SANTIAGO — With the referendum for a new constitution coming up in October, voters have been discussing their hopes and dreams for the future of the country. Tenemos que Hablar de Chile is a citizen participation project that seeks to gather different opinions on how the country should advance. Once all these opinions have been collected, the objective is to systematize the information and deliver it to authorities to help influence public policy.
Oct. 25 is set to be a historic day for Chile: in a referendum, citizens will decide if the constitution – written in the 1980s under Pinochet’s dictatorship – should be rewritten. The two options Chileans will vote on are Apruebo (“I approve”), meaning the voter approves the creation of a new constitution, and Rechazo (“I reject”), meaning the voter rejects the creation of a new constitution.
Several initiatives promoting citizen participation have emerged during this process, including Tenemos que Hablar de Chile (“We Have to Talk About Chile”), promoted by the University of Chile and the Catholic University of Chile. Their main objective is to generate discussions among voters about the kind of country they want.
Consuelo Olguín, press officer at Tenemos que Hablar de Chile, told Chile Today that the idea for the project arose from last year’s protests, as many open council meetings took place during the last months of 2019, demonstrating the need for Chileans to talk about their expectations.
They have 35 counselors who hold meetings to advise on the next steps of the project and where it should go. Among them are the deans of the two universities and several national award winners in different areas such as science, health, and culture, such as Dora Altbir, who was awarded the National Science Prize; Sol Serrano, who was awarded the National History Prize; Beatrice Ávalos, who was awarded with the National Prize for Education Sciences and Alejandro Aravena, who was awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize.
Three Forms of Citizen Participation
The project started collecting people’s ideas and perspectives last April, and it will continue to do so until September. They do it three ways: through polls, group discussions, and Chile a Escala (Chile on Scale). Through the initiative’s website, anyone interested can participate in the thematic polls they offer that cover topics such as inequality, health, economic growth, poverty, education, the state, and institutions, among others.
As for the group discussions, Olguín told Chile Today that the original idea was to carry them out in face-to-face meetings, but as the Covid-19 crisis hit the country they had to digitize everything, so now the discussions are done through video calls. Anyone interested can sign up for a topic, selecting a date and time. The video calls are between five and six people, plus a facilitator who helps guide the conversation.
The third way, Chile a Escala, seeks to ensure a diversity of voices. As Olguín explained to Chile Today, digital conversations can be biased due to the lack of access to digital platforms many people have. The idea behind Chile a Escala is to select 15,000 people and invite them to participate in the discussions. For that, they are using a database built from other databases of different studies that have been carried out.
As Emol summed up, “[t]he calculation is this: if in Chile there are about 15 million citizens over 18 years of age, then the objective that ‘Chile a Escala’ proposes is to summon one person for every thousand inhabitants of the [country], in order to generate a conversation between a sample that represents in 15,000 participants the entire national population.”
Their Goal After The Referendum
Thus far, over 40,000 people from 320 districts have participated in the different discussions they offer. Their main goal is to systematize all the information they gather, document it, and deliver it to the authorities. Thus, the answers they receive will be systematized by the University of Chile’s Legal Argumentation Institute. Among other things, the institute will analyze the information to determine conversation patterns and general trends.
Olguín told Chile Today that they hope to gather trustworthy information so that they can later hand several documents to various authorities, Congresspersons, and people of influence. “The objective is to tell them ‘these are the priorities, concerns, and desires of the citizens.’ ”
They also explained that the different topics that emerge from the project will be discussed at roundtables made up of experts in the area, so that ideas can be converted into concrete proposals. That way, voters can have a direct influence on the design of public policies.
Fernanda Gándara is currently finishing her journalism degree at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. She’s passionate about writing, environmental issues and women empowerment. You can find her on Twitter as @FerGMarchant