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Raising Open and User-friendly Transparency-Enabling Technologies for Public Administrations

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - ROUTE-TO-PA (Raising Open and User-friendly Transparency-Enabling Technologies forPublic Administrations)

Reporting period: 2017-02-01 to 2018-05-31

ROUTE-TO-PA combines expertise in the fields of e-government, computer science, learning science and economy, to improve the impact of ICT-based technology platforms for transparency. As stated in the “Digital Agenda for Europe”, in order to provide better public services to citizens and businesses, new opportunities for Public Administrations (PAs) to become more efficient and effective, provide user-friendly services, while reducing costs and administrative burden, are grounded on open government, i.e. increasing information and knowledge exchange, enhanced connectivity, openness and transparency.

We address the issue of transparency, i.e. opening up public data and services and facilitating citizen participation and engagement, with the result of making government processes and decision open. In terms of international practices in transparency, widespread access to the Internet has greatly reduced the cost of collecting, distributing, and accessing government information. But an important effect of the diffusion of networks in the population is that ICT, by promoting good governance, strengthening reform-oriented initiatives, reducing potential for corrupt behaviors, enhancing relationships between government employees and citizens, allowing for citizen tracking of activities, and by monitoring and controlling behaviors of government employees, is able to effectively reduce corruption.

We identified two main barriers to transparency. The first one is inherent to the open data: complexity. We can say that life is complex and to is the information that is generated about our activities in our community. Complexity of data, is not only about the data itself, but also about the relationship that datasets bring one with the other. Good will and passion are somehow not enough to allow easy understanding and sharing with our citizens.

A second barrier, is the limited awareness, from the citizens but also (surprisingly) from the Public Administrations, of the role, importance and significance of Open Data. Active citizens, although participating with effort and passion, often lack (individually) the multidisciplinary skills that are needed to appreciate a larger vision that is described by the information about their community, and have limited amount of time to devote to such task. It makes their work, if performed individually and without support, very hard and challenging, and can soon become frustrating.
But, limited awareness is also on the other side, i.e. Public Administrations In fact, Open Data provided by PAs reflects, often, the lack of understanding and vision about its role and its usage. What kind of answers should it be used for? How helpful in everyday life of citizens can it be? When these answers are clear, providing datasets will be much more effective and useful for the citizens.

We are trying to answer to these barriers by designing, implementing and validate in real settings two tools that try to address the barriers. The first tool, Social Platform for Open Data (SPOD) is aiming at providing social interactions for citizens and PAs, in order to provide instruments for discussing about and with open data about the issues that involve the community. The second tool is trying to improve the holistic understanding of the data, Transparency-Enhancing Toolset, providing customisation toward the citizens, in an environment where datasets are published but also made of higher quality (with semantically rich metadata) and of easier access, with personalization. SPOD and TET represent, in a sense, ROUTE-TO-PA instruments to tackle citizens-PAs relationship as a community (SPOD) and as individuals (TET).
Our tools will be experimented in practice by conducting 5 pilot studies by integrating into existing Open Data initiatives held in Town Councils of Prato (Italy), Den Hague and Groningen (The Netherlands), Dublin (Ireland) and in Issy-les-Moulineaux (France). Several stakeholders workshops, held in each pilot town, several diverse scenario were outlined, in order to tackle issues that are significant and relevant to the local community, given also the availability and the practices on Open Data in each town.
In the first year, the main work was conducted in the design and first prototypes of our tools, originated by an intense and coordinated design work conducted through user workshops in each of the five pilots. We have released the alpha version of SPOD and TET, that are actually beginning a round of testing in the pilots in the second year.
The SPOD is a social environment with an Agora of public rooms, where the discussion happens as usual in a social network, but synthetic information about the structure of the discussion appear on the right side of the screen. For example one can see the graph of the users and who has interacted with whom, or the graph of all the visualizations (datalets) created and used in the discussions. Also, there is a personal space for reflections, where each user can store some datalets, URLs, text notes, etc. to be easily re-used in discussions.
TET is already offering personalized access, and categorization of datasets. It also allows advanced analysis techniques like the support of pivot tables on the datasets.
We have delivered two working prototypes for SPOD and TET, version 1.0 alpha, on January 31st 2016. They are available open source at SPOD and . Development is continuing and updated versions are available in the repository above.
ROUTE-TO-PA capitalizes on open data technologies and enables the active involvement of the community of data users in order to allow more effective reuse data (e.g. rating and reviewing datasets through the SPOD). In this way, ROUTE-TO-PA is introducing a revolutionary approach to data reuse and also providing the necessary infrastructure for supporting it. ROUTE-TO-PA message is that technology needs to be interpreted as “subservient to promote citizen engagement” rather than as a “catalyst of change”.
Our prototypes are meant to address the needs of citizens and PAs. SPOD offers the ability to socially interact with open data users, and with government data provided by disparate public authorities in different regions allows citizens and businesses to have better access to government information. This social and open data approach that ROUTE-TO-PA promotes facilitates transparency in public administration where a citizen or a business has direct access to the information about government’s actions on all levels from local to global.
By TET, ROUTE-TO-PA enables more personalised presentation of open data to the public users. based on profiles and preferences of users.
All the design activities have been conducted with creating focus groups and workshops in each of the five pilots, already establishing, thereby, the embryo of living communities, within the five pilots, to be further engaged and enlarged in the evaluation activities to be conducted in year 2.
TET Screenshot
SPOD Screenshot