9 november 2012

Meeting of the Government Commission for the Coordination of the Open Government


Dmitry Medvedev: The Commission is quite sizable...

Good afternoon, colleagues. Today, we meet in our first session of the Government Commission for the Coordination of the Open Government. There are many people here – officials, regional leaders and experts in various fields. I hope that this format will help us to productively discuss the most pressing and sensitive issues – in short, everything that concerns society, you as experts and the Government, too – and most importantly, to find appropriate solutions.

Let me recall that we discussed the idea of ​​the Open Government for the first time over a year ago, in late October of last year, at a meeting with the so-called public committee. Today, I hope that the principle of openness is in fact embodied in the activities of the Government; of course, it does not come about without flaws, without difficulties, but nevertheless, there are still many things that now seem trivial that didn’t even cross our minds some time ago. And we’re developing specific mechanisms to work with experts, business community and civil society in general, and the Government’s Expert Council is quite active, for which we are very grateful.

Suffice it to say that many of the issues that we bring to the Government meeting – not all of them, of course, but a considerable part of them, the draft state programmes and legislation – were previously considered by the Expert Council. They are thoroughly debated in the Open Government format. I think this is useful. The ministries are implementing the Open Ministry project. I hope that today our colleagues will say a few words about it. In 12 regions of the country, the Open Region project started in July 2012 for the joint discussion of the most vital issues by the regional authorities and the citizens, and to a large extent, it concerns the provision of public and municipal services.

Our Government Commission is designed to streamline this work and create the standards of openness to be applied in all government structures – in Moscow, in the regions and in municipalities. This includes independent review of drafts of government resolutions and public oversight of the implementation of these resolutions. In addition, experts and representatives of NGOs will inform ministers about the problems that people see as needing urgent attention, if the ministers themselves miss something.

Today, I would also like to hear your views as experts on the formation of the government procurement system, which is a very relevant and pressing topic, on the implementation of social initiatives and on the further development of public councils at government agencies. This recent issue is, at the same time, rather difficult for state agencies. So, let’s talk about it. As I have said before, the result is a well-balanced decision that gets results. That’s probably all I want to say for now. I hope what you will tell me now is much more valuable.

First, let’s talk about the “Open Ministry” pilot programme for the Ministry of Education and Science. The Ministry oversees many important projects. All you have to do is go online and see how many ministerial decisions, and sometimes even the statements of ministerial officials, are being discussed. I believe it is fairly obvious that we are implementing this pilot programme at the Ministry of Education and Science. Mr Livanov (addressing Minister of Education and Science Dmitry Livanov), you have the floor.

Dmitry Livanov: Mr Medvedev, colleagues. We launched this work in early July 2012. As you mentioned, we consider such work to be very important. Forty million Russian citizens, including students, workers and the parents of students, are directly interested in the work of the Ministry. On the whole, I believe that every Russian citizen is interested in what is going on inside the education system. All Russian citizens have their own opinion, and they want their opinion to be heard. And certainly, existing state-of-the-art information technology and communications technologies enable us to make their opinions heard and to use their opinions in various decisions being adopted by us in education.

I would like to mention several projects which we have implemented over this period. First of all, we have conducted an independent assessment of the level of our current information openness. This assessment was made by the Monitor consulting company, and we would like to thank the company for this. We have seen that we are now somewhere between the third and fourth levels out of the five information-openness levels. In effect, we are moving from mutual information exchange with the public to directly involving the public in the adoption of important, key decisions.

So, first of all, we suggested and implemented a new model for forming the Public Council at the Ministry of Education and Science. Half of the Public Council’s members were elected during an interactive online vote. People suggested over 600 candidates, which were short-listed and then voted on. Then those individuals who received the majority of votes were selected and invited to join the Public Council. It was important for us to select people with a broad audience who would be able to communicate the interests and requirements of society to us on the one hand, and who could take part in the elaboration and discussion of decisions with us, on the other. In this way, they would be able to use their audience for explaining these decisions better and making them more understandable to the public.

Zhores Alferov has been elected chairman of the Public Council. He is a Nobel Prize winner in physics and the only scientist of this level working in Russia today. I can also tell you that the first meeting of the council in late August, or rather its video-taped version, had more than 700,000 views on YouTube. That's a good amount for this genre…

Dmitry Medvedev: And what did you do there?

Dmitry Livanov: Nothing special. It just so happened that people are interested in what is being discussed. I think this means that the members of the council have been chosen correctly. They keep their audience interested in what they say. This is important, because the worst case is when speakers evoke rejection or a lack of interest. It is also very important for us to provide the members of the council with the necessary instruments for working with their audience. We have now made a special website for the council. Each member will have a personal account on this site; they will be able to discuss problems, organise voting, public opinion polls etc. In addition, we have already launched a call centre, so that any person can make a phone call. If any of you have not switched off your phone, you can call this centre to check whether it works. Our goal is to make the council accessible to as many people as possible.

The second part of our work is linked with the formation of the expert community in the educational system, and the broadest involvement of experts in the adoption of key decisions. We have already discussed in the Open Government the most important, high-profile documents that have been debated and adopted on education and science in the last few months. I’m referring to two state programmes on education and on science and technology, a draft federal law on education and a plan of action on national strategy in the interests of children. Needless to say, we will continue using the Open Government, the Public Council and other platforms for discussing decisions with a view to making them as transparent and understandable as possible.

The third direction of our work is aimed at switching to the concept of performance efficiency. We are determining the main goals of the ministry and the criteria for assessing its performance. We see two aspects here. The first is internal, whereby we simply quote official figures on how many of the ministry’s documents are open (more than 90% as of today). We want people to know what kind of budget we have and to understand how we spend it. They can check on this themselves now.

This work also has an external aspect – we will conduct polls of reference groups: heads of educational and research organisations, beneficiaries of education and science, that is people who study or work, as well as key experts.

On the whole, we want everything to be open to the public at all stages of these projects and contracts (both large national projects and small orders) – from the formation of the technical assignment to the adoption of a report on work performance. We also want experts to be involved in decision-making as much as possible at each stage.

We are switching to electronic services. There is a register of all services rendered by the Ministry of Education and Science. Most of them are in the sphere of education. Incidentally, a large portion of these services are rendered at the regional and municipal level. We will have completely switched to electronic services by the end of 2013.

Now I’d like to say a few words about our open information standards. Today we are present on all social networks – Facebook, VKontakte, YouTube, Instagram, etc. Importantly, apart from the official site, we have a discussion venue – a special portal where every person can ask a question and raise an issue. All questions receive an answer. We receive about 5,000 applications, questions and requests per month and none of them goes unanswered. In general, our information infrastructure allows us to let all interested parties know what is happening, answer their questions and, last but not the least, discuss the decisions that have been or will be adopted and to get feedback from the public.

In principle we believe that the mass of information, the knowledge we have accumulated in the last few months, suggests that we may adopt a uniform concept of openness of government bodies. Other federal executive bodies may wish to use it, too. At any rate, we are ready to share our know-how with them. We think this concept is very useful and helps us to tangibly improve our performance.

I’d like to say a few words about our plans for the future. We will continue to increase the transparency of our work and the amount of information accessible to those who are interested in it. We are planning to request an independent audit of the ministry’s expenses. We want to invite an auditing company to give us an objective picture of how we spend budget funds.

We will finish developing a system for assessing the performance of officials at different levels, starting with me as minister. Importantly, we will transfer this system to the regions because a considerable part and maybe the overwhelming majority of the problems in education must be and are being resolved at the regional and municipal level. This is crucial. Incidentally, many regions have even left us behind in this sphere. We want to make sure that every person feels involved in making decisions on education regardless of where he or she lives. Thank you.

Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you. We still have to listen to the opinion of experts on every issue and those who are in charge of these problems. Mr Guriyev, go ahead please.

Sergei Guriyev (Rector of the Russian Economic School): Thank you very much, Mr Medvedev. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for giving me an opportunity to speak at this meeting. First of all, I’d like to congratulate Mr Livanov on his achievements and to express my gratitude to him. The ministry has covered a very long road in half a year. This is an excellent example for other federal executive bodies. The ministry’s experience can be used to develop a concept of openness for all other federal executive bodies.

I’d like to speak on behalf of the branch and as a member of the government commission. I’d like to tell you what we have learned from our work with the ministry and how it has taken such a big step towards openness about its performance in the last few months. I’ll tell you about one lesson and four priorities.

The Open Ministry project is the main lesson. It did not come as a surprise to us but it must be repeated. This is a serious and complicated project that requires serious effort. It has an element of a project that has a beginning and end as well as routine activities, such as analysing feedback and preparing the information that must be made public. This work requires people and funds. The Ministry of Education and Science had to change twice the team working on this project. These are serious activities and they must be at the top of the ministry’s list of priorities because people not only want it to work – and not only these 40 million but the rest as well – but also to understand what it is doing and on what it is spending its funds. Part of the ministry’s job is to explain to the Government the principles of its decision-making.

Mr Medvedev has just mentioned the discussion in our society. Now we are discussing, among other things, the monitoring of universities and the so-called inefficiency rating. This is a brilliant example of the ministry’s attempts to tell society what it is doing to meet its obligation to shut down inefficient institutions. In turn, society is criticising the criteria for how inefficient institutions are identified and giving feedback. I consider this dialogue extremely useful.

A few words about priorities. The ministry’s plans include many things I’m going to talk about. The minister has also mentioned many of these issues. That said, I think it is important to repeat a few points. To begin with, information should be open.

We should take efforts to offer society a way to access data at the disposal of federal authorities, the data that the federal authorities use in decision-making. Society should understand why such decisions are taken. In some cases there is no such data – this data should be collected. In other cases, this data is available, and it should be presented in the way that makes it easy to read and analyse. The data is not always stored in such a format unfortunately, and one should take efforts to make this data more user-friendly. Unfortunately or fortunately, this activity will be regular. To implement the open data concept it is necessary to regularly survey stakeholders and reference groups – ask them whether this data is easy to use, what additional data should be opened, whether this data is high- or low-quality. In this regard, we should develop a concept of open data and see how it complies with Russian law. Sometimes we will have to take special efforts in order to prevent open data from violating the law with respect to personal information.

And another thing is the independent audit of data accessibility, data quality, data volume, the number of users with an access to this data, and so on.  

An open budget is another important priority. I do not mean only the budget at the highest level, I mean the budget of the educational system down to the lowest level. The federal ministry is not responsible for everything. But Russian citizens should know how every school and every university is spending targeted allocations from the collected taxes. Sooner or later we will come to this. The earlier we tell our citizens and taxpayers how their money is spent in education – not as a line in the budget – but here and now in this school or in this university, the more confidence our society will have in us. 

There is one more point mentioned by Mr Livanov, which is transparency within the ministry. And here I agree that we should have no compromises, we should disclose the salaries of key ministry officials and department heads, as well as the allocations they get, how they spend this money, what are they tasked with, what is the objective of their work, what are the key indicators of their efficiency. All this information should be open, because this involves the taxpayers’ money and they have the right to know what happens with this money within each specific ministry. In particular, I’d like to note the positive response of society to the fact that the Minister of Education and Science doesn’t use flashers on his car. I think that he has made a great stride forward because he has to talk to many people. And it is not always easy to explain the need for flashers to these people, for example to a rural schoolteacher. 

Another point has to do with the public council. We will speak about it today. The public council has been created through an open procedure and with an honest vote count. On the other hand, in our Open Government community we always ask ourselves whether the public council should be a supervisory council or a board of directors, or an expert council extending technical assistance. In reality, we need it to be all these things. It is obvious that a council has been created in the Ministry and this council will ultimately have to take responsibility for ministry decision-making, including the discussion of the ministry’s legislative initiatives. But this cannot replace the expert groups. Obviously the ministry is creating and reformatting expert groups in the area of education and science. But it is very important that the above-mentioned Public Council set various tasks for these expert groups. In this case, the Public Council would function as a communicator, if it assumes responsibility for the decisions being discussed and adopted by the ministry. Moreover, the Public Council would inform the society about the ministry’s work. For instance, the Public Council is a body that should formulate the tasks of independent audits, making it possible to monitor ministerial spending, as Mr Livanov has just mentioned.

Summing up, I would like to make the following proposals. First, we should draft an open data concept for federal executive bodies. Second, I completely agree with Mr Livanov that we should conduct an independent audit or expert examination of ministerial spending in conjunction with the Public Council. We should publish spending volumes and key parameters for assessing the effectiveness of ministerial divisions and their heads. Moreover, we should draft a methodology based on the experience of the Ministry of Education and Science. This methodology would make it possible to ensure greater openness of this federal executive body. And we would be able to apply this methodology to other ministries. Thank you very much.

Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you, Mr Guriyev. I hope that the Minister does well not only because he rides in a car without a blinker light, which is very important, but also because all work should be done as planned, and all objectives that have been set should be accomplished. As for your proposal on spending audits and the open data concept, I believe that all these things are absolutely reasonable. We need to do this. Indeed, people want to know how the ministries spend their funding, this is completely normal, all the more so when we talk about the Ministry of Education and Science. Actually, people want to know many things, including wage policies at ministries and universities. They want to know how much an ordinary professor receives and how much a rector does. At any rate, quite a few educational institutions face this problem, we know about this, and I believe that the work of the Open Government and the Government Commission should also deal with this aspect, if we are talking about education.

I suggest that we discuss the entire agenda. Naturally, I will let our colleagues speak later on about issues that have already been discussed, if there is any need for additional comments.

There is the issue of ensuring a public discussion of product purchases during the awarding of products purchase contracts that exceed one billion roubles. I would like Vladimir Simonenko, Deputy Minister of Economic Development, to take the floor. Colleagues, please be brief. I would like you to speak for about five, rather than ten minutes. You don’t have to make lengthy presentations because the objective is clear. Thank you.

Vladimir Simonenko (Deputy Minister of Economic Development): Thank you, Mr Medvedev. I will try to be brief.

As per the Presidential Executive Order “On the long-term state economic policy,” the Government has had to ensure a compulsory preliminary public discussion of the contracts worth over a billion roubles and that are awarded for state and municipal needs. For this purpose, the Government instructed the concerned parties to ensure clients’ compliance with the ministerial procedure for discussing the purchase of products, works and services worth over a billion roubles for state and municipal needs from August 10, 2012. Under the relevant executive order and directive, the clients must conduct a public discussion of major purchases, while awarding contracts for federal needs, as well as for the needs of federal budget institutions. Regional executive bodies were advised to conduct public discussions, while ensuring the needs of municipal budget institutions. The Federal Anti-Monopoly Service was instructed to take part in the public discussion of major purchases. It should be noted that this procedure was discussed with the expert community well in advance. This procedure was also examined on the ministerial website and at a RIA Novosti round table discussion.

What does the two-stage procedure stipulate? During the first stage, various contracts are discussed online, on the forum of the zakupki.gov.ru official website. This will involve all the concerned parties in the discussion process to the greatest possible extent. After registering on the official website forum, discussion participants will have to fill out an online questionnaire, after which they will be able to post their comments on the following contract aspects: the advisability of awarding such a contract, compliance of contract-tender documents with national legislation requirements and justification of the initial contract price. The client publishes responses to incoming comments, and e-mails them to the authors of these comments within two days of receipt of the comments. After the first stage, the client must formulate a preliminary public-discussion protocol, which is posted on the official website and is also submitted to the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service.

The second stage of the public discussion is conducted in the form of public hearings, not later than ten days before the termination of the submission of prospective bidders’ applications. This enables all the concerned parties to directly communicate with the client. The client publishes information about the date, time and location of these public hearings on the official website. After the public hearings, the client formulates the final protocol and posts it on the official website. This protocol must contain the client’s decision, or the following two options: Either the client amends contract-tender documents after the public hearings, or these documents remain unchanged.

The ministry and the treasury have jointly upgraded the website as part of a system of public support measures regarding the use of the above-mentioned procedure. The upgraded website provides essential information for users and other information for the organisers of the public discussion and those involved in this discussion. Right now, all clients awarding a contract worth over a billion roubles are notified by e-mail within 24 hours of the need to hold public hearings. Moreover, clients receive consultative services from the official website support service on issues regarding the organisation of public discussions.

We monitor the discussion of major purchases by clients on a daily basis. In all, 174 purchases worth about 483 billion roubles were subject to public discussion from August 10 until November 6, 2012. A total of 131 purchases are conducted at federal expense, and 38 more purchases are financed from regional budgets. As of November 6, 116 complete public discussions of major purchases were held in accordance with the established procedure, including 100 major purchases at federal expense, or about 220 billion roubles, and 16 major purchases at the expense of other budgets. Fifty-five contracts worth about 135 billion roubles were signed following discussions. Of note is the high level of public interest in the procedure for these public discussions. From August 10 until November 6, the official website forum received over 50,000 clicks. As for specific results of using this procedure, it can be noted that clients have specified contract-tender documents regarding four purchases. For instance, the Higher School of Economics has modified contract-tender documents and noted that the prospective supplier must be duly authorised to conduct work that enables the preservation of cultural heritage facilities.

At the same time, our assessment of initial public discussions shows that not all clients have abided by the relevant public discussion procedure. Based on our information, timely procedures were not conducted with regard to five federal contracts and 12 contracts being financed by the regions. This assessment was based on the results of our own monitoring survey, and those clients received letters from us concerning the need to observe the required procedure.

While understanding that this work must become systematic, we proposed launching a systematic monitoring survey, and this proposal was supported. Mr Medvedev, as per your directive, the reports of federal and regional executive bodies on holding these public discussions will be submitted to you each quarter. We will inform the Government about this on a quarterly basis.

I would also like to say a few words about one problem that we are facing during the implementation of the public discussions procedure. Although the website dedicated to public discussions is quite popular, we’d like to note insufficient activity during discussions and a poor quality of comments. For instance, one purchase notification received 755 clicks, but with no comments. At the same time, we see that the situation has started changing since early October.

In an effort to make this procedure more effective, we have sent letters to the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Delovaya  Russia and Opora Russia, requesting that representatives of the expert and business community are involved in this procedure. We therefore believe that the large-scale involvement of experts and representatives of public and business organisations in this work has now become a high-priority task, and that this will make it possible to improve the quality and effectiveness of purchase discussions.

Moreover, in our opinion, this work amounts to feedback, and this may result in comments that make it possible to improve the current procedure. These experts are directly involved in this procedure, they know all about specific drawbacks, and they can promptly inform us about this.

Besides, we would consider it inappropriate to use this mechanism as a measure of control. In an effort to improve this mechanism still further, we have drafted a proposal on formalising such procedures within the framework of the federal contracts system. First, we suggest that the Government receive the right to stipulate this procedure and the terms of these public discussions and purchases. At the same time, we suggest that the regions and municipal entities have the right to stipulate other cases when these purchases can be held at their discretion.

Second, we suggest formalising a provision that large-scale purchase contracts should not and cannot be signed, unless they have been publicly discussed.

Third, information about purchases subject to public discussions must be mentioned during the formulation of plans under the federal contracts system. In our opinion, this will ensure a more effective procedure. Moreover, this will make it possible to change the object of the purchase, to redistribute maximum budget allocations, with due consideration of the results of public discussions. That concludes my report.

Dmitry Medvedev: Honestly, I did not understand whether even one purchase was turned down during this period because it was not publicly discussed.

Vladimir Simonenko: No. not a single purchase was turned down. In all, 116 purchases were subjected to public discussions, and contract-tender documents are being amended in line with the results of these discussions. Right now, it is impossible to turn down a purchase because of specific federal budget allocations, which must be spent accordingly. 

Dmitry Medvedev: So, you just   changed contract-tender documents?

Vladimir Simonenko: So that during public discussions contract-tender documents could be modified. 

Dmitry Medvedev: Well, the people working in the ministries and state agencies are not gods, they can make mistakes, and there is corruption there as well. What if in the course of public discussions it turns out that nobody really needs it, that it shouldn’t be purchased? What is the point of such a public discussion? To say: change the tender documentation but purchase it anyway? I am just trying to understand if we need a mechanism that does not allow for cancelling a procurement which is not based on real needs, if this has been made clear in the course of a public discussion.

Vladimir Simonenko: The point is that currently public discussions are mandatory for large procurement orders to the amount of one billion roubles. And taking into account that such orders are already backed by respective budget funds, this mechanism has never worked to such an effect, in such a format, i.e. there were no cases of cancelling an order. 

Dmitry Medvedev: So basically the idea is that because those are large funds, they have to be spent anyway? Is that what you mean? If it was just small change,  you could say: all right, don’t spend the money, there’s no real need, but when it comes to one billion  roubles, then this money definitely has to be spent. I don’t think this system can work. If there is no opportunity to turn down the order, then there is no reason in it. We have to think about improving the procedure. You said something regarding the fact that there should be no contract. Maybe that is the way but we have to understand if we can really run all the procurements over a certain amount through that mechanism. I mean non-classified procurements. I do not now how feasible it is, it has to be weighed in. 

All right, let us listen to our colleagues from Delovaya Rossiya. Mr Alexander Galushka, please. Go ahead. 

Alexander Galushka (President of the Russian Public Organisation Delovaya Rossiya): Thank you, Mr Medvedev. Colleagues, we at Delovaya Rossiya have given a lot of attention to this matter, we have even set up a specialised association – the National Procurement Institutes Association. With its help we have launched both a public monitoring and a public evaluation of the current procurements.  The first results of that public monitoring and the first conclusions have already emerged.

The first results for October: there were a total of 105 government procurement orders exceeding 1 billion roubles each.  The public discussion helped introduce changes to five of those 105 procurements, which is an insignificant share so far. We have seen instances of resistance to public discussion and public monitoring. There are cases when public discussions were scheduled for only one or two days, in some cases the protocols of public discussions were not published, and there have also been instances when open public discussions are held in very remote localities, for example, a village in the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Area. We even tried to find it on the map so as to see where the public discussion of one of the procurements was to take place.  But we realise that we are at the very beginning of our way and treat all that as teething troubles, and the key thing is the principal conclusions about what is to be improved within the system to make it operable and efficient.

In our opinion there are four aspects here. Mr Medvedev mentioned the first one earlier. The question you asked is covered by our first proposal. Public discussions and public monitoring should encompass the whole procurement process – from the planning to the post-procurement stage, the entire cycle.  And in fact Mr Livanov’s answer to your question was that public discussion should involve not only the order placement stage but should start at the planning stage so that opinions could be voiced concerning the expedience, the need for a certain procurement. This is the first direction.

Second. Government purchasers’ response to public discussions should become mandatory; the response must be obligatory and public.

Third. We think it essential to authorise government customers to engage professional experts. Procurement is a job, and a customer should be qualified starting with properly drafted requirement specifications and finishing with a competent and professional commissioning of a certain purchase because in some cases of unconventional products there must be an awareness of what is being procured, which is practically impossible without professional experts and an authority to engage them. 

And, finally, the fourth point:  within the framework of the current system of grant support for NGOs we would like to extend the mechanism that has evolved in that system to grants to NGOs that target public discussion and a public assessment of government procurement as their major activity.  In our view this would ensure a guaranteed mechanism of public discussion and public assessment of priority large-volume procurements rather that a spontaneous mechanism of public discussion. Thank you very much.

Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you. This is very much along the same lines as what I was speaking about and it confirms my feelings. Mr Sobyanin wanted to say something. You have the floor, Mr Sobyanin.

Sergei Sobyanin (Moscow Mayor): Mr Medvedev, esteemed colleagues, Moscow has gained some experience with public discussions of various projects, from minor to very major ones. This year we discussed 8,000 projects related to the improvement of the city environment, squares, parks, courtyards and so on. The public discussions took place on the Nash Gorod (Our City) internet portal, at local government bodies and on sites where work was being done. We discussed major construction projects such as metro lines, transport interchanges, roads and so on, which are also discussed on the websites of the relevant departments, in the expert community and by the public on the construction sites. For sophisticated innovative technical products, we hold fairly large meetings with the expert community and the producers. For instance, we held two major technical conferences on the development of the new city tram and the building of rolling stock for the metro, in which all the leading world transport manufacturers took part. That, of course, adds to the proposal request and technical specifications and also eliminates superfluous requirements. At the same time, socially significant innovative ideas are taken into account when preparing the proposal request and tender documentation. All the procurements costing more than one billion roubles have over the past year and a half ended up being discussed at meetings at my office, the meetings being attended by the heads of the financial and economic departments, the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service and the supervisory agencies. As a result, some of these projects are being suspended or amended. At any rate, everybody can make remarks and suggestions concerning tender documentation prior to the tender.

The new procedure established under the President’s executive order covers a quarter of all the procurements in Moscow because the scale of procurements is large. Initial discussions of the first two or three projects did not yield any tangible results: as the colleagues here have said, there were many visits to the site, but no concrete proposals were made. But the situation is improving and we are holding about 20 tenders to the tune of more than 1 billion roubles. And we have been getting dozens of proposals on the most vital issues.

To encourage discussion of these projects, we began conducting road shows of sorts, presentations on the projects – for example, disposal of domestic waste, school meals and some other projects that attract considerable interest. But there is one problem we have encountered. I agree with Mr Galushko, who said that we should decide at what stage public discussion should take place. Under the Urban Construction Code and Moscow legislation, for many years discussions have been held of pre-design solutions and layout plans, especially with regard to linear objects and construction projects when the main technical parameters that have a social dimension are discussed with the public. During the course of these discussions, for example, on road construction, the authors of the project were told that an additional interchange was needed somewhere, or that a flyover needed to be removed and tunnels to be dug instead and so on. So, this is not pro forma discussion, it is hands-on discussion of concrete projects. After the discussion has been held and records of the public hearings have been made, under the new procedure, we once again put the projects up for discussion and the conclusions of these discussions may or may not coincide, so a conflict may arise. Therefore, I suggest that the procedure of public hearings be clarified. If the discussions were held at the pre-design stage when all the main technical and socially sensitive parameters were already discussed, then there is no need to hold these public hearings once more, otherwise we get unnecessary red tape and, secondly, we may end up in a kind of gridlock. Then yet another public hearing will need to be held in order to reconcile the conflicting sides. I think the approach in general makes sense and we have so far only limited experience. I think that during the year, in November, we will develop regulations, work under these regulations for a year and then we could review the experience of the Russian regions and adopt a general procedure for public hearings not only for federal but also regional structures.

Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you. Information on what is happening on the ground, including such a big city as Moscow, is very valuable. What you say should also be taken into account because endless discussions do not translate into improved quality. We may regurgitate the same information many times to no effect because it would make no difference to the end result.

We’ll think about it. Thank you.

And now about measures concerning a mechanism for members of the public to present proposals online for the Government to consider. These are proposals that had the support of at least 100,000 people within a year. This issue is being developed and they discuss all sorts of things imaginable on different sites. I have browsed today, there is a discussion about cancelling transport tax, and 100,000 signatures have already been collected. I do not know who was actually registering those signatures and what it is that these people want but this is clearly a vibrant topic. 

Mr Nikiforov (Minister of Communications and Mass Media) has the floor. Try to be brief, if possible.

Nikolai Nikiforov: Certainly. Mr Medvedev, colleagues, I can state officially that the Russian public initiative has not begun to work yet. We approved the concept on August 23, 2012, as per instructions in the Presidential Executive Order No 651 of May 7, 2012. Now the concept has been approved. There was a heated debate as it was drafted and shaped. The task was set for this system to start operating from April 15, 2013 in full compliance with all the requirements, including the identification of citizens with the principle “one person – one vote” to be observed. In reality we see no obstacle to launching it sooner. I would like to tell you about this as well. Of course, the mechanism of the Russian Public Initiative will ensure maximum publicity, transparency of legislative proposals from citizens, I emphasise “legislative,” and it will help engage Russians in issues of state significance.  

We all remember that the discussion was fairly heated and the document was amended in the course of its preparation. In order to keep the public interest we suggest that open discussion is to be held online in November concerning domain names in .рф и .gov.ru domains, the design of the system and the functional content of this specialised resource.

Next slide, please. Currently the Ministry together with an expert community is preparing   technical specifications on completing and operating a specialised resource.  It is clear that a number of bodies in the Russian Federation have already gained experience in implementing similar projects.  Thus, Electronic Democracy, a state federal information programme e-democratia.ru has been designed, and though not fully operative, it works, and there is a large group of people who use it. 

Mr Medvedev, as everyone also remembers, there was a discussion within the Open Government at the investment forum in Sochi, and our colleagues from Russian regions spoke there, Mr Sobyanin was one of them, and colleagues from Tatarstan demonstrated what had been done within the framework of the Open Region regarding this kind of systems. That is why we think it unreasonable to set up something radically new but to use existing practices instead, and to utilise in full what we already have rather than breed an immeasurable number of sites. 

Which practices have been employed? What has been done so far? Which targets can be reached using the Electronic Democracy, for instance?  This includes raising the level of public political activity, cutting down corruption by setting up a high level of transparency. Of course, these measures are aimed at getting more people involved in social and political affairs and also at fighting corruption through creating greater transparency. The system can be used to post materials on issues that need to be resolved, specifying the organisation responsible for addressing these issues; post suggestions on the best way to handle various problems; vote – and this is very important – in support of the importance of an issue, in keeping, as I said earlier, with the principle of “one person – one vote”; take part in preparing inquiries to be forwarded to an elected organisation; and provide videos and photos as a commentary to the issues under discussion.  

It is important that about 700 proposals and about 80 collective inquiries were received during the trial operation of the Electronic Democracy system. A number of regions were particularly active, including the Ulyanovsk and Astrakhan regions, St. Petersburg, the Omsk Region and Moscow. We received about 1,000 calls to our telephone hotline and over 300 letters with suggestions on how to improve the operation of the system, something that gives us reason to believe that the foundations of the project have been laid. I would like to say again: we strongly suggest that the Russian Public Initiative be launched using our current experience, so that we can start legally significant public consultations on initiatives which collect 100,000 votes over the course of a year.

Next slide please. Without doubt any website or information system that is being developed and launched needs to be accompanied by the appropriate support and promotion. In our view, the top priority here is to ensure that the work of experts engaged in considering people’s initiatives is effective, because there have been many such projects in the past and we need to convince people in this country that this resource, rather than any other, will become the official site for objective, comprehensive and constructive consideration of people’s initiatives. For this purpose, among other things, we will have to integrate the Russian Public Initiative system currently under development into government websites. We do not want it to be an isolated resource but rather a resource that will be consolidated with our open information resource system, be part of the information resources of regional authorities and municipal bodies, be accessible by people with disabilities and also be accessible from mobile devices; that is, the system has to meet all modern requirements.

The last slide contains a list of measures that we plan to take. Our main concern is not the technological solution or the design or the ergonomics of the system which is now in the pipeline and will shortly be launched, although, of course, all these things are also very important. Our main concern is the organisation of our work and the practical steps to be taken by the authorities to consider and implement people’s initiatives, and translate them into concrete proposals for new laws and specific actions. We have to do this if we want to launch this project. As I understand, our next speaker will raise the issue of the importance of the public perception of this initiative. That is all from me. Thank you very much.

Dmitry Medvedev: When will the system become operational?

Nikolai Nikiforov: The technological basis has been put in place and the system is due to be launched by 15 April at the latest, but, in my view, we should be able to do it in early 2013. We need to complete some formalities associated with the preparation and approval of documents. The concept has already been approved and we plan to launch the system at the beginning of next year.  

Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, the idea didn’t even emerge until after May – I raised the issue about a year ago. This is not being done only for the government. Of course, the government is an important body, it is the highest executive body in the country but the system should have an impact on the activities of practically all significant authorities.  

I looked at how a similar system operates in the British Parliament on its website. Have you seen it?

Nikolai Nikiforov: Yes, I have.

Dmitry Medvedev: It is interesting: you can register right there on the website. They also have a requirement of 100,000 or 10,000 votes for an issue to be entered on the agenda for a meeting of the House of Commons. Our State Duma – and any other body, for that matter – could consider following suit. The reason for my bringing this issue up is that this solution is not intended for a restricted application. We need to create a platform that can be used to assess the performance of any government body and to raise, in a civilised manner, questions regarding any significant authority, because there are plenty of these authorities. Of course, we realise that there will be a huge variety of issues: tomorrow, for example, someone might offer to disband the police or do something else that will get a big “yes” vote. Nonetheless, public initiatives should be supported, though of course not the kind of initiative I just talked about.  

Now, Mr Oslon (speaking to Alexander Oslon, President of the National Public Opinion Foundation)…

Alexander Oslon: Mr Prime Minister, members of the commission,

let me look at this issue from a wider perspective. I want to talk about the people for whose sake all this is being done because without them, without the citizens of this country, the idea of the Open Government is purely theoretical. Our objective is to attract more people by getting them interested in the idea. The challenge for the Open Government is to open the door but there are not many people willing to enter. We have heard about dozens, hundreds and sometimes thousands of people in the reports on purchases, initiatives and other projects but, of course, our target figure should be hundreds of thousands and millions of people. On the one hand, this problem is rooted in public inertia that breeds on the lack of confidence, indifference, estrangement and boredom which are evoked by certain proposals from above. Therefore, the risk of having empty Internet sites, despite all our efforts, leads us to think of the need to alert people to our project and get them involved in it.

Indeed, there are engineers in charge of channels and hardware, computer programmers in charge of software and systems engineers who develop performance specifications and make sure that projects are carried out – however, these professions do not include specialists responsible for relations with people. Communication with people requires special skills, so I believe that social engineering methods are likely to help solve the task of attracting more people to the project. Next slide please. Social engineering is capable of responding to this challenge and to this open door, behind which there are no people, by fusing sociology with psychology, communications, web technologies, etc. This must bring in more people, generate more traffic and get things moving. Everyone is fully aware of this because everyone visits social networks and sees not idle talk but things that have started moving.  

But to make all this happen, we need a combination of sociological, socio-psychological and communication technologies, which are now developing in the world. I just wanted to specify professions which are emerging in connection with the Open Government project and specialists without whom the Open Government will not be truly open. The minimum vocabulary one needs to master in order to describe this range of problems and arouse people’s interest include terms like crowdsourcing, which means recruiting people to do a particular job – both crowdsourcing and outsourcing are jobs which have all features of a production process; facilitation – building human relationships; marketing – communicating with target groups taking into account the specifics of each group; spreading of viruses; distribution through a network; self-maintaining communication processes; and elements of gaming with elements of winning.

Dmitry Medvedev: It really scares me to read these words. They have set my teeth on edge from boredom – I mean what has been said about attracting people and getting things moving.  

Alexander Oslon: While what our citizens hear them say in the Open Government, which is being offered to them, sometimes sets their teeth on edge. This is not so much about having different outlooks as about speaking different languages.

Dmitry Medvedev: I was talking about crowdsourcing, facilitation, marketing, targeting, spreading of viruses and gaming – that’s all.

Alexander Oslon: I only mentioned these words as I did not want them to pass by unnoticed.

Dmitry Medvedev: You managed to do that.

Alexander Oslon: You have taken these words seriously. But now we are getting to more interesting things. I will talk about social energy and I suggest we call the issue I am presenting Sotsenergo. Next slide. The title of this slide encapsulates the approach which is being implemented on social networks. Now we do not need to theorise on this issue and it is no longer pseudo-academic talk. Facebook has about 1 billion users and the principle which is encapsulated in this title helps get things moving. “Activators Activate Activation.” Is this phrase a paradox or a prank? Neither. This is what the work with thousands, tens of thousands and millions of people on the Internet is all about.   

There are always people who are more active than others and they need to have reasons for passing on their enthusiasm to other people and also to have tools to do so. Despite all our enthusiasm and despite all our powers, we who are present here today represent a very small group of people whose commands, instructions or draft laws can gain the support of dozens, hundreds and thousands of people. People can comply with them or ignore them – it does not matter – what is important is to stir people into action, make them want to be involved because we cannot simply wait for them to come and take part in the Open Government projects, given they are not showing much enthusiasm to do so. Nor can we force them to do so. The only way to get them interested is activation: they should be activated by people who have already been activated, or by activators – not bosses, not pundits, not experts but by people like them. It is a self-organising process, which cannot be planned in advance. Despite my deep respect for the Ministry of Communications project to be launched in early 2013, only several thousand people will be there. And this will be good, because these people are there, the system works and it will be possible to report on this, and so on. But 100,000 people… No projects (excluding some very sensitive projects) launched by the state have involved 100,000 people, members of the public who came up with initiatives.

When over 100,000 people gathered on Bolotnaya Square, that was an absolutely historic event. And we are now saying that web initiatives have 100,000 participants. This is the scale that we have seen since last December. And we want to see many initiatives that will bring in not 100,000 but hundreds of thousands people. But the target is to attract millions; Mr Medvedev even mentioned 10 million people. This will require people of other professions; this means new professions and new methods. This is a new project with all project features, a concept, an architecture, a programme of action and so on. I set an ambitious target and the key performance indicators of this project are hundreds of thousands and millions of active participants, and the result is an active Open Government. I think that the first word is an absolutely keyword. Thank you.

Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you, Mr Oslon. I have purposefully drawn the attention of our audience to your presentation because people tend to fall asleep during the fourth presentation – and this presentation is not even the fourth but the fifth. As a result, people have given you the attention this matter deserves, and I agree with you that this task is very important, the task of involving the public in the activities of the Open Government. And I can say that we don’t have any major achievements in this area. Having said, it would be fair to note that other countries have had no great success either – that is an unbiased truth.  Most activity across social networks is of a different order. Sometimes it becomes part of a political campaign, such as presidential elections or something else, but overall it does not work as a mechanism as yet. 

How can we get people involved? How do we launch this process? Perhaps we should use the resources you mentioned. I have some doubts regarding the target number of people: 100,000 is a figure that is both too big and too small at the same time. For example, I saw today that 100,000 people supported an appeal to abolish transport tax. Are these 100,000 people real or is the figure inflated? The key thing for us is the measuring instrument itself. I agree that not all initiatives, even very important ones, can collect 10,000 supporters. However, it’s a question of a response to an idea. I can say something here that would prompt millions of people to write about it. And this is also a fact.

Alexander Oslon: Please don’t.

Dmitry Medvedev: Therefore, we realise how carefully the Open Government moderators should be in what they say, as well as public officials participating in this process. Everything we see, for example, when discussing education, is very often founded on an inadequate understanding of what is happening and sometimes simply on false information. Even the matter of reducing the number of higher educational institutions gets a great response and is discussed by different groups in very different ways.  I think that if we held a vote on this issue, it would attract 100,000 participants because it concerns a great number of students and so on. The mechanism launching and verifying this process is very important in my view. As for the result, I have to agree that the result should be a living government, an open government, and not a collection of setups established by presidential executive orders or governmental resolutions. Because otherwise this is a zero-sum game and completely pointless. Let’s see what comes of it.

Alexander Oslon: May I say just a few words?

Dmitry Medvedev: Go ahead.

Alexander Oslon: There have been tens and hundreds of projects in the world that have attracted people and have failed. Most often, these are projects initiated by governments, especially in Europe, in the EU. But there are projects…

Dmitry Medvedev: This allows the European Union and colleagues from governments to happily exist for many years.

Alexander Oslon: We could all exist quite happily without the people, there are no problems here.

Dmitry Medvedev: Well, that is a bit…

Alexander Oslon: But there are some successful projects. For example, Pepsi Refresh is not a governmental project, it is a business project, a brand project, but many millions of people participate in it. Finally, there is Wikipedia. Wikipedia is a typical project that people find so interesting that they want to get involved. Therefore the challenge is to transform the Open Government by attaching to it the kind of values that will attract people – otherwise they will not go there.

Dmitry Medvedev: But in addition to values, Mr Oslon, I think it is very important to have mechanisms for fixing people’s intentions because we are not creating a new social network – there are many networks that exist without our participation and they are successfully developing without paying attention to the decisions of states and governments, and will continue to grow regardless of our will.

We should create a mechanism that will make it possible to translate people’s real intentions into government decisions – this is a narrower task but no less complicated. I propose to continue our efforts along two directions: Mr Oslon’s direction and the Ministry’s direction.


* * *

After the meeting of the Government Commission for the Coordination of the Open Government, Minister of the Russian Federation Mikhail Abyzov spoke to journalists

Transcript of the Minister’s remarks:

Mikhail Abyzov: Today, we have held the first meeting of the Government Commission for the Coordination of the Open Government. The meeting participants, who included members of both the Government and the expert community, discussed vital issues related to the further development of the Open Government system.

The first issue discussed was the results of the Open Government-Open Ministry project, a pilot project by the Ministry of Education and Science. Under the project, results of six months of activities were reviewed and the experience gained by the Ministry was deemed positive and useful. A decision has been made to use best practices in the work of other ministries and departments. Also, the Ministry’s initiative to perform an independent audit of the Ministry expenses in 2012 with public oversight was supported. For this purpose, the Ministry’s public council will coordinate the corresponding technical assignment for performing the independent audit, which will include public examination of expenses of the Ministry of Education and Science as an executive body. During the next stage in 2013, proposals will be prepared on an independent audit of not only the ministry, but also universities and other educational institutions. Also, a decision has been made to consider the expedience of using this practice by other ministries and departments.

Today, we have also considered improving the system of public discussion of  government procurements worth over one billion roubles. This procedure was lunched as part of the Open Government this August. The meeting participants mentioned the necessity for improving this procedure, which implies that the public discussions may result in refusal or prohibition of procurement and expenses at the federal level. We think that following today’s discussions this procedure should be applied at the regional level as well. In this regard, we considered the positive experience gained by the Moscow Government. Mr Sobyanin (Sergei Sobyanin, Moscow Mayor) reported on the results of open public discussions of the city procurements and budget expenses over the past two years. 

Another very important step at today’s meeting was considering preparations for the implementation of so-called petitions by the Russian Public Initiative. The initiatives of citizens who gather over 100,000 supporting votes on the internet will necessarily be considered by the Government and introduced for the State Duma’s consideration as legislative initiatives. On April 15, 2013, this technological and regulatory platform will become fully operational. In addition, Mr Medvedev has ordered to consider the possibility of using this mechanism by all government bodies, including regional and municipal bodies, and to develop proposals on what should be done to implement these approaches and initiatives at other levels.

These are the main issues considered at today’s meeting of the Government Commission for the Coordination of the Open Government, chaired by the Prime Minister.