Postcard from Colombia


(Read this post in Spanish)

What happens when you put four lawyers and an engineer in the same room? It sounds like the start of a riddle, but it’s not. It is what is happening right now in one of the Colombian government teams. They are bringing together people from different disciplines, who never considered themselves colleagues, and got them working working side by side. The result looks like transformation to us.

A couple of weeks ago, I traveled to Bogotá, the capital of Colombia. It’s a huge and vibrant city, an amalgam of bricks and mountains. I was there for a short but exciting 2-day trip, and an opportunity (thanks to our friends at the Inter-American Development Bank) to meet with the digital government team and their network of CIOs from various agencies. They showed me the great work they are doing, especially with GOV.CO. And I shared with them some of Public Digital’s experiences around the world.

View of Bogota
Bogota city

Over the last year, Colombia has taken some great steps towards digital government:

  • digital transformation was declared as a key priority,
  • the brilliant Sylvia Constain was appointed as Minister of Information Technology and Communication (the ministry known in Colombia as MinTIC)
  • and they have a mandate to create GOV.CO as government’s single domain website

A great start for sure.

The visit took place during Colombia 4.0, a huge event organized by MinTIC. It’s a festival of people from many industries: fintech, technology, games and multimedia among them. About 49,000 people registered, many of them enviably young. But perhaps it was just the city’s 2,600 meters of altitude, that made me feel a little odd and older.

I presented on the CIO Summit track, that brought together 130 CIOs from at least 80 different agencies, from the central and local government. It was a great opportunity to motivate all those responsible for making this transformation effective across government.

Mike presenting at the CIO Summit
Mike presenting at the CIO Summit

The next day we had a workshop with the GOV.CO team: the Digital Government team and the National Digital Agency, the developing arm of their digital strategy. I found an excellent multidisciplinary team, totally capable of leading the digital transformation that the country needs. We shared experiences for more than three hours, about very interesting issues of their integration processes to a single website.

Mike with Edson, Juliana, Adriana, and Natalia from Digital Gov
Mike with Edson, Juliana, Adriana, and Natalia from Digital Gov

For now, GOV.CO is a home page with a very good design, but with thousands of sites, processes and services still to be migrated and integrated. The team has a most ambitious plan ahead of them, and they might be suffering from the typical pressures and obstacles of these complex processes. They just come with the job. But the good news is that they have the talent, leadership and necessary political support to sort them out and move on. The digital team should be empowered even more to show how great they are. And they should not lose focus on user needs, to design better and simple services that make Colombians lives a little easier.

The team with Signals books!
The team with Signals books!

We love metaphors to describe transformation processes (see Angie’s post about Panama), and in Bogotá, I found an excellent one: I happened to pass MinTIC’s office and posed for a picture. Later on, I realized the camera had captured a group of people standing behind me, using the building’s wi-fi and phone charging services. And the building itself was half-way through a refurbishment. Its windows were being replaced with new ones.

Mike at the MinTIC office
Mike at the MinTIC office

The image says a lot. It symbolizes the government’s current transition: gradually, they are becoming more transparent to citizens, from the inside out. Things are getting clearer to users from the outside, while government teams are better able to see and understand their users, and so deliver the services and solutions they need.

The graffiti on the wall behind me in that picture says “The state is guilty”. Every digital team’s challenge is perhaps to show a state that is not to blame for your problems, but one that helps you solve them. Or at least, that there’s a government that’s trying to prevent itself being another problem.

To the Colombian team I say: congratulations on your achievements, best of luck for the challenges that lie ahead. Everyone at Public Digital will be cheering you on.

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