15/05/2014

Brief no. 7 - Open data on beneficiaries of EU structural funds in Europe

A new survey on transparency of lists of beneficiaries in EU Member States

The availability of data and information on the use of EU Structural Funds has become crucial to ensure both transparency of Cohesion Policy and creation of new economic opportunities.

The publication on the web of relevant information as open data enables, for example a tighter, bottom-up control on the results of the policy through independent analysis and investigations, which should lead to a more effective policy; new forms of citizen participation and engagement that use the data of individual projects as a “base layer” for further action, thus enabling new forms of collaboration with governments.

However, these benefits may appear provided that data published by the EU national and regional authorities comply with the fundamental requirements of the open data paradigm (e.g. complete, accessible, timely and machine-processable data, non-proprietary format), not yet implemented on all open data portals specifically dedicated to Structural Funds. 

This evidence raises from a research aimed at exploring the characteristics of the so-called “lists of beneficiaries” of Structural Funds, a requirement of the EU regulations for the programming period 2007-2013, which establish the publication of a minimum set of information about individual projects in each Operational Programme, such as the name of the recipients (beneficiaries) and the amount of funding. The following results are based on an annual survey (2010-2014) on the websites of all Managing Authorities in the EU (more information here) and is carried out as part of the OpenCoesione initiative. 

The focus is on the quality of data publication, including completeness and usability of the information provided and the availability of interactive tools to provide non-technical users with easy access to the data they are interested in.

 

Starting from the 2014 edition, the study also investigates the causes and the consequences of what is published on the web, through the submission of a questionnaire to all Managing Authorities regarding “back office” aspects related to internal information management, which determine the quality of available data, and civic engagement activities carried out as a result of data publication and re-use.

 

 

 

Based on the data collected, in the next few months we will cover all the most relevant issues and challenges when publishing open data on the use of the Structural Funds. The results will be published as articles and posts on OpenCoesione, including interactive visualizations, case studies on interesting models and the opinion of key actors and stakeholders.

 

A preview of the findings of the web-based analysis

We assigned 6 different scores to each Operational Programme, one for each key aspect of data publication. The scores are based on the availability of selected key characteristics of the data, such as format, completeness of information, availability of tools to browse effectively through the data, and so on. 

Indices of openness and transparency of lists of beneficiaries of EU Structural Funds

All the scores show an increasing trend. The “Financial Data” index shows the highest percentages, above 50% since 2012. This index is about the completeness of the financial information provided for each project, particularly useful to find out how the projects are progressing (e.g. is the project stuck? Is it already completed?). Similarly, a good performance characterizes the “Content” index, which indicates the level of detail of published data. The above findings are not so surprising considering that many of the featured included in both categories are required by Structural Funds Regulations for 2007-2013.

Advanced Functions” and “Search Mask” have the lowest values but are also the fastest growing indices. While the former considers tools for data presentation such as graphs and maps, the latter is referred to the availability of interactive search masks. Such characteristics are not common in the EU but a significant improvement is noticeable from 2010 to 2013, reflecting an increasing attention to data usefulness.

The “Format” index is probably the most important indicator of transparency, as it enables re-use and autonomous reprocessing by all users. Despite a positive trend of this indicator, PDF format still prevails, whereas only 37,8% of the Operational Programmes publish data in processable and reusable formats.

The “Quality” category measures the degree of update, description and accessibility of information. This index increases from 28% in 2010 to 37% in 2013, as the number of administrations including information on the date of last update is growing and more websites provide an English version.

Overall, we can find some improvements over time, indicating that the demand of the civil society for greater transparency - combined with the efforts of the Commission, Member States and the EU Parliament that led to the adoption of a more demanding regulation in terms of data publication for the 2014-2020 programming cycle - has positively influenced the behaviour of Managing Authorities in the last few years.

Despite these improvements, much is still to be done to reap the benefits of open data. In the following reports, starting from the analysis of the current situation, we will review some of the tools, methodologies, practices and actions to make this happen.

 

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