We are excited to report that the ReStart Challenges in Romania, Czech Republic, and Slovakia are well underway! Civil society activists and techies alike are generating great ideas about how to address corruption, transparency and open government using web-based technologies. The real winners of these Challenges, however, are the citizens who will see democracy strengthened as these projects make it easier for them to participate in civil society.
How do we know? Because ReStart Romania 2011 proved that people want to go beyond protesting and build real portals for change. That Challenge produced 144 project submissions and nearly 2000 people created accounts in order to participate; it culminated in a three day hackathon where over 100 volunteer IT professionals brought the 10 best ideas to life. For an American who takes democracy for granted (me), that is a powerful statement of citizen engagement. And this new round of Challenges is even more exciting, because this year, I get to watch the magic happen.
To give you an idea of what’s possible, here is a short introduction to five winners from the ReStart Romania Challenge 2011. These projects are among many that prove how global reach can create local impact.
But you promised... Politicians talk big and make lots of promises while campaigning but often don’t deliver once elected. So what can we do about it? Nicoleta Chirita with CeRe Participare created “I Know Your Promise” (www.cineceapromis.ro), a site that lets users submit promises made by campaigning politicians so voters can hold them accountable. It goes beyond a collection of promises, though, and allows users to engage in discussion forums about the issues and propose practical solutions for reminding politicians why they were elected in the first place.
Where do our taxes go? What do we get in return? That’s the question Elena Calestru and her crew at http://banipierduti.cloudapp.net/ decided to find that answer for individuals and organizations in Romania. The site calculates individualized “Money Circuits” to show people where exactly their tax money goes. Beyond that, the site tracks legislation and government contracts, then uses the data to produce reports and support investigative journalists in hunting down government waste. Their ultimate goal? Empower people to advocate for efficiency in government spending.
Am I getting a fair deal on that bribe? Breaking the "Bribery Market" (http://www.piatadespaga.ro/) is a clever website that seeks to end bribery as a standard business practice in Romania because, as creator Codru Vrabie says, “bribery is a disease that keeps you poor.” But Codru has an innovative approach: he wants people to report the bribes they pay, including what service the bribe paid for, who they paid, how much they paid, and whether they felt that was a fair price for the service they received. The site pools that data into a searchable format so you can click to find out the “market rate” for the service you’re seeking. Codru believes that eliminating bribery all at once isn’t going to work, but a marketplace where bribes are openly reported and rated, that also includes info about bribes not paid, will allow people to choose which institutions (and even specific individuals) they decide to patronize. Ultimately, the market will drive the cost of bribes down to zero. (Codru talked to Daniel Ben-Horin about is reflections on ReStart Romania here.)
Doctors at Their Worst Sanda Nicola, Vlad Mixich and Laurentiu Diaconu-Colintineanu created a site to target bribery and corruption in the medical field called MedAlert (http://www.medalert.ro/). 60% of Romanians surveyed in 2009 admitted that they gave bribes in a hospital, compared with only 30% in 2001 (World Bank study). The MedAlert site gathers reports from people who have paid bribes to hospitals and doctors while receiving sub-standard care, sometimes for procedures that are supposed to be free. They also encourage medical professionals to report bribery they know about. They have an activist approach, though, and support journalists in exposing corruption as well as keeping the public informed about reform-related legislation.
Shame on you! Orasul Meu 2020 (My Town 2020) is an app project led by Monica Ipate and Razvan Besch that seeks to shame drivers who snarl traffic and park illegally on sidewalks or other “pedestrian only” places in Bucharest. There is a mobile version so anyone can report offenders on-the-go by sending a quick message and uploading a photo. And, if you know you’ve parked illegally, you can check the site to see if you’ve been caught. I used the interactive map just now and found a car left on the bicycle path in the middle of a park! Drivers publicly shamed can contact the site and ask to have the photo of their car removed as well as access resources that help them find legitimate parking sites.
What exciting projects will ReStart Romania,ReStart Czech Republic, and ReStart Slovakiagenerate? I highly recommend checking out the websites (Google Translate works fairly well if you need them in English like me) and, of course, we’ll post updates here as the contest closes, votes are tallied, and winners announced.