How to create powerful citizens: students learn how to demand transparency in public procurement

Fighting Corruption: The Next Generation

What happens when you take a group of young people and give them a taste of citizen power?

The answer: Lots!

“So, you want us to become snitches?!”

That was one of the first reactions we got, in response to our idea.

Our plan was this: run a training lab to make a group of young people aware of their power as citizens.

The aim? To get them to understand the role they can play in making public procurement more transparent. A big ask? Perhaps. But our experience has shown that it can be done, and with positive results that could help shape the future.

The Power of Youth

Engaged citizens!

In the fight against corruption, young people represent the future.

Our setting was Madonie, in the province of Palermo, Sicily. The area has an ageing, shrinking population. That means it’s even more important to convince students of the importance of exercising their power as citizens.

With a group of 13 students, it’s true to say that we didn’t really know what to expect. But with a bit of creative thinking they all got on board and really surprised us.

A Hard Topic for Students?

Ok, ok, so public procurement is clearly not what teenagers spend most of their time thinking about!

But by using the school time that is allocated for work experience, and by trying to make it fun, we were able to get them on board. For the first time these students were able to get an idea of public procurement.

Then they got the chance to really get involved and see what citizen activism is really about.

The Path to Informed Citizens

The example of Madonie could offer a model for training elsewhere

We divided the students into three groups, keeping them with others from the same areas.

Then we assigned each group a project linked to Amapola’s external monitoring activities, which are part of the overall effort to trial Integrity Pacts on local EU-funded projects. All these projects are centred on social accountability, with the students being assigned projects relating to energy efficiency.

A steep learning curve

The experience of the students demonstrated lots about the state of public procurement generally. Some students had an easy job: documents made available and good transparency from the contracting authorities.

But others were not so lucky. Some students were faced with missing documents, or very unfriendly websites to use. Some of the students even interacted with a contracting authority that had demanded a fee for printouts of key documents. These are exactly the kind of issues facing those working on Integrity Pacts.

The authority eventually consented — and the students received their information, as well as a valuable life lesson!

The groups took very different approaches. Some worked on a PowerPoint, others on a poster and the final group produced a video. We have to be honest: we didn’t really know what to expect from them! But we were really pleased with their engagement.

The fact that there were concrete suggestions made –targeted at the municipal authorities — is testament to just how carefully they were thinking about the issues, and the wider impact this kind of exercise could produce.

All of this came together in a public presentation on a special date: the 70th anniversary of the Italian Constitution. This date is shared by the 1992 assassination of Judge Giovanni Falcone, a useful reminded for those who care about citizen power and the rule of law.

The future is bright

So, have we produced 13 young people who dream of public procurement processes?!

What do you mean teenagers don’t spend their time thinking about public procurement?!

Well, probably not yet…

But the students have had an experience that has shown them the essence of citizen power. They’ve seen how public money gets spent, and how easy it is for that money to be spent without public scrutiny.

They’ve also exercised their power as engaged citizens — the seeds have been sown!

And what’s more, it’s unlikely this council office will say no the next time someone requests documents on procurement…!

As we look for the lessons here, we can see that we have a project model that could be replicated in lots of schools in the region.

If we can open students’ eyes to how their future taxes are being spent, then we are already halfway to a new generation of active citizens. And that’s a brighter future for all of us.

This blog post is based on work under the Integrity Pacts project, coordinated by Transparency International and 15 partners in 11 EU countries, with funding from the European Commission. For more information, have a look at the project websiteIf you need more information, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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