Take heed: Over 1,500 civic reports of grey market activities, more than 2,500 active users of the Be Responsible civic app, and 250,000 euro invested in projects selected by the communities themselves: All in the tiny country of Montenegro.
How did we get here? It all started with a bold idea to host one of the first ever social innovation projects in the country, Open Ideas for Montenegro (in Montenegrin).
As we were planning our apps-for-social-good contest, we encountered all the usual criticisms: Hackathons are nothing but fluff, devoid of any kind of sustainability, and a solution without a problem.
Sure, but we had our hearts set on organizing Montenegro’s first hackathon for social good and we had full faith in our active citizenry.
Not only are citizens well-placed to pinpoint the problems that bug them we reasoned; they are also the ones fully equipped to design tech-powered solutions.
The contest itself was a success; but what ensued after was even better.
Just two months following the event, the Ministry of Finance decided to invest in scaling the app. They were battling the scourge of an informal economy, and realized what they needed most were eyes on the ground to help spot tax evaders.
Together with the government’s public relations team, we designed a project for civic engagement in the fight against informal economy. And who better to partner with than the winning ‘Be Responsible’ app and its community of active users?
The plan was fairly straightforward:
- Ask citizens to report instances of informal economy using the web and mobile app. Conscious of the fact that not every Montenegrin citizen was so tech-savvy; we also encouraged reporting via designated call centers.
This ensured a steady stream of real time updates from the field, and was an invaluable contribution – there will always be more civic reporters than there are tax inspectors!
- Make sure the authorities follow up on all civic reports and inform the community of the results. That’s why we used the website as a communications platform – all reports and pertinent feedback are listed along with statistical data.
We’ve had 31,000 unique site visits in 2014 alone, and over 300,000 visited pages.
- And finally – and this was the revolutionary decision – we decided to donate half of the proceeds from imposed fined to social good projects.
The forward-looking Government of Montenegro strongly supported this.
Our idea was that the community would select two or three projects out of five shortlisted ones – but the level of civic engagement was so high that we generated the funds necessary to support all of five.
The citizens of Montenegro can now claim that they have helped the following projects come to life:
- Purchasing equipment for gastrointestinal diagnosis which will ameliorate the suffering young patients endure during invasive treatments. One doctor told us she’s been waiting 15 years for this equipment!
- Refurbishing daycare centres in three municipalities
- Landscaping a park in an open space in Cemovsko polje;
- Redesigning part of a retirement home in Risan.;
- Supporting children’s education and play in publicly-owned kindergartens in Montenegro.
Our investment in this social innovation experiment certainly came with a return on investment.
Had it not been for the Open Ideas for Montenegro, our partnership with the University of Montenegro would not have happened. We were also privileged to showcase the project as one of the seven Bright Spots recognized by the UK’s Open Government Partnership Summit 2013.
And we’re not stopping there!
The British Embassy in Podgorica recently joined our partnership network and the project was extended until the end of 2014.
We hope to engage the citizens of Montenegro in deciding the next round of community projects, which will get a boost thanks to stronger public finances.
We’ve quite enjoyed the experience thus far, it’s been especially rewarding to see that ordinary citizens have once more proven to be our most valuable partners.
Stay tuned for more as we see how just this app is changing lives on the ground!