The Politics of Open Contracting for Urban Service Delivery: Brazilian Contexts, Strategies, and Learning
Posted: 22 Jul 2019
Date Written: March 1, 2017
In Brazilian cities, individuals, professionals and business associations have been working together as well as with state officials to control corruption, solve public policy problems, and improve public services and local government. Their entry point for reform has been to open up public contracts through participation. This paper maps the civil society groups – social observatories (SOs) – that promoted these projects. It also tracks how three specific SOs managed to obtain results in the control of corruption in contracts, the improvement of service delivery, the activation of accountability processes, as well as opening the local civic space. The analysis shows that constructive engagement and co-production are both a means and a product of strategic engagement with the context. It also explains that policy sectorial work (school meals, landscaping and infrastructure, in these cases) can be a useful vehicle to move forward from monitoring processes to concrete wins for the legitimacy of their organizations and the effectiveness of the open contracting and accountability systems.
The critical building blocks for the legitimacy and effectiveness of SOs are: i) focus on problem solving; ii) strategy and organizational fit with the context where problem-solving occurs; iii) politically savvy articulation with diverse stakeholders and mobilization of their capacities; iv) learning for strategic and organizational adaptation; and v) proactive efforts to build bridges across overlapping complex governance, contracting, sectorial and accountability systems. In contrast, other factors limited the legitimacy and effectiveness of SOs. These include the excessive influence of formulaic approaches over strategy and organization, among others.
Finally, the paper sums up its key findings and offers tailored recommendations for civil society practitioners, public officials, intermediary organizations and funders.
Keywords: Open Contracting, Social Observatories, Urban Services, Brazil, Learning, Coproduction, Social Accountability
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