Case Study: Peru (2011-2013) “Building a Digital Democracy Network in Peru”

Location

The Digital Democracy Network (DDN) project in Peru was an initiative of the Sixth Summit of Ex-Presidents of Latin American and the Caribbean, and was intended as a pilot project to evaluate methodologies and identify barriers to effectiveness for future digital democracy projects in the region (CGDD, 2013). The project spanned from April 1st, 2011 to March 31st, 2013, and was partially funded by the United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF) and partially funded and executed by the Global Center for Development and Democracy. The initiative took place in the Peruvian districts Villa María del Triunfo (VMT) and Villa El Salvador (VES), and aimed to empower citizens to engage in the democratic process in Peru and exercise their rights through technology-based platforms for government-citizen communication (CGDD, n.d.).

Background

With a unique relationship to colonial rule, Peru’s institutions grew in unusual ways which it’s democracy still struggles to improve. Peruvian governance grapples with widespread corruption and distrust of local government officials, flawed decentralization of power since 2002, and the tension of transitioning institutions (CGDD, 2013). Both the district VMT and VES face these overarching problems, but additionally encounter further problems of incredible poverty and fragmented political organization (CGDD, 2013). Regional experiences offer insight into potential causes and frame the Peruvian experience. Finally, key actors and initial strengths and weaknesses in the area offer context into the challenges to implementation of the project.

History, Causes and Current Context

Three main themes present as symptoms of democratic weakness in Peru. The widespread corruption and distrust of government, flawed decentralization of power, and transitioning institutions all encourage political fragmentation, corruption, and ineffective governance. The project aims to improve democracy through the digital democracy network, which will minimize these symptoms and strengthen the relationships between district leaders and social organizations.

Widespread Corruption and Distrust of government

Throughout Peru, citizens cry out against corruption at both the national and the local level. Corruption is especially bad at the local level where corruption floods all levels from administration, to police officers  (The Economist, 2014). In 2014, 22 out of 25 regional presidents were invested for embezzlement  (The Economist, 2014). Furthermore, there is immense apathy that nothing will change if corruption is reported becuause of its pervasiveness. 90% of citizens do not report graft because they don’t have faith in the government to respond with appropriate change  (The Economist, 2013). In areas like VES and VMT, this process can take a significant amount of time that citizens are unable to sacrifice. The corruption facilitates a lack of trust and skepticism of legitimacy that is seen in the recalls of many elected officials throughout the districts, preventing efficient administration.

Flawed Decentralization of Power

The Flawed decentralization of power in Peru has created an overabundance of administrative zones and positions with not enough qualified government officials to serve (The Economist, 2014). This significant duplication of administrative regions, with 25 regions, 196 provinces, and 1846 municipalities has prevented the accountability of officials by obscuring and complicating oversight and reporting (The Economist, 2014). Many policymakers emphasize the need for increased power of municipal governments, but fail to realize that in many rural areas there is not trained leadership to assume such responsibility. In mining regions, huge booms in tax revenue and increased power to municipal governments have increased corruption and misuse of revenue as well as encouraging relationships between government officials and organized crime and major drug trade players (The Economist, 2014). Furthermore, the regional governments are not reflective of national politics, and are generally run by leaders of local movements (The Economist, 2014). During the recent years of economic boom, citizens were not as concerned with poor and corrupt administration; however, now that the economy has slowed, regions are witnessing condemnation of corrupt officials and movement towards populism that is a symptom of Peru’s weak democracy.

Transitioning Institutions

During Peru’s ascendance to democracy, local grassroots social organizations played a pivotal role and ruled regional districts (CGDD, 2013). However, as recent economic growth and improved social conditions strengthened municipal governments, social organizations have struggled to redefine their purpose, creating tension and unrest (CGDD, 2013). Just as there is an overabundance of administrative levels and regions, in these municipalities there is also an overabundance of social organizations that fail to consolidate politically except in critique of the government elect (CGDD, 2013). In 2010, one municipal government was only elected with 20% of the vote, and widely critized for a lack of representation and legitimacy by social organizations  (CGDD, 2013). While this is a typical democratic breakdown in areas with weak political parties and low participation, social organizations have the power to increase representation and ultimately social and economic development through consolidation.

Villa María del Triunfo

Villa María del Triunfo is the 6th most populous district in Metropolitan Lima, but 27% of its citizens live in poverty and 30% of households are single parent homes led by women (CGDD, 2013). The district is broken down into 7 sectors because of it’s complicated geographic landscape that inhibits effective governance but further decentralizes power (CGDD, 2013). Like the majority of districts in Peru, VMT enjoyed major economic improvements between 2003 to 2013, especially with growth in the service industry (CGDD, 2013). With the improved economic growth came significant growth in internet infrastructure and accessibility, so that 24% of new establishments were internet booths where individuals can pay 1 peruvian sol per hour of internet access they need (CGDD, 2013). This time period also witness an increase in informal internet sublets, and increase in the percentage of organization leaders who have both an email account and some internet service to 51% (CGDD, 2013). While these improvements reflect an increase in digital accessibility and potentially literacy, they do not reflect an increase in digital governance because they are genereally used for finding information and communicating  (CGDD, 2013). That being said, the government does have a digital portal with information and interactive pages to increase transparency and facilitate more efficient administration (CGDD, 2013). VMT suffers from the same representation and legitimacy issues that face other districts due to the plethora of political candidats but lack of political organization and collaboration. The losing candidates in VMT over the last election consolidated in opposition to the election, and gained enough support to initiate a recall (CGDD, 2013). The recall both inhibits effective administration and the ability to appropriately address citizen needs as well as highlight the way that political candidates are unable to consolidate for the election but can in protest of the results, which perpetuates fragmentation and poor governance.

Villa El Salvador

Slightly larger than VMT, VES has 381,790 residents of which 21% live in poverty (CGDD, 2013). While it has greater digital literacy than VMT and a growing internet penetration, VES contains poor mechanisms for dialogue, so when they fail, citizens protest through marches, memorials, vigils, or like in VMT, a recall of the mayor (CGDD, 2013). The district has two methods to request information: a form online or a physical queue. Because the online information request form gives slow responses, dated and complicated information, and are difficult to navigate and understand due to insufficient digital literacy, social organization leaders instead resort to the traditional queuing (CGDD, 2013). Even though queuing can take months longer with hours spent waiting in line as well as the cost of the paperwork process, leaders still believe that it is more effective than using information and communication technology (ICT) (CGDD, 2013). VES also struggles with improving government portal use because of the tradition and formality of personal interaction, telephone calls, and paperwork to communicate and collaborate with the government (CGDD, 2013). Furthermore, municipal officials have minimal knowledge of ICT because of the significant turnover and inconvenience of training (CGDD, 2013). While some officials were trained 2 years ago, only 10% remain in their position, and the majority of stable officials have no training in ICT (CGDD, 2013). This reluctance to use digital tools to improve democracy perpetuates the same situation of low representation and minimal consolidation of many social organizations. To help address this problem, VES adopted characteristics of community self-management: a council to coordinate between the municipal government and social organization leaders, and a participatory budget, which citizens vote on (CGDD, 2013). While these are important ways to incorporate organizational leadership into government planning, the council is solely an advisory board, and the participatory budget has extremely low levels of voters participating. These initiatives do reflect the strength of VES at the start of the project, which include the will of social organizations to improve governance through ICT, and the willingness of the local government to improve administration through virtual processes (CGDD, 2013). However, the conditions of low knowledge, fear of use, reliance on tradition, and high turnover present as serious obstacles for digital democracy programs (CGDD, 2013).

Geopolitical Context

Over the last 20 years there has been enormous growth in the information society and gains in technological innovation, which have profound impacts on governance (Red Democrácia Digital, 2011). In an effort to generate digital culture and growth, neighboring countries such as Chile have created foundations that aim to connect governments, businesses and citizens through digital communities (País Digital, n.d.). Not only do these foundations offer insight into the impact of digital connections, but they also offer expanded networks. Within Peru, there are many lessons that can be taken from comparing regional areas, including that only large municipalities performed well in tackling issues of health and education over the recent decade (The Economist, 2014). However, everywhere suffers from the same low participation and representation and “high density of social organizations” desperately trying to redefine themselves in an era of growth (CGDD, 2013).

Motivations and Objectives

Overarching Goals

The project aims to utilize technology in order to develop a platform for communication among government administration and social organizations, in order to empower them as citizens to engage in the political process and exercise their rights (CGDD, 2013). More specifically, the project will amplify the voice of the marginalized members of VES and VMT, cultivate educational media for digital literacy, democracy, and equity, and generate economic growth through increased efficiency and improved networks (Aguilar & Guevara, 2014). This digital platform is a unique way to address the problems facing both municipal governments of legitimacy and representation as well as help redefine the role of social organizations and encourage collaboration through spaces for “citizen participation, advocacy, multiplication of business and global enterprises, democratization of political decisions, and knowledge generation” (Red Democrácia Digital, 2011).

Tangible Initiatives

The immediate goal of the program is to create ICT centers where social organization leaders can learn to use technology to “participate in digital governance processes” and “increase civilian monitoring” (CGDD, 2013). By learning digital literacy and democracy, leaders can fight corruption and improve institutions, effectively repurposing themselves in the new era of growth. The program also intends to provide software tools free of charge to citizens, so that they are able to utilize their knowledge to consolidate their organizations, and potentially collaborate with other organizations to combine political support.

Methodology

Strategy

1)The Center for Global Democracy and Development first surveyed the level of use of ICT for democracy and governance, emphasizing the demands of users and potential issues for trainings (CGDD, 2013).

2)They then identified social organizations to collaborate with, though the government’s Single Register of Social organizations, and reached out to them in order to establish institutional alliances with organization leaders and members (CGDD, 2013). These alliances were key to the sustainability of the project, because these organizations would take over the centers after the completion of the project.

3)The CGDD then identified safe locations and institutions to house the centers. In VMT, they worked with the municipal government, who assumed the payment service for power, internet and helped procure a safe location next to the police station (CGDD, 2013). In VES the CGDD partnered with Untecs, a local university, instead of the municipality because of the election recall. Like in VMT, Untecs also assumed responsibility to provide internet, power and safety (CGDD, 2013).

4)The CGDD then installed the centers, each containing 20 computers, video conferencing capabilities, and comfortable furniture, and began designing and installing the computer platform (CGDD, 2013). They chose to use a free software that allows content management through a web portal, supports community discussion sites, open source coding and page generation, and a platform for online tutorial pages (CGDD, 2013). Ultimately the online tutorials were to educate on topics like news publication, blogging, business comunities, distance education, social networks, and conferences. The centers provided access to the portal through cell phones as well as the virtual classroom space.

5)After the launch of the center, CGDD was able to offer free access, and obtain real time focus groups and surveys of the experience to recognize demands for trainings in areas like radio broadcasting.

6)Next, they implemented the program outlined in the original design, drawing representatives from social grassroots organizations in each district to participate in two short courses over a two-month period. The first course established a basic digital literacy, developed skills in data use, and had 64% attendance (CGDD, 2013). It spanned topics from basic computer understanding to word processing and finally internet use. The second course used the skills developed in the first to establish an understanding of how to utilize digital literacy to promote democracy and equity, broken down into two modules. The first covered what is digital democracy, how it relates to the government, and understanding social and community networks, and the second focused on policy, gender progress, and prevention of violence against women through digital equity (CGDD, 2013). While this course only had 36% attendance of the representatives, the total from both courses was 623 leaders trained (CGDD, 2013).

7)The final step was to evaluate the methodolgy used, as required by the UNDEF grant provided.

Moving Forward and Evaluation

Moving forward, the centers transitioned to the local institutional alliance established early on in the project. VES organized a “consortium” of local organizations to collaborate in order to keep the center running, and both districts opened the possibility of training more municipality workers or offer shorter refresher courses to increase the government’s digital literacy at all levels. However, now they charge 10 Peruvian sols for participation in the courses in order to cover costs of coordination (CGDD, 2013).

The UNDEF evaluation report found the project to be relevant, partially effective, mostly efficient with respect to spending, of significant impact, generally sustainable, and having added value (Aguilar & Guevara, 2014). While the project did not meet its last three objectives, the evaluators recognized that this was from both lack of time, but also lack of prioritization. Based on the surveys from representatives, the project had a significant impact on digital literacy, which in turn should further digital democracy. Some issues with sustainability will need to be addressed, but overall the alliance system with Untecs and the municipal government will enable the project to continue.

Results

Impact

The project resulted in greater penetration of new technologies, but found that leaders to not make good use of them for democratic and governance goals (CGDD, 2013). The project uncovered important demographic gaps through the initial diagnosis that are addressed within the project and through its continuation (CGDD, 2013).

1)Generational gap between the young and old in knowledge of technologies

2)Gender gap: high concentration of women in social organizations but the disproportionately use less technology

3)Gap in access to available computer services, partially because of low demand

After the project, the CGDD identified some key points from the experience:

1)81% of graduates were leaders in a neighborhood organization

2)Attendees surveyed recognized an increase in their use of internet and email

3)One course was not enough to ensure use of ICT

4)An increase in communication to congress via email

5)Changes in the management of social activities

6)The reliance of direct contact for internal communications because only some leaders have been trained

7)Progress emphasized people and not institutions

Overall, the demonstrated effect of the project can be seen through the high demand for programs at the center for courses in graphic design and personalized teaching for women, as well as the increase in dialogue between local organizations and governments (CGDD, 2013). In its evaluation, UNDEF found that the project “laid foundations for tackling the issue of digital governance and democracy”, “helped reduce the gender and generation gap”, and empowered local organizations (Aguilar & Guevara, 2014).

Lessons Learned

The main lesson learned was that the design of the project underestimated the extent of digital literacy training necessary to effectively educate about digital democracy (CGDD, 2013). Through improvement in the design of courses, monitoring mechanisms, and virtual platform, the centers could effectively and more efficiently address the prerequisite for digital literacy (CGDD, 2013). An important aspect of the program is that there still remains the physical structure with the ability to implement better designed programs. However, it is not clear how much the center is in use, because when contacted for an interview there was no response.

Recommendations

There are several ways in which the project and center can continue to be improved:

1)Utilize the initial diagnosis to design the coursework of education modules. A key issue was that barriers to the use of ICT were not addressed effectively in the course because the base level of skill was extremely low.  (CGDD, 2013)

2)Tailor the courses to the demands of the district, so that social organizations learn the tools they do need, and do not spend time learning skills that do not apply to them (CGDD, 2013).

3)Complement group trainings with digital coaching. In the case of women, one on one coaching helped mitigate fear of technology, subverted hierarchies, and minimized psychological barriers (CGDD, 2013).

4)Trainers at the center need to have experience in adult education, in addition to digital literacy or digital democracy.

5)Within courses, divide participants up by level of knowledge so the course can better address their needs. During later courses, divide up participants based on what issues they are passionate about improving and offer courses that focus on democracy, equity, and market operations separately (CGDD, 2013).

6)Obtain institutional commitment to maintain the center after the initial project is complete, and train leaders and members to run it  (CGDD, 2013).

References

Aguilar, L. M., & Guevara, S. (2014). Building a "Digital Democracy Network" (DDN) in Peru Evaluation Report. United Nations Democracy Fund. UNDEF.

CGDD. (2013). Acortando brechas para promover la democracia digital. Centro Global para el Desarrollo y la Democracia. CGDD. (Translated through GoogleTranslate)

CGDD. (n.d.). Digital Democracy Network Project. Retrieved November 27, 2016, from Global Center for Development and Democracy: http://www.cgdd.org/en/programs/digital-democracy-network-project (Translated through GoogleTranslate)

País Digital. (n.d.). Quiénes Somos. Retrieved November 27, 2016, from País Digital: http://paisdigital.org/quienes-somos/ (Translated through GoogleTranslate)

Red Democrácia Digital. (2011). Democrácia Digital. (GCDD, Editor) Retrieved November 27, 2016, from Red Democrácia Digital Peru: http://www.rddperu.com/cdl/en/democracia-digital (Translated through GoogleTranslate)

The Economist. (2013, May 13). Corruption in Peru: A widening web. The Economist.

The Economist. (2014, October 11). Divide and bribe: Corruption and political fragmentation threaten Peru's democracy. The Economist.