Creating “active citizens, instead of sitting with our arms folded.”
Nine out of ten Italian businesses believe bribery is widespread. And irregular payments are standard in awarding public contracts. Little wonder, then, that the public’s trust in government institutions is low. Reformers are hoping transparency and public participation can help turn this around.
Through the Open Government Partnership, the government has launched an innovative online platform covering public spending. The platform, OpenCoesione, has now published the details of 1 million projects and €100 billion in EU funding — from small student loans to highway bridges — through a searchable archive online. It publishes both local and national budgets and discloses expenditures of European Union structural funds — money intended to help poorer regions, like southern Italy, catch up with the rest of Europe. This searchable database is a powerful tool for identifying the misuse of public money.
Efforts are also being made to encourage citizens to use this information: a civic “hackathon,” called Monithon, coordinates journalists, civil society, and data scientists to use the data and a competition encourages high school students to monitor public spending on local projects. The platform has become hugely popular, averaging around 1.5 million hits a month. Over three thousand people have participated in Monithon in its first two years, producing hundreds of reports.
School students were also trained to be on-the-ground auditors, visiting project sites, asking question of local authorities and suggesting solutions, several of which are now implemented. As one student budget monitor remarks, it is creating “active citizens, instead of sitting with our arms folded.”