E-participatory Budgeting

The Project

Elena Calistru

President & Co-founder of Funky Citizens, a newly established Romanian NGO

Romania

Bani pierduti? is a project aiming at engaging informed civil society (taxpayers) in the decision making process related to the priorities in public spending. We do this through an online platform which offers a comprehensive image of the manner in which public funds are spent and information and tools for participating to the national and local budgetary decision-making process.

 

What do we do?
The three pillars of the platform respond to the following problems:

Problem #1: Fiscal policies represent a “mystery” for the majority of citizens
Consequences: Lack of information and understanding of the process; scarce public oversight of public funds administration; public spending is associated with corruption and distrust

How we respond: Educate citizens on the topic

Problem #2: Little or no participation of the community to the fiscal policy
Consequences: Limited use of existing tools for participation to the decision-making process; needs of the community not reflected in the resource allocation; no feedback to the policy makers on their decision

How we respond: Facilitate direct participation

Problem #3: Lack of vision from governments on investment/ development priorities
Consequences: Short-term planning leading to limited predictability and accountability; bad administration, mismanagement, or corruption in public spending; incoherence between the fiscal policy and other public policies

How we respond: Analyse and understand data

Game Changing Factor

Using an existing platform “Bani pierduti?” (missing/lost money?), available at www.banipierduti.ro, to develop an innovative tool for increasing participation and transparency in public spending through:

1. Simulator for legislative impact
To develop an easy to use online ballot for new legislation explaining the financial impact of a certain bill (pros and cons) and allowing citizens to vote for a certain outcome. The input, together with the relevant proposed amendments should be sent on a rolling-basis to the decision-makers.

2. Simulator for the central budget
Allow users to vote on concrete and tangible outcomes, which are aligned with decisions implied by the budget. Citizens have to produce a balanced budget, so are forced to trade-off priorities against one-another. The voting system is should be very simple and allow the user to understand the impacts of their given choice in context. After each round of consultation, reports will be sent to policymakers.

These features are already in course of development, with the help of a grant offered by the US Embassy in Romania. However, the grant only covers the development of the features for the website.

We would like to take these features one step further, and transform them into Facebook and Twitter applications as well. Since we already have the support of a growing community of IT developers, the mini-grant offered by the IACC seems the perfect resource to boost the effectiveness of this type of eParticipatory Budgeting tool. Also, the opportunity to access the wide range of experts and IACC Game Changers platform will allow us to design the social media apps in a manner which will allow them to become highly scalable and/or adaptable for other countries.

Why I fight Corruption

I started working as an anticorruption activist when I was 22. Corruption in Romania, as in other SEE countries is so widespread that it is not hard to find a reason to engage in the fight against it. And it sure is easier for a fresh Political Science graduate to observe that fighting corruption means addressing the actual root of the causes that lead Romanian development to low levels, even after years of democracy. After a period spent in Transparency International’s Romanian chapter I found myself well-equipped to think of different manners to engage in solving this social issue, complimentary to the classic anticorruption tools.

With this thought in mind, I developed a project aiming to increase transparency in public spending by using new technologies and new media channels and registered it in the Restart Romania 2011 competition, initiated by Techsoup Romania with the support of the US Embassy to Bucharest. 144 projects were registered in the competition, went under a community scrutiny and were evaluated by a jury formed by representatives of the diplomatic community, business sector and IT industry. 10 finalist projects were transformed with the help of programmers and communication specialists into more concrete platforms which were presented within the Restart Romania Gala. Bani pierduti (Lost money) was voted within the Gala as one of the five winners of a 5000 USD funding.

This experience was a strong signal that the mix between contributions from specialists in different areas, the continuous engagement and feedback from various stakeholders, and new technologies might provide a different approach to address transparency, especially in sensitive areas such as public spending.

This became the main working method for a NGO (Funky Citizens) that I founded together with other young enthusiasts. This experiment aims to offer an associative structure to gather grassroots projects developed by (generally young) funky citizens (those who want to know and live their rights). In our endeavours we are currently approaching the lack of information and awareness on major issues which affect the good governance in Romania. We mainly focus on grassroots projects, using volunteers or young professionals from different domains, whilst using the growing power of social media and Internet as an important tool for promoting social change.