Answering residents’ questions

The 21st Century Townhall

5 min read
Photo credit: Steven Bosacker

Jalisco, Mexico

The Action

Imagine if a city government held Question Time. But instead of facing lawmakers, the chief executive appeared for questioning before a group of civic leaders from business, civil society, academia, policy analysis, and media. That was the structure of Glosa Ciudadana (Citizen Comments), a townhall format in which the governor of Jalisco presented the administration’s progress against the State Development Plan and then took questions from an audience of prominent experts. Cabinet members were also present to offer responses. An online component was added in 2017 with the Pregunta Ciudadana  (Citizen Question) portal, which was developed in partnership with the independent public welfare organization Jalisco Como Vamos. Questions and responses from the townhall events and the online form are archived on the Glosa Ciudadana and Pregunta Ciudadana sites, respectively. 

Democracy Challenge

Many traditional mechanisms for making government transparent and accountable are losing efficacy or currency, for various reasons. They are too analog, too exclusionary, and not scalable. The race is on to develop new mechanisms for information sharing, policy debate, and oversight that will include underrepresented voices and give residents greater confidence in government itself or in oversight institutions.   

How It Works & How They Did It

Every year on February 1, the state governor delivers a written “state of the State” report to the Congress of Jalisco. The Jalisco State Secretariat for Planning, Administration, and Finance (SEPAF) developed Glosa Ciudadana so that the governor could also engage in direct dialogue with the public regarding the administration’s performance.  

City of Jalisco, 21st Century Town Hall

The first Glosa townhall event was held in 2014 with 12 expert participants drawn from diverse backgrounds. The dialogue was structured along five dimensions: Reliable and Effective Institutions; Environment and Sustainability; Equity of Opportunities; Community and Quality of Life; and Guarantee of Rights and Freedoms. In the second and third years, the number of participants grew to 15 and they were grouped according to areas of expertise: social development; government and public management; governance and public safety; economic development; and city, mobility, and environment. 

An open online component was added in 2017 in partnership with Jalisco Como Vamos (How Are We Doing, Jalisco?), a citizen group that measures quality of life. Any user could visit the Pregunta Ciudadana (Citizen Question) portal to read the governor’s latest report and submit questions about it. Select questions were then presented during the live Glosa event by the Jalisco Como Vamos executive director, and government officials committed to responding to all the remaining questions online. In 2017, a total of 162 questions were submitted and 135 were answered. Unanswered questions are published with an explanation of why they were rejected (common explanations included that submissions did not ask a discernible or relevant question or addressed an issue that is not under the state government’s jurisdiction).  

How’s It Going?

The Glosa process has received some good reviews. In 2016, Milenio columnist David Gomez Alvarez wrote that although the format left much room for improvement, no one was calling for its cancellation. On the contrary, the opposition party supported it and the State Congress even organized its own legislative Glosa Ciudadana, which allowed deputies to discuss development progress in a less partisan format, Gomez wrote. Gomez also noted that the initiative had attracted international attention as a model for social accountability (Jalisco was selected as a participant of the Open Government Partnership Local Program in 2016). 

In February 2018, Informador columnist Jaime Berrera noted that Glosa’s future was uncertain, since the administration that launched it was leaving office. “We have to conceive of Glosa Ciudadana as a new public good that must not only be conserved and institutionalized, but continuously improved,” Berrera wrote. “New governments must be clear that what has been achieved up to now is the minimum floor for informing the public of how they are managing what belongs to everyone.” 


Jalisco officials interviewed for this project believed that by working closely with organized civil society groups, they could establish norms and expectations of empowerment that would survive changes in administration. “The next administration will probably change the name and colors of the effort, but the essence can remain,” said one official. They also tried to put obligations into law whenever possible.

City of Jalisco, 21st Century Town Hall

Who Else Is Trying This?

  • Buenos Aires, Argentina: The Dialogando Buenos Aires (Dialoguing Buenos Aires) is an open policymaking forum which gathers external experts and citizens to discuss specific legal and regulatory topics which are part of the city’s reform agenda. Thematic roundtables have been conducted on a new law governing port operations, reducing electoral campaigns-related vandalism, lobbying and conflicts of interest, electoral reform, and access to information. The participatory nature of the process lends itself to consensus building, and the solicited input from key stakeholders and experts helps to defuse complex issues of their political risk, thereby emboldening legislators to enact the resulting proposals. Read more
  • Various locations: Open Town Hall is a commercial service that promises local governments more productive and representative discourse with residents, thanks to user registration and “comprehensive civility monitoring” to encourage more moderate voices and rein in “motivated individuals with narrow agendas.” It belongs to a field of services offering to help local governments take public consultations and decision-making processes online. These include NeighborlandTextizen and Voterheads in the US market, Kuorum in Europe and Evey in North Africa. Use cases include participatory park planning in Raleigh, United States, and an Action Plan to Invigorate Citizen Engagement in Toledo, Spain. Read more 


This action was originally developed for Big Bold Cities, an initiative of Living Cities and the National Democratic Institute (NDI); republished here with the permission of Living Cities.