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Half of the world languages are dying really fast – how you can save yours

Subhashish Panigrahi - July 4, 2017 in open-education

Languages are a gateway to knowledge. How can digital tools be used to help native language speakers access and contribute knowledge? In this blog, Subhashish Panigrahi shows how endangered languages can be documented and preserved using open standards and tools. The world’s knowledge that have been accumulated and coded over ages in different languages are valuable to learn about others’ cultures, traditions, and everything about their life. But not every language is not privileged to be a language of knowledge and governance. Almost half of the 6909 living languages of the world will be vanishing in a century’s time. The most linguistically diverse places like Papua New Guinea are also the most dangerous places for languages. Every two weeks, a language dies and with it a wealth of knowledge forever. In my home country India alone, there exist more than 780 languages. The rate in which languages are dying here is extremely high as over 220 languages from India have died in the last 50 years, and 197 languages from the country are identified as endangered by UNESCO.

Word cloud depicting several Indian languages in their native scripts

With these languages dying, there die all that knowledge that is preserved in those languages. Languages that do not have tools for everyone to access knowledge and contribute to often go out of use. India for example is home to the highest number of visually impaired and illiterate people in the entire world: more than 15 million Indians are visually impaired and 30% are illiterate. But there do not exist many digital accessibility tools either for web or mobile, even though there are about 450-465 million internet users and 60% of them are mobile users. In fact, accessibility tools for most Indian languages are not affordable and are proprietary in nature.
There have been some efforts by the Indian government—like the Central Institute of Indian Languages (CIIL)—to grow the 22 officially recognized languages and some of indigenous languages. Founded in 1969, CIIL has been working to deepen research on Indian languages, and a program called “Protection and Preservation of Endangered Languages of India” was introduced in 2014 to help CIIL specifically to begin several projects for the conservation of endangered languages. Only 10-30% of India’s population can understand English, which is predominantly the language of the Internet. A recent report that was published by Google and KPMG states that more than 70% of the India’s Internet users trust content in their native language over English. The lack of native language content and the lack of electronic accessibility tools therefore plays an important factor in stopping a large number of people from accessing information and contributing to the knowledge commons. When confronted with a problem of this magnitude, there are a few vital things that must be to done to preserve and grow dying languages. Creation of audio-visual documentation of some of the most important socio-cultural aspects of the language such as storytelling, folk literature, oral culture and history is a start. When done by native language speakers, along with annotations of the same in done in a widely-spoken language such as English or Hindi, it is one way of creating digital resources in a language. These resources can be used to create content and linguistic tools to grow the languages’ reach. Sadly, there is little focus from the central government on many of these languages, but there are some effort from several organisations to document native languages. There is something every single individual that speaks a less-spoken language or is in contact with a native speaker of an endangered/indigenous language can do. Languages that are dying need digital activism to grow educational and accessibility tools.That can happen when more public and open repositories like dictionaries, pronunciation libraries, and audio-visual content are created.

Wiki Weekend Tirana 2016 (photo: Anxhelo Lushka)

However, not many people know how to contribute in a form that can used by others to grow resources in a language. Especially in India, contributing to a language is largely skewed by the notion of producing and promoting literature. But in a country where more than 30% of the population is illiterate and a large number of languages are spoken languages (without a written counterpart), it is important that the language content is predominantly audio-visual and not just text-based. More importantly, there is a need for openness so that the whole idea of growing languages does not get jeopardized by proprietary methods and standards.

There are plenty of things anyone can contribute for documenting a language depending on their own skillset.

Every language has a wealth of oral literature, which is the most crucial thing to document for a dying language. Several cultural aspects like folk storytelling, folk songs, other narratives like cooking, local festival celebration, performing art forms and so on can be documented in audio-visual forms. Thanks to cheaper smartphones and an ocean of free and open source software, anyone can now record audio, take pictures and shoot videos in really good quality without spending anything on gears. There are open toolkits that aggregate open source tools, educational resources and sample datasets that one can modify and use for their own language.

A home recording setup for the Kathabhidhana project (photo: Subhashish Panigrahi)

In the age of AI and IoT, one can indeed build resources that will enable their languages to be more user friendly. As explained earlier, most screen reader software that the visually impaired or illiterate people would use do not exist because of the lack of good quality text-to-speech engines. Creating pronunciation libraries of words in a language can help a lot in building both text-to-speech and speech to text engines that eventually can better the screen readers and other electronic accessibility solutions. Cross-language open source tools like LinguaLibre, Kathabhidhana, and Pronuncify help record large number of pronunciations. Similarly, for languages with an alphabet, educational resources for language learning can be created with open source tools like Poly and OpenWords. Building these resources might not result in transforming the state of many endangered languages quickly but will certainly help in gradually bettering the way many people access knowledge in their language. The work of some of the groundbreaking initiatives like the Global Language Hotspots by the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages and National Geographic can be used to start language documentation projects. But it is always recommended to make the work output available with open standards so that others can build solutions on the top of existing interventions. However, there is not much about the actual outcome of any government-led activities for endangered language documentations, and especially if there is any open access to the published works. “People’s Linguistic Survey of India” (PLSI), a non-government-led survey was being conducted during 2012-13 in the leadership of Ganesh Devy. A few years back, Gregory Anderson, founder of Living Tongues, and Prof. K. David Harrison, associate professor of Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, US discovered a hidden language called Koro spoken in Arunanchal Pradesh. In 2014, Marie Wilcox, the last living speaker Wukchumni, a North American language, created a dictionary to keep her language alive. Imagine, where these languages would have ended up if Anderson and Harrison, and Marie did not take these baby steps back then.

Right to Education Index 2016 Data Now Live!

Ally Krupar - April 20, 2017 in open-education

RESULTS Educational Fund and Open Knowledge International are pleased to present the 2016 data from the Right to Education Index (RTEI), a global accountability initiative that aims to ensure that all people, everywhere, enjoy the right to a quality education. RTEI is an action research project using a monitoring tool based on international human rights law and collecting data about the right to education with national civil society organizations in 15 countries in 2016. Civil society organizations, advocates, researchers, and policy makers then use the data in national advocacy campaigns and to better understand national satisfaction of the right to education. The resulting data is now available at www.rtei.org. RTEI 2016 collected data with civil society partners in 15 countries: Civil society partners completed the RTEI Questionnaire. Their findings were peer reviewed by two national independent researchers and provided to government officials for their feedback and comments. The Questionnaire consists of five themes (Governance, Availability, Accessibility, Acceptability, and Adaptability, see link). Index scores are derived by the average of theme scores. Theme scores are an average of subtheme scores, which are calculated by averaging representative data points. Unique values are also calculated to account for:
  • Missing data;
  • National minimum standards concerning pupil-per-classroom, pupil-per-trained teacher, pupil-per-toilet, and pupil-per-textbook ratios;
  • Disaggregated outcome and enrollment data by gender, rural and urban disparity, income quintiles, and disability status;
  • Progressively realized rights weighted by GDP per capita purchasing power parity (PPP).
Further information about calculations is available on rtei.org and will be detailed in a forthcoming RTEI technical brief. The resulting data for 2016 is now available at www.rtei.org. In 2016, RTEI found that Australia, Canada, and the UK had the most robust framework for the right to education across the five themes represented in RTEI; Governance, Availability, Accessibility, Acceptability, and Adaptability. Each theme is made up of subthemes specifically referenced in the international right to education framework. Australia’s, Canada’s, and the UK’s scores were highest on Availability, reflecting the infrastructure and resources of schools, including textbooks, sanitation, classrooms, and pupil-per-trained teacher ratios. On the Index’s other end, Chile, the DRC, and Zimbabwe struggled to satisfy indicators monitored in RTEI 2016. These countries had low Acceptability or Adaptability scores, signifying weaker education systems and difficulty addressing progressively realized rights, such as the rights of children with disabilities. For all RTEI 2016 participating countries, the lowest scoring theme was Adaptability, focused on education for children with disabilities, out-of-school children, and out-of-school educational opportunities. Outside of Adaptability indicators, the Classrooms subtheme had the lowest average score of all Availability subthemes across all countries because of the lack of infrastructure data available in RTEI 2016 and high pupil-per-classroom ratios in several countries. RTEI 2016 also included an analysis of education financing given increase attention to equitable resource allocation and access worldwide.

Research to Action

In 2017, RTEI enters the advocacy phase of data application. In January 2017, RESULTS Educational Fund invited ten current RTEI partners from the Global South to submit proposals to implement in-country advocacy strategies in 2017 using RTEI 2016 findings.  RESULTS and RTEI Advisory Group members reviewed applications and selected the following five RTEI 2017 Advocacy Partners:
  1. Honduras –  Foro Dakar will use data collected in RTEI 2016 related to SDG 4 to focus on national education sector planning, discrimination, and monitoring progress towards SDG 4.
  2. Indonesia – New Indonesia will use data about teacher quality and education for children with disabilities to implement strategies focused on improving national training programs related to inclusive education to further the right to education.
  3. Palestine – Teacher Creativity Center (TCC) will use data related to SDG 4 to measure progress towards SDG 4 through shadow reporting to UNESCO, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education, the Ministry of Education in Palestine, and local media.
  4. Tanzania – HakiElimu will use data specifically about girls’ education and inclusive education to focus advocacy on evidence-based policies that promote girls’ education, inclusive, and quality education.
  5. Zimbabwe – Education Coalition of Zimbabwe (ECOZI) will highlight RTEI 2016 findings about continued use of corporal punishment in schools to develop and disseminate alternative policy on positive discipline in schools, training Parliamentarians on corporal punishment issues, and submitting policy recommendations on corporal punishment and free education.
RESULTS and other RTEI partners look forward to supporting these advocacy strategies throughout 2017. Be on the lookout for in-country advocacy updates from our partners posted on www.rtei.org.

Launch: Jedeschule.de promotes transparency within the educational system in Germany

Open Knowledge Foundation Deutschland - April 12, 2017 in OK Germany, Open Knowledge Network, open-education

This blog was written by Moritz Neujeffski, School of Data Germany team.

School of Data Germany, a project by Open Knowledge Foundation Deutschland, helps non-profit organisations, civil rights defenders and activists to understand and use data and technology effectively to increase their impact on societal challenges. Profound knowledge in processing data allows individuals and organisations to critically reflect and to influence public debates with evidence-based arguments. Jedeschule.de is the outcome of our first partnership with BildungsCent eV. Together we explored the programs schools in Germany offer students beside general lessons and advocated for a transparent German education system. While we definitely learned a lot about the school system in Germany, we provided specially tailored Workshops for BildungsCent eV. We addressed how to clean, analyse and visualise data and what pitfalls to look out for in digital projects. Education is more than school lessons. Character and drive often develop outside the classroom. Public information on schools in Germany is sparse and not often available in a structured and organised format. Together with BildungsCent eV., we investigated the availability and access of data on schools in Germany.
The focus of our investigation: How is data on schools best communicated to the public? How does that affect the potential of schools to be important social hubs?

Findings of our analysis: Jedeschule.de

Parents, students, teachers, politicians, and civil society organisations benefit from enhanced information on the German school system that is provided on Jedeschule.de. School of Data Germany and BildungsCent eV. campaigned for more transparency in the educational sector and promoted dialogues between stakeholders in educational policy.We also provided an overview of more than 30,000 schools of general education in Germany. The interactive map makes it possible to search for and filter according to specific school types. The educational sector differs among the 16 German federal states. We gathered information on the development of each individual school system, public spending within the educational sector, and the employment situation of teachers for each state. Moreover,  3,000 profiles for schools in Berlin and Saxony containing their mission statements, the number of students and teachers per school, study groups and cooperations between schools and actors from civil society, public departments, the private sector and other relevant stakeholders were set up. All this data as used in the project is available as open data on our website.

Our aim is to facilitate the use of educational data by journalists, politicians, scientists, the civic tech community, and stakeholders of educational policy.

Concluding remarks on school activities & cooperations in Berlin and Saxony

  •  413 out of 800 general education schools in Berlin communicate their activities to the Ministry of Education, Youth and Family.
  • On average, they provide eight activities in at least four areas such as environment, literature, handcraft, and technology besides regular lessons.
  • In Saxony, 1206 out of 1500 schools of general education report to the statistical office.
  • In total, they offer 11,600 activities. On average, this amounts to ten activities in five different areas per school.
  • Sporting activities are most prominent in both federal states. Partners from civil society and public affairs are the highest among schools in both states.
Schools promote the well-being and development of children and adolescents through diverse projects, partners, and activities. They are an important component of the livelihood and learning environment of students and provide an important perspective on society. To establish a holistic picture of the German school system and to increase transparency and the ability to compare federal states on educational matters, data has to be better collected, organised, and structured at the state level. Administrations, especially need to improve their performance in order to foster an effective debate on the German school system.  

Open Education per il cambiamento sociale: seminario domani a Bologna!

Francesca De Chiara - March 21, 2017 in Open Data, open-education

Pubblichiamo a nome dei nostri amici e coordinatori del gruppo Open Education Working Group Domani, 23 Marzo, a Bologna, presso la sede del TIM#WCap in Via Guglielmo Oberdan, 22, si terrà il seminario “Educazione aperta per il cambiamento sociale in Italia” dalle ore 10.00 alle 16.00. Questo seminario nasce dalla necessità – emersa durante alcuni eventi che sono stati […]

Open Education Kickoff Meeting

driesvr - February 21, 2017 in Open Data, Open Knowledge, open-education, universities

Belgium is lacking behind when it comes to opening up their educational data. Therefore some bottom-up action is needed in order to make this possible. As a response, an interesting Kickoff meeting about Open Education was held on February 15 2017 in Brussels. Data providers, data re-users and data facilitators were sitting together and discussed the possibilities regarding open educational resources (OER) and open educational practices. What’s the problem? Students and staff want information which is up-to-date and easy to find. This can be brought by applications. The only problem is that most colleges aren’t keen to open up their data, whereas opening their data to build applications would make things a lot easier for students as well as for the colleges itself. It would change both institutional and wider culture. Another problem lies in the fact that every institution works with a different database. Therefore it is also interesting to discuss about an open data standard for every college or university. How can we solve this? Organizations need concrete information about what data they have to open and its consequences. Therefore this working group can help to discuss the possibilities op Open Education to create some extra pressure to colleges and universities. Do you want to be part of the Open Education Working group? Are you interested or do you want to be part of the Open Education Working Group? Click here to join our Slack group and keep the discussion alive.

Verkko-opiskelusta vauhtia datan avaamiseen

eija - December 15, 2016 in avoin data, Finished projects, koulutus, mooc, open-education

avoin-data-logoJulkishallinnon datan avaajan mestarikurssi, joka alkoi lokakuussa ja päättyi marras-joulukuun taitteessa, on tuottanut hyvää satoa. Kurssin suoritti kuudestatoista organisaatiosta yhteensä 92 henkilöä, jotka laativat omalle organisaatiolleen suunnitelman datan avaamisesta ja siitä tiedottamisesta. Monet kurssilaiset esittivät myös otteen avaamastaan datasta ja korjasivat sitä saamansa palautteen mukaisesti. Kurssin aikana Musiikkiarkisto JAPA julkaisi avaamansa Mihin jäi punk -muistitietoaineiston, Kansallinen audiovisuaalinen instituutti kotimaisten televisiosarjojen tietoja ja Liikenteen turvallisuusvirasto Trafi Ilma-alusrekisterin ja Rautateiden kalustorekisterin tietoja. Eduskunta avasi rajapinnan järjestelmistään koottuun avoimeen dataan, joissa on tietoja kansanedustajista, valtiopäiväasiakirjojen lausunnoista sekä äänestyksistä ja sali-istunnoista. Lähiaikoina Turun kaupunki avaa ja julkistaa liikuntapaikkojen kävijämäärätietoja ja Postimuseo tietoja Suomen postitoimipaikoista perustamis- ja mahdollisine lakkauttamistietoineen sekä toimipaikan hoitajista vuoteen 1916 asti. Kansallisarkistosta kurssilla oli monta ryhmää. Yksi niistä laati luonnoksen Kansallisarkiston avoimuuspolitiikasta, joka on parhaillaan kommentoitavana. Kun se valmistuu, myös muut muistiorganisaatiot voisivat ottaa sen käyttöönsä soveltuvin osin. Hyödyntäkää uusia avauksia – vaikka DataBusiness Challengessa! Julkishallinnon datan avaajan mestarikurssin verkkototeutuksen, ns. cMOOCin eli yhteisöllisen MOOCin (Massive Open Online Course) järjesti Open Knowledge Finland ry yhteistyössä Finnish Consulting Groupin (FCG) kanssa. Syksyn 2016 kurssin rahoitti Valtiokonttori. Kurssiaineiston kehittämisessä on tehty yhteistyötä opetus- ja kulttuuriministeriön, liikenne- ja viestintäministeriön, Aalto-yliopiston sekä Maailmanpankkiryhmän kanssa. Lisätietoja: eija.kalliala (at) okf.fi The post Verkko-opiskelusta vauhtia datan avaamiseen appeared first on Open Knowledge Finland.

Verkko-opiskelusta vauhtia datan avaamiseen

eija - December 15, 2016 in avoin data, koulutus, mooc, open-education

avoin-data-logoJulkishallinnon datan avaajan mestarikurssi, joka alkoi lokakuussa ja päättyi marras-joulukuun taitteessa, on tuottanut hyvää satoa. Kurssin suoritti kuudestatoista organisaatiosta yhteensä 92 henkilöä, jotka laativat omalle organisaatiolleen suunnitelman datan avaamisesta ja siitä tiedottamisesta. Monet kurssilaiset esittivät myös otteen avaamastaan datasta ja korjasivat sitä saamansa palautteen mukaisesti. Kurssin aikana Musiikkiarkisto JAPA julkaisi avaamansa Mihin jäi punk -muistitietoaineiston, Kansallinen audiovisuaalinen instituutti KAVI kotimaisten televisiosarjojen tietoja ja Liikenteen turvallisuusvirasto Trafi Ilma-alusrekisterin ja Rautateiden kalustorekisterin tietoja. Eduskunta avasi rajapinnan järjestelmistään koottuun avoimeen dataan, joissa on tietoja kansanedustajista, valtiopäiväasiakirjojen lausunnoista sekä äänestyksistä ja sali-istunnoista. Lähiaikoina Turun kaupunki avaa ja julkistaa liikuntapaikkojen kävijämäärätietoja ja Postimuseo tietoja Suomen postitoimipaikoista perustamis- ja mahdollisine lakkauttamistietoineen sekä toimipaikan hoitajista vuoteen 1916 asti. Kansallisarkistosta kurssilla oli monta ryhmää. Yksi niistä laati luonnoksen Kansallisarkiston avoimuuspolitiikasta, joka on parhaillaan kommentoitavana. Kun se valmistuu, myös muut muistiorganisaatiot voisivat ottaa sen käyttöönsä soveltuvin osin. Hyödyntäkää uusia avauksia – vaikka DataBusiness Challengessa! Julkishallinnon datan avaajan mestarikurssin verkkototeutuksen, ns. cMOOCin eli yhteisöllisen MOOCin (Massive Open Online Course) järjesti Open Knowledge Finland ry yhteistyössä Finnish Consulting Groupin (FCG) kanssa. Syksyn 2016 kurssin rahoitti Valtiokonttori. Kurssiaineiston kehittämisessä on tehty yhteistyötä opetus- ja kulttuuriministeriön, liikenne- ja viestintäministeriön, Aalto-yliopiston sekä Maailmanpankkiryhmän kanssa. Lisätietoja: eija.kalliala (at) okf.fi The post Verkko-opiskelusta vauhtia datan avaamiseen appeared first on Open Knowledge Finland.

Verkko-opiskelusta vauhtia datan avaamiseen

eija - December 15, 2016 in avoin data, koulutus, mooc, open-education

avoin-data-logoJulkishallinnon datan avaajan mestarikurssi, joka alkoi lokakuussa ja päättyi marras-joulukuun taitteessa, on tuottanut hyvää satoa. Kurssin suoritti kuudestatoista organisaatiosta yhteensä 92 henkilöä, jotka laativat omalle organisaatiolleen suunnitelman datan avaamisesta ja siitä tiedottamisesta. Monet kurssilaiset esittivät myös otteen avaamastaan datasta ja korjasivat sitä saamansa palautteen mukaisesti. Kurssin aikana Musiikkiarkisto JAPA julkaisi avaamansa Mihin jäi punk -muistitietoaineiston, Kansallinen audiovisuaalinen instituutti KAVI kotimaisten televisiosarjojen tietoja ja Liikenteen turvallisuusvirasto Trafi Ilma-alusrekisterin ja Rautateiden kalustorekisterin tietoja. Eduskunta avasi rajapinnan järjestelmistään koottuun avoimeen dataan, joissa on tietoja kansanedustajista, valtiopäiväasiakirjojen lausunnoista sekä äänestyksistä ja sali-istunnoista. Lähiaikoina Turun kaupunki avaa ja julkistaa liikuntapaikkojen kävijämäärätietoja ja Postimuseo tietoja Suomen postitoimipaikoista perustamis- ja mahdollisine lakkauttamistietoineen sekä toimipaikan hoitajista vuoteen 1916 asti. Kansallisarkistosta kurssilla oli monta ryhmää. Yksi niistä laati luonnoksen Kansallisarkiston avoimuuspolitiikasta, joka on parhaillaan kommentoitavana. Kun se valmistuu, myös muut muistiorganisaatiot voisivat ottaa sen käyttöönsä soveltuvin osin. Hyödyntäkää uusia avauksia – vaikka DataBusiness Challengessa! Julkishallinnon datan avaajan mestarikurssin verkkototeutuksen, ns. cMOOCin eli yhteisöllisen MOOCin (Massive Open Online Course) järjesti Open Knowledge Finland ry yhteistyössä Finnish Consulting Groupin (FCG) kanssa. Syksyn 2016 kurssin rahoitti Valtiokonttori. Kurssiaineiston kehittämisessä on tehty yhteistyötä opetus- ja kulttuuriministeriön, liikenne- ja viestintäministeriön, Aalto-yliopiston sekä Maailmanpankkiryhmän kanssa. Lisätietoja: eija.kalliala (at) okf.fi The post Verkko-opiskelusta vauhtia datan avaamiseen appeared first on Open Knowledge Finland.

Yes we can Inchallah: Morocco OER Strategy Forum

Javiera Atenas - December 9, 2016 in Featured, MENA region, MOOCs, oer, Open Educational Practices, open-education, world

By Daniel Villar-Onrubia Javiera Atenas

This week we had the opportunity to participate in the Morocco OER Strategy Forum hosted by Cadi Ayyad University in Marrakech as part of the OpenMed project. We spent two very inspiring days learning …

How students can help EU policies work better thanks to open data and civic technology

Javiera Atenas - November 30, 2016 in Data, Featured, guestpost, higher education, italy, oer, Open Data, open-education

Post written by Luigi Reggi 

Three small but important steps toward a more participatory EU policy were made in the last few weeks between Brussels and Rome, Italy. They are three episodes of a series of productive encounters between students equipped with open data and civic technology and policy makers managing EU funding.

Civic monitoring of EU funding as a way to assess results

The first episode happened  in Brussels. On November 22, a group of Italian higher education students engaged in a productive discussion with the European Commission – DG Regional and Urban Policy and the EU Committee of the Regions. The debate was focused on the role of open data and public participation to assess the results of the European Cohesion Policy from the point of view of the final beneficiaries. The team MoniTOreali – composed of students from the University of Turin and led by Alba Garavet, responsible for Turin’s  Europe Direct Centre – had the chance to present the results of an intense “civic monitoring” activity focused on one of the most visible EU-funded projects in the city. Its goal is the renovation of the “Giardini Reali”, the historical gardens of Turin’s Royal Palace, one of the city’s landmarks.  With a total funding of less than 2 million euros, the project is hardly one of biggest investments of EU policy in Italy. However, its central position in the urban landscape gives it the potential to shape the way citizens perceive the contribution of the European institutions to the improvement of their neighborhoods. The goal of this monitoring was to find out how the EU money was spent and whether the project delivered the promise or not.
The Royal Gardens in Turin, Italy, funded by European Structural Funds. Photo: MoniTOreali

The Royal Gardens in Turin, Italy, funded by European Structural Funds. Photo: MoniTOreali

What MoniTOreali students found was mixed results. While the project should have been completed by 2012, actually it is still under way due to a series of administrative delays. Its implementation is also influenced by a complex social environment, as conflicting social groups have different views on the future of the gardens and this had the effect of stalling policy decisions. To disentangle this intricate web of relations, the students interviewed experts, citizens and local public administrators. They analyzed the project’s objectives, strengths, weaknesses, history and recent developments in a civic monitoring report, which was published in the independent civic technology platform Monithon, the “Monitoring Marathon” of the European funding in Italy. The students also provided suggestions and ideas on how solve some the project’s issues. But the most interesting aspect of this experience is that Mrs Garavet succeeded in adapting the methodology of A Scuola di OpenCoesione (ASOC) – which was originally created by the Italian Government for high school students – to a higher education course.  She was able to effectively combine her experience as an activist in the Monithon Piemonte civic community with the more formal, six-step ASOC methodology, which also includes sessions on open data, data journalism, EU funding, and field research.  Earlier this year, Chiara Ciociola, the ASOC project manager, actively participated in the teaching activities in Turin to promote a sort of cross-fertilization between the two communities.  More information on the ASOC method and results is included in the book edited by Javiera Atenas and Leo Havemann. The idea is that an improved version of the course’s syllabus could be adopted and used by other universities in Italy and in Europe to replicate the same practice, contextualising its application. The fact that all European Countries share the same rules when it comes to EU funding can help spread a common approach. It turned out that EU officials loved the idea. The main conclusion of the meeting was that participation in the civic monitoring of EU policy could be a way to bridge the gap between EU institutions and the public. Moreover, the spread of these activities across the EU could also help policymakers evaluate the outcome of interventions from the point of view of the local communities. This is particularly important given that, according to recent developments, EU policies will be more and more focused on actual results in terms of real change for the final beneficiaries. More concretely, the European Commission proposed to use its programme “REGIO P2P” to fund an exchange of civic monitoring practices between EU authorities managing the funds in different Countries.

A new way to communicate policy outputs

The second episode was a stimulating workshop organized by the EU official Tony Lockett at the European Conference on Public Communication. As Lockett describes very well in this report, open data initiatives such as the EU Portal or the DG Regional Policy open data website are probably not enough to get real impact if not combined with effective citizen participation. In particular, Simona De Luca – representing the OpenCoesione team at the Italian government – showed how independent civic monitoring of EU-funded projects, based on the open data published on the governmental portal, can profoundly change the way the policy is communicated to the public.  While most of the “good stories” about EU funding are selected by a few experts at the managing authorities and then told by communication officers, the idea of relying on real stories by citizens for other citizens makes official communication extraordinarily powerful. People’s stories, based on official data but augmented thanks to new information collected with a sound and shared methodology, can represent not only a potential risk for the government – when the projects don’t match the expectations – but also a great way to show how problems can be solved together thanks to a meaningful collaboration between governments and citizens.  
Source: OpenCoesione - The Italian open government strategy on cohesion policy

Source: OpenCoesione – The Italian open government strategy on cohesion policy

The third episode happened last week at the Italian annual meeting with the European Commission on EU Cohesion Policy. The Agency for Cohesion, a national administration responsible for monitoring the implementation of EU Cohesion policy in Italy, for the first time used the stories from the citizens to present the results of EU Structural Funds. In particular, a set of good practices from the 2007-13 period was selected based on the civic monitoring reports included in the Monithon platform.  Most of the projects presented were monitored by the A Scuola di OpenCoesione high school students in different locations. The only exception was a project in Ancona, which was the focus of Action Aid’s School of participation. Although problematic projects were not mentioned at all during the event, the presentation was the first attempt in Italy to represent the results of EU Policy “from the point of view of the citizens”.  A kind of Copernican revolution for official communication that surprised most of the participants.
Current civic monitoring reports as displayed on Monithon.it

Current civic monitoring reports as displayed on Monithon.it

Collaborating with the Open Government ecosystem

These three examples indicate that a process of positive change is under way among European and national administrations that manage EU funds toward a more collaborative management of EU policy.  However, stronger and more stable mechanisms are needed to ensure real participation in the monitoring and evaluation of EU policies. What seems to drive this change is not only the desire for a more open and inclusive public policy, but also the urgent problem of finding out whether the projects funded really deliver or not. It is in the interest of all actors involved to assess the actual performance of the huge amount of money that flows from the EU budget to the European regions and cities, given the common ambitious goals of sustainable growth, innovation, job creation, social inclusion, and education. I believe that this question cannot be answered only with aggregated figures or econometric exercises. It requires a painstaking, bottom-up assessment of each single project involving local communities, journalists, analysts, and public officials at the EU, national and regional levels. This is a complex task that public authorities cannot handle by themselves. They need to be ready and capable to collaborate with the whole open government ecosystem composed in this case of
  • open data producers such as OpenCoesione.gov.it
  • government proactive initiatives such as A Scuola di OpenCoesione, which focus on the crucial element of civic learning
  • data users like the MoniTOreali group developing the right skills and expertise to provide meaningful feedback
  • civic tech initiatives like Monithon
  • intermediaries such as local media or NGOs aggregating and interpreting the feedback from the final beneficiaries
  • policy makers willing to listen and act upon the suggestions from the public.
Monithon calls it a “monitoring marathon”, indeed. If you want to know more about the open government ecosystem of the EU Cohesion Policy in Italy you can read this paper, which develops a conceptual model based on this case.BIO screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-17-02-16Luigi Reggi is a technology policy analyst at the Italian government and a PhD student in Public Administration and Policy at the State University of New York at Albany, USA. He is interested in Open Government Data, collaborative governance and European Cohesion Policy