1. Interview with Dusan Zelenik from Dotankoch.sk

    As a result of our work with KohoVolit.eu we have been able to get in touch with few regional projects dedicated to government transparency. Today I would like to introduce you to Dotankoch.sk, Slovakian parliament watchdog. To do so, I got in touch with Dusan Zelenik, who works on this project. Enjoy!

    Sample MP profile

    Sylwia: What are the main goals of your project?

    Dusan: The main goal of dotankoch.sk is to provide simple, easy-to-understand presentation of happening in the slovak parliament. We want to bring information to regular people and help them to find out more about politicians, parties etc. We want to change the role of electors who are affected by press or election campaign to informed and responsible electors. At this site, you can see many statistics such as attendance, loyalty, participation in lawmaking, activity during discussions etc. We also provide a search engine which allows you to search in debates which were taken in parliament. We actually download data from the official site of slovak parliament and transform to make information more understandable, compact and visual.

    Sylwia: How big is the team working on the project?

    Dusan: There is no official team, because lot of people help just by discussing the project (like the PeWe group at fiit.stuba.sk). However, the core team consist of 4 people and the major part was made by single person.

    Sylwia: How is the public using your website?

    Dusan: DoTankoch.sk is mainly designed for electors and their need to find out more about politicians and their activities. However, also press is interested in aggregation we made, because it is often relevant in reports etc. We are glad that also chief of our parliament (Richard Sulik) finds this site very interesting. Maybe it is because alternative mechanism, which allows him to control parliament and happening there.

    Sylwia: What are the major challenges of your project?

    Dusan: Well, our challenge is to attract as many visitors/electors as it is possible. We want to change our country by helping electors to decide responsibly with some knowledge about parliament and politics.

    Check out the project website here.

  2. Data quality in Slovakia – guest post from Štefan Urbánek


    “I am working on a project Public Procurements of Slovakia for Transparency International. Requirement was to try to extract number of offers within a tender. I did, however it was strange: majority of number of offers were 1 per tender/contract. I was convinced that the value in document is something different that we are expecting and stared to persuade TIS that we do not have the value they want.

    After couple of weeks, I’ve created couple of reports with the value, despite fact that I was sure that the report is wrong. Gabriel Sipos and his team from TIS started investigation and talked to Public Procurement Office. It turned out that the value is correct and is what TIS expected it to be: it is number of offers per contract. And yes, in Slovakia average was around 1,9 average number of offers per contract. After the finding I’ve created proper reports with all suppliers and all procurers, which had very interesting results. For example, ministry of Justice of Slovak Republic had 7 contracts for around 5,6m € total, with just one offer per-contract. And it looks like it is correct.

    What I wanted to say is, that it is nice that programmers are scraping data and trying to visualise them. However, they may miss important points or might ignore interesting information just because it looks weird and unreal to them, as I almost did. Role of NGOs in this case is domain experts – the ones who know the “state of the state”, the ones who know how to investigate meaning of numbers or can tell if the numbers are correct or not. Programmers might produce interesting and colorful reports, but only with domain knowledge the reports can be useful.”

    This post was written for us by Štefan Urbánek from Slovakia. Thank you!

  3. Write To Them meeting in Belgrade

    Last weekend Tony Bowden met up with Darius (WTT in Lithuania), Jaroslav (WTT in Slovakia) and Danko (upcoming WTT in Serbia) to discuss the processes and best practices around the international collaboration on cloning of the Write To Them website. Danko, the Serbian project’s representative, whom I hope to introduce soon in more detail,  has agreed to use the common platform built by the Lithuanian team. As Darius stated:

    “That of course means that Lithuanian WTT will have to be internationalised”

    Jaroslav will meet with KohoVolit.eu team soon to discuss similar proces soon, so I hope to tell you more about it as well.

    I have also learned that the meeting in Belgrade, at least in its form, will be repeated on a fairly regular basis to ensure the best possible channel for discussion and common developments. Once again quoting Darius:

    “The meeting was great, very productive and I look forward for future meetings like this”.

  4. Transparency International Slovakia – chat with Štefan Urbánek


    As I mentioned at the beginning of my presence here, this blog is designed to serve its readers with updates on the projects MySociety is currently working with. You need to understand that by doing so I am establishing organic conversations with many advocates of transparency in the region, so I think it would be really good to share those with you. I hope to open this space up for more discussion leading to knowledge share and inspiration. Yesterday I talk to Štefan Urbánek from Slovakia, who is deeply involved in transparency issues in his country. First, he used his data management experience for work with Fair Play Alliance (documented for Technology for Transparency here, in English). According to Štefan Fair Flay Alliance is pretty good NGO and has gathered quite a lot of valuable data. They have great knowledge and understanding of free information act in Slovakia. Štefan was working with their team on an application aimed to publish and present the data in easily accessible and readable form. (You can learn about it more from this presentation). It seems however that the great amount of data was undervalued and the process of publishing it became difficult due to the lack of marketing, promotion but also worries about potential consequences of that step (more on it below).


    Now Štefan is working on a new project, Public Procurement by Transparency International, Slovakia. Transparency International in Slovakia is the most technologically advanced NGO in the country. It has access to great deal of data but also invests time in creating buzz around it – from blog posts to off-line talks with representatives about the findings resulting from the data. You can find about the project here or in this document. The final results of this project are published in reports.

    While talking to Štefan I grew increasingly interested in his personal involvement in those projects. He said, he is:

    “Trying to use methods, tools or way of doing things from corporate environment to implement in this open society, open data form as those are already invented but do not being used in a public environment.

    Corporate environment is driven mostly by profit, growth, competition or good name. To know their standing they have to know exactly what is going on: how much they have, how much is going in and out. Therefore there is big pressure to have good measurement, analysis and reporting tools. Without those tools it would be only intuition or good guess.”

    Throughout our conversation we have managed to identify the challenges for governments (and other NGO’s) in applying the same rules to their environment:

    1. Lack of pressure: government does not have to compete with other governments, government has stable “paying customer base” – there is no competition for “customers” to leave to. Government representatives do not see benefit of attracting new customers, increasing (voluntarily from “customer’s” side) revenues, nor they see no benefit of using the analytics to optimize their processes.

    2. The data and analytics are expensive: ordinary people but even government cannot afford consultants, tools and storage of the data.

    3. Missing data literacy – even if they had data, they would not know what to do with it. NGO’s should step in and teach people to use and to look for it. But first they need to know how to do it, how to look at the data. They are not doing it because they do not have enough of competence in this area. The people educated in IT or data management start working for corporations, not NGO’s. But we are at the stage we do not need a lot of advanced knowledge or complicated algorithms for now, so we can still change this situation. NGO’s need to start to connect and learn from “domain experts” first, and then they should use the learned knowledge to be not only experts in their area, but also evangelists.

    There is also the issue of releasing the data. Sometimes we are scared of the data! NGOs are sometimes hesitating with data publishing for various reasons. May be they are afraid of legal issues (inaccurate data etc), data completeness (they want to be very up-to-date), application quality (under development, permanent beta). Approach of being a perfectionist is not appropriate here, as there will always be “something to be improved”. We need to get feedback as soon as possible; we need to make use of data despite their quality. Proper legal statements and data description can prevent possible legal conflicts. So it’s important to open the data asap and let people to browse it, send feedback and corrections, to check the data quality with appropriate disclaimers. As Štefan well put it:

    “Release early – release often. “

    So at the moment Štefan is trying to evangelize data knowledge and create really simplified and easy used solutions. He is trying to port knowledge from corporate environment to government, showing how we can benefit from data, what we can learn from them, how to transform them into information and information to knowledge.

    We will hear more from him, as the entire conversation has raised more questions, but I would not like to keep you too long. For now let me leave you with one idea: it would be great if someone could talk to NGO’s to find out why they do not want to/are worried about releasing the data. That seems to be the case in Slovakia but can be in other countries and regions of the world as well. What do you think?

  5. www.monitoringfondov.eu (All information on EU funds the Slovak government doesn’t want you to know)

    What problem are you solving?:

    Slovak Republic as a member of the European Union is eligible for the use of the significant amount of the financial means from various EU funds. As any provision of public funds also the EU funds constitute possible risk of corrupting behaviour, clientelism and political influencing of the process of the evaluation of applications and selection of successful applicants and projects or manipulating tenders. Slovakia had been already facing a few scandals with a suspicion of misuse of the EU funds. However, these were rather exceptional cases of deliberate leak of information than a result of systematic monitoring or investigation. Government and the ministries responsible for the distribution of the EU funds do not publish much information concerning their decision-making on the use of the EU funds although they do have means (their own web sites), they do have funds and they do have human resources. What they lack is the willingness to be transparent.

    Describe your idea:

    Two years ago KI started a project “Eurofunds Watchdog“. As part of the project the web site www.monitoringfondov.eu has been established. On this web site we publish all information we have obtained from the ministries in response to our requests for information on the basis of the Free Access to Information Act.
    The project financed by CEE Trust will terminate at the end of 2009. However, Slovakia will continue to use the EU funds and the ministries will continue to make non-transparent decisions on the award of grants and contracts. Therefore KI intends to continue in monitoring process, which mainly consists of writing requests for information to ministries and publishing the information on the web page. These are all information that are not secret, but the government and ministries hesitate to publish them on their own web pages in order to limit the chances that the civil society will discover the cases of the corruption, clientelism and the inefficient use of the EU funds.

    What country will this operate in?: Slovakia

    Who are you?:

    Konzervatívny inštitút M.R.Štefánika (Conservative Institute – KI, http://www.institute.sk) is a non-profit NGO – a conservatively oriented think-tank. The objective of the KI is to contribute to the creation of a conservative community and the cultivation of conservative opinions. Contrary to some other think-tanks the activities of the KI are not orientated only toward one sphere of public life or society. The common denominator of the activities performed by the conservative view on society and a liberal approach to economy.
    Ivan Kuhn has graduated in Political Sciences at Comenius University in Bratislava (1995) and International Relations at University of Kent at Canterbury, UK (1997). He has worked as a journalist dealing with International Relations and European Affairs. For 9 years he had been working as a project manager and consultant within many EU funded projects. Since 2007 he works for Conservative Institute as Project Director of the Eurofunds Watchdog project.

  6. KohoVolit.eu – let’s see, who REALLY represents you

    What problem are you solving?:

    We are helping to shrink the huge gap between the things Czech and Slovak politicians really do and what is known about it among people (eg. through media). We work on leveraging the knowledge of voters before elections about the politicians’ real work and their stands in different policies. We would like to support the both way communication between the people and their politicians.

    Note: the answer to “What country will this operate in?” should really be “the Czech Republic AND Slovakia”, but the form allows only one answer.

    Describe your idea:

    Further development of a website focused on continuous parliamentary monitoring and “voting advice applications”(VAAs) for the parliaments that we already cover – CZ, SK and EU. To extend the project for regional/city “parliaments”. Our system is ready for multiple parliaments and to be open for anybody to administrate one.

    VAAs: An easy overview of where the parties stand on different topics with respect to the user. (2010 elections – CZ: general, Senate, cities; SK: general). We want other versions – mobile, Fb, for news portals(we’ve done this), game or paper.
    Monitoring of politicians’ work: Analyses of voting behavior, activity, votes on particular topics, providing system for others’ areas of interests. Summaries to be send to the media regularly.
    API: To share all the data we gather.
    Write to your MPs: To rebuild our simple application with the ideas from WriteToThem. The more complex selection of addresses (committees, etc.) will be preserved.

    What country will this operate in?: Czech Republic

    Who are you?:

    KohoVolit.eu (”Who to vote for”) is a Czech-Slovak project and an NGO of the same name. It was launched in 2006 before the general elections in Czechia and Slovakia. We developed our first “voting advice applications”(VAAs) that time. It has been implemented for 5 elections in CZ and SK so far, the VAA for European elections earlier this year was tested by 60 000 – 70 000 people. Later we have added a section of analyses and a simple tool “write to your MPs” which is being used by the public and NGOs. From the very beginning to the present days, it has been all prepared on a voluntary basis. Almost all costs are paid by ourselves, which is really “the” limitation we face. We have been able to run the project only because our mini-team (2-3 people) consists of people who can implement it – programming (university degree and two of us actually making their living as a programmer), analytics (PhD and years of working experience) or management (years of experience).

  7. WITHOUT CENSORSHIP / Bezcenzury.sk /

    What problem are you solving?:

    Majority of the Slovak media are in the hands of municipalities whose political and economic influence restrict the media to fulfil their protecting role for the purposes of democracy. Local media in the hands of municipalities are not just economically, but also politically dependant on the representatives of the local power either elected /mayor, councillors/ or appointed /executive officials/. Thus it is rather difficult to speak about the independence of media. The situation gets even more difficult in such contexts where some political parties cooperate locally, but nationally speaking any kind of such cooperation is unimaginable. Politicians often declare that in local conditions the political fighting must be forgotten. However, the truth is many times a complete opposite. Local media, in the effort to please these parties, decide for the lesser evil and prefer non-conflicting topics. Twenty years after the fall of communism it is a tough censorship that has been used.

    Describe your idea:

    Bezcenzury.sk– is planned to be a database for all media owned or co-owned by municipalities in all Slovak towns (138).Through this website a citizen can address initiatives to their local medium, raise questions, and require the solution of a particular problem. Bezcenzury.sk focuses on how such initiatives are dealt with while quantifying a number of all initiatives, number of initiatives solved in a positive way, but a number of initiatives not dealt with at all as well. The initiatives with no responses will be managed by Bezcenzury.sk. The visitors of this website will be able to discuss all the initiatives. There is an expectation that the visitors of this website will point to absolutely biased contributions that can be consequently evaluated by professionals on regular basis. Bezcenzury.sk will announce at the beginning of 2011 the most objective local medium and on contrary the most biased local medium as well.

    What country will this operate in?: Slovakia

    Who are you?:

    We are an informal group of engaged individuals with university background / Dr. Mikulas, Zilina University in Zilina, Slovakia, www.uniza.sk /, local media background /Mgr. Spitalova, Dolny Kubin Information Centre, Slovakia http://www.tvdk.sk/ and electronic local media background /Mgr. Ondrus, The Orava Region Weekly, Slovakia http://www.novinyorava.sk// planning to use our particular and specialized expertise for the purposes of the above mentioned project under the title Without Censorship. Our informal group with international experience has been recently participating in the non-governmental organization Homo Erectus /Set upright/ whose aim is to support citizens in their efforts towards the truth, civic engagement and democratic principles.

    Without Censorship Project Manager
    Dr. Dalibor Mikulas dalibormikulas@pobox.sk
    +421 918 320 719

    Without Censorship Project Coordinator
    Mgr. Lucia Spitalova

  8. Datacamp – ETL

    What problem are you solving?:

    Extraction, transformation and loading of data: “Screen scraping” of web pages, gathering of data from other sources, cleansing and transformation of data.

    Describe your idea:

    Library should serve as a base for other transparency applications that would like to deal with data extraction from other sources, data transformations and data loading (into application database).

    Provide a library and set of tools for:
    * automating and scheduling data management tasks
    * parallel managed screen-scraping
    * remote control and configuration through database
    * make development of data/information extractions easier
    * tools for data transformations and data cleansing (to make further analysis easier)
    * parallel downloading (1M pages < 2hours)

    Objective is to:
    * simplification of extraction development
    * easy task management and configuration
    * immediate and easy to get feedback about success/failure of tasks
    * use modular approach for tasks – each task is independent module


    Currently used in Datacamp application – transparency application for sharing government data in Slovakia.

    What country will this operate in?: Slovakia

    Who are you?:

    Analyst with background in bsiness intelligence, data warehouse and knowledge management.

    Currently working on Datacamp – Fair-play alliance application to publish government data in Slovakia in “Web 2.0″ way.

  9. Price of birth

    What problem are you solving?:

    There is a substantial part of healthcare that is being paid by patient’s cash (dentists, electable surgeries, top up fees for births). This is a new market though and the information is very much disintegrated. Hence patients have difficult time choosing the best services at best price (unlike, say, in groceries). This limits the market’s competition and efficiency and also leads to corruption.

    Describe your idea:

    To create a site that would centralize information about prices and quality of selected health services (we would recommend starting with Births portal). Feedback on quality would be crowd-sourced from parents with the experience (including photos, e.g.). Prices would for the start be periodically found out by inquiring volunteers, later hopefully sent back by hospitals themselves.

    What country will this operate in?: Slovakia

    Who are you?:

    TI Slovakia is a branch of worldwide anti-corruption watchdog.

  10. Public Procurement Journal watch

    What problem are you solving?:

    Office of Public Procurement regularly publishes the Journal, the publication with information about procurement notices put out by state institutions. However, the Journal is rather difficult to search in its current form, providing only limited information. This makes it hard to find companies that surprisingly win a large share of government contracts. Up-to-date statistics are lacking for each institutions on how open their tenders are or how many parties took part in a tender. There are also no links to company register, which would enable visitors to see links to persons behind winning companies.

    Describe your idea:

    To create a site that would use all available disaggregated Journal information for comfortable user-friendly search in order to raise transparency in public procurement. To link winning companies to company register to see individuals behind contracts. To expand search criteria to volumes being contracted, company names, year of tender, number of participants. Make up-to-date statistics on who is winning most this year, which tendering methods are most used, how different sectors/products being tendered compare, etc.

    What country will this operate in?: Slovakia

    Who are you?:

    TI Slovakia is a branch of Transparency International, a global anti-corruption watchdog.