Libellula – a civic monitoring lab and a format to build and sustain a local civic monitoring coalition
Libellula is a laboratory for civic monitoring of local public spending and a format to build and sustain a local civic monitoring coalition. The first lab is based in Messina, Sicily. Moving from monitoring a specific case, Libellula aims at building a civic multi-stakeholder coalition which, while monitoring, simultaneously cultivates skills and capabilities of those involved to advocate for transparent and collaborative public spending in order to address the misuse of public money.
Libellulae (dragonflies) are insects characterized by large, multifaceted eyes, each of which relies on many lenses and points to different directions. Metaphorically, in our project, this is exactly what civic monitoring should be: a multi-stakeholder coalition connected by a common project which is also able to tackle problems and challenges from different perspectives and according to different skills. As a laboratory for civic monitoring on public spending, Libellula addresses the problem of a chronic misuse and waste of public resources, which is a critical problem in economically disadvantaged territories, like ours.
Southern Italy trails the rest of Italy on most development indicators. Development funds could reduce this gap. The large portfolio of funds dedicated to Italy, combined with chronic misuse of funds and corruption stories, explain why this is a hot topic in our country, and in our city as well.
Integrity Pacts (IPs) represent the tool recently devised by the European Union to address this problem. There is an EU Commission ongoing pilot program “Integrity Pacts - Civil Control Mechanism for Safeguarding EU Funds” which aims at providing a valuable tool for citizens to collaborate in safeguarding public spending, thus enhancing a stronger participation of civil society in the process of spending EU Funds. The pilot results so far have been promising: in terms of dissemination, we succeed in building a model that reuses the EU pilot program methodology and provides sustainability for the IP implementation.
An initial, experimental implementation is ongoing in Messina. The University of Messina, on our invitation, has officially committed to sign the IP and is participating with this commitment in the Italian Open Government National Action Plan. Libellula can therefore officially count on a local organisation that opens a pilot public procurement - the new University Library, a contract worth about 2.5 million euros - to civic monitoring practices. The signature on the pact is expected by the end of April.
The new feature in our experimentation is the ways of ensuring the IP sustainability. In Messina we built a legal framework that ensures the use of the small percentage of the total amount of the pilot procurement that is monitored to be used to fund the IP implementation. The University of Messina agreed on such a model and the small percentage will co-fund Libellula and its activities. The project is also funded by The Open Society Initiative for Europe.
The final goal of the project is to show that in dysfunctional, slow-growing contexts, participation applied to public spending processes is a valuable investment for public administrations because its cost is largely repaid in direct (avoided losses, expenditures’ impact) and indirect (fastening of growth) terms. Specifically in economically problematic contexts this investment in civic engagement benefits a large spectrum of local communities. It benefits local administrations and local communities alike, since it provides an innovative tool to prevent inefficient spending of public resources and thus it enhances chances for economic growth and development. It benefits local communities, and specific actors of the local community, since it allows citizens to actively take part in projects involving their territory. In this sense, civic monitoring by means of IP on ineffective municipal spending could be a valuable way to foster the local transition to open government. By finding resources where these are misused, this model allows to sustain civil society at the local level, thus being a stable intermediate body to link local governments with citizens.
At this stage, Libellula is already structurally institutionalized with a specific commitment into the Italian OGP National Action Plan. As it will be demonstrated after, this model could be easily replicated in various local contexts showing signs of sensitization of civic monitoring practices both on the political and the civil society side. In order to promote replication, together with Transparency International Italia, ActionAid and Amapola - the main Italian stakeholders in the IP fields, already involved in the EU Commission program - we are contributing to building a national coalition around IP, composed both by public administrations willing to experiment with open government practices and locally based civil society. The Municipality of Palermo and the Sicilian Region already committed, on the invitation extended by the Parliament Watch Italia, to implement IP in the Italian NAP. Other local contexts, such the Simeto Valley (near Catania, in Sicily) and the Municipality of Padova could join soon. They are joining Milano, Cagliari, Sibari and Madonie, where IP are already implemented in the EU Commission framework.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
Libellula is innovative because it demonstrates the opportunities of the reuse of an already existing good practice - the EU pilot program on IP - and allows already sensitized local contexts to implement the practice independently of the EU framework thanks to an easily be adoptable juridical framework that provides sustainability for experimentation. Furthermore, Libellula’s approach merges "open contracting" with “open budgeting” methodologies. In doing so it brings together two critically important features: on the one side open budgeting allows citizens to gain a comprehensive and actual understanding of local public spending and of the political decision concerning resources allocation. On the other, open contracting provides a way to control the actual use of those resources.
Collaborations & Partnerships
In a first phase the Municipality of Messina collaborated with Libellula in designing this process. After change in administration this collaboration slowed down. Our main partner is now the University of Messina, ready to sign the IP. Palermo and the Sicilian Region have also joined the experimentation. Other local contexts, Padova and the Simeto Valley, are already taking steps to join in the future. Libellula has also the collaboration of the main Italian IP stakeholders that help with their know-how in the field.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
Among potential users of Libellula’s methodologies and tools we targeted active citizens and CSOs, politicians and public servants, students and teachers, professors, journalists, professionals, entrepreneurs. These are all the actors that should compose the multi-stakeholder civic monitoring coalition that acts as the IP Independent Monitor.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
Up to now, the main outcomes are that we have official commitments about Libellula’s IP in our OGP NAP and so the first IPs coming from the EU experimentation are ready to be implemented.
This result came also thanks to the legitimacy gained by Libellula in this experimental field. As OSIFE grantee and with the positive references received (for instance, EU Commission invited us to their last IP stakeholder event in Brussels; Open Government Partnership asked our inputs for their Local Strategy) we managed to influence the National OGP Forum to include this specific commitment and in collaboratively involve other public administrations.
In the future we expect to show that monitored procurement processes have better results than those that are not monitored, and so to create the conditions to further dissemination of IP and civic monitoring labs. To this extent we are working to a tool that imposes open contracting data standards on local public procurement, allowing the comparisons that could demonstrate that we had positive results and concrete impact.
Challenges and Failures
The main challenge we encountered is something we were also aware of: if you work at the local level with open government practices, you could suffer from institutional discontinuity. It is of pivotal importance, in fact, to rely on a stable endorsement of local administrations.
Messina elected a new mayor in May 2018, when our project was almost entering in the most operative phase in collaboration with the local government in charge.
We tried to establish a link with the new one but not successfully.
The administrative discontinuity due to local elections represented a significant setback in the development of our project. We found out that the best way to respond to such setback was relying on the quality of our project and therefore proposing it to other actors able to understand the social and economic potential it displays. This strategy led us to establishing a fruitful collaboration with the University of Messina.
Conditions for Success
Libellula’s success depends above all on the necessary collaboration of all the actors involved in the IP implementation. These are institutional, civic and economic actors. It is essential that all of them recognize the model as an effective tool for better use of resources. Another important condition is that Libellula collects the collaboration of professionals from different fields (legal, administrative and economical experts) willing to share their know-how and experience when participating in the activities of the lab. Adequate financial resources are an obvious condition for success; human resources and voluntary work have been essential in the early stages of the project to set up the condition for its complete development. Thanks to the OSIFE grant and to a possible co-funding (answer coming in the very next day by Fondazione con il SUD, which aims to foster social infrastructure in Southern Italy) we should have enough resources to explore the potential of our experimentation.
Libellula’s most innovative aspect is the possibility to provide a “matrix” which can be implemented in different contexts. Both the methodologies and tools necessary for building a well-informed and adequately skilled community of participants from civil society organizations and the agreements between civil society, local administrations and contractors can be easily replicated. Libellula works as a format providing an answer to the problem of ineffective allocation of resources, and it is able to tackle this problem according to different scale; in this sense, it recalibrates its contents to the contexts of different projects and administrative magnitudes. This format, also thanks to our partners, already allowed our model to experience a dissemination phase that reached, alongside the University of Messina, the Municipality of Palermo and the Sicilian Region already committed to implement IP in the Italian NAP.
The main challenge, already described, has been the lack of responsiveness by the new mayor. We responded finding a new institutional partner for our project.
Another important lesson learned on advocacy is the importance of the national OGP Forum as a tool to deal with public administrations. The National Action Plan provides an occasion to translate the commitment obtained into a formal engagement in terms of political declarations during public encounters and public events. The NAP can be attractive for those politicians that want to prove their endorsement to transparency and openness. At the same time, since it provides a complex multi-level framework of control to ensure and foster the delivering of results, it is a first fundamental warranty for the commitment implementation.