Compass of Transparency
Italian Department for Public Administration

A. Problem Analysis

 1. What was the problem before the implementation of the initiative?
The Italian legislation about transparency has evolved significantly over the last years. In response to pressure by the public asking for a solution to corruption in the public sector and for detailed accounting for public expenses, the legislator has obliged the public administrations to publish information and data in their institutional websites. Therefore, the websites have become the main place where transparency is guaranteed. The transparency obligations indicated by the laws have gradually grown, up to a considerable number of 66. In this context, there was an identified need for a tool that gave the administrations the possibility to easily fulfill their duties about transparency and, at the same time, could guide citizens in finding the information they are interested in, since it was not easy to orient oneself while looking for desired information inside websites and according to different pieces of legislation, often unknown or difficult to understand to most citizens. So, the problem was to help the two main actors of transparency. On the one hand the people who provide transparency, e.g. the webmasters or content managers of the administrations, who can have serious problems in identifying all the transparency laws that affect their administration and need to easily find best practices to get information and ideas about content publishing. On the other hand, the citizens, who are the ones who benefit from transparency but who can also be, at the same time, active contributors for improving the level of transparency of the administrations. In particular, the activity of finding information in the website is less easy for those categories of citizens who are not accustomed to internet technologies (the illiterate, elderly, etc.). So, the necessity arose out of finding a way to make the process of finding information in the websites easy and straightforward, in order to let everybody access the information, despite one’s social condition and technological experience, and in order to raise the level of effectiveness of transparency as a strong anti-corruption tool. As a matter of fact, the great number and heterogeneity of Italian administrations (more than 20,000, spanning from small local authorities to big ministries with more than 20,000 employees), that together with the amount of different transparency obligations, represented a sort of barrier for the effective use of the published information by the final users. In this regard, the goal of the Compass of Transparency is to minimize the difficulties that users have in finding and using the information and data published. In addition, it represents an effective tool for monitoring the transparency process both at regional and national levels.

B. Strategic Approach

 2. What was the solution?
The Compass of Transparency ( is an automated online instrument that gives citizens the possibility to monitor, in real time, the implementation of all the data and information requirements imposed by Italian law on the websites of public administrations. One of the main goals of the project is to support the public administrations in the publishing process, through the direct involvement of citizens. The project has been assessed as a European level Best Practice in the 2013 edition of the prestigious European Public Sector Award (EPSA), organized by the European Institute of Public Administration (EIPA). The project has won the 1st prize in the European and National administrative category of the award, whose theme for this year is “Creative solutions in a time of crisis” ( The heart of the system is a validation mechanism, composed by software sensors and mathematical algorithms, with the ability to analyze public administration web sites in both real-time and at certain intervals, in order to find the contents that must be published according to the transparency laws. Data are collected in a data warehouse that is able to provide different types of users (public administrations and citizens) with results on the transparency compliance of all institutional web sites. The Compass of Transparency, accessible freely by everybody via web, has been designed and implemented around the key idea of the centrality of civil society. The system puts the citizen at its core, both as a user of transparency and as a contributor to the increase of transparency in public administrations. Users can check, in a simple and uniform way, if the contents indicated by the transparency laws have been published or not by the P.A.s. and they can express their own opinions about the quality of the published information. These opinions are immediately made available online, in social mode, so that everybody can use them. Thanks to this opportunity, the administrations feel that they are more controlled by the users, and this feature constitutes a strong weapon for corruption prevention. The compass gives also support to the whole public sector, simplifying the way to reach transparency compliance. In 2012, the Department for Public Administration (DPA) decided to develop a system of rules, processes and technologies allowing for both the standardization of the publication requirements regarding transparency, and the use of advanced ICT tools, in order to ensure the continuous automatic monitoring of the transparency compliance with the laws, on all the Italian public administrations. Beyond this, it was meant to define mechanisms for engaging public administrations through instruments that could enable a healthy competition, and for increasing participation and cooperation among citizens. The aim was to reach an acceptable friendly social control. On the other hand, the DPA wanted to measure, at real time, the trend of transparency, identifying corrective actions in terms of public policies, in order to continuously improve the level of transparency. In short, the Compass of Transparency has been designed with the following strategic goals: • Redesign the structure of the administrative web transparency service, so that the citizen is placed at the center of the process, and at the same level as the P.A. • Guide citizens and administrations in the web transparency field • Promote the friendly control and participation of citizens to increase the level of transparency of the P.A.s, through an effective use of social media and new technologies • Make transparency control of the administration more efficient and effective • Monitor the compliance of the P.A.s to the transparency laws, through a real-time graphical dashboard • Increase the accountability of P.A.s and prevent corruption

 3. How did the initiative solve the problem and improve people’s lives?
The compass of transparency combines the three basic principles of Open Government: transparency of public administrations, citizen participation and collaboration. It shows several innovative features: • Citizens can easily check if P.A.s are compliant with the transparency laws and can give their opinions about the quality of every published item, thus collaborating to the improvement of transparency through a "friendly" collective control • The Compass motivates a healthy competition between homogeneous P.A.s, in order to continuously increase transparency and performance • In order to scan all the P.A. websites, the Compass uses a single crawling engine that uses portable, scalable and reusable technologies able to index all the transparency contents of the target websites • The Compass shows a graphic dashboard where anyone, citizens, scholars, researchers, journalists, etc. can perform real-time dynamic analysis about the transparency trend in Italy, both at a macro and micro geographical level, getting the detailed results in open data format. Therefore, the Compass provides complete results about transparency compliance in a very short time and without any additional work, this way increasing efficiency and creating a sound baseline for further research, correlation of different phenomena in the business sector and business development.

C. Execution and Implementation

 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
Context analysis The input that led to the idea of the Compass of Transparency was the need to create a simple and effective tool that could monitor the progress of the transparency improvement of Italian P.A.s, following the laws of transparency that had been introduced in Italy in recent years. The context analysis phase had the goal to define the main requirements of the system, in order to be useful not only as an internal monitoring tool, but also as an instrument that could support the implementation of the law by the P.A.s and as a transparency tool for the citizens. The phase consisted of normative analysis and stakeholder involvement through the main social networks (such as facebook and twitter) to understand the need for civil society in this subject, thus performing an effective and innovative “co-design approach”. Design, implementation and testing The Compass of Transparency is characterized by an incremental-iterative approach, where new functionalities are identified, designed, implemented and tested periodically. This provides a delivery system which is always updated with the needs of the DPA and the stakeholders, through a series of frequent and subsequent software releases. The design of a new feature is performed through the collaboration of the main stakeholders and a technical feasibility analysis. The new feature is then prototyped in order to check if the needs have been correctly understood and put into practice. The implementation phase is usually very short, since the preparatory work of the release provides most of the information and elements needed by this phase. The production of early prototypes is also a way to speed up the implementation phase. The testing phase is started by technicians and experts, both for the employed technologies and the innovation itself. The substantial part of the testing work has been done so far and will continue to be done in future, directly by the end users (citizens and public administrations). The system is always online in “beta permanent” state and users themselves can continuously notify any malfunctions. These are routed in a ticketing process that lead to the correction of errors and to a new release of the software. Diffusion As far as the diffusion of the innovation is concerned it is worth pointing out that when the system was put on-line, it was not immediately massively advertised. This has led to a gradual increase in the use of the instrument and of the innovation by users, ensuring a proper governance at all levels: social, political, organizational and technological. Once all the potential problems and possible solutions had been identified, the Department spread the use of the instrument, through both communication campaigns and a strong political commitment. Since the main stakeholders have been involved during the co-design of the system and are regularly interested by new functionalities, the diffusion of the Compass and of its new features are disseminated at an early stage of the lifecycle of the Compass. Users support and system management This activity includes the services needed to guarantee the full functionality of the system,its evolutions, and the continuous match with the needs of users. This is accomplished through the usage of resources internal to the Department and services committed to an external supplier. One of the most important activities performed in this phase is the help desk services (1st and 2nd level) for the public administrations that want to improve their level of transparency compliance. Support activities include technical consultancy, analysis of the P.A. website, organizational advice and continuous improvement of the database of the public administrations websites analysed by the Compass.

 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
The Compass of Transparency has been designed according to a new approach, built around the co-design paradigm. In this sense, the role of civil society and the stakeholder engagement has been essential in all the phases of the project, both in the transparency and the anti-corruption fields. For instance, Transparency International has been involved actively in the definition of the anti-corruption initial plan, whose principles has represented an input to the Compass main ideas, thus making the system an effective corruption prevention tool. Thanks to many citizens on the social networks, new inputs have flowed inside the project, constituting the starting point system has been built on. The Compass of Transparency changes the way transparency of the administrations is verified . It puts the citizen first, both as a user of transparency and as a contributor to the increase of transparency in P.A.s, by expressing his opinion about the quality (completeness, update and understandability ) of the published contents. The Compass shows simple and intuitive user interfaces that can be used without any difficulties by people who are not internet experts (e.g. the retired). The idea is to involve also those who are not accustomed to ICT but wish to help the transparency process and whose contribution is precious, since a multidisciplinary knowledge and a deep experience about the context where the administrations operate is needed to correctly evaluate the quality of many pieces of information. Integration with social networks facilitates the launch of social groups, such as the Facebook group "Traparenza siti web", that has grown in popularity and in registrations to more than 1.700 people, by November 2013. This group is composed of people that spontaneously cooperate, during online events, to analyze the websites of target administrations, using the Compass of Transparency as a main tool.
 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
The Compass of Transparency has been designed in a period when the economic situation has required strong reductions in public investments and avoidance of additional costs for P.A.s in all e-gov interventions. In this scenario, the technological and organizational structure of the Compass has been planned to be operative without substantial maintenance or user assistance activities. The low costs associated to the project are one of the key reasons for the 1st prize won by the Compass during the 2013 edition of the prestigious European Public Sector Award (, whose theme has been “Weathering the storm: creative solutions in a time of crisis”. From the technological point of view, the Compass is a simple system, without user authentication. This reduces the support needed by the extremely high number of stakeholders that use the system. The only authentication is required for the "give your opinion" functionality, but it is performed through a social login, that doesn't imply additional costs for the DPA, since the user provisioning activities are not executed inside the Compass. All the resources to develop and maintain the Compass of Transparency has been provided by the DPA itself from its own annual budget and human resources. The design and implementation phases have been followed by 1 internal human resource, with technical-organizational experience, who has developed the concept idea and defined the technical issues, including the software and system specifications. The DPA has acquired the "all inclusive" service of development of the Compass, from an external software house. The budget for this activity has been around 20.000 €. The system has been developed and activated in a few months from the starting date of the project. The maintenance phase includes the services needed to guarantee the full functionality of the system, its functional evolutions, and the continuous match with the needs of users. The annual budget for these activities includes the usage of resources internal to the DPA and services committed to an external supplier. In detail, the governance and management of the "Compass of transparency" needs 2 internal human resources, with technical-organizational experience, for about 100 days/year. They deal with the governance of the project, the relationship with associations and public administrations, the strategies for the dissemination of the project to the whole national territory and with the evolution of the functionalities, aimed at the continuous improvement of transparency within the public sector. In addition to this, a contract has been activated for the "all inclusive" web hosting service, the software and system management, the development of the new features defined by the DPA and for the operative support both to the P.A. and to citizens. The cost of this contract is about 20.000 € euro per year. As far as the P.A. website are concerned, the impacts and costs related to the initiative are extremely low, since the Compass looks for contents according to the standardization rules defined by the law, without the need by the P.A. to interact actively in any way with the Compass.

 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
Efficiency in check and governance of transparency: The monitoring and verification of the compliance of 66 legal obligations on 20,000 websites is likely to need about 1250 man-days. The automatic system monitors all Italian institutional websites in less than 2 hours, and guarantees the immediate ability to undertake any corrective actions that could be necessary both at the political and organizational level. Without this functionality, it would be necessary to employ 5 human resources for one year, in order to give a result that would be soon already obsolete. Besides that, the verification of the single website can be done in real time in just 5-6 seconds. Transparency effectiveness: Before the Compass of Transparency went online it was not possible to measure the state of transparency in Italy except through unreliable sample surveys. In 18 months of activity of the compass of transparency the compliance to the disclosure requirements has grown by 50%, and continues to grow. Access to information: The standardization of the transparency requirements and their online availability through the Compass without any authentication mechanisms guarantees substantial improvements in the quality of the services provided. The Compass improves access to information related to the transparency requirements, because the contents are standardized and users know, in a simple way, how to find information on PA websites. Citizens can now access the contents published by administrations in their websites without the need of actually identifying and opening the P.A. website and searching the desired content in it. This saves a lot of time and increases the percentage of successful researches by the users, who can access the service from anywhere and without the need to navigate many pages of the P.A. website. In this way representing an optimal situation for places where digital divide is strong. Quality of published contents: The verification of the compass of transparency is carried out in an automatic mode and, as such, it does not rate the quality of the published contents. To this regard the Compass offers citizens the possibility to enter the system through a social login, and express opinions on the quality of the information related to transparency requirements. This ensures a genuine process of participation and collaboration is activated, where the human factor supports the automatic control in order to improve transparency and efficiency of PA, resulting in a reliability increase of the instrument

 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
The Compass of Transparency is a monitoring and governance tool about transparency in the public administrations. it analyzes the websites of the P.A.s looking for the contents that must be published according to the laws. A report is automatically generated for each administration, that states which contents have been found on the website, in addition to providing direct links to the contents themselves. The Compass regularly checks more the Italian institutional websites. The results of the automatic scans are stored in a data warehouse and a graphic dashboard is updated regularly with fresh data extracted from it. It is therefore straightforward to monitor progress in the transparency improvement process in all P.A.s, since data is displayed online, free to everybody, in a very understandable format and in open data. So, it is possible to see in a glance what regions of Italy are most advanced as far as transparency themes are concerned and, with a few clicks, it is possible to access the links to the published information directly in the P.A. websites. Moreover, ranking functionalities are provided and updated regularly, divided by typology of administration. It is possible, this way, to monitor and evaluate easily the level of transparency of administrations belonging to the same kind. The ranking functionalities are a constant stimulus for the administrations to raise their level of transparency through their websites. Through the dashboard functionalities, it is possible to evaluate the effect of governance activities, such as new rules, guidelines, information campaigns, and so on. Through the Compass it is easy to verify how these actions are reflected in concrete changes in the transparency panorama, both at national and at local level. The key success factor is the real time update of the data the Compass shows to the users: whenever a single new transparency item is published inside each institutional website, this is collected by the Compass engine, thus updating the transparency dashboard. The monitoring process can be done through different points of view, that can be combined together: geographical (national level, regional level, by single administration) or by theme (category or single transparency contents). Therefore, it is possible for different actors to perform effectively their monitoring activities.

 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
Challenges and obstacles: 1 ) The standardization of the access to the content relating to transparency requirements in terms of denomination of the sections and subsections , especially considering the high number of public administrations and their heterogeneity (large central government , small municipalities, schools , etc.). 2) the introduction and activation of competition among public administrations that would ensure the process of implementation of the transparency rules of institutional websites 3 )the involvement of citizens and civil society in the monitoring process of transparency in PA in order to be perceived on behalf of PA as a useful tool for supporting and improving performances and services. Solutions: 1 )We promoted the standardization of syntactic elements subject to publication, with the aim of ensuring a continuous monitoring of the implementation of the rules and simplifying the access to information by citizens, with a positive feedback in terms of increased trust, corruption prevention, social control and accountability. 2 ) Features designed to enable competition among PA (classification and comparison between different administrations) have been introduced in the Compass, in order to optimize and share the opportunities offered by the system. The benefits in terms of improving transparency, with the introduction of these tools, have been significantly higher than those related to the period where the functionalities were absent. 3 )The instrument has been delivered through the major social networks: twitter, facebook, etc. Subsequently many citizens have come spontaneously together into groups and have began to monitor the PA websites. These monitors have also led to a report which was sent to the authorities in charge of deeper institutional control. As a consequence, many public administrations have contacted these groups to get support for improving transparency.

D. Impact and Sustainability

 10. What were the key benefits resulting from this initiative?
The key benefit of the initiative: • It performs real-time scans of the P.A. websites, searching for contents that should be published according to transparency laws • It gives citizens and the P.A., simple report functions that give the possibility of easily identifying what information is present on the websites and what is missing • It creates the least impact possible to the P.A.s, who have not been forced to make substantial modifications to their own website • It engages citizens, through the integration of the social networks, so that they can contribute to the social control of transparency of the P.A.s, by giving warnings and by posting opinions about the quality of the published information • It offers functionalities that rank performance and make comparisons between administrations, in order to push towards a healthy competition between them, which helps bringing the maximum levels of transparency • It’s extremely flexible and configurable, so that it can be swiftly adapted to the latest transparency laws and can be easily transferred in other countries or extended at supranational level • It offers everybody a real-time monitoring dashboard, that shows the state of transparency at national and regional level and gives users direct access to the contents they are interested in, without having to look for them one by one inside every website. The Compass of Transparency went live in May 2012, so it is a relatively young system. Since its birth, the process of transparency through websites has seen a great acceleration, in Italy, even if the system hasn't shown its full potential yet. The results show the evolution of the Compass, coming from the ever increasing knowledge of the Compass by the stakeholders and from their collaboration with the DPA. Main results: • 11.000 analyzed P.A.s - The Compass regularly checks more than 11.000 institutional websites. The sites are analyzed automatically by the Compass engine, both during the periodical complete scans, and real-time, when requested by the users. The number of analyzed P.A.s is constantly growing, because the administrations database is always enriched and integrated, thanks to the online notifications made by users. • Weekly periodical monitorings - The Compass performs the periodic monitoring of all P.A. websites more or less once every week. The rankings and the dashboard are updated with freshly obtained data. • More than one million checked contents - The Compass verifies, inside the administration websites, the presence of 66 contents that, according to the transparency law, must be published. The contents to be searched for can be easily specialized for any typology of administration, since the laws require different obligations according to the type of administration. • By November 2013: 55% of analyzed websites have shown that the restructuring of websites has started; 47% of them publish more than 10 contents; 29% of them publish all 66 contents indicated by the law • In the last 8 months the Compass was visited by more than 175,000 individual visitors, for an average visit duration of 7 minutes, that means active usage of the system instead of accidental visits • Friendly citizen control - Thanks to the presence of the Compass of Transparency, an increase of the collaboration of citizens for the control of the P.A.s through social networks has been notable in the last few months. Remarkable is the case of the Facebook group "Traparenza siti web", that has grown in popularity and in registrations (more than 1.700 people, by november 2013). This group regularly meets online and performs a careful check of the transparency of target P.A.s, using the Compass as the primary work tool. The shared work of the participants in the Facebook group produces a detailed report, that shows all that the P.A. should do in order to increase the level of transparency through its web site. The report is sent to the head of the administration examined and to the main control authorities in the field of transparency. Usually, this activity is echoed in the media, both at a national and at a local level, giving additional pressure to the administration to get swiftly compliant.

 11. Did the initiative improve integrity and/or accountability in public service? (If applicable)
The Compass of Transparency has been implemented in a period of public budget cuts. Transparency itself is a necessity in order to improve the efficiency of the public sector, deliver better services with lower costs, tackle corruption. Since the Compass is a tool useful to improve transparency and create a virtuous circle of efficiency and collaboration, it should be able to be sustainable with very few resources. The system has been designed in order to be self-sustainable, through a positive cooperation between users and public administrations, made online through the Compass. This helps reduce the effort public administrations and the DPA face in order to improve and manage the process of transparency in Italian public administrations. The Compass automatically checks the compliance of the P.A.s, creates a graphic dashboard for the governance of the process, gives access to all the desired information in open data format. The citizens can notify through the Compass the low quality of the published contents, thus helping P.A.s in getting better and the supervising bodies in verifying the behavior of the P.A.s.. Through the Compass the P.A.s can improve the communication and usability of their websites as far as transparency is concerned, since the Compass creates automatically shortcuts to the target contents inside the P.A. websites. The Compass doesn’t require any authentication. User provisioning, often one of the most expensive activities in maintenance of web systems, is not present. Moreover, the system has been structured in order to minimize the impact on the websites of the P.A.s., since the analysis of the websites is executed without the need for the P.A.s to perform any active operations: the Compass finds the information with a "pull" operation and it doesn't require any information flow to be sent by the PAs. The “Compass of Transparency” has been designed and developed in order to be completely and easily transferred into different administrative contexts, e.g. in other countries. This is possible thanks to the simple methodology, in terms of rules, processes and technologies, which the Compass is based on. Indeed, the Compass’ rules and indicators used during automatic checks can be defined inside a simple XML configuration file. Therefore it is possible to replicate the Compass in a completely different environment, where there is a different institutional organization and where there are different contents to be published according to the laws. Moreover, the Compass can be expanded so to perform monitoring at international level. Accordingly, it would be possible to create an international federated system about “transparency compliance” comparing benchmarks among different countries. This could eventually evolve into a more cohesive one, characterized by a multi-language ontology giving the possibility to perform real-time automatic benchmarks between countries. This evolution of the Compass would represent a substantial leap forward for the effectiveness of the tool and would be an invaluable tool to perform, in different countries, compared analysis about the most important administrative topics, such as budgets, service levels, public money expenditure, etc.

 12. Were special measures put in place to ensure that the initiative benefits women and girls and improves the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable? (If applicable)
The Compass of Transparency isn’t just a software application: it can be defined as a “philosophy”: the solution enables a new way of improving and governing the transparency evolution of the public sector. A virtuous cycle is activated thanks to the online collaboration of the stakeholders, who can use the system at the same level the public administration does. This means that all the actors can contribute actively and can feel part of a virtual team whose goal is the same: improving the general level of transparency in order to prevent corruption and increase public efficiency. P.A.s often need the help of citizens, in order to be informed about low quality content, and can benefit from the benchmarking of other administrations that the Compass automatically provides. Citizens can use the Compass to help improving the transparency of the P.A.s and can have easy access to all the contents they are interested in. The Compass acts as a powerful anti-corruption tool since it gives the possibility to access in a few clicks all the contents a P.A. should publish. This possibility creates, from the citizen’s point of view, a new awareness of one’s right to transparency while, from the administration’s point of view, it increases the awareness that the stakeholder can check the behaviour of the P.A. in a very easy way. The Compass opens the way to innovative forms of collaboration between government and citizens. For instance, it could be used to effectively communicate the theme of transparency to students, that could be informed about their rights in terms of transparency and, at the same time, contribute to the assessment of the quality of the published information. This exercise can be done individually or as a school project. The lessons learned during the experience are the following: • In order to ensure the implementation of the rules it is necessary to identify dedicated instruments and to accompany the process of transparency, by continuously measuring results. • It is important to ensure the correct collaboration of the resources relating to various components (lawyers, technologists, economists, humanists, communicators, etc.) in the innovation projects of the PA. • It appears rather convenient to dialogue with stakeholders and enable the co-design of services • It is better to use simple software development process, in continuous contact with clients (extreme programming, agile methodology). • Careful attention is needed during the diffusion and dissemination of the initiative, by activating adequate communication processes, also through social networks, and involving associations that can both help and support the implementation of the project. • It is extremely useful to activate processes and tools that enable the competitiveness among PA. In order to guarantee the success of the initiative, for example in case of replication in other contexts, it’s important that these conditions are fulfilled: • The ability to define standards and rules and combine them with technology • A strong commitment of the government on issues related to transparency and to Open Government

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Italian Department for Public Administration
Institution Type:   Government Department  
Contact Person:   Stefano Pizzicannella
Title:   International Relations  
Telephone/ Fax:   +39 06 6899 7535
Institution's / Project's Website:  
Address:   Corso Vittorio Emanuele II 116
Postal Code:   00186
City:   Rome
State/Province:   Rome

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