Brazil is a country of continental dimensions. Its immense territory is divided into more than five thousand municipalities. In each of these locations, there is a City Council that performs typical functions of the Legislative Power. They are essential bodies to ensure democracy through the oversight of the local executive power and the enactment of laws in the interest of the population. Despite the relevance of these entities for good public governance, most of them operate with limited resources and a precarious structure. In 1999, the Brazilian Senate launched a program called Interlegis with the objective of promoting the integration of the legislative houses and promoting the digitalisation of the legislative houses.
Since it was created, Interlegis has expanded the amount of services offered to City Councils. Currently, in addition to the set of technological tools available for free, there are a series of training actions aimed at councilors and staff, such as seminars and on-site courses. To develop this portfolio of services and define the best strategies to reach as many legislatures as possible, Interlegis needs data that inform the characteristics of the legislative houses. In 2004, the Legislative Census was carried out, a survey of almost all legislatures in the Country and which collected information on the structure, composition and functioning of these bodies. For a long time, this was the main source of data that supported the work of Interlegis. However, the census data started to get very old and out of date. In 2019, Interlegis then decided to establish a partnership with the DataSenado to carry out a new survey with the legislatures.
The joint effort of Interlegis and DataSenado made great progress and resulted in a complex research design that endeavored to overcome the difficulties imposed in such a large and heterogeneous country. However, at the time the application would start, the pandemic worsened in Brazil and demanded that a quarantine be carried out. This new scenario made it impossible to carry out the research. Frustrated with the impossibility of completing a work that had taken so long, the DataSenado team then began to think of an alternative to research. The idea arose of gathering all the official data that already existed on City Councils dispersed in the Public Administration in a data visualisation platform. This new project would not only serve Interlegis, but would also be an instrument available to all citizens who wanted to get to know the City Councils better in their city. This was the embryo of the Panorama do Legislativo Municipal.
The effort to map the data identified three groups of bases related to the legislative at the local level: electoral data provided by the Electoral Court with information on the number and profile of councilors; financial data published by the National Treasury with information on the annual budget of the legislatures; and data on the number and profile of staff of the legislatures organised by the Ministry of Labor. These databases are easily accessible on the internet and are reasonably well up-to-date. This was revealed to us as a great virtue of the Brazilian public administration.
Although extracting these bases was not difficult during the project’s execution, interpreting and treating them required a lot of time and work. Another big challenge was the design and development of dashboards that would present this data in a simple and intuitive way for all user profiles. Before we got to the final version, we tested several tools. The solution involved a set of free and open source software, both for the web application and for the data visualisation module in graphics.
The development of a project like Panorama do Legislativo Municipal is in line with the most contemporary trends in data presentation. Access to the large volume of data made possible by the digitalisation process of the last decades was for a long time restricted to professionals with technical knowledge: data scientists, engineers and computer scientists. The development of tools that convert this data into graphics and other images that are understandable to all types of audiences has expanded greatly in recent years. Therefore, the purpose of Panorama do Legislativo Municipal is not only to support the work of Interlegis, but to increase the transparency of legislative bodies in Brazil and allow all citizens to exercise a more grounded social control over these bodies. A third function of Panorama do Legislativo Municipal is to encourage research and the generation of more knowledge by academics and public administrators about the Legislative Power at the local level. For this purpose, amongst its functionalities, there is the possibility of downloading the files with the bases that originated the panels.
The currently published version is a first trial of the project. We have seen a very positive reception and received praise that makes us proud. However, it is a constantly evolving project. One of our desires is to expand the amount of information published. This, unfortunately, comes up against the current availability of data. One of the biggest challenges, therefore, is to encourage the generation of new data on City Councils in Brazil. In the meantime, we are working to develop new features that make the experience of everyone who accesses the platform better.
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