The São Paulo e-Poupatempo centers and some ongoing thinking along those lines

Paraisopolis Morumbi

Earlier this year I was in São Paulo for the New Cities Summit discussing how cities can become more human among other things. When traveling that far away from home to one of the more exciting mega cities in the world, I did of course take the opportunity to explore the city. One of my excursions led me to the Poupatempo government service centers, which for several years have aimed at increasing both social and digital inclusion.

These centers were introduced around the city as an attempt to get away from the very slow (poupatempo can be translated to something like timesaver) and bureaucratic processes in public services and government agencies. By gathering many fragmented organizations under one roof near public transportation hubs the idea was to make it easier for all citizens to get access to the right civil servants. The new physical setup outside the traditional big offices was also a way to clearly indicate a different way of doing things for everyone involved.

A number of actions on different levels have been taken to streamline the interaction between organizations and citizens, for example building access and openness to signal transparency, monitoring of queue and service time to further increase efficiency, integrating backend systems to improve the flow of information between offices, and so on. One important human aspect is to educate the staff to make sure that all visitors are treated with respect and dignity, and to follow the same service procedures and standards across departments to reduce the (perceived) complexity.


When you speak to people in São Paulo there seem to be different opinions whether these centers really offer a faster interaction with government agencies. However, a large part of the population that is in most need of these centers seems to be satisfied according to one evaluation of the centers, which also claims that several of the intended advantages became reality.

One part that I sensed got a bit more positive reviews, and that I given my profession is particularly interested in, is the e-Poupatempo. These sections are dedicated to support people with the increasing number of digital services in São Paulo, and here people can get assistance from skilled personnel or lend equipment (computers, scanners, printers, etc.) to access certain e-government services on their own.

A quite attractive vision is to have a highly citizen-centric approach and to focus on certain life situations rather than the technology or the institutional areas. As an example, several centers have recently brought in services like Sabrae micro funding for a more holistic approach to people looking for a job or starting a small business.

The e-Poupatempo centers are only one of the many citizen access points enabled through different digital channels. But considering the main focus on inclusion, integration, participation and accessibility, one major aspect in all channels is of course the user experience.


So why do I find the Poupatempos so interesting and why am I writing about all this? Well, we have done some earlier work (paper here and one picture here) within the frequently mentioned area of video communication and remote collaboration. And it is of course highly relevant to think about how remote government services can have a positive effect not only on availability and inclusion, but also on transportation and the physical use of the city.

However, given our current scope there are other angles that we find more intriguing right now. In a recent project we spent some time thinking about how connected citizens, objects, and services can be used to sense what is going on in a city, and based on that support public services with holistic viewpoints. This general understanding can then be utilized when actuating systems, or presenting both organizations and citizens with contextually relevant information to tackle different situations.

In that work our main focus was more on “back-office” integration and the more operative management of public services and infrastructure for transportation, electricity, waste, and so on. But we did also touch upon the more administrative “front-office” aspects and the (human) interaction between citizens and various (more or less) disparate government agencies. To illustrate our thinking we created a brief scenario around the role of multi-purpose community centers.

Digital Hubs

By providing public services, government agencies, private companies responsible for central community functions, etc. with relevant information (and knowledge) they may be able to support citizens in a more unified and collaborative way. This could also enable a range of cross-domain services like certain tax reductions as a reward for contributing with valuable personal data (or actions) to public services, or support with finding partners for sensor/connectivity/knowledge sharing when starting a small local company.

In a less immediate and more proactive perspective, the service centers could evolve into one of the places for a dialogue between various organizations and citizens. They could be one of the channels for citizens to access all the city data and the reasoning based on it, and in that process enable people to collaboratively voice their opinions. Or one channel to securely contribute with various personal data in order to make the information from connected objects, services, and other citizens relevant from different viewpoints.

In some cases, these physical places where various people, organizations, data and knowledge meet may even become an important point of social innovation - providing tools and facilities to act upon good ideas. An exploratory zone where successful (global) practices and experiences are spread given the opportunities in the local context.

As you may notice, my thoughts are just like some government agencies a bit fragmented at the moment... Nevertheless, I think that the Poupatempo centers are interesting examples of how disintegrated services can be made available to citizens in a more inclusive, comprehensible, and mutual way. And one piece of input for us when thinking about how the data and knowledge originating from a connected everything can be utilized in this context (as well as others).

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