Fundación Ciudadano Inteligente (Smart Citizen Foundation) was founded in 2009—a time when Chile’s new Law on Transparency and Access to Public Information had just come into force. Yet few Chileans were taking advantage of the law, which requires government agencies to reply to individual information requests and disclose operational costs, budgets and other information online. One reason was the complexity of submitting requests, which obliged citizens to wade through different requirements at different government agencies.
The NGO decided that something needed to be done to promote greater transparency, accountability and civic engagement. One of its first initiatives, Acceso Inteligente (Intelligent Access), enabled users to make anonymous requests to multiple government entities through a single website, and published the results online.
In less than five years, users submitted more than 5,000 requests for information through Acceso Inteligente. Its success led the Chilean government to launch its own online transparency portal in 2013, and Acceso Inteligente was taken offline soon after. That’s exactly the kind of result Fundación Ciudadano Inteligente hopes for. “We help democratic institutions evolve through these tools and find maturity,” says Executive Director Pablo Collada.
Since 2009, the NGO has designed and developed more than a dozen user-friendly, online initiatives to encourage public participation in politics. Lately, it has been focusing on campaign financing and political corruption through its ¿Quién te financia? (Who Finances You?) initiative. The initiative’s focus is Chile’s so-called “Pentagate” scandal, which involves legislators accused of accepting illegal campaign contributions from the Penta Group holding company. It’s not just an online campaign: Collada says the NGO is meeting with senators, academics and activists to present its own proposals for financial transparency while a new political finance law is discussed in Congress; and it has also filed a formal complaint to support the public prosecutor’s case against officials accused of corruption.
Collada, who moved to Chile from Mexico to broaden Fundación Ciudadano Inteligente’s outreach in the hemisphere, says the NGO was never meant to be an exclusively Chilean project. Its open-source web platforms and tools are designed to work anywhere. The Vota Inteligente (Vote Smart) project—which is designed to counter voter apathy by presenting information on candidates and offering a quiz that enables respondents to see which candidates match their views—has been replicated throughout the region.
Collada says his NGO is always looking for ways to make political issues fresh and relevant. “If you have information, you can participate [in politics],” he says. “There’s no excuse for being an uninformed voter or citizen.”