We have a new guest post from Emilis Dambauskas from Lithuania. We hope you will like it, as it is a very interesting interview. Enjoy!
“Last week a new website launched in Lithuania (viešai.lt — “publicly.lt”). The website lists the budget(s) of the state in detail that was unavailable before and provides some analysis and access to the data collected. It was created and developed by some young financial managers, analysts and their friends developers. They are not from ManoValstybė, but I am very enthusiastic about the work they’ve done. I asked them if they could send me some answers to my questions in English and this is what they sent me:
Emilis: What is the goal of the website and your main work principles?
Tomas Krakauskas: The main goal of viesai.lt is to provide up to date information about government spending. We hope that public information will help to achieve more transparent and less corrupt use of government funds as well as involve society in discussions about public spending.
Emilis: What is viešai.lt?
Tomas Krakauskas: There are 9 different budgets in Lithuania and it have very complicated connections with each other (there are transfers from one budget to another) so it is difficult for people to find data and to understand movement of money. Viesai.lt is the first webpage in Lithuania that systematically provides the whole information about public spending and allows users to compare and analyze data.
Emilis: How did you come up with the idea?
Tomas Krakauskas: Two years ago authors of this idea were writing a blog www.teigiamai.lt (it means”positively.lt”) about economical situation in Lithuania. Authors were not able to find some particular information about public spending or the information was presented in complicated way so authors decided to establish webpage with the data about public spending.
Emilis: How did you implement your idea?
Tomas Krakauskas: After decision to implement this idea we formed the team of different competence. Being just two economists, we invited to join our friends to cope with IT issues. Also few other colleagues helps with data collecting and structurization. We had a bad experience with the Ministry of Finance as they refused to provide information that, according to the law, must be public. After that we contacted high rank officials from Prime Minister team and they help us to deal with bureaucracy resistance and supports this project.
Emilis: What are your plans for the future?
Tomas Krakauskas: Viesai.lt team is going concentrate on collecting and expanding data base as well as develop data presentation in user-friendly way. One of the major priority of the project is to spread the message about the possibility to see and even influence effectiveness of public spending.”
Emilis has sent me an update on few interesting activities from Lithuania, I hope you will have your say on this too!
“Since December there was a big discussion on our Google group (ManoValstybė — My State) about upcoming municipal elections (2011-02-27).
There was one person who was planning to build a visualization site for election data, but later stopped communicating with us and showing any progress. So our discussion became more heated and people started asking if anything is going to happen.
As a result I scrapped all of the candidate data from the Centra Electoral Commission. That’s ~17,000 candidates. The data includes their wealth, income, marital status, education, employment, and other stuff (e.g. what foreign languages they speak).
I published the data in CSV and Excel formats. Someone imported it into Google Fusion Tables:
We put a list of political groups sorted by average wealth of its candidates:
The significance of this table is that before this election there was a big public discussion if non-party candidates should be allowed to participate in the election. Our Constitutional Court ruled that they should be.The table shows, that some of the “non-party” candidate lists are much wealthier than party lists. The first “party” list appears around #10. Thus you can guess that some well standing politicians and businessmen are running for the mandate and using the new system to avoid the legal requirements which apply to political parties. They are also trying to avoid the negative image that political parties have in Lithuania. One of such lists is the list leaded by a controversial former Vilnius mayor Artūras Zuokas.
But this does not mean that all non-party lists are like this. There is also a number of smaller local candidate lists.
Accidentally as I was publishing this table during my lunch time at work. A co-worker noticed it and got interested in the data. I sent him a copy of the data aggregated by municipality and he sent me back some maps which I published just now:
The maps show average candidate wealth, income, etc. in different municipalities.
Averages are not a very good indicator and some of the values are distorted by local millionaires, but it’s a good start and gives some hints you can investigate and find out about the political elite in the regions of Lithuania.”
Let us know you feedback – are you working on something similar in your region? How would you promote those maps locally and what significance do they have for the region, not only Lithuania? Let us know!
Emilis Dambauskas has updated me this week on few developments from Lithuania. I think we mentioned already that Emilis plans to set up Facebook fan pages for all Lithuanian MP’s. He has started this process with the first 10 pages. Initially the MP’s who have a larger amount of Facebook friends have invited those to the newly set up fan pages, so the response is good. But as long as Emilis does not have the ful set of pages ready, he will not invest in promotion – it will be easier to raise awareness about the idea once all pages are up and running. We will need to wait a little bit to see how successful the idea is.
Secondly, he spotted in their Google Analytics site a particular regional portal driving traffic to KąVeikiaValdžia.lt. After a quick look at the regional portal, he realised that the policy feed site is basically put into the portal without any technical skill. First thing to do was to contact the site administrators and offer help in adding the policy feed to their site in a proper way, but it did raise a very interesting question. When I asked Emilis if he announced this case to his audience to make sure that other regions use the policy feed in the right way, he responded:
“I am worried about who is going to use this info so I am not bloging about it too much”
The worry there is the fact that before the approaching elections the opposition can use the feed to flag up that their opponents do not work as much, as the opposition representatives. What is the main worry there? Emilis respons:
“We would not want to be associated with that.”
So is there a need to wait? Can the openness wait for the times after the elections? These are very difficult choices, and they heavily depend on the political landscape too, I believe. But I would love to hear what others think!
One of the projects we have supported in the past, KąVeikiaValdžia.lt has celebrated its first Birthday yesterday!
Emilis Dambauskas has sent us the below visual to remind us (and our readers) how the site looked like a year ago:
Today, the design is simplified to the search option and links to the most popular topics, as we have explained not long time ago on our blog:
KąVeikiaValdžia.lt has gained a lot of audience through the first year of its work, so I am really happy that the developers are sharing the starts with us (once again impressing us with the transparent approach to everything they do):
If you go to the main site today, you will find that the current layout also contains their Facebook widget, which is something that gains on importance even more this week, as Emilis is looking at even more engagement with their current and hopefully new audiences via this particular social network. Starting next week Emilis will set up separate Facebook fan pages for activities of various Lithuanian MP’s feeding information on each of them directly from the KąVeikiaValdžia.lt policy feed. That means around 140 Facebook fan pages to administrate, so we do not know what to expect in reality.
Emilis wants to give Facebook users the opportunity to follow the activities of their MP’s within the social network, and provide the MP’s themselves with yet another channel to reach out to the community. People will be able to follow the updates there, MP’s will be able to add their own bits, though at this stage Emilis seems to prefer to maintain the admin rights to those pages. He will ensure the transparency of the idea by posting specific information on each of the pages explaining the process and providing the links: to the original feed from the KąVeikiaValdžia.lt site but also links to other fan pages of each MP. Each fan page will also contain a disclaimer that it is not the official Facebook presence of the MP. Initially Emilis is looking at setting up fan pages for those MP’s who already know the policy feed and are in touch with him (one of the contacted MP’s was happy about the idea).
Considering the content of all 140 fan pages will be automated, we will have to wait and see what the actual workload and feedback to this idea will be. I am personally very excited about it and cannot wait to see first pages – I have asked Emilis to share the links with us on our open Facebook group. Feel free to join us there, but we will keep you posted on the blog as well.
In the meantime a question to other developers – would the idea work in your country? Let us know!;)
“This week we will launch the site in beta, meaning that people will be able to send emails directly to their representatives. Currently all emails were sent to our own private email box for testing purposes, but it will change this week.”
“It used to be KąVeikiaValdžia.lt was greeting visitors with an enormous list of newest published documents by Seimas (Parliament), Government and an assortment of Municipal press offices. This was very well indicative of the resources the database contains – more than 20 thousand of them – but it was too daunting for a first time visitors who still make a significant portion of web site traffic. The list itself wasn’t that bad – it was the original names of documents that one really needs to get used to.
It’s great to see the team pronouncing the very essence of successful projects, something we strongly advocate too:
“Simplicity proves itself as a good entrance to complex systems.”
Have a look at the current design and let the developers know what you think. They ask you for feedback and even better ideas!
During my conversations with project developers I also learn about the local events they are attending. Emilis Dambauskas from KąVeikiaValdžia.lt Policy Feed mentioned a data journalism workshop organised by Transparency International Lithuania last week. Emilis found it really inspiring to attend the meeting with Danish journalist, Nils Mulvad, Journalist of the Year winner. He also managed to talk to other developers involved in preparations for municipality elections scheduled for March 2011 about ways of getting the data to work with. I have also learned about plans for Transparency Camp in spring of 2011, so it looks like spring will be very busy in transparency world in the region.
As for the projects themselves, do not forget that parasykjiems.lt is at the first stage of testing, so we will hear about the results fairly soon!
KąVeikiaValdžia.lt Policy Feed from Lithuania is the first project I was introduced to. It was born out of ManoValstybe previously supported by us, so we are very happy to see it growing! Emilis Dambauskas and his collegues kicked off a very impressive plan to aggregate the news from Lithuanian government and to do so they want to use the following approach:
- “visitors are presented with a list of new items (feed) gathered from the Parliament and Government news sources,
- visitors can review the list, expand its items in place, filter it, subscribe to receive notifications of new items in the list; it will be considered a success if at least 100 visitors become subscribers,
- each list item has got a separate page presenting visitors with a variety of possible actions:
- find related context information (internal and external links),
- express their opinion,
- get involved in the political process.
- information on the website is to be grouped and cross-linked according to these categories:
- politicians and officials,
- governmental organizations,
- all website data and some of its functionality will be available through a public API; it will be considered a success if at least one website will start using it in one year”
If you check out the entire proposal (available in English here), you will see that the ultimate goal of this particular project is to increase the civic engagement in the country by presenting the work of the government, establish connection with citizens and increase their involvement in the political process. It is a rather rich document with interesting points so I hope to write more about it in the next few weeks.
As for the project itself, the website is up and running and since their first English blog post in June, you can track how it develops. As you can see in his post, Emilis is really excited about the site, but also about the opportunity to collaborate with similar projects in the region. We will most definitely see it happening with their ParašykJiems.lt project (currently under construction here, but already mentioned on their project list) designed to replicate our WriteToThem.com website in collaboration with developers from Central and Eastern Europe.
As for most recent developments Emilis mentioned changes to KąVeikiaValdžia.lt/PolicyFeed/ front page: “I added a list of government institutions and politicians to help people find what’s interesting without having to experiment with search technology.” Those should be mentioned fairy soon on their blog and Facebook fan page.