The promotion of an open government and the empowerment of citizens through co-creation processes using technology could sound like a distant goal. But as challenging as it sounds, there are steps being taken in this direction. This is evidenced by the initiatives contained in the action plans adopted by the governments that are part of the Open Government Partnership, (OGP).
Launching open government initiatives: opening up information on water licensing
In Chile, the Water Directorate (DGA in Spanish) has taken part in the OGP process since 2016. The OGP participation in Chile is coordinated by the Presidency’s Secretariat General (SEGPRES), which serves as the national point of contact (PoC). Since Chile’s first Action Plan, SEGPRES has promoted a participatory process with civil society organizations and public entities. Through this process, the DGA presented its first commitment in the 2016-2018 Action Plan.
To fulfil its first commitment, the DGA developed an easy-to-access web app. The app makes it possible to obtain information on the demand and granting of water use licenses in the country and makes it easier to file complaints in case of damage.
In particular, the app makes it possible to visualize georeferenced information on resolved and ongoing water rights submitted to the DGA and allows public consultation of water-rights documentation. It also provides visualizations of the location of citizen complaints filed in relation to violations to the Water Code (Código de Aguas, C.A.). Among the most frequent violations are: the construction of unauthorized works on watercourses (Art. 41 y 171 C.A.) unauthorized water extraction (Art. 20, 59 and 163 C.A.; Art. 42 and 43 D.S. 203/2013), and non-compliance with the conditions for the exercise of water use rights (control of water extractions, Art. 68 C.A.).
The fourth Open Government National Action Plan: progress and new tools for transparency on water extraction
ARTICLE 68°- “The Water Directorate General may require the installation and maintenance of systems for the measurement of flows, of extracted volumes and of phreatic levels in [the construction and operation of hydraulic] works, in addition to a system for the transmission and sharing of the information obtained. In the case of non-consumptive exploitation rights, this requirement shall also apply to aquifer restitution works […]”
Water Code, Law 21.064
Since 2018, DGA is working to disseminate information to the public and increase transparency on the use of water resources as a contribution to commitment #8 on water resources of Chile’s latest OGP Action Plan 2018-2020. These efforts are in line with the most recent changes to the Water Code, Law 21.064, specifically in relation to article 68. Specifically, the DGA has decided to make available to the public data on water extraction by different users, including farmers, mining and forestry companies, and other water rights holders.
To do this, DGA is developing a new web app. The data visualized in this app will be partly user-generated and further complemented by documentation on water use rights. Larger water users have to set up a meter system that automatically generates the georeferenced data that is then sent to DGA, while smaller users will report the information through excel sheets centralized by DGA. While there is the risk of users manipulating the excel sheet (or even the meters), DGA expects that the publication of the data and social monitoring and pressure will be an incentive for relatively accurate input.
Focused on transparency and public access to information on water use, this work on National Action Plan commitments seeks to reduce uncertainty regarding water availability, given the extreme water scarcity that affects Chile. A water scarcity decree has been issued for 56 communes and an agricultural emergency officially declared in 111, impacting over 400,000 people. The DGA has been questioned for not having all relevant information on the registration, allocation and management of water rights in the country. The new system is an attempt to respond.
Disclosure must go hand in hand with citizen engagement
It is important to put these efforts into context. The issues we face in the water management sector will not be solved with just data. The creation of opportunities for citizens to use and engage with the information and platform for their benefit is essential.
At present, the data that will be published is mainly contained in specialized studies. These studies neither disaggregate the data nor consider the local scale. This is an example of a dissociation between the functioning of public services and the people they serve. Disaggregation would allow for a better understanding and use of the information by those who need it most. And to further prevent or reduce disconnection to citizens’ needs, it is essential to listen to what people have to say, address and resolve complaints and grievances in an empathic, committed and needs-focused manner.
This experience reinforces the idea that the main efforts to promote principles of co-creation, transparency and participation need to be initiated by the State. This will ensure credibility and increased cooperation between the government and civil organisations, allowing for the construction of a true path towards the improvement of people’s quality of life. However, such efforts, like the web platforms created to promote transparency and access to public information, will not fulfil their mission if they are not complemented well through citizen engagement.