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The Effort to Start Open Government at a Local Level in Italy

Francesco Saija|

Since being established in 2009, the open government movement has been embedded into national level governance around the world. Nonetheless a real open government environment can only be reached when open government principles are applied  at the local level. During the Open Government Partnership (OGP) Global Summit in Paris, subnational governance was underlined more than once. It is clear that the moment for the local governments to join the open government movement has come.

Parliament Watch Italia (PWI) aims to improve the legitimacy of local administrations interested in implementing open government practices. Our work  aims to create a relational conception of democracy by activating and maintaining relationships between various open government actors at the local, national and international levels. We started our activities in February 2016 to endorse  the municipality of Messina in Sicily, with whom we signed an agreement to experiment with open government and civic monitoring practices. We joined the Open Government Partnership’s (OGP) Subnational Pilot Program leaders tier at its inception. We ensured the continuity of the process advocating in the national OG forum for the city to have a role in the third Italian National Action Plan as pilot local government. Furthermore we organized a participatory roundtable connecting the municipality with other local CSOs, small and medium enterprises and the University to conceive a plan for the city to become “open” using the national funding program for metropolitan cities.

As outcome of the participatory table, an Open Government Local Action Plan was adopted by the Messina Municipality to be financed with 1 million euro. The plan provides, among other actions, open strategic datasets on the decision-making process, budget, administrative processes and the implementation of several tools for data re-use that will enhance the possibility of citizens’ participation.

Furthermore, the Action Plan adopts a methodology and the means to start and enforce ongoing monitoring actions made by citizens, schools, universities and the local press. The plan also aims to import best practices already experimented in other local contexts and exchange experiences. In doing so, we established relations with the municipality of Milan and Rome to coordinate efforts, exchange practices and rationalize the utilization of public resources.  

PWI joined also other national actors committed to promoting civic monitoring and a culture of lawfulness to fight corruption (Libera, Avviso pubblico, Open Polis, Riparte il Futuro), advocating for open data (Ondata, Opendata Sicilia, Spaghetti Open Data) or engaged in public procurement monitoring (Monithon, Action Aid, OpenCoesione, Transparency International Italy) to equip the Local Action Plan with expertise and mentoring, and also strengthen the basis of a systemic action to export the practices experimented to other local contexts.  

The plan has a timeline of three years. Once all the comprehensive platforms, portals, tools are up and running, and the feedback from citizen comes in, Messina will become a permanent lab of good Open Government practices. But Messina is only a starting point. Our mission is to export, share and enrich the practices experimented with. We would like to mentor other local civil society organizations to form partnerships with local governments interested in similar reforms.   

Building a consortium of national stakeholders is a difficult and ambitious task that PWI would try to accomplish. We already proposed a partnership to:

  • Libera, a network composed of more than 1,200 associations that support a culture of lawfulness and anti-corruption;
  • Avviso Pubblico, a network of about 300 local public servants, actively committed to promoting democratic lawfulness;
  • OpenPolis, the national Parliamentary Monitoring Organization, as the technological partner.  
  • The “Master for the corruption prevention of the University of  Pisa”, to provide scientific coordination and impact assessment of this process.

With this partners it could be possible to build an Open Government ecosystem in various local contexts. This ecosystem would carry on the workload of bridging citizens and governments, and monitor the decision making data and local public procurements.

The monitoring activities, that can ensure projects effectiveness and generate savings, could be financed with a small percentage of the funds dedicated to the procurements themselves. We will experiment this monitoring model in the local Action Plan using Transparency International’s Integrity Pact methodology. To ensure accountability and legitimacy, the new form of Integrity Pact includes a contract with a civil society organisation that monitors commitment compliance. The methodology has also been implemented by the European Union Commission as a pilot program named “Integrity Pacts – Civil Control Mechanism for Safeguarding EU Funds” and, thank to our advocacy, is now officially inserted in the Anti-corruption Plan that the city recently approved as mandatory process to monitor public procurements.


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