About Guxo and its Initiative Objectives
In 2021, Guxo, an Albanian youth-led civil society organization, launched an initiative to monitor public procurement in the education sector to enhance transparency, accountability, and citizen participation. Following a devastating 2019 earthquake, the Albanian government allocated €33.4 million for the reconstruction of public schools in Albania, aiming to build 37 new schools in Albania in 2021. Guxo’s initiative aimed to monitor the public procurements managed by the Municipality of Tirana for the school reconstruction program and analyze the spending data to assess whether key institutions were fulfilling their responsibilities, uncover potential cases of corruption or abuse, and identify gaps in transparency and citizen participation throughout the process. By presenting their findings and recommendations to key audiences, Guxo aimed to:
- Foster more responsive, responsible, and transparent public procurement processes; and
- Increase citizen awareness and access to information about public procurement.
Monitoring the Political Process
Prior to launching their initiative, Guxo conducted a political economy analysis to assess the power dynamics among stakeholders, the public procurement regulatory environment, the accessibility of procurement information, and other monitoring efforts focused on the government’s fiscal responsibilities. This analysis helped inform the planning and design of the monitoring campaign.
Because of the technical nature of public procurement monitoring, Guxo also sought to build their knowledge and skills on Albania’s public procurement system and public procurement monitoring more broadly. With NDI’s technical support, the Guxo team learned about the legislation, institutions, procedures, and actors that manage Albania’s public finance system and the strategies and techniques to independently monitor procurement. This allowed Guxo to produce an initial monitoring plan, including data collection targets and an analytical framework.
Once they had the monitoring campaign parameters in place, Guxo held a series of workshops with their team to understand their key target audiences and how to take a human-centered design approach to implementation and communications. After conducting a power-interest mapping session and revising their target audience analysis, the team concluded the key target audiences of the campaign were teachers and the municipal government. They developed user personas that identified the needs and motivations of the target audiences relative to the campaign objectives, in order to ground the data analysis and communications plan in an approach that directly engages these audiences and better meets their needs and priorities. Following the workshops, Guxo finalized its monitoring methodology, data collection tools, and an action plan that outlined the initiative’s phases, timeline, and activities. Guxo’s monitoring tools included an observation form to track indicators for each school construction project, a survey for school community stakeholders, and a database in Excel to catalog and track the data collected.
Data Collection and Analysis
Guxo created monitoring tools to gather data from primary and secondary sources. Secondary sources included scraping publicly available data from open procurement sites and submitting information requests to the Municipality of Tirana and primary sources included conducting site observation visits and interviews with stakeholders from the school communities. Guxo conducted over two dozen on-site observation visits to project sites and surrounding communities to assess progress and gather stakeholder feedback. Utilizing the survey questions, Guxo met with different school community stakeholders, including teachers, students, and parents, to better understand their expectations for reconstruction and their experience to date engaging with the reconstruction process.
The inclusion of site observation visits, as a direct form of monitoring, allowed Guxo to develop a relationship with the school community and bring them into the campaign. As a result, in addition to collecting data and gaining a better understanding of the local perspective, this built a relationship with the communities that enabled better follow-on communications and information sharing.
NDI helped Guxo engage a public procurement expert to facilitate a planning workshop on data processing and analysis that included sessions on refining and organizing data, analyzing and comparing procurement contracts, and identifying complex patterns in the data. Guxo developed a framework for identifying integrity and collusion risks and developed corresponding risk indicators. For example, some of the risk indicators were to identify the tendency of single-bidder contracts and the buyer share of awarded contracts. Based on this framework, Guxo broadened its data collection efforts to include historical data over the past three years to incorporate a comparative analysis, which provided new insights into the risk indicators.
After completing the data collection and reviewing the risk indicators, Guxo analyzed the data to identify critical transparency, accessibility, and citizen engagement gaps as well as areas of risk for malfeasance or corruption. Following the analysis, Guxo developed a series of recommendations for its key audiences designed to:
- Promote more responsive, responsible, and transparent sharing of public procurement data online by the Municipality of Tirana; and
- Create more opportunities for public consultation on reconstruction efforts and raise awareness of existing channels for citizens to engage with the Municipality of Tirana on public procurement projects.
In order to achieve these campaign objectives, Guxo developed a strategic communications plan that would ensure the messaging around the recommendations resonated with their target audiences in ways that would call them to action.
Communicating your Monitoring
To disseminate their findings and recommendations, Guxo developed a monitoring report and targeted communications strategies for its target audiences - teachers and the Tirana Municipality. With an understanding of the core monitoring findings and recommendations, Guxo continued the human-centered design process to understand how their target audiences would engage with this information and how best to craft the messaging to achieve the campaign’s objectives. Through a series of exercises, Guxo began by confirming two key audiences to prioritize their outreach to the Municipality of Tirana and public school teachers. For each target audience, Guxo brainstormed the messages and type of engagement that would most directly resonate with them. Guxo built user stories for how different subsets of actors within the target audiences would engage with the campaign’s findings and recommendations based on their needs and motivations. This allowed Guxo to explore and challenge assumptions around what format of information and messaging would reach the audiences most effectively. To validate the user stories and messages, Guxo conducted a group interview with teachers from local public schools to gather their perspectives and feedback on the findings and communications strategies. These exercises helped uncover any assumptions about the target audience’s needs and motivations, examine local power dynamics, and identify potentially sensitive topics. Based on these insights, Guxo was able to refine the communications strategy to elicit more powerful responses from the target audiences in ways that would advance their monitoring objectives.
Following the feedback sessions, Guxo held a prototyping session to design two products for its target audiences. One product was a draft of an online public procurement database designed to demonstrate to the Municipality of Tirana how and in what format public procurement data could be presented in a more accessible format. To ensure political sensitivity, Guxo brought the government into the process by meeting with representatives to brief them on their findings and recommendations that were forthcoming. By briefing the representatives ahead of the official release, Guxo aimed to establish trust and a relationship with the municipality that could facilitate greater openness to listening to and adopting the recommendations. In their messaging, Guxo also leveraged the municipality’s current political objectives, for example, Tirana’s reputation as the 2022 European Youth Capital, to promote greater openness and collaboration.
The other product involved a webpage on Guxo’s website with concise, easy-to-understand information for teachers and the broader school community to learn about the status of the school reconstruction projects, how to engage in the process to gather information, and provide feedback to the municipality, and the public consultations held to-date. This webpage presents a simplified version of Guxo’s monitoring data that tailors the messaging to share information that is most relevant to the school communities and motivates engagement, rather than emphasizing the technical details or negative findings. The goal is to raise awareness among school communities around not only updates in the school procurement processes and the monitoring findings, but also about the benefits of engaging in the public procurement process for school reconstruction and the type of communication and accountability they should be able to expect from the municipality. Adopting an iterative approach, Guxo intends to regularly observe engagement with their webpage to adapt the messaging as needed and is considering expanding on it to create social media and WhatsApp campaigns to present the school communities with accessible information on how to get engaged.
Evaluating the Impact
In the fall of 2022, Guxo was still in the early days of communicating the findings and recommendations as well as evaluating the impact of its campaign. Through gathering critical information about the level of citizen awareness and engagement in the school reconstruction process and the accessibility of public procurement data more generally, Guxo was able to channel this insight into carefully crafted recommendations and targeted communications strategies. Through regular engagement with school communities during the data collection process, Guxo found that students and parents began showing an increased interest in the reconstruction process and expressed a desire for more information about how to engage and advocate for their interests. Guxo intends to build on its connections with the municipality and the school communities, particularly students, to serve as a bridge to enable greater communication and to advance mechanisms for students to channel their interests and feedback to the municipality.
- Understand the skills and knowledge needed for public procurement monitoring. Evaluate internally the skills and knowledge that the group brings to the table and where there are gaps that need to be developed, and bring in the needed expertise as early on in the monitoring campaign as possible. In particular, this is true for the skills needed to understand the public procurement system and to develop and implement the monitoring initiative accordingly, particularly the data collection and analysis.
- Plan to dedicate enough time to the preparation phase and the data collection phase. One of Guxo’s major takeaways is the need to dedicate sufficient time to data collection. Depending on the monitoring purpose and the transparency and accessibility of the data, the data collection process could take multiple months. Relatedly, it is important to build in additional time for data processing and analysis, which in Guxo’s case, led to an additional round of data collection before the analysis was able to be completed. To support effective planning and implementation of the campaign, it is critical to determine data analysis indicators when finalizing the monitoring methodology and to develop the communications plan as early as possible to prevent delays during implementation. The timeline will be different for each project, but Guxo’s general recommendation is monitoring preparation (months 1-4), data collection (months 3-8), data analysis (1 week), communications (ongoing).
- Consider how to leverage the unique advantages of youth in monitoring. Public officials might be more willing to share information.
Data Collection Challenges
During the data collection process, Guxo faced challenges collecting information because the data in Albania is not fully machine-readable. This increased the challenges related to the data collection process because Guxo needed to use different strategies to access information, including manually extracting the data and cross-checking it across several sources. As such, the data collection process proved more intensive regarding the time and manual labor required than Guxo had initially anticipated. Guxo also ran into difficulties with certain public procurement data not having been made publicly available at all. As a solution, Guxo conducted outreach to the relevant authorities to request access to the missing information. This further slowed the data collection process as Guxo frequently needed to submit multiple requests to different institutions before receiving the information. Based on these experiences, Guxo subsequently issued a recommendation to the Municipality of Tirana to strengthen practices for both open and accessible data.