14 Jan 2015

ERCAS Awarded Second Major EU Research Project

Photo credit: Steven Depolo, Flickr

The tell-tale signs of public spending gone wrong are easy to spot: An airport that is many years behind schedule and billions of Euro over budget, or a highway leading to nowhere. In many cases, corruption is at the core of the problem. For too long, it has been hard to identify such core problems and it has been even harder for civil society to play a role in preventing corrupt practices in public sector spending. A project is about to help change this: Together with five other European partners, the European Research Centre for Anti-Corruption and State-Building (ERCAS) at the Hertie School of Governance has just won a new EU-funded research project, DIGIWHIST, aimed at empowering society to combat public sector corruption.

The project is “The Digital Whistleblower:  Fiscal Transparency, Risk Assessment and Impact of Good Governance Policies Assessed” (DIGIWHIST), funded with three million Euro by the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme, will run for three years (March 2015 – February 2018). It is the second major EU Research Project awarded to ERCAS, led by Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, Professor of Democracy Studies at the Hertie School.

The central objective of DIGIWHIST is to improve trust in governments and efficiency of public spending 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 Europe.

Specifically, the project will create several interactive products:

  • national procurement portals and mobile apps allow users to: 1) making the database and documentation downloadable, 2) providing easy-to-useanalytic tools, and 3) making it possible for users to contribute to data and 4) allowing for 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;
  • an easy-to-use risk assessment software for public authorities, based on the indicators developed by DIGIWHIST, to assess corruption risks.

Returning to the airport example, an investigative journalist seeking to understand more about the airport project could visit the DIGIWHIST platform and look up the public body overseeing the construction or the construction firms involved, etc. The information on the platform would include whether the public body has complied with public procurement laws, or whether tendering behaviour has posed any corruption risks. 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 warranted.

“Our research has proven that only the combination of engaged civic actors plus legislative instruments work in fighting corruption,” said Professor Mungiu-Pippidi. “For example, Freedom of Information Acts (FOIAs) are more effective when civil society is empowered to use them and hold governments accountable for corrupt actions.”

The consortium, led by the University of Cambridge, includes ERCAS (Hertie School of Governance), 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 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 for more information. Contact: Kerry Schorr, ERCAS Communications Officer, schorr@hertie-school.org, +49 (0)30-25-92-19-337.