Restart Romania Challenge: Taking it to the Streets…and to the Web (Part 2)
The finalists in Restart Romania represent small business owners ‘looking to do more,’ journalists, programmers and long-time activists. Their diverse backgrounds offer insight into broad discontent with the status quo and led to productive discussions about the role of non-traditional leaders and citizens in civil society. As one jury member stated, Restart Romania ‘is like the early ‘90s when civil society was about people.’ Without further ado, the finalists:
Problem: Corruption is the norm in the Romanian health system. It is, with very few exceptions, the only way to get medical assistance. Without a reporting mechanism authorities cannot react appropriately. A platform to report corruption can warn patients about “fees” and enable authorities to respond in a more targeted manner.
Solution: Mobile app and SMS reporting system automatically sends reports to authorities while regularly updating the media. The status of registered complaints is public, putting pressure on the national agency dedicated to monitoring and controlling against corruption.
Project: I Know what you Promised
Problem: Politicians make many promises during pre-election, most of which are unrealistic and remain unfulfilled.
Solution: site collects and publishes electoral promises, evaluates their costs and informs citizens about how realistic they are so they can make informed decisions. The website allows citizens to give their input and debate on the priorities of local communities. Citizens can submit proof of the politicians’ promises and can debate whether they kept them or not. The platform later aims to unite voters and remind politicians of their promises.
Project: Deforestation Map
Problem: Illegal deforestation is rampant in Romania and negatively impacts the environment and rural economies in a variety of ways - from landslides to unpaid taxes which might be used to build local economies.
Solution: A map of deforestation in Romania based on satellite images and citizen reporting would provide an idea of the proportion of the problem, direct environmental organizations to the areas that most need help, and, perhaps most importantly, point towards those responsible by matching deforestation against the database of forest owners. The platform is based on an easy to update database with reporting and mobile applications.
Project: Lost Money
Problem: Citizens pay taxes but don’t know how their money is spent (assuming it is). Romania could use a platform that follows public money so people understand where tax money goes. By shedding light on the flow of public funding, authorities may be encouraged to be more responsible.
Solution: A platform to centralize all public financial information (public budgets, annual balance sheets) about publicly funded projects. The aim is to make authorities more aware of the way they spend public money and generate a map of public spending.
Project: Bribery Market
Problem: 1 in 3 Romanians admits to having offered a bribe. Information about the "price" of a certain service is transferred in an informal manner which allows those who ask for bribe to adjust and modify value depending on the victim.
Solution: By building a map where the "prices" are disclosed, people will choose the "cheapest" services and perhaps in time market economics combined with enforcement may lead to the elimination of bribery. The platform enables citizens to report how much they paid for a free public service. The aim is to measure and lower the level of corruption in the public administration, until it collapses entirely. The site offers a dynamic platform where you can compare the prices of various bribes and show places where you don’t need to pay any – it also allows you to rank your ‘satisfaction’ with the amount paid…
Project: Democracy Online
Problem: Romanians don’t get involved in the political decision-making process and need a platform that motivates them and allows them to submit legal initiatives.
Solution: A platform where citizens can register, submit ideas and initiatives and vote. Volunteers can get the necessary signatures so that the most popular ideas make it to Parliament.
Project: Orasul Meu
Problem: There is very little public space and often the paths and sidewalks are blocked by cars.
Solution: A platform to enable users to regain their public space by uploading pictures of inappropriate things happening in their cities (in particular cars parked on grass or sidewalk), and react to them. This project started from an interest in freeing the sidewalks and helping find decent parking. Based on a map of public parking, users signal free spaces but will be able to express frustration when blocked by a car. The application stores registration numbers of cars parked illegally, city, area, time and a picture to verify.
Project: Civic SOS
Problem: Romanians feel a little sense of civic responsibility – they seldom get involved in preventing crime.
Solution: A social platform that allows citizens to report to authorities law infringements and corruption acts by using a mobile app linked directly to the state service that can solve the specific problem.
Problem: With bribery nearly normative and with few reporting tools there is a persistent „I don’t matter” mentality. Romania needs a platform that gives people easy access to reporting tools and that gathers and puts these reports on a map.
Solution: A platform to help citizens fight against acts of corruption. The website will feature all the steps to be followed and necessary documents to submit to anti-corruption authorities. The website and associated will link directly to report forms on the public institutions’ websites and centralizereports.
These finalists, representing the 144 who submitted ideas, participated in a rather unique ‘grant-making’ process. In most grant-making processes an NGO bends their ideas through a series of donor-determined tools to make sure it lines up with donor priorities. Type the result and email or post to a usually anonymous PO Box. Thank you for your application, we will be back to you in 6-8 weeks.
In Restart Romania, users set up a profile and wrote their idea into a framework with lots of toys to help make the idea pretty, but little guidance beyond ‘focus on productive engagement and don’t break the law.’ The platform was hosted on one of Romania’s most public news sites and with up to 300k visitors a day. Their idea was thrown in front of peers and countrymen. Restarters were encouraged to solicit and incorporate feedback and thus build their community. There was a jury (at local request and to guard balance potential hacking) but the decisions made by the jury were driven by the public vote, Facebook trafficking and comments. Finalist sites were then built and launched to another round of public vote.
Long-story short – participation took guts. Nothing like this had ever really happened before in Romania. Yet the Restarters stepped out in an environment that reacts to their brand of idealism with feelings somewhere between apathy and hostility.
One of the most commonly uttered phrases in Romania is ‘asta e’ -- short for ‘that’s life’ with the implication that things will never change. Had to pay a bribe? Asta e. Watched a dead-man vote? Asta e.
To 9 finalists and the 144 who replied ‘maybe so, but we can do better,’ hats off.
On Wednesday, I’ll post the third part in my series, with a focus on the initial reaction to Restart Romania and the possible impact of the Challenge. My first post in this series is here, and its introduction in a post by Daniel Ben-Horin is here. And don’t forget to check out the complementary series on the NetSquared Blog here which looks at Restart Romania from the perspective of the participants and in the context of the challenge methodology we have been evolving at TechSoup Global, under the NetSquared brand, for the last six years.)