We’re kicking off the year in the company of Mr. Radu Puchiu, Head of the Department for Online Services and Design, a unit set up in the Romanian Government with the sole objective to “digitize” the public sector.
How is digital communication perceived in the Romanian public institutions? Do you consider that online communication is necessary for the public sector?
Honestly, I don’t think that there is any public institution on a national level that constantly communicates online . We are still in the beginning, at the point where we just inform and add information on the website. This has to change. And it’s more than just a change of the format of communication, it’s about a change of paradigm; it’s about the necessity to change the culture of dialogue. We know that in general, in the public sector, the IT department, and not the communication team, is in charge of the web presence. But in the institutions where the communication departments are in charge and the colleagues are young and knowledgeable, the advance is obvious – look for example at the activity of the Ministry of Education or the Ministry of European Funds. It is a long way, but in the end it’s going to happen. The change in culture will probably come from the better understanding of the online audience – who is our customer – and also from the fact that these communication channels are easily accessed from both sides. At this point I cannot say that it is in the habit of the administration to communicate online.
In your opinion, is online communication recognized as important at an institutional level by the leaders from the central, local or subordinate authorities?
I think that the role of the online communication in the Romanian institutional environment is recognized at a leadership level because, generally, the ministers are young and brought an important online communication component from their campaigns – most of them have websites, blogs, although I am not sure how many actually maintain their sites at the end of the campaign; this is another discussion. There certainly there is support from the leaders. The institutional communication has its own traits, its own rigidity degree, one cannot talk freely if part of an institution – the impact is a lot bigger in the media, and generally towards the public, every word has to be pondered thoroughly. This may be one of the reasons for which the public institutions in Romania kept using classical communication towards the media, through the press release. I don’t think we [the public sector] know how to adapt very well to communicating through a channel that is significantly different from the traditional ones. To communicate on Facebook or Twitter is different from sending a press release. All things considered, you can’t always say something official on a not so official channel without the risk of the information being misinterpreted. Also, there is the problem of changing the culture of the audience, because I am looking at the Facebook page of the Government and, with few notable exceptions, it’s used as a channel for sending negative comments at the Government or for using a certain kind of language that is not allowing for a constructive and efficient dialogue. So, I think that this culture of dialogue has to change for both sides.
What is the role of the Government’s Department for Online Services and Design and what are your objectives within this department? Also, what is the structure of this department?
I have been coordinating this department since February when it was established and since then we have had major projects or events on a monthly basis. Practically, we were set up in February 2013, at the same time as the Chancellery of the Prime Minister. The department is made up of 6 colleagues who are in charge of the online activities and another 3 in charge of the transparency and open government partnership project. Cristian Botan (manager of posturi.gov.ro) and Andrei Nicoara (the manager of data.gov.ro) are my advisers. This is just a short overview of our main projects:
- The organization of the first Hackaton in February;
- In March we launched buget.gov.ro and it was the first time an exercise of this kind was performed – with the state budget uploaded online and in an open format. The platform was also advertised on openspending.org;
- Also, in March and April we had Open Government Partnership meetings with the civil society and the representatives of the ministries. This is when we practically unlocked this entire mechanism
- In May we finished the projects started at Hackaton;
- In June we participated at the GeoData conference (FOSS4G CEE 2013). This was an important moment for us because we met with the OGP Secretariat and also with the people from Open Knowledge Foundation which manage the Open Spending and CKAN platform – the latter platform is also used for the data portal;
- In July we launched the Government’s internship program , an exercise that was not necessarily online, but which was very popular;
- In August we completed the new Government website, gov.ro, which was launched in beta at the end of November;
- In September we launched posturi.gov.ro, a portal designed to gather and promote all the jobs available in the Romanian public sector. This is our most successful project up to date from the point of view of visits and visibility,;
- In October we participated at the OGP summit in London;
- In November we launched the open data portal data.gov.ro;
- In December we mostly finished the transparency site, transparenta.gov.ro, which is an important project we have been working on, consisting in collecting the information we are obliged to publish and published them on a centralized site which is accessible to everybody.
If you ask me, one of the most important moments of 2013 was the launch of the open data portal – data.gov.ro. Practically, it’s the culmination of the efforts we made in the transparency area in 2013. Thanks to the contribution of the institutions that published the data, this project brought us a rise in the Open Data Index of almost 30 points, Romania being now among the top 15 countries in the world. Moreover, on the data portal we are developing a rating system that focuses on the quality of information that is posted, the authors and the actuality of the posted information. This system offers the public the possibility to comment and send notices if there are any old information on the administration platforms. I think that this will have an impact on the public.
For 2014 we will focus, as we did before, on three directions: towards the public administration, towards supporting the decision factors through the data and the platforms that we will build and, of course, maybe the most important direction, towards the public – through increasing transparency and interaction and a better information exchange.
For the first objective, the administrative one, we aim for the implementation of the gov.ro domain, which will involve gathering all public institutions under this domain. Further, we will develop a guide for web presence that will help both the administration and the online users that interact with it.
For the second objective, the one that involves supporting the Government as a decision entity, we are working on two big projects. The first one is an initiative of business intelligence, project that we want to finalize using European funds and that will involve a large effort. The second objective involves offering the government sessions and the entire legislative process in electronic format.
Furthermore, on the transparency side, we have the commitments related to the Open Government Partnership. 2014 will bring us a reporting mechanism from OGP, so practically we will be monitored and evaluated in our progress, which is a very important aspect. We are in good standing concerning this topic, but I hope we will improve; we still have work to do in some areas.
This is an important activity with results that are appreciated outside the country; I would like to hear more about them and for them to be better known…
Yes, I think that we need to concentrate and communicate better what we do. Unfortunately, we have been focusing mainly on internal and technical problems and we neglected the communication component. In 2014 I hope we will improve this dimension.
Posturi.gov.ro was nominated in the Open Government Partnership summit in London as one of the most successful projects set up at an international level concerning the transparency of a Government’s activity, more precisely combating corruption and the lack of transparency in the recruitment process for the public sector. What can you tell us about this nomination and about the participation at the summit?
Yes, the Open Government Partnership Summit in London was a very visible moment for us. Romania participated at the summit alongside representatives from over 61 states, states which make up the Open Government Partnership. There were over 2,000 attendees and, moreover, Cristian Botan’s project [posturi.gov.ro] was selected together with 7 others from a wide range of nominations across the world for the ”Bright Spots” Award, event which took place as part of the Summit. The very fact that Romania made it on that shortlist means a lot in terms of the progress we’ve made in 2013 in the open data field. The winner of the Bright Spots competition was elected on the basis of votes and in the end we lacked the necessary number of votes to win but I think that our participation and nomination was a very good sign for Romania and it was acknowledged as such by those present.
Another great reason for pride was the fact that Cristian’s presentation enjoyed great visibility – at the time of presentation the British Foreign Minister William Hague was present alongside others alike and US Secretary of State John Kerry’s video conference followed shortly after Romania’s. So it was a good participation, a good result and we enjoyed the appreciations we received from those present.
Romania also hosted in 2013 the first Future Communities – Open Innovation Fair, an event dedicated to technology and its role in developing communities. This forum enjoyed high level participants such as Neelie Kroes, the European Commission Vice President and EU Commissioner for the Digital Agenda. Is Romania becoming, at an institutional level, more interested in how technologies can support and develop communities and improve its citizens lives?
Yes, this was another important moment for Romania. The participation was at a very high level, with Romanian ministers, the Commissioner for the Digital Agenda, Neelie Kroes, and the European Commissioner for Agriculture Dacian Ciolos in attendance. Further, the event demonstrated at a practical level the way in which technology can help the local communities to develop. The Biblionet project is already known and it represents another successful Romanian project from the viewpoint of the implementation. I think that events like this show that there is an increasing interest from Romania to progress towards the openness of data, towards the increase of transparency in the public sector, with the help of the online environment. From my position in the Government I have perceived all these initiatives as a growing interest around open data and using online to communicate better with the civil society. Romania enjoys a growing community that is active in the online environment and that is why communication in this area has to develop.
You mentioned that Romania’s main institutions are involved in the growth of transparency through open government – are you also considering training the human resources, the employees from local and central institutions, in online communication?
In the report that we regularly send to OGP, we mention three areas that we have identified as very important for our activity. The human resource is one of them. The human resource from the public administration not only is not sufficiently prepared in communicating online, but the level of expertise ranges widely across the country. There are areas that are very prepared to open the data, for communicating online, but other areas are not. We have been invited in 2013 to participate in a project with the Executive Unit for Financing Higher Education – they developed a training program in social media and we helped by sending employees; we understand that it had a large participation. This is s a starting point and we intend to do more.
Concerning open data, we intend to have seminaries in collaboration with the civil society with the purpose of explaining our objectives for the next period, and I think this will be a continuous effort. It’s a lot of work because a good dialogue between the two parts is necessary. A lot of times we say: “The civil society doesn’t understand the Government”. This fact is true but I don’t think that the other way around is any better. Training is necessary, so, as I was saying, this is one of the critical components we are focusing on. We will surely approach this issue in everything that we have in mind for this year.
Do you consider that projects like the communication platform digitaldiplomacy.ro can contribute to the development of the online communication generated in the Romanian public sector?
We were just talking about the training part – DigitalDiplomacy.ro is a good example. We encouraged those involved in the administration to follow the content. It’s a good effort that we all need to make. I think that things will change in this area and your help and help from others is surely important.