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H2020

DIGIWHIST Report Summary

Project ID: 645852
Funded under: H2020-EU.3.6.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - DIGIWHIST (The Digital Whistleblower. Fiscal Transparency, Risk Assessment and Impact of Good Governance Policies Assessed)

Reporting period: 2015-03-01 to 2016-02-29

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

Increasing both transparency and efficiency of public spending in the age of austerity presents formidable challenges for European societies. Innovative, open data tools hold the key to simultaneously meet both. The central objective of DIGIWHIST is to combine the provision of data on public spending with actionable indicators and provide a whistleblower reporting channel that strengthens accountability and transparency of public administration. In particular, it aims at improving trust in governments and efficiency of public spending across Europe through the systematic collection, analysis, and broad dissemination of information on public procurement and on mechanisms that increase accountability of public officials in all EU and some neighbouring countries. Availability of such information can provide an effective tool to private actors such as NGOs, academia, and businesses to ensure that governments are accountable and transparent in their management of public resources, especially when an effective whistleblower reporting channel also underpins accountability.

Since public procurement is prone to corruption and budget deficit risks, high quality open data and innovative assessment tools in this area are especially relevant for the efficient and transparent use of public resources. The project will systematically collect, analyse, and broadly disseminate tender-level information on public procurement in 35 jurisdictions across Europe. This data will be linked to company and public organisation information on finances and ownership and to information on mechanisms that increase accountability of public officials in order to systematically investigate the patterns and mechanisms of allocation of public resources in Europe.

In order to realise such an ambitious goal and to build on the rich body of prior achievements in this field, DIGIWHIST strives to reach five specific objectives focusing on public procurement and accountability of public officials:

1. Map the legal framework that regulates public procurement, access to procurement information, conflict of interest, and asset declaration.

2. Collect and clean data on public procurement tenders, winner companies, issuing public organisation, and asset declarations to characterise public spending structure, process, and degree of impartiality.

3. Develop risk indicators and assessment tools tracking legislation, actor behaviour and policy implementation in public procurement, access to procurement information, conflict of interest, and asset declaration.

4. Develop tools for all relevant stakeholders which increase public spending transparency and to engage them in the strengthening of accountability mechanisms through an online whistleblower reporting system.

5. Secure mid-term sustainability through engaging investigative journalists, NGOs, co-opting governments and donors, and seeking interested business partners.

These 5 objectives translate into 5 specific work packages plus 2 further work packages which underpin the overall success of the project: a dissemination work package
(WP6) and a management work package (WP7). Each work package has a dedicated lead partner and follows clearly set work package-level goals. Nevertheless, all the work packages build on each other and use the results achieved by the others. The project is planned to take 3 years to final completion and is divided into the following 7 work packages (WPs):

WP1-Legal and regulatory mapping
WP2-Quantitative data collection and cleaning
WP3-Indicator development
WP4-Transparency tools development
WP5-Dissemination
WP6-Sustainability
WP7-Management
WP8 - Ethics Requirements

The project is overseen by a Steering Committee with members from each of the 6 consortium partners. The administrative and organisational coordination of the consortium will be the responsibility of UCAM-SOC, under the supervision of the PI.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

The focus of the work during Year 1 has been on data gathering and developing the data infrastructure and has largely taken place as originally planned.
We have created a repository of online data sources and gathered the data for the database of legal and regulatory norms on: public procurement; conflicts of interest; income and asset disclosure; access to information and political finance (WP1). The legal and regulatory norms will be published in the EuroPAM legal observatory in May 2016 which has been developed some 8 months ahead of schedule (WP4).

Considerable time has been spent by several partners on the data collection and cleaning (WP2). It was always acknowledged that this is the most ambitious, risky and yet innovative element of the project. This reflects the inherent, but planned risks of administrative data collection from 35 diverse and often changing administrative systems. The collection of raw data, data cleaning and structuring of databases for 35 jurisdictions in particular has proven challenging, resulting in a change of approach towards the end of the year. This will slightly delay the submission of a few deliverables but without prejudicing the progress of the wider project which will continue on schedule. During our work on WP2, we were able to raise several issues with Open Contracting Data Standard authors in order to improve the global standard itself which is lacking ability to capture some attributes characteristic for tenders in Europe.

The dissemination and outreach activities under WP5 have been unexpectedly successful given there are few public outputs at this stage. We have participated in a number of conferences and events globally and are building our media profile with increasing media coverage. This indicates that there is a considerable interest in transparency of public procurement amongst at the inter-governmental and governmental levels as well as amongst civil society and academia. Interest has been expressed by, inter alia, the World Bank, State Audit Body of Brazil, Anti-corruption Unit at the UK Cabinet Office, Government of Bulgaria, Italian Anti-corruption Agency, Polish Ministry of Economy, and various DGs of the European Commission.

Although not yet officially underway, preliminary discussions and planning have taken place on the indicator development (WP3), transparency tools development (WP4) and Sustainability (WP6). Since many of the Work Packages are inter-related, it is crucial that planning takes account future activities as well as current ones.

As we move into Year 2, the outputs are only just being made public and being used as tools to fulfil the objectives of the project. Thus the more collaborative and external facing elements of the project which will lead to the planned impact have yet to take place.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

DIGIWHIST’s outputs are the delivery of a new usable database and indicators and the provision of a whistleblower reporting system to a wide range of stakeholders. These outputs imply that the transparency of public spending improvements which are expected to empower civil society, improve trust in public administration, contribute to the fight against corruption and increase public sector efficiency.

Transparency of public spending is increased by DIGIWHIST because it will make detailed public procurement spending items such as individual contracts more easily accessible and understandable. The current system of online availability of public procurement announcements across Europe only allows for seeing a contract or tender in isolation. However, isolated contracts and tenders are very hard to understand and analyse for both lay- people and experts. Instead, DIGIWHIST offers a user-friendly database of publicly available information which not only allows for comparing individual tenders and contracts, but it also creates the opportunity to track the performance of public organisations or private companies over time. The proposed set of novel indicators will make the vast amount of data clearer, more understandable, and most importantly actionable. In addition, interested parties can combine quantitative, ‘hard’ data with personal observations and experiences, communicate the resulting rich evidence to the responsible authorities through a secure and quick whistleblower procedure.

The proposed web portals will allow users to contribute to the data by sending whistleblower or freedom of information requests. These functionalities can further enhance transparency of public spending through matching quantitative data on public procurement with the local knowledge of citizens and they can also contribute to government accountability by helping the work of oversight institutions. By implication, the frequency of using the whistleblower and freedom of information request functionalities are further measures of our impact. Again, the measurement of this is straightforward (i.e. number of times users send requests), however, no precise quantitative target can be set.
Increased transparency can only contribute to fight against corruption, and spending efficiency if open data is used by the relevant stakeholders to guide their actions. This can take different forms depending on the stakeholder group, but we expect higher impact the more extensively our data and indicators are used and referred to by stakeholders.
If oversight bodies take up the reports sent through the project’s web portal, open an investigation, and maybe even recover some mismanaged public funds, one of the key project objectives are met: the strengthening of government accountability mechanisms.

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