User Guide

Introduction

This document is a guide to using SIGLA (States and Institutions of Governance in Latin America). The next section offers general information on the database. The third section outlines SIGLA’s four browsing routes in detail and explains when each may be most useful. The fourth section provides guidance for navigating composite variables (i.e., more complex variables for which the associated data are displayed in a non-standard way). The fifth section highlights additional features of SIGLA, including downloading data and pinning variables of interest for easier access. The final section offers navigational tips to help users optimize their browsing experience.

General Information

SIGLA is an online multilingual database that provides comprehensive information on political and legal institutions in Latin America. By democratizing access to these data, SIGLA facilitates the generation of knowledge and increases the transparency of governance in the region.

To structure the database, the SIGLA research team identified a set of institutional categories. Each institutional category may include one or more institutions. Please refer to the Institutional Matrix for a list of all institutional categories and institutions included in the database. The beta version of SIGLA includes current data on Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico for the following institutional categories: Codes, Constitution, Elections, Executive, and Legislature. The beta version also includes data on International Institutions that have at least a plurality of full members from Latin America

SIGLA groups each institution’s variables under common headings reflecting the topic of the variables included under the heading. Headings concern the general characteristics of the institution, its functioning, its institutional position and interaction within the state, its members, and its leaders. Information associated with each variable is presented in matrices with three components:

  1. SIGLA’s Answer synthesizes information from excerpt(s) from the official source(s) cited in the Source column and is composed by a SIGLA researcher.
  2. Original Text provides excerpt(s) from the official source(s) cited in the Source column that support(s) SIGLA’s Answer.
  3. Source references the official sources excerpted in Original Text and/or used to generate SIGLA’s Answer.

Please see SIGLA’s Research Methodology and Technical Codebook for more information on institutional categories and the institutions within them, and for further details on how the data are structured. The SIGLA research team keeps SIGLA data current through periodic review, updating, and verification. SIGLA’s Research Methodology describes these processes. The footer of all website pages notes the date on which the research team last updated SIGLA data.

Users can access SIGLA data through four browsing routes:

  • Browse by Country allows users to explore one or more institutional categories and institutions for a single country.
  • Browse by Institution allows users to view individually one or more institutions within an institutional category in more than one country.
  • Compare allows users to compare any institution across countries. Users may also use this feature to compare international institutions.
  • Custom Browse allows users to view data for individual variables associated with as many institutions and countries as they wish.

Once users click “See Data,” SIGLA provides tables containing the data on the same webpage below the drop-down menus based on the selections users made. These tables can be manipulated in various ways, as described below.

Browsing Data

SIGLA users can explore data through four browsing routes: Browse by Country, Browse by Institution, Compare, and Custom Browse. Users may access each route through the “Explore Data” drop-down menu in the top menu bar of the website, or by scrolling down on the home page to view the four route buttons. Each browsing route provides access to the same data but allows the user to display and visualize those data in different ways.

When exploring data through any of the four browsing routes, users may select one or more countries, institutional categories, and institutions to view. Some institutional categories only have one institution within them (e.g., the Legislature). In this case, the name of the institutional category is the same as the name of the institution, and the user selects that name twice, once in each menu. 

Please refer to the Institutional Matrix for a list of all institutional categories and institutions included in the database.

The table below offers examples of when to use each route based on the type of information desired.

Information of interest:

Example:

Browsing route to use: 

Data on one or more institutional categories and institutions in one country

The senate (legislature) and the vice president (executive) in Mexico

Browse by Country

Data on one or more institutions within an institutional category, viewed individually, in more than one country

 

Data on international institutions

Executive ministries in Brazil and Colombia

The founding of the Pan American Health Organization

Browse by Institution

Comparison of features of one institution across multiple countries

The electoral system of Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico

Compare

Specific data about multiple institutions in multiple countries

Term limits of the president and members of congress in Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico

Custom Browse

The Browse by Country route allows users to explore one or more institutional categories and institutions for a single country. In three drop-down menus, users are prompted to select: 1) the country of interest, 2) one or more institutional categories they want to browse, and 3) one or more institutions within each institutional category. 

For example, a user who wishes to explore the executive and legislature in Mexico selects:

  1. Choose a country → Mexico
  2. Choose institutional categories → Executive, Legislature
  3. Choose institutions → The user is presented with various institutions in the Executive institutional category (including Executive Overview, Presidency, Ministries Overview and each of the Ministries) and one institution in the Legislature institutional category (Legislature)

Once the user makes their selections and clicks “See Data,” the data on the selected institutions populate on the page below the drop-down menu. The data are arranged in institution tables, each labeled “Country / Institutional Category / Institution” (e.g., “Mexico / Executive / Presidency”). Initially, each institution table appears with only the headings (reflecting the topic of the variables included under the heading) visible. Clicking the plus sign to the left of a heading displays the associated variables. Users may also open any institution table in a new tab by clicking on the first of three buttons at the table’s top right (i.e., the one with an arrow pointing out of a square).

International Institutions are not accessible through Browse by Country because they are not exclusively associated with a particular country. Users may view International Institutions through any of the other three browsing routes.

The Browse by Institution route allows users to choose one institutional category and browse its institutions individually in more than one country. In three drop-down menus, users are prompted to select: 1) the institutional category of interest, 2) one or more countries in which they want to explore this category, and 3) one or more institutions within that institutional category. When users select International Institutions in the first menu, they will be prompted to skip the menu for selecting countries and will then select one or more international institutions from the third menu.

For example, if a user wishes to explore electoral institutions and recent elections in Brazil and Colombia, the user selects:

  1. Choose an institutional category → Elections
  2. Choose countries → Brazil, Colombia
  3. Choose institutions → From among the institutions presented, the user chooses Electoral Results and Superior Electoral Court (under Brazil) and Electoral Results, National Electoral Council, and National Registry of Civil Status (under Colombia)

Once the user makes their selections and clicks “See Data,” the data on the selected institutions populate on the page below. The data are arranged in institution tables, each labeled “Institutional Category / Country / Institution” (e.g., “Elections / Brazil / Electoral Results”). Each institution table initially appears with only the headings (reflecting the topic of the variables included under the heading) visible. Clicking the plus sign to the left of a heading displays the associated variables. Users may also open any institution table in a new tab by clicking on the first of three buttons at the top right of the table.

The Compare route allows users to compare any institution across countries. Users may also use this route to compare international institutions. In three drop-down menus, users are prompted to select 1) one institutional category, 2) two or more countries, and 3) the institution they wish to compare across the countries selected. If an institution listed in the third menu does not exist in all of the countries the user selected, the menu displays a note beside the institution indicating the number of countries with available data. When users select International Institutions in the first menu, SIGLA prompts them to skip the country menu and select two or more international institutions from the third menu.

For example, if a user wishes to compare the civil code in Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico, the user selects:

  1. Choose an institutional category → Codes
  2. Choose 2+ countries to compare → Brazil, Colombia, Mexico
  3. Choose institution → From among the codes presented, the user would choose Civil Code

Once the user makes their selections and clicks “See Data,” the selected institution’s data populate on the page below. The data are arranged in a comparison table with a row for each variable associated with the institution and a column with the data for those variables for each country selected.

The table initially appears with only the headings (reflecting the topic of the variables included under the heading) visible. Clicking the plus sign to the left of a heading displays the associated variables. Once the variables are displayed, only SIGLA’s Answer for each country is visible initially, allowing the user to compare data across the selected countries in one glance. Users may view the corresponding Original Text and Source for a variable by clicking on the down arrow to the left of the variable name. Users may reorder the country columns by clicking on the three lines to the left of the country name and dragging the column left or right to the desired position.

With regard to international institutions, depending on the size of a user’s computer screen or browser window, only a subset of the international institutions selected may be fully visible simultaneously. Users who select multiple international institutions to compare may need to scroll to the right in the comparison table to view data for the institutions that do not fit on the screen. 

The Custom Browse route allows users to view data for individual variables associated with as many institutions and countries as they wish. When users initially view the custom browse page, the custom browse menu is collapsed on the left-hand side of the screen. Once the menu is expanded, users first expand the countries menu (by clicking on the “+”) and select one or more countries; then expand the institutions menu and select specific institutional categories and institutions (including International Institutions). The variables menu then populates with every variable for the selected institutions, organized by institutional category, institution, and heading. Users may select as many variables as they wish. Within each menu, options are ordered alphabetically. A search feature at the top of the institution and variable menus allows users to search for institution or variable names. The search function returns results for exact matches with the term entered in the search bar.

For example, if a user wishes to see the term limits of every major government official in Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico:

  1. In the countries menu, the user selects Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico.
  2. In the institutions menu, the user selects every institution for which they want to see term limits (e.g., Presidency, Legislature).
  3. In the variables menu, the user selects the “Term limits” variable under every institution they selected.

Once the user clicks “See Data,” a table with all selected variables populates to the right of the selection menu; users may hide the selection menu to increase screen space. Only SIGLA’s Answer is visible for each variable initially; users may view the corresponding Original Text and Source by clicking on the plus sign on the left of a variable row. Users may also reorder the variable rows by clicking on the three lines to the left of the country name and dragging the rows up or down to the desired position. Finally, users may sort complete rows in ascending or descending alphabetical order by country, institution, or heading and variable name by clicking the sort arrows to the right of the corresponding column name.

Composite Variables

As described above, for most variables in SIGLA, the relevant data are displayed in a matrix directly accompanying the variable. For composite variables such as constitutional rights, constitutional amendments, and Body of Law, which are more complex, the data associated with variables are displayed in a separate institution table. Clicking on a link in SIGLA’s Answer for the composite variable displays the separate institution table.

To access constitutional rights through any of the four browsing routes described above, users select the countries in which they wish to view rights, select “Constitution” as the institutional category, and select “Current Constitution – Rights” in the institution drop-down menu. 

In addition, the Constitution institutional category — which users can access through the Browse by Country, Browse by Institution, or Compare routes — includes a variable about constitutional rights. Clicking the link in SIGLA’s Answer for the variable “Rights explicitly granted in the constitution” opens a new tab with an institution table including all current rights.

Each country’s list of rights is grouped into headings by type of right. Users may filter by beneficiaries of the right by clicking the filter button to the right of the “Beneficiaries of the Right” column name and selecting which beneficiaries they would like to view (e.g., children, all citizens). In the “Rights” column, users may search for terms from specific rights. Users may also search in the Original Text column, using terms from the constitutional text. The search function returns results for exact matches with the term entered in the search bar.

To access constitutional amendments through any of the four browsing routes described above, users select the countries in which they wish to view amendments, select “Constitution” as the institutional category, and select “Constitution” in the institution drop-down menu. Clicking the link in SIGLA’s Answer for the variable “Amendments” opens a new tab with a chronologically ordered table of all of the amendments made to the selected countries’ current constitutions since their promulgation.

Within the amendments table, users may search for content within the following columns: “Tag / Category of Amendment,” “Amendment Name / Number,” “Date in Force,” and “Articles Modified.” The search function returns results for exact matches with the term entered in the search bar.

SIGLA has compiled important laws and regulations that structure and guide the organization and functioning of the institutions within each institutional category (excluding Codes, the Constitution, and International Institutions). When users follow the Browse by Country, Browse by Institution, or Compare routes to create a table for an institution in an institutional category for which SIGLA has compiled a Body of Law, the Body of Law heading and variable appear at the top of the institution table. Clicking the link in SIGLA’s Answer associated with the Body of Law variable opens a new tab with a table including the relevant laws and regulations. Users can navigate to the Body of Law associated with an institutional category from the institution table for any institution within that category. The only exception is that users cannot access the Body of Law for the Executive from the tables for each ministry.

The Body of Law heading and variable may also be accessed through the variable menu in Custom Browse if users have selected an institution in an institutional category for which SIGLA has compiled a Body of Law. Clicking the link in SIGLA’s Answer associated with the Body of Law variable opens a new tab including the relevant laws and regulations. 

Within the Body of Law table, users may filter data within the “Relevant Institution(s)” and “Label” columns by clicking on the filter button to the right of the column name and selecting the institutions or labels that they would like to view.

Additional Website Functions

SIGLA’s pin data function allows users to save pieces of data to a personalized webpage. Pinned data are saved only during a particular browsing session. To keep pinned data, users should download their pins before closing the browser. Users may download their pinned data at any time. 

Users may pin individual variables or an entire table (including every variable in the table). To pin data, users click the pin icon to the right of the name of the table or the specific variable they wish to save. Clicking the pin icon a second time unpins the data. Body of Law tables, constitutional amendments tables, and the rows within them cannot be pinned. To save data from Body of Law, users can pin the Body of Law variable from the corresponding institution table. To save amendments, users can pin the amendments variable from the corresponding Constitution table. In addition, individual constitutional rights cannot be pinned, but users can pin a full constitutional rights table and each heading.

Pinned data are accessible at any time during a particular browsing session by clicking on “My Pinned Data” in the top menu bar. As noted by the choices at the top left of the page, the pinned data page is divided into two sections: “Individual Variables” and “Compared Variables.” The individual variables section includes all variables pinned through Browse by Country, Browse by Institution, and Custom Browse. By clicking on the “Individual Variables” drop-down menu, users can toggle between two views. “View by Institution” organizes pinned variables into separate tables by institution (as in Browse by Institution), while “View by Variable” lists all pinned variables in a single table (as in Custom Browse). The “Compared Variables” section shows all variables pinned through the Compare route in a comparison table. Clicking the “X” beside tables or variables on the “My Pinned Data” page unpins the selected data.

Users may download any portion of SIGLA data for future use. Users may download tables created through each of the four browsing routes by clicking the download button to the right of the table’s name. Users may also download their pinned data by clicking the download button at the top of the “My Pinned Data” page for individual variables or compared variables. The data download in an Excel (.xlsx) file format.

SIGLA welcomes feedback from users who find issues or have suggestions for improving the content and presentation of SIGLA data. To report an issue from any page on the site, click on the small dark blue flag button on the far right of the screen. On the “Report an Issue” page that will appear, users should indicate the function they were using when they identified the issue, the name of the institution and country where the issue was found, and a description of the issue. The SIGLA research team will review user comments to resolve the issue.

Navigational Tips

Saved searches: During a particular browsing session, SIGLA saves the selections users make in the navigational drop-down menus in each browsing route. For instance, if a user creates a comparison table for the Presidency in Brazil and Colombia, then switches to Browse by Country to view Electoral Results in Mexico, the Presidency comparison table will reappear if the user returns to the Compare page during the same browsing session.

Scrolling within cells: Oftentimes, the text in SIGLA’s Answer, Original Text, and Source cells for a given variable is too long to view in its entirety within the maximum row height of the tables. Users may scroll within any cell to view the full text. If a scroll bar isn’t immediately visible in the cell, one will appear once the user hovers over the cell and begins scrolling.

“See more”: Click the “See more” button in SIGLA’s Answer and Original Text to view the full content of the cell.

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