"By asking one gets to Rome" is a popular phrase that is used to tell people that they should not be afraid to ask what they want to know, that thanks to the questions one can acquire knowledge and thus reach a goal, in this case a place: San Sebastian”.

Can digital tools play a role in Digital Inclusion and in closing the technological gap of the inhabitants of a neighborhood? Furthermore, can they allow them to share their daily concerns and find solutions from their own neighbors, under the principle of collaboration and mutual aid? Citizen participation is an essential element in the generation of public policies; however, the existing mechanisms are insufficient to reflect and respond to the large amount of information generated by citizens from their respective neighborhoods.

The SDG Agenda of the Municipal Autonomous Government of La Paz (GAMLP) was presented to the citizens in 2019 as a commitment of the municipality to contribute to the Global Agenda based on comprehensive solutions to the challenges facing the city. The SDG Agenda is a long-term vision focused on human well-being and equal opportunities. 

In order not to leave any neighborhood behind, the GAMLP proposes an agenda based on transformations to move towards a development that harmonizes social inclusion, environmental protection, and economic development.

Based on the analysis of the deprivations of demographic and socioeconomic information in the municipality of La Paz and the evaluation of progress in meeting the SDGs, the agenda proposes three multidimensional guidelines:  i) Healthy living, ii) Inclusive urban mobility and iii) Decent work. 

Within the framework of the last two guidelines, the Accelerator Lab of  UNDP Bolivia uses a methodological process to understand problems and solution mapping in order to design and implement demonstrative actions that allow  to  take more informed and inclusive decision: bringing together a wide range of people and relevant actors to discuss, prioritize and implement ideas,  experimenting  with  solutions to  the  problems identified,  which  are prioritized in a participatory way with citizens.

There, the synergy  is identified with the "Barrios de Verdad" program, which has been active since 2005  projecting   neighborhoods endowed with a new image, and recovered from marginality, which is understood as lack or insufficiency of basic services and little or no participation of their inhabitants in decision-making, to transform them into neighborhoods and communities with more dignified conditions, less vulnerable to natural and social risks, with quality basic services and with solid organizations in interaction with institutions legitimized by their efficiency in public management. As of June 2021, 112 Barrios were delivered, with a total benefit for 20,000 families.

Together, the Program and the Accelerator Lab analyzed socioeconomic and demographic information identifying 5 potential neighborhoods among which common characteristics were shared, from which it was decided to explore the Barrio 110 Villa "San Sebastián". It is a neighborhood with the largest population comparatively, with a total population of 795 inhabitants, of which 396 are men and 399 women. Additionally, it has a young population, with more than 45% of the population under 25, according to the 2019 Municipality survey.

These characteristics show that having a composition of young population allows to introduce innovations and carry out processes of experimentation, which aims to reduce the technological gap and promote social cohesion, which reinforces the objectives of the project.

In the neighborhood "San Sebastián" a workshop on Collective Intelligence was held, a rapidly evolving methodology that mobilizes the participation of people in the development of information, social action,  technology, and the collection of information at different scales,  and resulted in a mapping of neighborhood solutions. The process began with a characterization of the neighborhood, identifying the new knowledge that the community has identified to be served, this being the common thread to explore and co-create local solutions that respond to their needs:

  • Internet access
  • Digital education services
  • Strengthening their social cohesion
  • Technical training
  • Job and entrepreneurship opportunities
  • Communal communication

After surveying the needs and  identifying their local solutions, the Laboratory begins the experiment called Digital Neighborhood, a catalyst for mechanisms that facilitate citizen participation oriented towards effective decision-making based on the co-creation of solutions using technological tools fed by real-time information, which  allows citizens  to  be a central actor in their own development, moving  towards an inclusive city  and reducing technological gaps and institutionalizing effective governance mechanisms at the territorial level.

Articulating the possible immediate, the first experiment of digital education is concetrated, focused on children and women of the San Sebastián neighborhood, identifying the Agency of Electronic Government and Information and Communication Technologies (AGETIC) of the Pluri-national State of Bolivia, as the first public actor. Through the AGETIC Research Laboratory under the Digital Inclusion Program for children and young people in the country, the Digital Training Agenda started with the following activities:

  • Training for creating personal email accounts.
  • Management of the Zoom platform for the development of educational spaces.
  • Good use of Facebook marketplace and WhatsApp platforms for access to information.
  • Training for women heads of household in basic management of electrical installation.
  • Training for children and young people in the introduction of technological skills in robotics.

The social cohesion generated by the trainings makes the neighborhood an ideal candidate to continue experiencing more digital and articulating interventions such as:

  • Online “renewed” job bank.
  • Alternative financing for impact business ventures and startups.
  • Online supply and demand of care services.
  • Digital services store for communities and social movements.
  • Online training on digital capital for girls, boys and adolescent, data portal on gender equality at work.

The first findings of the process show that digital tools can become a fundamental and supporting element for the territorial development of neighborhoods and their citizens. We have an exciting road ahead of us, and we are sure that by experimenting we will get to Rome.

"Barrios Digitales" team: Diego Suárez, AccLab Bolivia; Gricel Ávila, Porfalio Senior Coordinator - Socioeconomic Development; Geraldine Millares, Socioeconomic Analyst; Beto Saavedra, AccLab Bolivia; Sebastián Zegada, Research Assistant.

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