Truthiness, as defined by the American political commentator and comedian, Stephen Colbert, is “what you know in your heart;” that is, when something seems or feels true even if it’s not necessarily true. Misperceptions reign in an environment where truthiness is prized over the use of data and analysis in civic discussion. This was a challenge alluded in 2017 in the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s Kosovo Constraints Analysis. The Kosovo Constraints Analysis cites a myriad of examples of government data being dated, poor, withheld, unavailable, non-machine readable, or difficult to obtain. This closed data environment was manifested by an adversarial political culture where policymakers and civil servants avoided sharing data in an attempt to control information about government performance. Misperceptions reigned, investors were skittish, and citizens complained on the basis of what felt true as the data that could underscore their arguments remained unavailable.
In the ensuing four years, the Millennium Foundation Kosovo (MFK) has launched the…
Dig Data Challenges, open data competitions designed “to foster productive partnerships between the Government, private sector, and civil society, support innovation in data use and analysis, and develop a culture of information sharing and evidence-based decision-making.”
These competitions, the third of which launched in January 2021, have incentivized citizens, civil society, the media, academia, think tanks, the private sector, and civil servants to come together as solution-oriented partners using “open data to help produce tools and analysis that responds to Government needs, thereby creating examples of constructive relationships.”
The Energy Dig Data Competition is an opportunity to address the frustrations that can come from opaque government decision-making, particularly vis-à-vis specialized institutions such as Kosovo’s Energy Regulatory Office (ERO). Twenty-two organizations competed in the challenge and all the solutions under consideration are designed to inform and empower the public in making better energy choices and advocating for a more resilient, sustainable energy sector.
ERO is an example of broader culture change happening in the country as both prior to, and as part of their partnership in the Energy Dig Data Competition, the agency has enthusiastically released open and accessible energy data. This step has strengthened their transparency and enables increased public involvement in the energy sector. Prior misperceptions and distrust of ERO by the private sector and civil society can either be challenged by the data or channeled into evidence-based interventions. Engaging on these terms is not only a low-cost, low-effort tactic to promote government institutions’ trust and credibility with citizens, it also can lead to creative, cooperative problem-solving.
For example, an apparent awardee noticed that demand for energy efficient appliances in Kosovo is low relative to other comparable European countries. The organization will collaborate with the Ministry of Trade and Industry to reduce value-added taxes on imported high efficiency appliances to make them more competitive and appealing. In addition to the national benefit of energy savings, this is a triple win for appliance stores, customers, and the apparent awardee. The appliance stores benefit from a communications campaign encouraging consumers to buy the new appliances. The customers save money on both their appliances and electricity bills. The apparent awardee receives a cut of the appliance store’s profits, thereby sustaining their efforts.
ERO’s willingness to share data is the first stage in demonstrating the value of open data in Kosovo’s political culture. Publishing the data in easily readable formats holds the government and the institutions liable to public scrutiny—but also open to public solutions. This dynamic establishes greater citizen trust in government institutions. It is in this spirit that MCC and MFK will continue to push for Kosovo’s government and other institutions to open and publish their data, and to empower individuals, civil society, and the private sector to create useful solutions that empower citizens to understand what the government is doing, navigate the complex challenges that they are facing, and advocate for better opportunities.