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07/12/15 Civic Technology , Open Policy # , , , , , , ,

OpenCoesione School – A scalable learning format using OpenData as Educational Resources

OpenCoesione School – A scalable learning format using OpenData as Educational Resources

The third edition of the open education project “OpenCoesione School” was launched on November 18th, 2015. While you are reading this post, about 2800 students and 200 teachers are involved in a collective learning experience focused on civic monitoring public funding through open data analysis, and also  visiting sites, and conducting journalistic research.

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OpenCoesione School – or ASOC, from Italian “A Scuola di OpenCoesione” – is an educational challenge and a MOOC (Massive Online Open Course) designed for students in Italian secondary schools. ASOC was launched in 2013 within the open government strategy on cohesion policy carried out by the national agencies responsible for Cohesion Policy in Italy, in partnership with the Ministry of Education and the Representation Office of the European Commission in Italy. The project is also supported by the European Commission’s network of Europe Direct Information Centres.  

With a very limited budget compared to other similar practices, the project was designed in 2013 by a diverse group of experts including Damien Lanfrey and Donatella Solda from the Ministry of Education (who are now leading the ambitious Italian National Plan for Digital Schools), Simona De Luca, Carlo Amati, Aline Pennisi, Paola Casavola, Lorenzo Benussi and myself as members of the OpenCoesione scientific committee, and a specifically designated team including Chiara Ciociola and Andrea Nelson Mauro.   Francesca Mazzocchi, Marco Montanari and Gianmarco Guazzo joined the team in the following editions. Other OpenCoesione staff members such as Chiara RicciMara Giua and Marina De Angelis also contributed to the project.  

 

From Open Data to Civic Engagment

The objectives of ASOC are to engage participating schools towards actively promoting the use and reuse of open data for the development of civic awareness and engagement with local communities in monitoring the effectiveness of public investment. The participating students and teachers design their research using data from the 900,000 projects hosted on the national OpenCoesione portal. On OpenCoesione, everyone can find transparent information regarding the investment on projects funded by Cohesion Policies in Italy as it provides data with detailed information regarding the amount of funding, policy objectives, locations, involved subjects and completion times.  Schools can select the data they want to use in their research which can be related with their region or city.  

The program is designed in six main sessions. The first four sessions aim at developing innovative and interdisciplinary skills such as digital literacies and data analysis to understand and critically understand the use of public money. Thanks to a highly interactive process, students learn basic public policy analysis techniques such as identifying policy rationales for interventions and comparing policy goals with results. This process employs “civic” monitoring tools of the civil society initiative Monithon in order to work on of real cases. Data journalism and transmedia storytelling techniques are used as well.

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Schools that participated in the 2nd edition

During the fifth session, and based on the information acquired, ASOC students carry out on-site visits to the public works or services in their territory that are financed by EU and national funds for local development. They also conduct interviews with the key stakeholders involved in the projects’ implementation, the final beneficiaries and other actors. Finally, the sixth session is a final event where students meet with their local communities and policy-makers to discuss their findings, with the ultimate goal to keep the administrators accountable for their decisions. Here you can find all the video sessions and exercises: http://www.ascuoladiopencoesione.it/lezioni/.

 

Innovative learning

The teaching method combines asynchronous and synchronous learning. The asynchronous model is designed following a  typical of MOOC (Massive Online Open Courses) style where participants learn through a series of activities and teachers are trained by the central ASOC team through a series of webinars. In the synchronous in-class sessions, these share a common structure where each class starts with one or more videos from the MOOC, followed by a group exercise where the participants get involved in teacher-led classroom activities. These activities are organized around the development of the research projects and reproduce a flipped classroom setting.

In between lessons, students work independently to prepare data analysis reports and original final projects. Also, in order to have an impact on local communities and institutions, the students are actively supported by local associations that contribute with specific expertise in the field of open data or on specific topics such as environmental issues, anti-mafia activities, local transportation, etc. Furthermore, the European Commission’s network of information centers “Europe Direct” (EDIC), is involved supporting the activities and disseminating the results. On ASOCs’ website there is a blog dedicated to share and disseminate the students’ activities on social networks.

ASOC’s pedagogical methodology is centered around specific goals, well-defined roles and decision-making. This has allowed students to independently manage every aspect of their project activities, from the choice of research methods to how to disseminate the results. On the other hand, the teachers are also involved in an intensive community experience that allows them to learn not only from their own students, but also from the local community and from their fellow teaching peers involved in the project.  

 

Involving communities and policy makers

Ultimately, this takes the form of a collective civic adventure that improves the capacity to form effective social bonds and horizontal ties among the different stakeholders, actors of the local communities. In fact, detailed Open Data on specific public projects has enable new forms of analysis and storytelling focused on real cases developed in the students’ neighborhoods. This, in turn, has the key goal of involving the policymakers in a shared, participatory learning process, to improve both policy accountability and the capacity to respond to local needs.

 

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Finally, ASOC’s key element is that the pedagogical methodology we have developed can be used as a learning pathway that can be adapted to different realities (e.g. different policy domains, from national to local, in different sectors) using different types of open data with comparable level of detail and granularity (e.g. detailed local budget data, performance data, research data, or any other type of data).

If you are interested in learning more from ASOC’s experience, you can read a case study which includes the results of the 2014-2015 edition on Ciociola, C., & Reggi, L. (2015). A Scuola di OpenCoesione: From Open Data to Civic Engagement. In J. Atenas & L. Havemann (Eds.), Open Data As Open Educational Resources: Case Studies of Emerging Practice.

Don’t hesitate to get in touch with us as we are looking forward to provide support to  your institutions and communities to share what we have learned from this exciting professional journey!

Here you can watch the ASOC’s documentary video of the 2014-2015 edition https://vimeo.com/138955671

A Scuola di OpenCoesione 2014-2015: le voci dei protagonisti from OpenCoesione on Vimeo.

 

This is an adaptation from this post published in OpenEducation Europa. Chiara Ciociola is the main contributor, while I added a few phrases to her final version. Javiera Atenas very kindly helped us with the proof reading. I am the one who’s responsible for any inaccuracy! 🙂

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18/11/14 Civic Technology , Open Policy # , , , ,

Open Government Meets Journalism: Should A Public Administration Actively Involve Data Journalists?

Open Government Meets Journalism: Should A Public Administration Actively Involve Data Journalists?

According to a brutal definition, Data Journalism is “Journalism with Data“. Even though this data can come from a variety of sources, Open Government Data is seen as a gold mine. A data journalist could be interested, for example, in tracking crimes through local crime data or discovering specific episodes of corruption and misuse of public funding thanks to the data on public spending.

Now let’s see this from the perspective of the government. As more and more public sector organizations are venturing in the world of Open Government, the actual (re)use of their own Open Data is a measure of success of their strategy.  And there is no doubt that Data Journalism is one of the best examples of re-use of Open government Data that can create public value.

It’s fascinating to see how many public administrations around the world are now aiming to actively involve data journalists in their Open Government programs.  From my experience, this collaboration has taken three different forms so far:

  1. [SOFT] The staff of an Open Government program participates in “data journalism hackathons” or other events organized by journalists. The government employees offer their knowledge about the data and the data journalists find a story worth telling.
    This is what happened, for example, during the hackathon of the International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy. Representatives of some Italian Ministries first presented their data to the journalists and then stayed all day to answer their questions and work with them.
  2. [MEDIUM] The government offers “training sessions” to journalists. Sometimes the data are difficult to understand because a specific jargon is used or the policy is so complex that at least a basic knowledge of some technical aspects is essential. The events are held on the government premises and are aimed at providing the journalists with the “right tools” to analyze the data (how to create a map or an interactive graph) and to interpret it.
    For example, the European Commission recently organized a “school” for journalists focused on EU funds.
  3. [HARD] The government hires data journalists. A data journalist working for the government can assume the role of communication officer and create visualizations and articles based on the government’s communication strategy. This is the case of the French portal Gouvernement.fr that recently added an “infographics” section (“les infographies et videos”) and is now looking for data journalists to create eye-catchy visualizations and content.
    But journalists can also have different roles, especially when working for specific Open Government initiatives. For example, a data journalist is part of the team of OpenCoesione School, a special project that involves high school students in the development of an investigation on the use of public funding through open data.

 

In the last few days I noticed a couple of interesting tweets on this.

An initial reaction to the “Medium scenario” (government training journalists) takes into consideration the principle of independence. In a tweet, the civil servant and public policy expert Tito Bianchi said:

However, an evidence-based debate in the press is possible only if the data are not misinterpreted, and working with the sources of information is a key part of the game. In addition, journalists may have limited quantitative skills to analyze the data or limited knowledge of the technicalities of a specific public policy.  

As for the “Hard scenario” (government hiring journalists), the experienced data journalists Nicolas Kayser-Bril commented on the French case with these words:

Nonetheless, he added that this could be an option if the agencies that are hiring are “independent, state-financed authorities that can scrutinize gov’t action, such as ombudsman, transparency authorities, courts of auditors”.

 

Do you think that a public agency should proactively involve data journalists? In which forms? Are there some “special cases”?
Under what conditions should a journalist accept to collaborate with an Open Government program?

 

 

Photo by Ahmad Hammoud

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19/09/11 Civic Technology

Open Data to the next level: WHY and HOW to involve the private sector

The attention of civil society and policy makers is now turning to uncharted lands: open data from the private sector can be mashed-up with governmental data to create new apps and services. The Open Data portal created by Enel – a leading Italian power company – is a step in the right direction

While the open data movement is spreading within public sector – with very interesting initiatives both at local and international level – the attention of civil society and policy makers has turned to an uncharted land, that is the open data from the private sector. The need to involve businesses in the open data movement emerged quite clearly at the first European Digital Agenda Assembly, held in Brussels on 16-17 June 2011. In particular, the European Commission aims at stimulating more private participation in the open data initiatives, and is considering specific actions to promote the re-use of big datasets held by large private sector organizations.

Professor Nigel Shadbolt, a member of the UK Government’s Public Sector Transparency Board, outlines the benefits of an open data strategy in an article published in Think Quarterly. “Open data offers the prospect of instant connectivity between partners, as in open supply chains, where businesses source from places they might never have considered or even suspected could be a source. Open data can reduce integration costs, improve transparency and harness the innovation of others. If you release your data then others will develop applications that make best use of it – providing new services that benefit you directly, like all of those free travel apps that the travel companies didn’t have to write, but which nevertheless drive people onto the transportation network”.

Following the example of other companies such as SimpleGEO from the US, Enel – Italy’s largest power company and a key player in the European market – is now opening up a first set of datasets. The company, which originally launched an open data portal on 23 August under Creative Commons BY NC ND license disallowing commercial re-use, earlier today changed the license to a CC BY, merely requiring re-users to mention Enel as the source of data. Datasets include economic and financial information about the company and “sustainability data”, which comprise data on generation, distribution and sale of electricity and gas.

Raffaele Cirullo, head of New Media unit at Enel, reports on Enel strategies to the Spaghetti Open Data (SOD) mailing list. As a first step, an initiative entitled Enel Sharing was launched in 2008 to harness the power of social media to promote the brand amongst stakeholders and disseminate the cultural initiatives of the company. Then the unit focused on emerging innovations in the field of new media as a way to introduce a new culture of sharing within the group. Open data is of course one of the most interesting paradigm shifts, with major marketing impact within the private sector. These are the main goals of Enel Open Data initiative:

  1. improve the market by fostering competition
  2. increase transparency by increasing participation
  3. favor technological innovation by encouraging the development and spreading of new applications, mash-ups and data visualization systems.

Personally, I very much share the opinion of Lorenzo Benussi – researcher at NEXA Center for Internet & Society of Politecnico di Torino – who jumped in the discussion with a message to the SOD mailing list on the eventual advantages of the diffusion of the open data model in the private sector. First, open financial data on corporate accounting may lead to a more effective control of global markets. Secondly, information on businesses assets, processes and activities is of great interest to the public and can be mashed-up with governmental data on the matter. Some examples: information about natural resources provided by the oil industry, power and communication grids, ships logistics, etc.

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14/09/11 Civic Technology

Open Data up for adoption

“Linea Amica” – the integrated contact center of Italian public administration – is opening up and crowdsourcing a set of data underlying its information services to local communities. Everyone can adopt a record of the dataset and help the government solve major data quality issues.

An interesting initiative, with an unusual marketing approach, was launched last week by FormezPA, an agency of the Italian Government: Linea Amica – the official integrated contact center of Italian Public Administration – is giving the data up for adoption. This is the message displayed on the webpages of RubricaPA, a specific service that allows users to find and locate a public agency by searching among thousands of national, regional and local authorities. The service is now letting the users modify the underlying data by submitting more accurate or updated information on an agency location, telephone number or certified email.

The process is simple. You modify of a set of data through a form, then your suggestion is evaluated by the staff, and, if accepted… you have now adopted that specific data. This means that the staff at the ministry considers yourself somehow responsible of that data and its change over time. Something that may (or may not) create a sort of a personal bond with the data itself. Or even an act of love, quoting from Alberto Cottica’s definition of social network.

RubricaPA started to publish open data on public agencies addresses, fiscal codes and certified emails in October 2010 under the Italian Open Data License v1.0 (which is built on Open Data Commons and Creative Commons BY-SA), a step forward of national government towards open data. But the dataset, created through a matching of data from different sources (official statistics, central registers, old similar projects), is flawed by data quality issues and missing values. Some information is outdated or inaccurate, sometimes conflicting. That is why a little help from the crowd may become crucial. In fact, this is the first time that a central and official service sponsored by the Ministry of Public Administration resorts to crowdsourcing techniques to face major data quality issues.

The question is: who should be interested in helping “Linea Amica” improve its information services? The promoters hope to actively involve local public servants and citizens who care about their local community and want a major state-wide service such as Linea Amica help line to use the correct information. “This is my data, I should care”.

We will see if this kind of love is enough to get the right level of participation.

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04/11/10 Civic Technology

Open data italy: the bottom-up approach

Open data italy: the bottom-up approach

Two websites by two different groups of Italian civic hackers are creating bottom-up national open government portals. But, for now, the best results are still at regional level.

Italy does not have a national open data portal yet. Some people believe that no one even plans to create it, though Mr. Renato Brunetta, Italian Minister for Innovation and Public Administration, in an interview with Wired Italy in June, promised that a “Data.gov.it” will be launched by the end of 2010 following the example of data.gov and data.gov.uk.

Evidently, Italian “civic hackers” did not believe him or simply could not wait. So yesterday they launched their own open data public portal with a tiny budget and lots of enthusiasm. Well, to be precise, not one but two different open government portals appeared on the web on exactly the same day.

The first, datagov.it, is promoted by the brand new Italian Association for Open Government, a small group mainly composed of independent consultants working for national agencies or institutions such as Formez (a public agency for training courses dedicated to central public administrations) or ForumPA (a leading company in organizing major events and exhibits for public administrations), or connected to the network InnovatoriPA (Italian Innovators in the Public Administration).
Their main objective is to publish a manifesto for open government in Italy, the draft of which is now available for public consultation and will be finally released on November 30, 2010. The manifesto seems not to be linked to any particular action or event, as it was the Open Declaration on European Public Services, which was conceived to influence the Ministerial Declaration on e-government. This website also has a page containing a list of publicly available datasets – very small for now (only 8 listed), but growing.
The second website is ironically entitled “Spaghetti Open Data”. Rather than a declaration or a manifesto, the portal focuses on the available datasets by listing and classify them in a rigorous way. The group of volunteers behind this effort is composed of key civil servants and information holders in Italian Regional and National Government which were supported by a team of very efficient developers.

This is how Alberto Cottica, one of the promoters, commented on yesterday’s launch on his blog:
“We aggregated 32 databases; not bad when you consider that data.gov, with all the firepower of the Obama administration, had 47 at launch.
It’s only a small thing, but it feels right for various reasons.
Firstly, it is a concrete achievement. I have had enough of complaining about the idle government, the backwardness of Italian culture, the financial crisis, bad luck. I have precious little time to spare, and I would like to invest it on projects that pay me back by yielding some kind of result. The Spaghetti Open Data group has put in some work, and in a few weeks it produced something which is actually there, and it works. If you want to build something with Italian open data you can, right now, without having to wait for structural change or a new generation in government. All it took is some voluntary work and 41 euro for hosting.

Secondly, it is intellectually rigorous. We had to ask ourselves the same questions that I imagine confronted the people in charge of data.gov and data.gov.uk. Are statistic data open data? (Apparently not) Does it make sense for statistical and open data to be collected in the same place? (Apparently it does, so that citizens can correlate the ones with the others) How to organize metadata? (We went for compatibility with CKAN, as in data.gov.uk) we have mapped a possible way for Italian open data, and future legitimate websites of open data have an all-Italian benchmark that they can consider, or even copy.

Finally, it is the expression of a small community of about fifty bloggers and civil servants that worked together towards a common goal, across their considerable cultural differences, showing mutual respect along the way. I have also had enough of bashing bureaucrats as stupid or evil. Some are just that, others are wonderful people and great war buddies. Most are reasonably clever, well-meaning people who happen to be very different from me: collaborating requires investing a little time and effort to come to understand each other. It is almost always worth it”.

That said, while the national open data portal is somehow being created, as always happens the best things are happening at regional level. Same thing with open data: good efforts to open up public data and to create open data portals are from the Regional Authorities. Above all:

• Piemonte Region is leading the way with its open data portal dati.piemonte.it, being active from May 2010.
• Toscana Region has set up a webpage full of datasets, and has provided itself with a regional law on the re-use of public information.

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14/09/10 Civic Technology

A chat with HAL VARIAN on Open Data and Gov 2.0

A chat with HAL VARIAN on Open Data and Gov 2.0

Professor Hal Varian is one of my personal idols. As a student, I studied microeconomics from his famous manual which is used in almost every University in the world. Recently, I usedMicroeconomic Analysis again in my own Economics course at La Sapienza University in Rome, and I rediscovered the clarity and rigor of this text.
But my life literally changed after reading Information Rules, a groundbreaking book he wrote with Carl Shapiro in 1999. This book led me to study innovation and technology and to make the study of innovation a profession.

Many of you might know he is now Chief Economist at Google, and his job is analyzing economic trends by exploiting the potential of Google Trends and the tons of queries people make every day. A very exiting job indeed. He is certainly the master of web 2.0 data.

Professor Varian is now touring Europe for a series of meetings that will culminate with the WTO Forum in Geneva tomorrow. Last Thursday he was over in Rome to meet the Italian Minister of Labour Maurizio Sacconi at a public meeting organized by the lobbying and media company Reti entitled “Web Economy: Internet for economic development”.
How could I have passed up the opportunity of being there and asking him a couple of questions about open data and gov 2.0?

Professor Varian, what do you think about this kind of global fever for open data and Gov 2.0? Is it all hype or does have a future?

I think that this model is very attractive. You can think of the government as the wholesaler of data, that puts it up in bulk form. Then this data can be downloaded, refined and improved for retail and distribution. There are a lot of reasons to think that that model might be attractive, because the role that the Government would play would be quite specifically defined: make the raw data available. Then people can extract from that what they want, and polish it, beautify it, crack it and a lot of other things. So that is a model which I think could be attractive to Italy, the US and the other Countries. The problem of managing the data from end to end is that it’s very expensive and a very big challenge. The most important step is to make the data available even if it’s in a raw and unfinished form.

Two days ago, at Gov 2.0 Summit 2010 in Washington DC Ellen Miller of Sunlight Foundation strongly criticized the availability and quality of the data published on USAspending.gov and Data.gov. It seems that this revolution is actually not happening yet.

Well, I think that in the Obama administration, for example, they are making a lot of more patent data available, FCC (Federal Communications Commission) data available, and so on. So it is happening, it’s just not as rapid as one might think, because it’s a difficult problem. But I think there’s enough momentum behind this effort, and we will see progress. As they say “pazienza”! (he laughs).

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10/06/10 Civic Technology , Digital Government

From Gov 1.0 to Gov 2.0: A change in users, too

A study based on Eurostat data on ICT usage among individuals in Italy demonstrates that current Web 2.0 users are not interested in eGovernment, while eGovernment users are reluctant to be involved in Gov 2.0 initiatives. A change of paradigm is needed to evolve from Gov 2.0 for policy wonks to large scale participation.

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p class=”paragraph_style_5″>The figure below summarizes one of the main findings of the Report on Digital Divide among households in Italy commissioned by the Italian Parliament and co-funded by all the major telecom companies operating in the country (see this Abstract of Chapter 2 in English, or the full report in Italian). Using data from Eurostat (year 2008), the study classifies the users according to a number of Internet activities that they had performed in the last 3 months. 
Users tend to cluster into three main groups:

• the first group (in light green) tends to carry out quite traditional web activities, such as on-line banking, information search or eGovernment
• the second (in darker green) tries out new technologies mainly devoted to communication and the web 2.0, i.e. blogging, social networks, on-line gaming, listening to streaming music, etc.
• the third (in red) is composed of occasional users who did not do any of the activities considered in the last 3 months

Looking at the personal characteristics of the people belonging to the various groups, the data shows that age still plays a very important role, following a pattern that could be thought of as a ‘digital circle of life’ (purple line). Internet users, while starting this virtual cycle among the occasional users when very young, tend to move to the innovation adopters group at 16 to 25 years old, and then join the traditional group once they reach middle age. The circle is eventually closed by virtue of the fact that senior people belong to the occasional users group. As expected, the level of education (blue line) is also positively correlated to the use of the Internet, but the arrows are pointing right to center of the web 1.0 cluster.

Today, who is Gov 2.0 for?
Once again data shows that, on average, digital natives seem to maintain the monopoly of web 2.0, while traditional and bureaucratic on line services are generally used by completely different people, namely well-educated persons in their 30s or 40s.
The difference from 1.0 and 2.0 users is even more dramatic considering e-government services. People who download public forms or use advanced on line services (“sending filled in forms”, in Eurostat vocabulary) are represented in the chart at the exact opposite of blogs creators. They are different users, having different habits and showing completely different ways to use the Internet. Gov 1.0 users do on-line banking, read newspapers on line, etc. Maybe they have responsibilities, have to pay taxes, find a new job and so on, but are probably not used to Twitter, Ning or Second Life. On the contrary, Web 2.0 people are younger and just want to communicate and play.
A tremendous change in service design is necessary to meet the needs of web 2.0 people without leaving traditional users behind; a change of paradigm in fact. New services have to be co-designed with 2.0 kind of users, and a hacker mentality has to be promoted to loose the boundaries between institutional bodies and society.
But today who is Gov 2.0 really for? David Osimo thinks that the existing initiatives are just for elitists – designed, he says quoting the New York Times, for Lisa Simpson, not for Bart – and that new tools are needed in order to involve him, i.e. to enable large-scale participation. Using the Simpsons to interpret the Eurostat data, Bart would be – well… he actually is! – a teenager probably just not interested in political participation and eGovernment services, or at least not yet. He would know how to use 2.0 tools to interact with Government, but he prefers to “play networked games with others” or to download illegal content on peer-to-peer networks. And Lisa, where is she in the chart? Data shows what is happening on average, and Lisa is therefore not considered. In fact, she is absolutely an exception: she is politically involved, she cares about policies (a policy wonk, someone said), while having the media literacy to be 2.0.
Time is probably going to help this. It is reasonable to expect that, as the digital natives get older and new commodities and tools such as the iPad spread, more Barts are going be turned into Lisas, and the hacker/wonk mentality will eventually become more widespread. In the meantime, as Alberto points out, it is better to be ruled by a few Lisas than by Mr. Burns.

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02/03/10 Civic Technology , Open Policy

Open data and Structural Funds

European Cohesion Policy has always paid special attention to transparency. Today all European Regions publish lists of beneficiaries of Structural Funds as required by the Council regulations.  But only a part of this data is in a machine-readable and reusable format.  Italian region of Calabria represents a good exception.

As the current debate on ‘government 2.0’ focuses on accessing public information as a way to foster open government and transparency, the availability of public data is becoming crucial for an effective delivery of new user-generated services. According to the last Ministerial Declaration on eGovernment, approved in November 2009, new demand-led information products and services enabled by the reuse of public sector information will support the transition of Europe to a knowledge-based economy.
In this regard, great importance is attributed to the formats in which this data is published. It is universally recognized that a web page (i.e. HTML code) or a PDF file is not enough. To allow mash-up or geo-referencing, data should be machine-readable, preferably in open, standard and reusable formats such as XML, RDF, CSV (see for example WC3 guidelines).

The European Cohesion Policy has always paid attention to the transparency issues related to the vast amount of public resources that have been assigned to the European Regions.
According to Article 69 of the Council Regulation (EC) No 1083/2006 of 11 July 2006 laying down general provisions on the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund and the Cohesion Fund and repealing Regulation (EC) No 1260/1999, the Member States and the Managing Authority for the operational programme shall provide information on and publicise operations and co-financed programmes. The information shall be addressed to European Union citizens and beneficiaries with the aim of highlighting the role of the Community and ensuring that assistance from the Funds is transparent.

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To fulfill Article 69 of the Council Regulation (EC) No 1083/2006, Managing Authorities of the programmes co-financed by Structural Funds have to draw up a Communication Plan aiming at:

  • improving communication through the implementation of community actions more visible and close to citizens in order to increase the general consent on the future EU policies
  • guaranteeing more transparency through more efficient, transparent and accessible European institutions open to public control
  • closing the gap between EU institutions and citizens through the improvement of the dialogue and listening.

Consequently all direct beneficiaries (the public or private bodies or firms responsible for commissioning operations or, in cases of aid schemes, the bodies that grant the aid) must be published by the Managing Authorities under the rules governing the implementation of the 2007-2013 funds (EC No 1828/2006). The information must contain the name of the beneficiary, the names of the operations and the amount of public funding allocated to the operations.
From this page of Inforegio web site (DG Regio of European Commission) it is possible to access to the lists of projects and beneficiaries published in the web sites of the Regional Operative Programmes and of the Regional Managing Authorities.
As reported in the table below, currently most of these lists are provided in HTML tables or can be downloaded as PDF files, making them difficult to export to Excel or other applications and connect them to different databases for a more detailed analysis.

 

The Calabria project database

A good example of how this data should be published is the project database of Italian Region of Calabria, accessible online through the web site Calabria Europa.

To date, the database includes more than 32,000 projects; for each project the following information is reported:

  1. the name of the project

  2. the name of the final beneficiary

  3. the owner of the process

  4. the territory where the beneficiary is located

  5. the type of funds (ERDF, ESF, etc) and the Operational Programme

  6. the amounts allocated

  7. the amounts paid out

Through an interactive interface and an advanced search, users can look for specific projects, territories where the project impacts, Operational Programmes, measures, or expenditure categories and then to export the results in CSV format.  It is also possible to visualize the data in terms of statistics, graphs and figures, and then export to a PDF.  This tool is also used to report on the state of play and implementation levels of the policies funded, not only by the Structural Funds, but also by national funds such as the FAS (Under-utilized Area Funds). The tool includes data about the programming periods 2000-2006 and 2007-2013.

The most interesting feature is the search for a single municipal territory, which gives the opportunity, once exported to a CSV file, of geo-referencing the data with the greatest possible detail.  As an example, the map below shows the total amounts allocated in the 2007-13 programming period, displaying the funds only for projects impacting on a single municipality.

CALABRIA_FFSS_cropsreenshot calabriaeuropa

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12/12/09 Civic Technology , Digital Government

Don’t Forget ‘Traditional’ E-Government

While at the European level experts, practitioners and policy-makers are debating the role of the web 2.0 in public services and while most of the advanced OECD countries are delivering policy drafts and reports on the so-called Government 2.0, many Italian local Public Administrations are having difficulty in delivering not only Government 1.0, but in some cases even a beta version.

The Ministerial Declaration on eGovernment, approved in Malmö, Sweden, on 18th November 2009, defines policy priorities to be achieved by 2015:

1. to empower businesses and citizens through eGovernment services and better access to information
2. to facilitate mobility in the single market by seamless eGovernment services
3. to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of the Public Administration.

The first objective in particular seems to meet some of the requests of web 2.0 enthusiasts, who are asking for a more active role in terms of co-designing public services and accessing public information; having in mind, for example, a European version of the American data.gov portal, they perceive open collaboration with government as a way to create new user-generated services and foster transparency (see for example the open declaration on the role of web 2.0 in public services).  In this regard, a key passage of the document emphasizes the importance of the availability of public sector information for reuse: “New demand-led information products and services enabled by the reuse of public sector information will support the transition of Europe to a knowledge-based economy”.

bolle2However, from a strict Government 2.0 point of view, the Declaration as a whole is still mainly dedicated to ‘traditional’ eGovernment and, rather than a revolution, it appears to be (frankly, as expected) the result of a compromise between the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ way of thinking about innovation in public services, or, perhaps in fairer terms, some sort of ‘step-by-step’ innovation strategy. As Andrea DiMaio pointed out in a recent post, this impression is somehow confirmed by the fact that “the publication of the most recent e-government benchmark, which is the first outcome of the renewed contract between EU and Capgemini, shows a disappointing continuity with the old e-government approach”.

Is this actually bad news for public sector innovators?  Is this ‘new’ and fashionable view of eGovernment the defining solution to the many challenges that European Public Administrations are facing? Yes, in many ways it is; this ‘new’ approach is undoubtedly a step in the right direction and its role in the declaration could definitely have been more significant.  Co-designing of public services and open government, in particular, could force the Government to bring innovation to the next level and even trigger further improvements in efficiency and the effectiveness of Public Administrations.
Obviously, however, this should not be the only solution, at least for Countries of the Eastern and Southern Europe that are still engaged in developing digital infrastructures and delivering most of the basic public services on line.
Italy is certainly part of this club. Far from delivering web 2.0-like services or sharing public databases on the web (with some exceptions, of course), Italian PAs, especially at the local level, still do not have the technological and organizational ability to complete the delivery of a mature e-government transformation even at a “1.0” level, mainly because the italian local administration is fragmented into thousands of independent agencies and there is no efficient national data exchange framework for inter-agency information flows.

The latest data collected at the EU level highlights this gap.  According to the Eurostat chart published on 8th August 2009 in the European Commission Digital Competitiveness Report on i2010 strategy, Italy appears in 22nd position out of 27 Member States for take-up of advanced public services among both citizens and enterprises, i.e. those services that allow the final user to complete a transaction via the web, otherwise called ‘self-services’.  Eurostat statistics show not only an alarmingly low e-readiness rate among Italian young people compared with their counterparts in the rest of Europe, but also specific difficulties when using advanced public services via the web.

While waiting for fun and interactive web 2.0 public services, it is obvious that no take-up is achievable if most Public Administrations fail to deliver their most useful basic services on line. Indeed, the principal determinants of this low take-up rate can be found not only in the demand-side aspects like low broadband penetration among households (steadily lower than the European average) or the high proportion of elderly people normally excluded from digital technologies, but also, even now, in the scarcity of the supply of on-line services.  As stated in the last 2009 CapGemini Report, which has been measuring public services availability since 2005, in 4 years the position of Italy among the other Member States has dropped from 9th position in 2005 to 17th position out of the 27 EU Countries in terms of full on line availability. Those results could be even worse if the sample of the analyzed services were less biased toward those delivered by the central level and therefore easier to design and implement.  The report measurement approach, having to deal with 27 different institutional organizations and therefore to choose only the services that all Member States have in common, includes only a few of those key services that in Italy are only offered at the local level by 8,100 different and independent municipalities, more than a hundred Provinces and 21 Regional Governments.

It is at this level that the situation becomes difficult.  The latest results of the survey on ICT in the public sector by the Italian National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT) show that, in 2007, only 3% of the local public administrations were able to offer at least one transactional service out of dozens that would be expected.
In the above graph supply and demand of some of the key public on line services are compared. The data on availability of local e-government services is based on the results of the survey by CNIPA and DIT described in a previous post; the chart shows the percentage of individuals living in municipalities that are able to deliver the service on line at least as a downloadable form (stage 2 of the Capgemini classification).   Take-up is described using the last available data by single service from the ISTAT survey on ICT usage among individuals, special module on e-government (2006). The reported usage refers to the number of individuals who have used the the service via the web in the last 3 months, expressed as a percentage of all Internet users over the same period.

It is quite clear that those services with higher take-up values tend to show high availability percentages. In particular, it seems that local Public Administrations need to deliver a service to more than 50% of individuals in order to obtain more than 5% of take-up. Moreover, the ISTAT data reveals that those services with the lowest availability rate show the highest values of potential use. More than 60% of the interviewees, for example, would like to be able to notify moving house if the service were actually available.
In conclusion, this simple exercise may be enough to prove that there is still much to be done in order to achieve full availability of local public eServices in Italy as well as in other less-advanced countries in this field. Those who are concerned about the low eGovernment take-up levels should therefore consider that these levels, in some cases, may be determined just by a scarce availability and quality of the basic on line services.

So the ‘old’ approach to ‘traditional’ eGovernment which is prevalent in the European Declaration might sound outdated but it is, at least in some countries, still a must.

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