cic.mx. The portal hosted in Amazon Web Services (AWS) a growing number of datasets from sources such as government, academia, and other non-profit organizations. All the datasets are easily accessible, machine-readable, and cover topics from crime incidents to socioeconomic and geography stats, to public finances.

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So, how did CIC go from having no open data platform to being the open data authority in Monterrey? “We leverage technologies that facilitates citizens’ reporting, then we wanted to provide citizens with official data and a platform to help them interact with that data,” says Jesús Cepeda, Director of Technology at CIC. “We weighed the option of creating something of our own development, exploring what we might be able to do with other available alternatives. Later, we realized we don’t have a full staff of developers at CIC and we need more hands-on expertise than they can provide.”

CIC began to explore options for a full service platform, ultimately landing on Socrata. “We engaged with the Socrata Mexico team supported by Socrata's lead Pilar Wienke from Headquarters. Pilar was instrumental in modelling a solution that will fit our budget constraints and could help us support our initiatives”- he explained. “By using a tool created for us in beta,” he continues, “we were given the opportunity to work with Socrata in an affordable way without a full staff of developers.”

Still, CIC had the challenge of getting other department leaders on board with the new open data portal plan.

Leadership Buy-In

As an organization, CIC seeks to promote the clear, reliable, and free flow of information between citizens and government in the metropolitan area of Monterrey. As part of that goal, they are adopting technologies that enable citizens to voice concerns, submit proposals, and gather support for the community’s most pressing needs. To meet these goals, CIC was motivated to implement the open data portal as quickly as possible. “We had to make others understand that sharing data via a PDF isn’t transparent. Citizens must be able to interact with the data for it to be helpful. The real challenge was convincing departments the need to clean up their data and to format it as .csv or Excel file before sharing it to citizens,” explains Cepeda. Once the departments got on board, they began to change the way they uploaded files. As a result, CIC was able to foster an ecosystem with machine-readable formats helping promote digitalization and open data with both, citizens and government.

To achieve this, Cepeda and his team had to evangelize local authorities on the advantages of open data. “We made examples, teaching them to use their own data, helping them see how we could use that information. Once they saw what  they could do, they were motivated to provide the information we requested.”

Goals and Implementation

The first goal CIC set was to gather the most important, dramatic, or useful datasets, and use those in the platform. They wanted to create visualizations and help citizens understand the reality of the platform. “We focused on visualizations around money,” explains Cepeda.“ We are giving citizens a big picture of where money is being spent, where the real problems are, and how they can see if this is coherent” he finishes. Using data to follow money is typically a good strategy in transparent government. You can use the money datasets for a number of different issues, from services to crime, corruption to salaries, and even open a path towards participatory budgeting.

The second goal CIC set was around data journalism. “When you make data available for journalists, they become data journalists. Using the platform, they can develop better arguments and information for newspapers,websites, and even on the streets,” Cepeda says. To accomplish this, CIC co-organizes ‘data expeditions’ with like-minded organizations and hosts seminars with journalists aimed at teaching them how to use the available datasets at data.cic.mx to support their efforts to conduct investigative journalism.

Because of the energy and commitment at CIC, implementation was quick. After the first conversations with Socrata, Cepeda began working with Darrell Cabales, Customer Implementation Manager. Twenty days later, CIC’s portal was up and running. “We had a great relationship with Darrell,” says Cepeda. “With his help, and our partner here, who is a developer, we were able to launch our site quickly and easily.” What advice would Cepeda give to other organizations looking for rapid implementation of an open data portal? “Try to find one developer and one person who is familiar with open data, then pair that team with Socrata. It will help you move efficiently without the need of a large development team.”

The Next Steps of Openness in Mexico

By launching data.cic.mx, CIC hopes to nurture a community of researchers, government officials, civic hackers, and data journalists who will use the datasets as a basis to support research, inform public policy, and aid government decision making. As Cepeda explains, data.cic.mx is only the beginning of their effort to establish open and collaborative citizen engagement. That is why they launched the portal with an open invitation to citizens and other institutions: upload your data, explore the available,  and become part of the solution.

So what’s next? “We are preparing to have performance measurements that enable government to set goals and track progress for daily issues such as car accidents, traffic, and even crime. We are thinking of Socrata’s Open Performance solution to enable a dashboard to evaluate government performance publicly,”  says Cepeda. Also, “Pilar is helping us get to the next level of the maturity of the platform to improve outcomes with our current datasets,” shares Cepeda. Over the next few years, CIC aims to help Mexican authorities transition to a smarter and more efficient model of government. Simply put, CIC will enable every citizen to understand, in a simple way, what their government is doing for them and what they can do to help.

Overall, Cepeda is encouraged and excited on what the future beholds. "It is government’s responsibility to give citizens structured data and the tools to exploit it. Socrata, undoubtedly, has helped us to implement these strategies in a quick and easy way, leveraging our efforts towards becoming a smarter and more open city," he concludes.

The portal is hosted in Amazon Web Services (AWS).