The tell-tale signs of public spending gone wrong are easy to spot: for example, an airport that is many years behind schedule and billions of euros over budget, or a highway that leads to nowhere. In many cases, corruption is at the root of the problem. What has hitherto been more challenging has been the question of to how to shine a light on this problem and engage civil society in order to help curb it. Together with five other European partners, the European Research Centre for Anti-corruption and State-Building (ERCAS) at the Hertie School is a research partner in the funded research project DIGIWHIST which aims to do just that.
The central objective of DIGIWHIST is to improve trust in governments and efficiency in public spending across Europe by empowering civil society, investigative journalists, and civil servants with the information and tools they need to increase transparency in public spending and thus accountability of public officials in all EU nations and in some neighbouring countries. Specifically, the project aims to create several interactive products:
- National procurement portals and mobile apps which allow users to do four key things: 1) download the database and documentation, 2) access user-friendly interactive analytic tools, 3) contribute to data and 4) make anonymous whistleblower reports and freedom-of-information requests
- A European transparency legislation observatory (similar to the national procurement portals) which allows users to access and understand existing legal frameworks related to public procurement
- User-friendly risk assessment software for public authorities based on the indicators developed by DIGIWHIST, to assess corruption risks in their public procurement procedures
Returning to the example of the airport, an investigative journalist who would like to understand more about the airport project could visit the DIGIWHIST platform and look up the public body overseeing the construction or alternatively, one of the construction firms involved in the process. The information on the platform would include whether the public body has complied with public procurement laws, or whether the firm's tendering behaviour poses a corruption risk. This journalist could then file a report with the appropriate government agency to get more information on the project or even file a whistleblowing report if there is evidence of corrupt actions.
Other project partners
The consortium, led by the University of Cambridge, includes ERCAS (Hertie School), Corruption Research Centre Budapest, Hungary; Datlab, Prague, Czech Republic; Open Knowledge Foundation Deutschland, Berlin, Germany; and Transcrime (Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore) organised crime research centre, Milan, Italy. DIGIWHIST builds extensively on the partners' prior innovative work in this area, particularly that of EU FP7 ANTICORRP.
European civil society groups, investigative journalists and civil servants involved in or concerned about transparency in public spending are invited to contact the project's team for more information.
For further details, visit digiwhist.eu
DIGIWHIST has a duration of three years (March 2015 – February 2018). This is the second major EU research project awarded to ERCAS, led by Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, Professor of Democracy Studies at the Hertie School.
The project is funded (3 million euros) by the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme.