With GarageLab, Darío is convening the important actors, thinkers, and doers related to rising social issues in Argentina, overcoming institutional barriers and leading the way toward breakthrough systems and solutions. It uses a membership-based model to secure a wide array of partners who regularly contribute resources and knowledge to a particular issue through specific workshops. Darío ensures that the ideas translate into action: as a so-called “DoTank,” once the members come up with a proposal and use the information they have created, they apply them through new processes and methods. Darío has a core membership of twenty-two people, coming from diverse backgrounds and professions, to support the organization’s collaborative work.
The first principle of GarageLab’s work, as with any social workshop, is the importance of participants. GarageLab brings each member into a physical place for discussion and interaction. The close proximity of members is a key first step to fomenting more concrete and productive relationships. Each person is invited to share knowledge and creative ideas, irrespective of the institution from which he/she belongs, thus building bridges between sectors. Darío allows up to eighty participants in a workshop. Beyond this, he believes groups may lose their continuity and flexibility.
GarageLab began with remarkably different workshops, representing either new technology or deep-seated social problems, including a social/industrial strategy for urban environmental degradation. These workshops enable knowledge exchange among experts working in the associated fields, citizens tackling the issue, industry leaders and public sector employees whose activities affect the particular ecosystem. Once they have shared their work, they produce and distribute an archive of the information that surfaced in the workshop. This collection of knowledge is the first step in demonstrating a multidisciplinary approach to an issue.
Next, GarageLab organizes a “Hackathon,” a session designed especially for the issue that involves the most interest. They range from tech professionals, scientists, citizen organizations (COs), journalists, businesspeople, academics, and government officials. The Hackathon sessions forge cross-sector coalitions that devise and execute prototype solutions or initiatives. These prototypes give rise to larger scale projects that find external partners interested in adopting, at a fee, the project or technology to expand their own strategies and achieve a higher level of impact. Although only COs have invested in GarageLab-inspired projects, Darío expects that businesses too will want to finance further projects cultivated in the workshops and Hackathons—a critical means for GarageLab to guarantee economic sustainability.
One of the most illustrative examples of GarageLab’s impact is the platform Qué Pasa, Riachuelo (What’s Up, Riachuelo). A river running into the Río de la Plata that divides part of Buenos Aires from the surrounding province and metropolitan area, the Riachuelo is one of the most polluted waterways in the world due to massive flows of discarded industrial waste. Without an integrated effort between industry, public agencies, and citizen groups, the Riachuelo degradation has remained a particularly infamous and impenetrable social issue around greater Buenos Aires. Through the oversight and support of GarageLab, a number of different COs developed a platform that uses geospatial mapping to assess the environmental impact of the local industries, government, and citizens living along the Riachuelo. The citizens living in the economically destitute area around the Riachuelo were invited to contribute reports, reflections and analyses of the degradation. In spite of their humble technological expertise, the citizens offered their voice in the workshop and Hackathon, as the group piloted its information-sharing platform.
After developing the Qué Pasa, Riachuelo platform, GarageLab presented the data to ACUMAR, the public environmental agency charged with monitoring the Riachuelo. The coalition of COs successfully pressured ACUMAR to release and permanently integrate its data on pollutants and water degradation into the GarageLab platform. By aggregating the official environmental data, made available for the first time, with those collected by external watchdogs, GarageLab reached an unprecedented accomplishment in opening public records. Now the government agency is taking action on initial cleanup efforts, working with recommendations and ideas that the coalition devised in GarageLab. Furthermore, the citizens—with a greater sense of agency due to their contributions to the platform—take part in events sponsored by ACUMAR and continue to provide reports.
The success of Qué Pasa, Riachuelo in forming a creative platform for knowledge exchange and in advocating for greater transparency catapulted GarageLab’s work into other initiatives addressing government transparency. Darío is launching another platform to monitor reproductive and sexual health in conjunction with the Observatory of Sexual and Reproductive Health. Together, they are building an interactive map that pinpoints and correlates the state’s role and influence in maternal and health challenges. The platform accesses “footprints of the state,” public policies and agency influence, and analyzes them in the context of actual indicators taken from citizen reports and public health data. This new way of gathering and presenting transparent data will help to keep government agencies accountable on their sexual health initiatives. GarageLab expects that the platform will establish new patterns of data collection, analysis and exposition, and above all give way to new perspectives in Argentina about oversight and cooperation among public agencies and COs on sexual health.
Darío knows that GarageLab can help produce innovative technological mechanisms and implementation practices that can monitor the state and demand access to government information. Because traditional COs may not have the tools, providing a space to exchange knowledge and collectively plan new platforms facilitates them to build a more holistic and persuasive case for accountability. GarageLab recently developed the Money and Politics Platform, using a similar methodology as Qué Pasa, Riachuelo, to monitor and appraise private contributions and public funds in political campaigns. GarageLab also coordinates the Developing Latin America program that involved COs and government officials to create an Internet database on education, public budget allocations, and security issues.
In the past year, Darío has guided GarageLab to become an acknowledged leader in the field of knowledge and information sharing, creative solutions, and open government. With a diversity of partners ranging from foundations such as Omidyar Network and Open Society, universities such as University of Buenos Aires and MIT, and the World Bank, Darío is building a base to launch more workshops and projects. Dario sees the case of Qué Pasa, Riachuelo as an exemplar by bridging previously closed institutions, engaging disadvantaged sectors, and achieving greater transparency through a new interface; these practices can be applied to numerous other social problems that heretofore failed to have solutions.