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Open Policy

06/10/11 Open Policy

Structural Funds 2014-2020 open up to open data

This is very good news for the open data movement. Earlier today Commissioners Hahn and Andor presented the European Commission proposals for the new Structural Funds regulations for the period 2014-2020. The new general regulation includes an article that force EU countries and regions to open up their data on projects and beneficiaries of Regional Policy. EU Regional Policy (or Cohesion Policy) is worth € 376 billion, more than a third of the entire budget of the Union.
In the last few months, technical and policy recommendations on how to improve the rules of this policy concerning transparency were provided by two studies (one commissioned by the European Parliament and the other by the DG Regional Policy [pdf]) and one independent web-based survey. Plus, organizations such as Transparency International advocated better rules and practices, such as the creation of a centralized website that contains all EU funds beneficiaries and that publishes the data respecting the 8 principles of Open Government Data.

The good news is that most of these recommendations have been incorporated in the drafts of the new regulations. In particular, Art. 105 (Chapter II, Information and Communication) states that EU countries “shall in order to ensure transparency in the support of the Funds maintain a list of operations by operational programme and by Fund in CSV or XML format which shall be accessible through the single website or the single website portal providing a list and summary of all operational programmes in that Member State”. It has been demostrated that the presence of a single website covering all data from the local institutions will likely improve the performance of the country in terms of transparency.

The minimum set of information to be provided – currently limited to three items – has been extended to cover new interesting data such as postcodes of beneficiaries. The data fields that must be included are listed in Annex V:

  • Beneficiary name (only legal entities; no natural persons shall be named);
  • Operation name;
  • Operation summary;
  • Operation start date;
  • Operation end date (expected date for physical completion or full implementation of the operation);
  • Total eligible expenditure allocated to the operation;
  • EU co-financing rate (as per priority axis);
  • Operation postcode;
  • Country;
  • Name of category of intervention for the operation;
  • Date of last update of the list of operations.
  • The headings of the data fields and the names of the operations shall be also provided in at least one other official language of the European Union.

In my opinion, this proposal is probably a good compromise between the need to introduce new, more transparent ways to publish data and the current level of technical and administrative capacity of EU regions. However, a few important features characterizing real open data are still missing. For example the data should be released in a linked-data formats such as the RDF. Plus, a clear indication of the license under which the data are released should be provided. Introducing these features now – even though the RDF format seems now pretty advanced – is particularly important seeing that it is rather difficult to modify a multi-annual regulation once it is approved.

Obviously it will be crucial to monitor the actual implementation of these rules across the European Union. Luckily, official regulations have demonstrated to be a powerful tool, far more persuasive than other initiatives, such as the European Transparency Initiative, undertaken by the Commission after the approval of the official regulations. As already demonstrated, the level of compliance with regulations among EU agencies is extremely high, given that the Commission has the power to stop the flow of money from the EU to the Regions if these rules are broken.

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26/09/11 Open Policy #

Open Budget and Open Data on Public Policies

Open budget and open data on public funding are two fundamental aspects of transparency and accountability. Here two indexes are compared: the Open Budget Index by the International Budget Partnership and the index based on the 8 principles of Open Government Data that measures the transparency of the lists of beneficiaries of European Regional Policy

Transparency of public budgets and public policy are key elements to get an effective and accountable government. Access to information on the use of public money is crucial to ensure an effective participation, and to generate trust, credibility of public choices – even in hard times – and the effectiveness of the interventions.
It’s interesting to compare two composite indicators on openness and transparency of public funding in Europe:

  • the Open Budget index (OBI), released by the International Budget Partnership (IBP) every year, analyzes budget transparency in 94 countries all around the world (here is the full report 2010). The index is composed by two pillars (“Availability of Budget Documents” and “Executive’s Budget Proposal”) and 92 qualitative variables that are aggregated by using a simple mean. The data are collected through a questionnaire by a network of independent organizations.
  • droppedImage (1)the index of transparency of EU Regional Policy (Structural Funds) that I put forward in this paper published in the last issue of the European Journal of ePractice. It measures the openness and transparency of the data on the beneficiaries of the European funds that all regions and member states acting as Managing Authority of the policy must publish on the web. The evaluation is based on the Eight principles of Open Government Data.

While the Structural Funds transparency index is calculated for all Europe, the OBI index is available for only 14 European countries, which include almost all main member states.

The first thing to note is that there is no correlation between the two indicators, at all. The best-performing countries in one index are the worst-performing countries in the other. France is maybe an exception, with very good results in open budget and a quite good score in Structural Funds transparency (mainly due to a centralized platform that provides information about all beneficiaries of regional programmes across the country).
This non-correlation can be explained by taking into consideration the different phenomena that the two indicators aim to describe. OBI methodology mainly focuses on quantity and detail of information disclosed, while the index on transparency of EU policy mainly considers the quality and the format of the data.

Secondly, at least two groups of countries seem to emerge. A first group (in green) is located at the top left of the graph and includes UK, France and Sweden. All the other countries (in red) show lower values of OBI index and quite similar values of the Structural Funds indicator, with the exception of Czech Republic and Slovakia that got very high scores.
While the green group has a pretty long tradition of being open and accountable, the very good performances of the newcomers Eastern Europe countries are probably due to the positive role that the European Commission is playing in that region to push transparency of the programmes funded by EU policies.

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27/12/10 Open Policy

Regional Policy financing e-government in Southern Italy

The last issue of Italian magazine “eGov” includes an article on e-government projects co-funded by European Cohesion Policy which I wrote after the release of a number of official reports on the implementation of Regional Operative Programmes in Italy.
In this article – available in Italian only, sorry – I try to provide a clearer view of financial resources dedicated to e-government development and diffusion in Southern Italy in 2000-06 and 2007-13 programming periods, as well as of main co-funded projects. These are some of the conclusions I came to:

  • financial resources dedicated to e-government and information society in Southern Italy are huge compared to its actual absorptive capacity;
  • from a “governance” point of view, after a political phase dominated by a well-publicized “shared vision”, low investment from the national government increased the role of regional policies in the whole implementation of e-government in Italy. This caused, especially in the South, a stronger role of Regional Cohesion Policy in defining strategies and policy priorities.
  • Since national government – for many reasons – can no longer play the role of coordination center of local actions, interregional coordination and collaboration is becoming essential. The DPS project I wrote about in the past is one possible and still experimental solution.
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15/12/10 Open Policy , Research

European regions financing public e-services: the case of structural funds

As reported in one of the papers underlying Barca Report on the future of European Cohesion Policy, “In the 2007-2013 planning period the share of Structural Funds of the European Union allocated to Research and Innovation received the largest increase, in absolute and relative terms. It is no exaggeration to claim that, for many countries, the entire Lisbon Agenda rests on Structural Funds”.
This is particularly true for the lagging regions of the “Convergence” objective, where structural funds are by far the main source of funding for innovation in general and for e-services in particular. A specific “category of expenditure” is in fact dedicated to public e-services such as e-health, e-government, e-learning, e-inclusion, etc. which are named “services and application for the citizen” (Regulation no. 1828/2006).

Using European Commission data on programmed resources for the 2007-13 period, it is possible to explore the amount of total resources dedicated to this topic by each single Operational Programme (OP). 
The map above shows the amount of resources programmed by all types of OPs (regional, but also national and interregional), with regional disaggregation (NUTS2). Regions from Slovack Republic have planned high investments in e-services (more than 189 million euros); Campania (147,5 million euros), Andalucia (Spain) and Attiki (Greece) also belong to the cluster of Regions showing the highest absolute values.

Moreover, considering the percentage of the resources not only for e-services but also for the other categories of expenditure dedicated to Information Society, it is possible to analyze the strategy each region implemented when allocating public funds to public e-services, broadband, ICT diffusion among enterprises or infrastructural services.
In the “Convergence” Regions, a specific “public e-services strategy” emerges. That means that Regions investing in public e-services tend to exclude the other matters; they concentrate available resources to e-government or e-health, and very low percentage of total funding is dedicated to the other categories such as broadband or infrastructural services. For example, while funds dedicated to ICT diffusion among enterprises are always accompanied by measures for broadband penetration, resources for e-services “stand alone”, and show low correlation with the other components of Information Society funding. 
This fact, if confirmed, seems not really positive, since the development of e-services should come along with the diffusion of the necessary pre-conditions.
Another interesting question is: what determine this strategic choice? is it possible to isolate context-specific factors or the choice is based only on political criteria?

Preliminary results of this study are included in the presentation embedded below, which Sergio Scicchitano and I have prepared for the first public meeting of Technology Adoption and Innovation in Public Services (TAIPS) research project at University of Urbino, Italy. The project is funded by Eiburs – European Investment Bank University Research Sponsorship Programme. In the presentation you can find graphs and other figures showing the allocation of resources at national and regional level, and the details of the principal component analysis.

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09/09/10 Open Policy

Open data On Structural Funds at the european parliament – the long way towards transparency

A study presented at the European Parliament in July 2010 explores the open data on European Structural Funds made available in March 2009. The European Transparency Initiative is pushing the transparency agenda in most EU Countries.

As I wrote in one of my previous posts, European Cohesion Policy is well on its way towards greater transparency in managing Structural Funds. Member states and EU Regions are responsible for publishing data on the beneficiaries of the policy and the corresponding amount of public funding received.

Although the set of minimum information that the European Commission and Member States agreed on in the COCOF of 23rd April 2008 is still relatively small (it only includes the name of the beneficiary, the project and the amount of public funding), the European Transparency Initiative of the European Commission certainly represents a breakthrough innovation in the way most European Countries implement public policy. In the last few years the policy framework and strict regulation of Structural Funds have played a crucial role in pushing the transparency agenda in those areas of Europe where administrative culture and capacity is traditionally low.
A study on current availability of open data on Structural Funds was presented at the European Parliament during the public hearing Transparency in Structural Funds – recipients and beneficiaries held by the President of the Budget Control Committee, Luigi de Magistris (one of the aims of the hearing was to learn from the US website Recovery.gov, which was presented by Earl E. Devaney, Chairman of the US government’s Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board).
The report, entitled “The Data Transparency Initiative and its Impact on Cohesion Policy” (full report), evaluates the implementation of the European Transparency Initiative by providing some data and four case studies: Finland, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland. The study was carried out by the Centre for Industrial Studies (CSIL) in Milan, Italy and financed by the European Parliament’s Committee on Regional Development.
As stated in the blog Space for Transparency, the situation reported in the study “results in incomparable, often not machine readable and in some countries almost unusable data in different EU languages and different currencies”.

The results of the study are indeed not so encouraging. Only 78% of the European Regions managing an ERDF Operational Programme provide the minimum information required. 19% provide a description of the operations, 41% a location of the projects, 27% the amount of national co-funding. Moreover, while 44% of EU Regions publish data on the total amount of funding, only 32% of available datasets specify the amount of public money actually paid out. 
PDF is confirmed as the prevailing format in which data are released (52%), followed by XLS (27%) and HTML (21%); a situation that did not change one year later (March 2010). See the table I included in my post Open data and structural funds.
As expected, these different approaches seem to reflect differences both in administrative capacities and cultural administrative traditions. In addition, the report argues that centralization vs. decentralization issues play also a role. Obviously, a centrally managed Programme has the advantage that information flows are easier to manage and local actions are more easily coordinated.
The report draws some final recommendations:
• to provide additional essential information, such as contact details, localization, project summaries, description of project partners, etc.
• to make databases fully searchable and compatible, so as to make possible an EU-wide outlook of the data
• to describe the data in English and not only in the local language

Some personal remarks:
1) The study is the first attempt to evaluate the availability and quality of open data on Structural Funds provided by a diverse and complex set of National and Regional Authorities. The statistics provided are a useful starting point for any further research in the field. Moreover, the report provides a valuable contextualization and interpretation of results, along with a detailed description of the European Transparency Initiative.
2) The analysis dates back to March 2009 and should be updated. Since then the number of EU Regions providing at least a minimum set of information has grown and have now reached 100%, as reported in the map of InfoRegio website; though I guess the indicators on quality have not significantly improved.
3) The survey, which seems to be conducted starting from the links that were available on the InfoRegio map at the time, does not consider other important types of Operational Programmes such as the National Programmes and Interregional Programmes or the cross-border co-operation Programmes.
4) Data on quality of the open datasets are presented only in an aggregate way, so it is impossible to compare different nations or regions.

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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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