Open data for a safer and child-friendly Albania

BY Bas Berends, Jorina Kadare | April 5, 2017|Comments 0

We need open data, especially about whether our cities are child-friendly and safe for women and children.

Here at the UN in Albania, we wanted to fill this data gap in order to put issues of gender equality and sustainable cities higher up on the local government’s agenda. Our larger goal was to collect important data and make it available to both the municipality and the public.

We planned our innovation on this hypothesis: if more data from administrative sources and surveys is collected and made publicly available, better informed and more efficient policies will be designed and implemented. We based our hypothesis on evidence, including the annual public opinion survey – Trust in Government, jointly funded by UNDP and the EU Delegation.

When we kicked off our work in open data in Albaina, we gained the support of a local open data activist, Redon Skikuli, the founder of Open Labs Hackerspace in Tirana. “I’m really happy to see the UN push open data as a set of tools that empower citizens and make central and local governments more transparent, ” Skikuli said.

Blending Data

Are there spaces where children can be in contact with nature? Are there health check-ups in the community where children are sick? Is it safe for children to walk or cycle in their community?

These are the questions we started asking citizens through surveys, which were divided in two parts. The first half focused on how children and their parents perceive their own cities. UNICEF, along with the Observatory for Children’s Rights, had already done some vital groundwork which we could build upon.

The second half of the survey focused on safe cities, as part of UN Women’s “Safe Cities and Safe Public Spaces” initiative. It is a first-ever global programme that develops, implements, and evaluates tools, policies and comprehensive approaches on the prevention of and response to sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence against women and girls across different settings.

We plan to blend data and, in this way, create new insights. Data from these public surveys will be combined with administrative data from the police department, the tax office, the education system, and other government departments. It will then be made available as open data for citizens. That way we can triangulate information and get a fuller picture.

As a next step, we also used data from the surveys about child-friendly and safe cities as a basis for conducting two  bootcamps; one on child-friendly cities in October and one on safe cities in November 2016. We identified problems and designed solutions with children, youth and women. In our experience, great ideas arise from such bootcamps, especially from our participants. Both events turned out to be highly interactive and  productive. More about these events in our next blog.

Data to reengineer municipal services

Tirana’s Municipality hosts nearly one third of Albania’s inhabitants, so the municipality has expanded to a much larger area. The territorial expansion of the Municipality created both challenges and opportunities, particularly when it comes to improving the delivery of services, supporting local economic development, and reducing inequalities between different local governments. In Tirana, public service reform is high on the political agenda and the Mayor’s office is busy modernizing and digitizing public services. The vision of the municipality is to transform Tirana from a city struggling to provide its citizens with basic services to a city that is desirable and accessible to residents and visitors. The reform effort has already resulted in an in-depth review and reengineering of 148 services, such as waste management, public kindergartens, public works and issuing of permits.

In this backdrop, UNDP Albania and the Municipality organized the Tirana Smart City Conference 2016 – 2026. At the conference, focusing on 5 key themes – mobility, economy, living, society and rural life, participants spoke about how Tirana could become an efficient, economically viable, sustainable and more livable city. Open data and citizen engagement at the local level are particularly important, as they can lead to greater transparency and accountability. More importantly, they can lead to a more efficient local government, and better public service delivery and policy through evidence-based decision-making.  UNDP is currently supporting the Municipality of Tirana in making the data collection processes more effective and making the data visible through an open data portal. This isn’t an easy task!

Lessons Learned

Data is collected sporadically and there are concerns about sharing data between different departments, timeliness, validity and quality. The municipality officials see the data gathering and data entry process as additional work unrelated to their jobs.

Currently, the municipality has 31(!) channels for citizen requests; varying between municipal units, public enterprises, phone lines and an app. Citizen requests could be anything from requests for construction on renovation projects to complaints about government services. Most of the data collected are in Excel format and bear little connection with each other, resulting in difficulties in analyses in the open data portal.

In other words, some steps are still needed to make sure that Tirana benefits from a functioning open data portal that can incorporate data from different sources.

We hope that the efforts by both UNDP and UNICEF strengthen the municipality’s ability to learn about public concerns and to make good use of innovative ideas among citizens. This will also help the UN in Albania to focus its future efforts when assisting the government to create safe and sustainable cities and communities.

Next steps

Moving forward, the municipality, assisted by UNDP, will continue to work on the smart city data infrastructure (including innovative financing mechanisms, user-centred research and innovation labs), so that high-value data sets can be posted in the open data portal.

We’re also discussing a similar data infrastructure with the municipality of Korca in the south of Albania.

Watch this space for more news about open data for a safer and more child-friendly Albania!


Bas Berends Bas is Environment Advisor and SDG coordinator at the UN Resident Coordinator Office in Albania. You can follow him on Twitter.
Jorina Kadare Jorina is Innovation Consultant at UNDP Albania. You can follow her on Twitter.

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