Offerman Consulting
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Online portal mobilises public to increase transparency of Italian government

Author: Adrian Offerman

Case Abstract

The Transparency Compass is an online portal that enables visitors to automatically analyse and monitor Italian government websites for compliance. Both citizens and public agencies can evaluate, compare and rank public websites, and see how a site develops over time. The system can also be used by policy makers and administrators to answer questions about particular sections of their public websites. The portal accompanies public agencies on their way toward total transparency, making the system particularly important in measuring the level of transparency of an administration with regard to the prevention of and the fight against corruption.

Case Description

La Bussola della Trasparenza (the Transparency Compass) is an online portal that allows public agencies and citizens to automatically analyse and monitor Italian government websites. The main objective is to support the government in continuously improving the quality of online information and digital services. Getting the citizens directly involved in this process puts pressure on the agents responsible for content and functionality.

This project is an initiative of the Department of Public Administration. It's an outcome of the Open Government doctrine, which states that citizens have the right to access government documents and proceedings in order to allow for effective public oversight. It aims to strengthen:

  • transparency:
    Public agencies can use the Transparency Compass as a working tool to check their websites, compare their sites to those of other agencies, and adapt their sites to comply with regulations and transparency guidelines. Citizens, professionals and researchers can learn more about the government, analyse statistics and research specific issues or topics, possibly discovering new phenomena and gaining new insights.
  • participation:
    The Transparency Compass allows public agencies to familiarise themselves with laws relating to content published online. Now, for the first time, participating citizens play an active role in stimulating government to be more open. Furthermore, transparency and information enable a collective intelligence, thereby facilitating proposals and suggestions that allow public agents to improve the organisation, the legislative process and the digital services of a truly participatory government.
  • accountability:
    Transparency and participation also facilitate government accountability. More specifically, they stimulate the proper alignment of resources and goals with institutional mechanisms ensuring greater accountability of internal management.

Project Size and Implementation

The idea for the Transparency Compass was born after the introduction of the new Italian guidelines for the websites of public agencies. In addition to specific information on the implementation, management and theming of public websites, these guidelines bring together all legislation governing this area that has been developed over the past fifteen years. The guidelines are summarized in a table [in Italian] specifying a minimum level of standards, data types and information that all public agencies should implement. This collection actually simplifies the work of public agencies, providing a single point of reference and obliging agencies to comply.

To further stimulate the implementation of the guidelines, an operational tool was developed to verify compliance. This tool was turned into a real-time checker, providing appropriate suggestions to increase the level of transparency and compliance with regulatory requirements. Subsequently, it evolved into a real-time monitoring system continuously checking websites on Italian territory. It automatically collects data from various public websites, statistically analyses this information, and makes the results available in an open data format. In this way, the information can be used by journalists, scientists, students and others for further analysis.

Public portal

To promote collective control and citizen participation, the system was intended to be made public, providing useful features to further improve the level of transparency:

  • ranking public websites, and
  • comparing public websites.

These rank and compare features aim to generate competition between public agencies with the overarching goal of improving transparency.

The portal also allows users to provide suggestions, to check whether specific sections of websites are in compliance with the minimum level of standards for public websites, and to check — using italia.gov.it — whether a public agency has registered itself in the .gov.it domain.

At the heart of the portal sits an engine that, at certain intervals, automatically analyses the websites of public agencies, using "sensors" and mathematical algorithms. It compares the content found with the guidelines. The collected data is then fed to a data warehouse, which provides information on the transparency of the public websites to different types of users.

Roadmap

The portal is continuously in development, for example, to reduce the number of false negatives and positives in the analysis and monitoring. The development roadmap includes a feature that stimulates visitors to actively participate and directly contact the public agency with a warning or a suggestion, with the report from the site survey attached. Currently, the reports and suggestions can be submitted to the Department of Public Administration using a web form.

Another planned feature is a graphical report showing performance over time, i.e. a weekly monitoring function presenting the evolution of the measured transparency relative to the minimum level. To help public agencies to get started, tooling will be provided to adapt their back-office systems into a website compliant with the minimum level of standards for online publications.

Impact, Innovation and Results

The Transparency Compass is available to everyone, both citizens and administrations, and represents a system that accompanies public agencies on their way toward total transparency, thereby combining public administration transparency with citizen participation. This makes the system particularly important in measuring the level of transparency of an administration with regard to the prevention of and the fight against corruption.

The portal can also be used by policy makers and administrators to answer questions about particular sections of their public websites. For example, you can find out how many and what kind of public agencies have published a specific statement.

In 2013, the Transparency Compass won the European Public Sector Award (EPSA) in the European and National Administrative category. This event is organised every two years by the European Institute of Public Administration (EIPA) and the European Commission, aiming to bring together the best, most innovative and efficient performers from the European public sector.

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