Digital Transformation

5 min

A Critical Analysis of Public Hearings and the Digital Transformation in the São Paulo City Council

Câmara Municipal de São Paulo

Strategic Partners



In the face of global crises, the São Paulo City Council’s case stands out as an exemplar of effective adaptation. It provides insights into an intriguing development where public participation in governmental decisions underwent substantial transformation, creating new democratic engagement opportunities. The discussion here will be focused on the shift from conventional, in-person public hearings to digital platforms within the São Paulo City Council and the ensuing impact on public participation.


The Importance of Public Hearings


In the democratic structure of Brazil, public hearings are a pivotal tool for promoting citizen participation in governmental decisions. They represent a mandatory stage in the process of approving laws concerning specific areas, such as city planning and budgeting legislation. This participatory process is of utmost importance; failure to adhere to it may lead to the invalidation of laws, underlining its seriousness and significance in the legislative process.


The São Paulo Municipal Organic Law aligns itself well with the principles of participatory democracy. It has expanded opportunities for public engagement in legislative deliberations by mandating public hearings for certain subjects, such as tax-related matters and environmental issues. These requirements underscore the council’s commitment to including the voices of its citizens in decision-making processes.


The Challenge of the Pandemic


The advent of the global pandemic posed a significant challenge to the City Council. Swift, decisive action was needed to mitigate its effects on public health and the economy. Amid these exigencies, the council also faced the task of maintaining the legal obligation for public hearings. The traditional in-person format was no longer feasible under the social distancing measures imposed to curb the pandemic’s spread.


In response, the council adopted a virtual format for public hearings, building upon its prior experiences with virtual deliberation and capitalising on the wider digital transformation trend.


The Role of Digital Platforms


The São Paulo City Council employed digital platforms to ensure that public hearings continued during the pandemic. The council’s website was utilised to create a dedicated section providing information about these hearings. This digital approach had a far-reaching impact, significantly bolstering public participation in legislative processes.


This newly established digital accessibility allowed citizens to register their interest in the public hearings, participate in the discussions, and voice their concerns, all from the convenience of their location. This digital shift effectively overcame the physical and temporal constraints associated with traditional in-person hearings, leading to a more inclusive and accessible democratic process.


An Increase in Public Participation


The transition to a virtual format precipitated a marked increase in public participation. The need for physical travel was eliminated, and citizens could participate according to their schedules, leading to more significant engagement.


Two critical projects further exemplify this increase in engagement – a city centre redevelopment scheme and a financial loan authorisation proposal. These projects attracted extensive public attention. Over 2,500 individuals accessed the hearings through the council’s website or social media platforms, and more than 12,000 people received some form of notification about the hearings.




The São Paulo City Council’s experience illustrates that the shift towards digital platforms for public hearings during the pandemic, while necessitated by circumstances, has yielded a more inclusive participatory process. The potential disparity in internet access across social strata in Brazil must not be overlooked. However, the surge in public participation resulting from this digital shift is a significant democratic development that cannot be disregarded.


This case serves as a testament to the power of digital transformation in strengthening democratic processes. The potential for digital platforms to facilitate more extensive and effective public engagement is likely to ensure their use continues even when normalcy returns. The São Paulo City Council’s successful navigation of these changes hints at a future where public participation in legislative processes is enhanced through technological innovation.

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