About DeFacto and its Initiative Objectives
DeFacto is a local watchdog organization in Moldova that began monitoring presidential campaign promises in 2017, and by 2019 had expanded its efforts to include monitoring MP campaign promises and performance.
DeFacto was motivated to begin monitoring campaign promises and MP actions after observing a lack of MP accountability toward fulfilling their campaign promises. DeFacto also identified limited citizen knowledge of MP promises and achievements and a lack of awareness of MP roles and responsibilities.59 Its objectives were thus to:
- Improve Member of Parliament (MP) accountability to citizens, through fulfilling campaign promises, solving major voter issues, and making the widest possible use of the MP powers provided by law; and
- Increase citizen awareness of the responsibilities of MPs and demonstrate how responsive and open the MPs are to citizens in order to help voters make more informed decisions.
DeFacto began monitoring MPs’ campaign promises and performance as a means to promote greater accountability and transparency, improve MP performance, and generate greater public trust in parliament. DeFacto monitors MP performance related to the three primary functions of MP legal authorities, as provided for in the constitution: 1) actions during parliamentary procedures, 2) intervening between the administration and citizens, and 3) listening to and gathering information from citizens on the issues that matter to them.
Monitoring the Political Process with Technology Tools
At the beginning of the initiative, DeFacto’s monitoring target was MPs from newly formed single-mandate districts. Single-mandate MPs, at the time representing 51 out of 101 MPs, are charged with representing a geographically distinct group of voters rather than their parties or county as a whole. DeFacto monitored 46 single-mandate MPs, including three from the diaspora and two from separatist regions.
To mobilize the community and other organizations around this initiative, DeFacto works with 18 accountability partners. These CSO partners are responsible for tracking MP activities in their respective regions. They receive training from DeFacto and NDI on how to gather and verify data and how to represent their public constituencies. The accountability partners regularly monitor the respective MPs’ activity and collect the data to produce monthly reports. Data is collected from parliamentary plenary sessions, which are livestreamed; standing committee sessions; the official Parliament website, which lists information such as attendance and bill sponsorship; and DeFacto’s Facebook social media account. After reviewing the data collection process, DeFacto developed online reporting forms through Google Forms for MPs to self-report and provide evidence of their activities. DeFacto cross-references these responses for accuracy. As part of the monitoring initiative, DeFacto developed two tools: the MP Accountability Tracker, an online platform that tracks and evaluates MP’s official activities, and an online survey tool, Părerea Ta (“Your Opinion”).
For the MP Accountability Tracker, DeFacto developed a weighted point system to calculate an MPs accountability to their constituency, which is then ranked against the other MPs. Points are awarded based on a weighted criteria, such as proposing amendments or attending committee meetings. MPs receive double points when a certain legal authority is used to fulfill a campaign promise or to fulfill a direct response from citizens. These ratings serve to generate public trust in their representatives and motivate MPs to be more responsive to their constituents’ needs and transparent in reporting their activities. The website extension for the MP Accountability Tracker was created by DeFacto’s developer and is hosted on DeFacto’s website, where the information, including the MP ratings, the data collected and the rating criteria, is made publicly available. DeFacto reviews the tracker methodology and updates the online platform on a monthly basis.
The Părerea Ta survey tool helps DeFacto’s accountability partners, elected officials and CSOs collect and aggregate citizens’ views on different issues. Users can design surveys that target specific groups or the general public, and receive answers online in real time. With this tool as well as with the accountability tracker, which provides the contact information for each MP reviewed, DeFacto aims to provide constituents with channels of communication with both civic and elected leaders.
In order to collect user feedback on the information DeFacto publishes and improve the user experience (UX) design, DeFacto has integrated the website data analytics widget Hotjar on its accountability tracker website. Similarly, in order to collect feedback and communicate with respondents, owners of the Părerea Ta surveys can collect respondents’ contact information and compile the contacts using a downloadable MS Excel file. Both tools were developed from scratch and tested along the development process to make improvements by incorporating feedback from DeFacto team members, NDI staff and partners. DeFacto continues to refine Părerea Ta based on user feedback and consultations with NDI and other partners.
Strategic Engagement of Policymakers
Throughout its initiative, DeFacto has aimed to establish relationships with MPs and build trust in its work as a non-partisan organization. Initially, DeFacto used a variety of channels to communicate the purpose of the monitoring initiative with MPs and to request information, such as Facebook, phone calls, SMS messages and Viber. However, DeFacto received limited responses from MPs and, moving forward, decided to only use official communication channels to avoid any appearance of bias. DeFacto presented the Accountability Tracker to a number of MPs, and managed to secure commitments from some to submit monthly reports on their own activities to DeFacto. However, some MPs have been more willing to collaborate with DeFacto than others. DeFacto has faced some claims from lower-ranked MPs who argue that DeFacto does not have the authority to judge them. While the leading political party has historically been less supportive of the initiative, some of its members received high rankings and, as such, the initiative has not received significant pushback from the administrative bodies of parliament. In fact, the leading party began publishing the results of their highest rated members on the party’s Facebook pages.
Communicating the Findings
DeFacto publishes the information and findings from its monitoring work on its website as well as in regular monitoring reports. To disseminate its monitoring results more broadly, DeFacto sends its reports as press releases to media outlets that then publish the findings. Some outlets have gone on to publish stories related to the monitoring findings, and one organization covers the ratings of the MPs from the region in which it is located.
As part of its communications strategy, DeFacto created communities of 70+ people on the secure messaging application Viber that are coordinated by an accountability partner or a local official. Organized by geographical location, these communities are a space for members to discuss the issue of accountability among their political representatives, the MP activities that are conducted in their locality, and the local priorities. DeFacto assists the communities with training on how to conduct strategic communications with MPs, and some communities have coordinated meetings with their MPs. Some MPs have also held meetings with the accountability partners, and the meeting outcomes are then communicated to the Viber communities.
Evaluating the Impact
Since beginning the monitoring initiative, DeFacto has seen an increase in MP responses to their requests for information on their activities. DeFacto’s more recent publication of its findings saw a public response from citizens taking to social media to vocalize support to MPs who received high ratings and to call out those with low ratings. DeFacto plans to continue raising awareness of the initiative’s tools and increasing public awareness and transparency around the issue of MP accountability.
- Recognize the iterative nature of the monitoring process, including the development of tools, which requires continuously searching for ways to improve the methodology and the accessibility of tools to help citizens engage. For example, after feedback, DeFacto developed QR codes to allow citizens to more easily access Părerea Ta.
- Publish regular monitoring reports to increase awareness of an organization’s work and build its organizational reputation. DeFacto found that publishing regular reports increased its public recognition and its status as a trustworthy monitoring organization. DeFacto is seeking to publish additional content, such as blog posts and different types of reports, to further engage the public on information around key issues.
- Start by working with a small group of elected officials who believe in the issues and can “champion” accountability initiatives to begin to shift the political culture toward one of accountability and responsiveness.
- Make data accessible to the public so that interested parties can use the data for their own initiatives. DeFacto is shifting to an open data concept for their website so that the public, civic activists and the media can use the raw data for their own activism or initiatives. This helps citizens perform their own monitoring work.
59 DeFacto conducted a survey of 46 constituencies, with approximately 100 people surveyed in each constituency, that found roughly 70% of respondents knew who their MP was, but there was little knowledge overall of the promises and achievements made by MPs.