Kosovo raises the flag on corruption using open data
Nestled in the middle of the mountains in Southeast Europe, Kosovo is known for its good food and friendly young people. Kosovo may lack some things, but what it does have is a raging dynamism, a thriving youth population (the youngest in Europe), and widespread internet connectivity — its internet penetration rate of just over 80%, is the highest in the Balkans and the region. These characteristics created the perfect conditions for the inception of Open Data Kosovo — a group of internet enthusiasts, data lovers and crunchers, and visually-oriented people. The jewel in Open Data Kosovo’s crown is e-prokurimi.org, an online portal for visualizing procurement data in Kosovo’s municipalities.
When Open Data Kosovo released e-prokurimi.org in February 2015, the mission for the online application was two-fold: to create innovative ways to display and publicize municipal procurement data (which was obtained thanks to the cooperation of various municipalities across Kosovo); and to build a local tech community who would develop the online platform onto which the procurement data for each municipality would be published. Before the platform existed, procurement information was inaccessible in Kosovo, so we had to use the freedom of information law to retrieve data for six municipalities.
The e-prokurimi.org data analysis platform was developed in collaboration with students. It served as an opportunity to teach them that it’s possible to learn cool, new programming tricks while contributing to the fight against corruption, by building useful apps with open data and web development. Open Data Kosovo organized workshops in each municipality with engineering and computer science students. We trained them in technologies used for data analysis and visualization. In the end, they developed a product that would provide data-driven insights on procurement practices at the local level. Working with local students was especially insightful, since they already had prior knowledge of the procurement projects occurring in their cities. This gave them a better understanding, when analyzing the data, of the money trails and the outcome of procurement deals.
Other than neat data visualization, one very cool feature of the platform is the red flag algorithm/dashboard that Open Data Kosovo developed to automatically detect irregularities in the winning bids for municipal procurements. Besides informing the general taxpaying public, such a tool proved to be useful for the municipalities themselves. A representative of the Gjakova municipality said in an interview that e-prokurimi.org — that one initial step of transparency — changed the whole approach of the community and the donors. The municipality was asked to be more open in other fields as well, which pushed them to think about creating platforms that would cover other important sectors. This was driven by Mayor Mimoza Kusari’s willingness to commit to transparency. When asked about her motivation to build such an open system, she said: “Fighting corruption is like taking a shower; you have to do it every day”.
The openness initiative led to international organizations once again showing an interest in supporting the municipality in capital projects and development programs worth millions of euros in donations. The municipality of Gjakova went on to build similar platforms by engaging the tech community. They opened data on budgetary spending, administrative services, recruitment process, and in a great collaboration between the municipality and Open Data Kosovo, an interactive mapping of schools, health centers, businesses, non-governmental organizations, municipal projects, as well as legal and illegal buildings. The mapping was done with small teams of local high school students who went around town collecting business information and geotagging it. Business owners were very enthusiastic about being featured on the interactive map, while students enjoyed private tours and special meetings with Gjakova businesses of various kinds.
E-prokurimi.org was a project about reform through technology. What started with public procurement, quickly spread over to other areas of government transparency. Kosovo holds great potential in this area. The country is buzzing with young talent, and people finding creative ways to tackle development. Using technology to ask for more transparency is one great way to engage the community and contribute to society.
Open Data Kosovo will continue to be an active member of the strive for change in Kosovo, and together with the local tech community we are going to open that data, one SQL file dump at a time.