The lack of transparency and accountability on how public money is spent, and the resulting limited control that citizens may enact on the agencies in charge of the funds are among the main reasons for the slow pace in implementing cohesion policy and in understanding whether investment projects actually respond to local demand. Cohesion policy projects can raise the quality of life of citizens and provide a better environment for business to flourish: in Italy the overall cohesion budget, made up of national and European funds, is worth approximately 100 billion euros on 7-year periods, which on a yearly basis account for as much as 1% of GDP.
This explains why cohesion policy is a particularly hot topic in Italy, net contributor to the EU budget and the third biggest beneficiary country of the EU structural funds (after Poland and Spain). It is also among the countries with the lowest absorption rates of the funds.
Since 2012 OpenCoesione-Monithon are addressing these issues within an open government strategy by launching various awareness and citizen engagement initiatives, setting a standard for open data on public investment and also anticipating transparency issues in 2014-2020 EU regulations on the use of cohesion funds.
Description of target users and groups
Cohesion policy is nationwide. Nevertheless, OpenCoesione-Monithon address the following specific target groups:
- Citizens and Civil Society Organizations can find out projects of interest, follow implementation through monitoring updates and on-site visits and press forward public administrations towards the expected outputs and outcomes.
- Public administrations, as a result of data publication and citizen feedback, are urged to an efficient use of resources and an increased quality of monitoring data.
- Students learn how to become engaged citizens and contribute to an open government society.
- Media and researchers gain better understanding of territorial cohesion and supply shareable knowledge on cohesion policy.
Description of the way to implement the initiative
The OpenCoesione initiative started in 2012 as an open government strategy on cohesion policy, jointly operating on all the three dimensions of open government: transparency, participation and collaboration.
www.opencoesione.gov.it is the first national portal on cohesion policy with transparent information on each funded project: regular bimonthly updates have nurtured open data on almost 800k projects so far, which can be freely re-used (CC 3.0 BY-SA license) and explored interactively on the portal using maps, filters and detailed forms on projects and recipients.
Institutional collaboration went through the establishment of a “Technical Group” for dissemination and re-use of public data and information on cohesion policy, comprising delegates from all 30 public administrations in charge of Programmes, aimed at increasing the quality of monitoring data fed into OpenCoesione according to agreed data standards.
OpenCoesione data are published so as to promote greater public participation and to enable citizens to evaluate whether resources are employed effectively. Monithon (www.monithon.it) takes this effort to the next level.
Moni-thon (literally "monitoring marathon”), promotes citizen monitoring of cohesion policy through active involvement of communities and a shared methodology. The monithon idea, initially conceived by the OpenCoesione team, was presented to the “civic hacking” community and soon transformed into a civil society, independent initiative by an enthusiastic group of developers, activists and journalists.
Monithon has rapidly evolved from being an innovative new platform into a transferable civic engagement format. Through “monitoring marathons”, groups of citizens, sometimes under the guide of local CSOs, set out on explorations around their area, to gather information on specific projects of interest. In doing so, participants collect useful material to evaluate the effectiveness of public spending and practice bottom-up modes of control over public policies and collaboration with all the actors involved.
Monithons are also carried out within the OpenCoesione School project (www.ascuoladiopencoesione.it), an innovative course first experimented in 2013-14 school year, aimed at engaging high school students, through practice-based learning that results in a data journalism and storytelling project on OpenCoesione projects' impact. OpenCoesione School stems from the awareness that education is the "necessary next stage" of open data for engagement.
Return on investment
OpenCoesione-Monithon set a standard as a 5-star initiative according to the Open Data Engagement Model.
OpenCoesione regularly receives coverage on printed and online media (www.opencoesione.gov.it/rassegna-stampa), including a prime-time focus with Monithon on TG2, one of the main national TV newscasts and a chapter inside a book by a leading Italian journalist (http://goo.gl/R4WyCa).
This year "OpenCoesione School" students engaged local communities by presenting their project-work in public events, opened new channels of communication with local institutions for closer follow up on projects, and teamed up with local associations for demands of more open data on public services at the local level.
Since its launch in September 2013, Monithon has drawn dozens of national and local communities (some formed on purpose, other based on existing associations) and around 500 people into civic monitoring activities, mostly in Southern Italy, where cohesion funds are more concentrated. Specific activities are carried out by established citizen groups, like Libera, a national anti-Mafia association, who became Monithon partner, focusing their monitoring on the rehabilitation of Mafia-seized properties. Action Aid is now partnering with monithon to promote citizen empowerment. Existing, local groups of activists are using the Monithon methodology to test local transportation systems that benefited from EU funding, while new groups have formed to begin monitoring social innovation and cultural heritage projects.
Now more than 50 “citizen monitoring reports”, which take the form of collective investigations on project development and results, are publicly available on the Monithon website, many of which spurred further dialogue with public administrations.