MoniTutor is a new, Italian online guide developed by Monithon, a civil society initiative that provides methods and tools for citizens that want to monitor how public money is used. Since 2013, anyone can use the Monithon online platform to send “civic monitoring reports” evaluating the effectiveness of public projects funded by the European Union and other funding in Italy. Almost 600 reports have been submitted, which are the output of investigations usually taking months to be carried out.
Now the experience of developing a report is enriched by a step-by-step guide that is tailored to the specific project to be monitored. This means that each public project has its own unique guiding content, based on its size, topic, policy goal, status, and other characteristics. For example, the guide will distinguish between a completed large infrastructure like a railroad and a small research grant. Moreover, MoniTutor’s algorithms support the citizens in making sense of the open data already available for each project by providing an initial interpretation (to be confirmed by a visit or by interviewing people responsible). Open Data are accessed and seemlessly integrated through the APIs of OpenCoesione.gov.it, one the main open government portals on public investments in Italy, currently tracking over 1.5 million publicly-funded projects.
Additional suggestions are provided based on the experience of a network of policy analysts and experts, who volunteered to offer specific recommendations on interesting readings, policy documents, websites, interesting questions for interviews. Thematic suggestions now cover 90% of the different types of projects already monitored in the past.
MoniTutor is accessible directly through the Monithon web page for submitting the reports. Once the user is logged in, she can create a new report and then copy and paste the URL of the selected project from OpenCoesione.gov.it to Monithon. The guide will be immediately generated and displayed through 3 steps: Desk Analysis, Evaluation, and Impact.
The “civic monitor” can read the guide and then fill in the related fields for each step, following the standard structure of a journalistic investigation, or field research. Starting from the collection and analysis of avaialble data and documents on the policy goals and motives to finance a specific project, the user then proceeds to collect information on the ground. This civic monitor – who is often not a single user but organized as a team – collects hard evidence of how the project is progressing and its results by paying a visit to the project, making videos and photographs, and interviewing people responsible. If the project is funded by the EU, for example, MoniTutor provides the names, phone numbers and addresses of the Managing Authorities that decided to finance that interventions, as well as of the organizations responsible for its implementation.
This form of “thick participation” to public policies also includes the possibility for citizens to offer specific suggestions and collaboration to local and national governments responsible for programming policies and delivering public value.
Now the MoniTutor is being tested by thousands of high school students in Italy thanks to the governmental initiative “At the School of OpenCohesion” (A Scuola di OpenCoesione, or ASOC), which has been the main source of reports for Monithon, by far. A replication of the same initiative in additional 5 EU Countries (Spain, Bulgaria, Greece, Croatia, and Portugal) is currently under way thanks to the support of the EU. We really hope those young ladies and gentlemen will find it useful!