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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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02/10/11 Digital Government , Research

A holistic view for Public e-Services diffusion and impact: Introducing project T.A.I.P.S.

One of my first posts on the Regional Innovation Policies blog was about “traditional” public e-services – as opposed to Government 2.0 new applications – and their still slow diffusion in many countries in Europe and in the world. My point there was that low take-up of public e-services, which is considered by some the main reason of the digital government failure, was probably simply due to a shortage of… public e-services.

While most critics of EU e-government policy point only to the lack of interest of households and enterprises in expensive and unsustainable digital public services, I think we should also consider that today a significant number of public agencies, especially in the lagging regions of the world – fail to deliver their most useful basic public services on line. Considering e-government services, though most of them were pushed by national governments in the first years of the new millennium and are already available on the web with an acceptable level of sophistication (see for example the list of CapGemini twenty basic public services in latest benchmarking report), the situation is very different at the local level, where small agencies are struggling to provide services with less money and face complex coordination issues with scarce skills.

Moreover, if we zoom out and consider advanced services from other recently-developed domains of digital government such as e-health, e-procurement, e-education, infomobility, “smart” cities, etc, the supply-related issues are manifest.

In other words, measuring the progress of digital government requires a holistic view to include the wide spectrum of public e-services in different policy domains (health, transportation, education, etc.) and the different aspects of service provision (not just e-readiness or web interactivity, but also multi-channel availability and take-up).

Providing this view is the main goal of TAIPS (Technology Adoption and Innovation In Public Services), a research project carried out by the Department of Economics, Society and Politics (DESP), University of Urbino (Italy) and funded by the European Investment Bank (EIB), which aims at exploring the determinants and impact of public e-services diffusion from the point of view of the Economics of Innovation. The project is lead by Professor Antonello Zanfei, an industrial economist whose interests range from innovation diffusion to industrial dynamics and economics of multinational enterprises.

A few weeks ago the first outputs were released. One paper is entitled What do we know from the literature on public e-services? and provides quantitative evidence that ICT research, as it happens in policy making, still considers the various policy domains as separate silos. The next step of TAIPS will be to unify those views. A benchmarking the progress of Italian regions with a joint, e-services pilot methodology is under way. This exercise is to be eventually extended to selected EU Countries.

Plus, TAIPS staff is organizing an International Conference in Urbino, Italy on April 19-20, 2012. Here you can download the outline. The deadline for abstract submission is pretty soon (on Wednesday, October 5), but will probably be extended a little bit. The conference will be interesting since many invited speakers – leading scholars in the field of Economics of Innovation and Information Technology – have already confirmed their participation. I will report again on this in the next few weeks, so please stay tuned!

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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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