Skip to main content

The Digital Whistleblower. Fiscal Transparency, Risk Assessment and Impact of Good Governance Policies Assessed

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - DIGIWHIST (The Digital Whistleblower. Fiscal Transparency, Risk Assessment and Impact of Good Governance Policies Assessed)

Reporting period: 2016-03-01 to 2017-02-28

Increasing both transparency and efficiency of public spending presents formidable challenges for European societies. Since public procurement is prone to corruption and budget deficit risks, high quality open data and innovative assessment tools hold the key to both.

The key 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. It will systematically collect, analyse, and broadly disseminate information on public procurement and on mechanisms that increase accountability of public officials in 35 jurisdictions (EU28 plus some neighbouring countries). This data will be linked to data on company and public body finances and ownership and on mechanisms that increase accountability of public officials in order to systematically investigate the patterns and mechanisms of allocation of public resources in Europe. Such information can be an effective tool for private actors such as NGOs, academia, and businesses to oversee government accountabality and transparency in its management of public resources.

To achieve this, DIGIWHIST will:

1. Map legal frameworks that regulate public procurement, access to procurement information, conflict of interest, asset declaration and financial disclosure.
2. Collect and clean data on public procurement tenders, winner companies, issuing public organisations, and asset declarations
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 strengthening 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.

The project is run by 6 consortium partners, the coordinator of which is the University of Cambridge.
The focus during Year 1 was data gathering and developing the data infrastructure. During Year 2, these activities continued but there was a greater emphasis on collaborative work between the partners as completed research deliverables become tools to feed into other partners’ work.
Thus far, we have created a repository of online data sources and completed the database of legal and regulatory norms (WP1). The first update of this data is done and the data is hosted in the beta version of the website (WP4) which will be launched formally during year 3.

Considerable time has been spent over the 2 years on the data collection and cleaning (WP2). It was always known 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. It has proven extremely challenging, resulting in a change of methodology towards the end of Year 1 which had led to minor delays. This has not however prejudiced the progress of the wider project which has continued on time or even ahead of schedule in some cases.

During Year 2, work towards the development of indicators (WP3) has progressed and is ahead of schedule with 40 interviews with public procurement officials now completed. Methods papers on corruption risk and administrative quality have been submitted 4 months early in order to get EC feedback before the indicators become cemented in the portals.

The procurement portal WP4 continued to develop during Year 2. Its completion is dependent on the results of the data collection (WP2) and indicator development (WP3). Since the latter 2 activities are being carried out by different consortium partners, this has necessitated better communication between partners. Realising that dissemination and sustainability of the project are closely inter-linked, we have also been managing the activities within WP4 (tools development), WP5 (dissemination) and WP6 (sustainability) closely together to create synergies.

The dissemination and outreach activities under WP5 have been unexpectedly successful from very early on, despite the fact there were few public outputs initially. DIGIWHIST consortium staff have participated in 68 conferences, workshops and events over the two years as well as a number of media interviews and articles, blogs etc mentioning DIGIWHIST. The project is generating considerable interest from many sectors; academics, journalists, civil society groups, private sector representatives, governmental and inter-governmental bodies with great potential to achieve impact.

As we move into the final 12 months of the project, ensuring sustainability is going to be a focus. We are committed to maintaining data collection and indicator generation for at least 3 years after the end of the project. To this end, discussions have already begun with potential donors.

Good coordination between all partners will be increasingly important during the final 12 months to reduce delays, keep the project running smoothly and ensure it is completed successfully and that it achieves the significant impact that it currently promises.
With 1 year still to go, DIGIWHIST has already had significant impact, both direct and indirect, on the wider public, civil society, policy makers, and bidding firms.

1) Wider public:
Bringing new, objective, and more reliable data to the wider debate has raised awareness and focused attention on particular risk areas such as municipal corruption risks. Our work has been quoted in general interest media such as the Economist or Deutsche Welle as well as specialised journals such as the Public Spend Forum and in a number of non-English speaking newspapers (e.g. Hungary).

2) Civil society:
There are a growing number of watchdog portals across Europe, especially Eastern Europe, which focus on public procurement or government contracting and directly use DIGIWHIST data and/or indicators e.g. in Poland or Hungary and we are talking to NGOs running many others to extend our reach. Others have benefitted from a workshop we held on refining corruption risk assessment methodologies which was attended by data scientists for portals as far apart as the Netherlands or Vietnam.

3) Policy makers:
Our indicators have had a wide ranging impact on high level politics and bureaucratic policy making, for example, in the European Parliament’s flagship study on the cost of corruption across the EU and feeding into the initial negotiating position of the Green faction policy within the European Parliament. Our impact has been equally profound working with a range of anticorruption and public procurement agencies, leading to incremental but potentially high impact policy changes with, for example the Italian Anticorruption Agency, and the European Investment Bank’s audit and investigation units.

4) Private sector companies: bidders and data providers:
A number of data provider companies and their clients (eg Thomson Reuters or SpendNetwork) have expressed interest and accessed the databases and indicators created by DIGIWHIST in order to better assess corruption risks, and gain more detailed insights of public procurement market structure.
Project logo
An overview of the management structure, including the project's seven work packages