Moni-thon” comes from “monitor” and “marathon”, and this is precisely what this platform seeks to help with: an intensive activity of observing and reporting of public policies in Italy.

What’s there to monitor?  Monithon was born as an independently developed initiative to promote the citizen monitoring of development projects funded both by the Italian government and the EU through the Cohesion (aka. Regional) Policy. Projects include a wide range of interventions such as large transport, digital, research or environmental infrastructures (railroads, highways, broadband networks, waste management systems…), aids to enterprises to support innovation and competitiveness, and other funding for energy efficiency, social inclusion, education and training, occupation and workers mobility, tourism, etc.

Citizen monitoring of these projects is possible thanks to a combination of open government data and citizens’ collaboration, joined by the goal of controlling how the projects are progressing, and whether they deliver actual results.

On 19 January 2013 it was fun to organize the first civic monitoring visit in Bologna, Italy. We were a small group of journalists, public administrators and curious citizens. The “Bar Giuseppe”, right in the city center, which had received public funding to renovate its premises, intrigued us immediately. The bar was closed! But we went back there the following year. We went to take photos and knock at the door of schools in Bologna that had received funds from the Province to finance works, putting all acquired information into a Google Doc.

The initial civic monitoring group in Bologna (2013)

It immediately became clear that just one day was not enough for a proper monitoring. We needed to make appointments for interviews, to analyze data before hand in order to find the exact address of the projects to inspect, to collect all the details in one place…. proper research work that requires weeks or months, as well as appropriate means. Basically what we call Slow Hacking.

The turning point was the Open Data Day in Bari and the Journalism Festival in Perugia in 2014 which followed. During the event’s hackathon, the website was created: at the time it was a large map that pinpointed the most interesting projects to monitor. The code was based on an adaptation of the open source project Ushahidi, which had been used to monitor elections in Nairobi. The group included data journalists, analysts, activists and open data enthusiasts.

The Monithon team at the EU Hackathon in Bruxelles (2015)

With a zero budget, a bit for the sake of it, a bit for civic passion and a bit for the pleasure of sharing this passion with an open and curious community, Monithon evolved into a methodology and a platform to share the results of monitoring initiatives. The Civic Monitoring Reports allow us to collect information that can be compared even when prepared by different monitoring groups. While these groups spread to almost all Italian regions, thanks to the campaigns launched during the Open Data Day of 2014 and the “Primavera di Monitoraggio Civico” (Spring of Civic Monitoring) of 2015, a central staff was involved in developing common instruments, in supporting activities on the field and validating reports that were being prepared for publication.

The first concrete results were celebrated by no less than the UN’s General Assembly during the Open Government Partnership Awards, which saw the participation of Barack Obama: here the partnership between OpenCoesione-Monithon representing Italy at the event was ranked fourth in the world. The judges were struck by the capacity of a government initiative for open data to actively involve so many people.

Monithon has continued to grow over the years thanks to the schools that take part in the project A Scuola di OpenCoesione, but also thanks to the involvement of universities, local communities and national associations, as a shared and open-to-all instrument and a format to plan and structure civic curiosity.