International Observatory on Participatory Democracy

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Free Labs for social participation

  • Brazil
  • Instituto Cidade Democrática (Democratic City Institute)

An initiative that seeks to combine political knowledge with the hacker culture to democratize and strengthen development.


  • To democratize and strengthen development of the city
  • To unveil the universe of political participation in the internet by experimenting with four free applications that put collective intelligence at the service of communities.
  • to get more in touch with the Pontos de Cultura that are already embedded and active in the communities, first understanding their political actions to later model together the use of free digital apps that enhance them.
  • To guarantee more access and participation on their development and use
  • To develop state capacity and transform institutions
  • To articulate communities, government, cultural collectives and developers to collaborate together in order to build common goods that can be effectively embraced by society.
  • Empower civil society by collecting data and sharing knowledge – and the apps are a powerful tool to engage society and strengthen democracy.


7 different Pontos de Cultura -cultural entities, institutions or collectives certified by the Ministry of Culture.



The Instituto Cidade Democrática (Democratic City Institute), in Brazil, is about to launch and coordinate a very interesting initiative, part of the public project Redes e Ruas (Streets and Networks) of the Municipality of São Paulo, called Laboratórios Livres de Participação Social (Free Labs for Social Participation).

The action will go through 7 different Pontos de Cultura – cultural entities, institutions or collectives certified by the Ministry of Culture –in different areas of Sao Paulo, coordinating more than 35 activities related to the initiative. 

For the Instituto Cidade Democrática, the development of applications of social participation must be in the hands of social movements and social collectives. This autonomy is fundamental to enhance collective actions and empower the communities, encouraging their participation in the social and political life of the city.

The apps selected for the project are chosen very carefully - among the criteria that guide the choice, the most important ones are:

The app must be free.

The app must be accessible to or have the participation of the state or public institutions.

The app must have an active community, preferably with groups and functioning collectives in Sao Paolo to build actions with more political, institutional and social impact more sustainable through time.

The action of the “Free Labs for Social Participation” will entitle three phases:

Phase One will work to understand the reality of each Ponto de Cultura and currently existing projects. Upon that knowledge, build personalized strategies for intervention in the territory with the apps. Make an effort to apply the apps on various projects carried by the Ponto, enhancing their use and identifying possible improvements;

Phase Two aims to understand the codes and the philosophy behind the development of free apps of social participation, understanding how people can contribute to their operation without necessarily knowing how to program;

Phase Three will bring developers, programmers, Pontos de Cultura and the communities together, allowing debates about suggested and necessary improvements and providing feedback.

The apps selected for the project are:

Mapas Culturais

Free software for collaborative mapping for Culture, which contributes to the collective administration of cultural life in the communities.

Open source app of collective deliberation. The novelty in is its use of algorithms to help people to gather each other in groups according to their political positions.


It’s an open source app of collective deliberation made available through a BSD license. The architecture of Pairwise is based in crowdsource discussion, like has been used in large scale debates of the Federal Government in the scope of the Netmundial Conference and by the Government of Rio Grande do Sul in the context of its digital team. The processes that used Pairwise in Brazil involved more than 200,000 people in each development with important results regarding engagement and quality of the proposals.

Cidade Democrática

The Contest of Ideas of Cidade Democratica is a social technology certified by the Fundação Banco do Brasil (FBB) and by the Financiadora de Estudos e Projetos (FINEP), two of the main organizations that investigate, recognize and certify social technologies in Brazil.

This technology articulates the use of Cidade Democratica’s free software with a method of engagement in the communities able to stimulate the people’s social participation and foster the emergence of collaborative communities around public proposals.

The Contest of Ideas of Cidade Democratica has already taken place in 15 cities since 2011, having being completed in two Brazilian States (Sao Paulo and Para) and in cities of different socio-economic profiles and population sizes.

Selected apps are two different types of tools. While Mapas Culturais is a collaborative device for cultural data,, Pairwise and Cidade Democrática are engines of collective deliberation. It is essential to understand the needs and characteristics of the community in which the apps could be applied in order to be able choose correctly which app better serves the purposes and projects of the Ponto de Cultura. Using more than one app is also possible and can bring interesting insights.

Besides that, Cidade Democratica’s free software inspired the design and development of the digital phase of the Conferência Nacional de Juventude(Youth National Conference) carried out by the Federal Government.

Cidade Democrática