In monitoring, data collection is key. Thus, it is crucial to have the right monitoring tools that will enable you to gather data in a systematic manner. When adopting monitoring tools, pick the one appropriate for your particular methodology. Prior to selecting or designing a monitoring tool, think about how and where you will use it. Will you go into official meetings of a public institution regularly and record what is and is not happening? Or will you go out in the field into communities where a program is rolling out and record what is and is not happening? What questions are you looking to answer with the information you collect from your initiative? Understanding the needs and motivations of the target audience will inform the approach to the tool you use, questions you develop, and the way the audience will ultimately access and engage with the data. Your monitoring tools enable you to set the scope and direction of your new monitoring initiative.
Some of the main monitoring tools used by civic groups in political process monitoring are outlined below.
Observation checklists are tools to record actions and behaviors of public officials in a political process. While they are mostly used to check actions taken or not taken in a public meeting or official gathering, they are often designed to record qualitative information, such as what an official said, the questions they asked or how they responded. Such forms are administered for every meeting or gathering attended by officials under monitoring and recorded in a database for processing and analysis.
Observation checklists are mostly used in parliamentary monitoring and campaign monitoring, but monitoring groups also use them for monitoring government follow-through to check if a program is following the guidelines or legislation of the program, as well as in shadow reporting to record government actions or inactions.
Citizen Report Cards
Citizen reporting cards are used for initiatives exercising social audits as a methodology to monitor a government project or program. They are administered by civic volunteers and enumerators and are conducted with service users, intended beneficiaries, or community members affected by the government project or program.
A common form of a citizen report card is the Public Expenditure Tracking Survey (PETS), which tracks a program’s expenditures. However, citizen report cards can also be used for monitoring various public services.
Tracking sheets are spreadsheets or simple pieces of software with certain preset indicators to monitor government performance. They can be used to monitor institutional transparency by tracking publication of public information and documents online, as well as to track responses to access-to-public-information requests and other citizen requests. They are sometimes combined with observation forms, or the two can complement each other.
The Open Budget Survey19 that aims to monitor a country’s budget transparency may be monitored through a tracking sheet. Civic groups also use tracking sheets to monitor if the government is following all the steps of a political process as written in the legislation that regulates that process, such as the budget process or the law-making process.
Online Crowdsourcing Platform
Online crowdsourcing platforms are pieces of software developed to gather citizen reports or complaints for the purpose of monitoring government responsiveness and/or political accountability.
Platforms such as Fix My Community20 are designed to allow citizens to report a problem in their community or a corruption activity, and the citizens themselves, along with the administrator, monitor the government institutions’ response to those reports. They are also used by parliamentary monitoring organizations to gather citizen questions for MPs and monitor MP response rates. Crowdsourcing can be an effective method of tracking government failures or crimes, but they can also further undermine political institutions and come with a host of problems of either malicious use or reprisals against whistleblowers. Tools like this are most appropriate when used to help governments monitor and follow through on concrete service delivery issues, like fixing potholes. Here too, crowdsourcing should be used with caution. For example, enabling citizens to report failures of service delivery without connecting those reports with the government authorities capable of resolving them could serve to undermine citizen trust in government.
As with any technology used in monitoring initiatives, crowdsourcing platforms should be designed and deployed with a human-centered design approach. Consider the needs and constraints of those who will use the platform to report, as well as the individuals who will receive the report. The profile of these audiences will help you determine what type of platform is best suited for your monitoring effort, as well as what information should be collected.
Data Mining Software
Data mining software is a tool designed to extract, or “scrape,” data from official online sources to monitor public officials’ actions. Such software is used by organizations to scrape data from official public procurement portals to expose potential conflict of interests and raise other red flags. It is also used by parliamentary monitoring groups to scrape MP votes and other actions from portals of parliaments. Data mining software is also becoming popular with groups monitoring social media posts of public officials and public institutions.
As a monitoring tool, data mining software must be integrated into an online platform that displays the information in an organized and structured manner. Thus, using this type of monitoring tool requires extensive IT skills. Nevertheless, once designed properly, this tool requires only some maintenance because it automatically processes and displays the scraped data.
19 “Open Budget Survey,” International Budget Partnership, accessed October 5, 2022, https://internationalbudget.org/open-budget-survey.
20 “Fix My Community,” DemTools, updated April 4, 2022, https://dem.tools/guides-and-tools/fix-my-community.