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Transparency Projects in Central and Eastern Europe

Central and Eastern Europe is rich in examples of citizen participation projects related to governmental transparency, most of which work in partnership with major institutions that provide financial and methodological support like Open Society Institute, MySociety and Transparency International. Many also work with local organizations and media. I have talked to people involved in such projects in Poland and in Hungary, but they also mentioned innovative work coming from the Czech Republic and Slovakia, like KohoVolit.eu. Before we look more closely at example projects from the area let me share my overall insights with you after having studied a few major transparency projects in Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. The actual type of transparency projects in each country depends on the profiles of people involved in the initial action, their relationship with the government, as well as on the nature of citizen participation in the country. All of those projects acknowledge the need to disclose information related to governance in an smoothly presented, easily digestible way. Whether it is with the support of many volunteers, or with a smaller core group of dedicated activists, they all invest a lot of time in their projects and yet still struggle in procuring precise government information, which should be made publicly available. Most of them flag issues regarding governmental accountability. In many cases, their cooperation with mainstream media seems to play an important role in their ability to put pressure of MP’s and other public officials. Some transparency projects also aim to address the frequently passive attitude of citizens in the region regarding corruption, which as mentioned in a chat with Kepmutatas in Hungary, originates from lack of understanding of existing official procedures for citizens to flag government misconduct. It quickly becomes apparent that in Central and Eastern Europe raising awareness among citizens about transparency and the methods to fight corruption is just as important as putting pressure on government representatives to become more transparent about their actions and expenses.

From Check Republic and Slovakia we have seen a conversation with KohoVolit.eu, a project of two dedicated people who spend their time raising awareness about representatives from parliaments in both countries, as well as representatives from the European Parliament. As mentioned in the interview, main challenges are related to a lack of citizen participation in politics, and the lack of structured, official information from the parliament websites.

Slovakia hosts another interesting transparency project, the Fair Play Alliance, where politicians are asked to actively participate in the project and if they fail to do so, are faced with related media coverage at the most sensitive them time leading up to elections. Again, it reveals the strategy of combining research and open data with mainstream media partnerships to put pressure on politicians to be more transparent and more accountable during their time in office.

In Hungary, the project Kepmutatas.hu is responding to the challenge of poorly presented public information by building a visually friendly tool to estimate unreported campaign expenses by major political parties on a simple graph with links to additional details. Despite media support and a clear call to action, there is still a lack of political will to reform campaign finance laws. Political parties are not required to disclose their campaign spending so volunteers and project coordinators work to calculate estimated sums. The project is promoted via traditional media, but also social media channels like Facebook.

In Poland there are a few projects worth mentioning. Sejmometr.pl is a portal that feeds official information about currently introduced laws and the legislators involved in their creation. It also offers legal advice, encourages bloggers to co-operate on stories, and request more data from the parliament website administrators. Stowarzyszenie Art. 61 (the name refers to article 61 of Polish Constitution, which declares access to public, governance-related information public) is the organization behind a few transparency projects in the country. Their Kandydaci2009 initiative is the second edition (following a similar version in 2005) of a portal to help citizens to choose representatives to European Parliament by presenting profiles and platforms of the candidates, as well as reports on no-cooperative representatives. Its twin project, Mam Prawo Wiedzieć (‘I have the right to know‘) is a similar compass of candidates to Polish parliament with a dedicated to “Citizen’s Guide” that offers concise explanations of laws related citizen's rights regarding transparency and accountability. Watchdog.pl is an NGO working closely with other organizations to educate, advocate and support developments in the area of transparency and accountability. Their website is a good knowledge pool of campaigns, issues and solutions. All three Polish organizations use a strong network of like minded people to promote their work offline, as well as through social media channels.

Participants of the Watchdog: Working Out Credibility workshop that took place in late March in Warsaw.

When reading case studies from the Czech Republic and Slovakia, as well as during conversations with Polish and Hungarian activists I could not help but realize another challenge: co-operation at the regional level. We see Fair Play Alliance sharing their tools abroad, we hear about Kepmutatas.hu staying in touch with Czech campaigners but the information flow between those teams seems to be limited. I personally see great potential in transparency and social media events in the region. Social Innovation Camp in Bratislava provided many NGO’s with an occasion to share knowledge and skills. The fifth annual Confidence Conference, which is planned for the end of May in Warsaw, brings together specialists from different organizations and sectors to share skills and network. Wikimania, planned for July in Gdansk, aims to bring professionals from the entire region, which can give opportunities to network as well. And last but not least, Watchdog aims to end the summer season with a barcamp-style event dedicated strictly to transparency. I hope that the Technology for Transparency Network will push for more co-operation across geographic and language barriers to encourage the sharing of skills and ideas.

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