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Envisioning the future through e-transparency: Using OGD platforms to monitor government capacity in achieving policy goals

Abstract

In this study, a method was developed to allow a civil society organization to seek public budget information using open government data (OGD) available on platforms. Accordingly, an empirical study was conducted based on Design Science Research (DSR) to address how to monitor the future outcome of national education policy through e-transparency tools. The method designed, represented in a flowchart tool, revealed some aspects regarding the implications of e-transparency for the monitoring and projection of public policy accomplishment, identifying and addressing five constraints for the use of OGD platforms: granularity, traceability, correlation, accessibility, and usability. When monitoring is possible, civil society is interested in using the information to project the future outcomes of public policy rather than monitor the past, which creates a feature in envisioning the future public policy accomplishment.

1.Introduction

This article explores how electronic transparency tools, particularly OGD platforms, can be used to monitor the future outcomes of public policy, as well as to identify constraints related to the use of OGD that directly affect users and their ability to use OGD platforms to monitor such policies. Citizens, non-governmental organizations, and other groups can demand transparency to promote their interests and monitor state actions. In this context, e-transparency refers to making state actions public through the use of computerized systems (Meijer, 2009). Recently, there has been a huge rise in the amount of government data released on platforms by public administrations globally, with OGD platforms aimed at enhancing transparency and participation.

In this regard, studies provided examples of the types of OGD utilization, effects of OGD usage, a condition that moderates these effects, and who are identified as users (Safarov et al., 2017). Scholars have explored the benefits, barriers, contextual factors, corruption fights, and the possibility to monitor past government actions from open data usage (Ruijer et al., 2020). Also, authors have explored issues related to poor data quality which potentially hamper efficient reuse of open data (Vetrò et al., 2016). However, most of these studies that concentrate on open data platforms and datasets are normative. Also, it has not been acknowledged that e-transparency and tools, like OGD platforms, also can enable civil society to monitor government capacity to achieve public policy goals in the future, which is explored in this article.

In Brazil, there is a long-term plan for education policy, as expressed in the National Education Plan (NEP). The NEP is a public policy with directives, strategies, and goals to promote schooling in the country between 2014 and 2024. The federal government is responsible for investments in many actions to achieve the NEP goals, which are expressed on the government budget. The public budget is shaped by a set of laws and regulations that oblige the state to plan and account for expenditure and investments (Giacomoni, 2012), and is connected to public policies for the development of the nation, such as education. Also, the Brazilian federal government has provided a transparency web portal since 2010 and an OGD platform since 2012, with data regarding the performance of the national education policy, expenditure, and forecast investments. In this context, the Marist Solidarity Foundation and the Marist Center for the Aid and Support of Children (CEDIN), a non-profit organization working in the education area, monitor government investments, identifying possible problems, and suggesting alternatives to correct the planned trajectory of the education policy.

Guided by the question of how to monitor the future outcome of national education policy through e-transparency tools, a method was developed to seek information on government budget execution for monitoring and control of the goals of federal public policy for education. Within the design perspective, the particular approach of Design Science Research (DSR) was adopted, which seeks solutions through the production of artifacts, transforming the existing situation into a desirable scenario (Hevner et al., 2004). DSR is usually employed in the development of software artifacts, information systems, and technology design projects, herein, the artifact is a working method. Although conceptually, this method development has been highlighted by some authors (Hevner et al. 2004), there is a lack of empirical development of these works (Thuan et al., 2019).

The scope of the research exceeds the usual monitoring of public policies via e-transparency to investigate whether, with the resources planned and expressed in the budget laws, the government will be able to achieve the goals assumed in the NEP. The design of the method materialized in a flowchart tool has provided the ability to respond to the question, reaching conclusions regarding the implications of OGD platforms monitoring public policy planning in the Brazilian context. Additionally, the developed method allows us to identify and address some constraints of OGP platforms that directly affect users and their ability to use, such as the lack of granularity, traceability, correlation, accessibility, and usability.

There is extensive literature regarding how governments should open data, provide information, and improve e-transparency (e.g., Meijer et al., 2012; Dawes et al., 2016; Ruijer et al., 2017) and related to the OGD data quality (e.g., Safarov et al., 2017; Vetrò et al., 2016). The theoretical contribution that this article seeks is to understand how interested citizens, for example, civil society organizations, are making use of government e-transparency tools, in this case, OGD platforms, to influence the results of future policies in countries like Brazil. We also seek to identify which restrictions on the use of OGD are directly affecting users and their ability to use OGD to perform this monitoring. From a practical viewpoint, the study aids the search for a solution to a specific problem of an organization: the need for a tool for monitoring the future outcomes of public policies. It can inspire other organizations in the path of the same objectives.

The first section presents the theme, with the e-transparency concepts leading to the Brazilian context and DSR on the e-government literature detailed in the second section. The methodological procedures used for data collection and analysis are explained in section three and section four presents the findings. Section five discusses the results, with a conclusion provided in section six.

2.E-transparency and OGD platforms

E-transparency refers to making state actions public using computerized systems (Meijer, 2009). It is related to “online access to timely, complete, usable and accurate information on policy process” (Field, 2019, p. 6). Some authors believe that e-transparency will empower citizens in the democratic process (Lopes, 2009; Bezerra, 2008; Merry, 2011), while others believe that governments will use e-transparency to increase their control over people and those in power will only publicize the information that they deem to be convenient (Akutsu & Pinho, 2002; Dreyfus, 2008). Additionally, recent empirical research demonstrated that, to date, e-transparency has failed to foster democratic processes (Ruijer et al., 2017). There are also those with a more pragmatic view, recognizing in e-transparency a potential for a more participative form of democracy (Cunha & Miranda, 2013; Heald, 2006; Ribeiro, 2013), enabling citizens to participate more directly in government decision-making.

Public information is a social right, explicitly guaranteed in the legislation of most democratic countries. In Brazil, it is included in the Federal Constitution of 1988 and Law 12.527/2011, known as the Freedom of Information Act. In many countries, the effectiveness of these laws is directly linked to the implementation of initiatives based on ICT (Relly & Sabharwal, 2009), especially on computer-based systems, which offers a new approach to the creation of transparency and promotion of social control (Bertot et al., 2010), like OGD platforms (Ribeiro, 2013; Ruidger et al., 2020).

From an optimistic viewpoint, access to government information would facilitate the monitoring (Bimber, 2001) and vigilance of representatives and institutions (Bezerra, 2008; Merry, 2011). By having access to these data, the public can be better informed regarding the political process, which would lead citizens to make informed choices and communicate with their representatives and government agencies (Fiel, 2019).

However, other studies are not so optimistic. Initiatives founded on the Internet and other computerized systems as a tool for transparency and social control of public policies are not guaranteed success in every country that implements them and does not always lead to advances in transparency (Bertot et al., 2010). Sometimes, e-transparency creates new behaviors that are considered corrupt (Heeks, 2005), favoring those who know how to operate data, websites, and electronic tools (Wescott, 2001). In fact, the use of e- transparency can produce very different results in different countries and cultures (Heeks, 2005). The success of initiatives based on websites, web portals, and the Internet as a strategy for social control will depend on issues of implementation, education, and acceptance of these electronic tools by citizens and local culture (Bertot et al., 2010), as transparency tools are often limited by problems of ability, research capacity, language, legal and political context, technological literacy, sufficient technological infrastructure, and trust in social institutions (Bertot, 2009; Jaeger & Thompson, 2003; Singh & Sahu, 2008; Przeybilovicz et al., 2017).

The discussion regarding the transparency of government actions has become particularly relevant given the rapid growth and evolution of the Internet and OGD platforms. OGD platforms should enable data discussion as well as facilitate collaboration between government and citizens (Ruidger et al., 2020). Globally, including Brazil, OGD platforms have been created to make information available from many government spheres. Since 2004, the Brazilian federal government started to implement the first transparency portal, being a co-founder-member of Open Government Partnership in 2011, leading to the launch of the first OGD platform in 2012.

In OGD initiatives, governments supply data available that is either in their interests or those of society, in the hope to publicize their actions. Concerning transparency, this should go beyond making information available about government activities and embody the proactive and systematic publication of information in a format that can be easily reused. Thus, the central hypothesis in the OGD policy is that the release of public data can be of prominent social and economic value, accountability, and social control (Da Silva Craveiro & Albano, 2017). However, OGD studies highlighted that a key problem of OGD lies not so much in its disclosure, but the lack of OGD use (Whitmore, 2014; Jaakola et al., 2015).

Several studies provided examples that contribute to showing how issues related to poor data quality can be widespread, potentially hampering efficient reuse of open data. Problems of accuracy, aggregation, and precision in OGD (Allison, 2010; Berners-Lee, 2006), such as understandability, time aspects: timeliness and expiration, accuracy, completeness, traceability and, compliance (Vetrò et al., 2016). In this regard, there are strong theoretical arguments that the quality of data is a prerequisite for obtaining better effects from OGD initiatives and utilization. Potential users and user groups cannot anticipate the expected benefits that can be achieved, thus, users may be unwilling to utilize OGD if data quality is low (Safarov et al., 2017).

The literature on e-transparency presents contrasting views when discussing the improvement of the democratic process and the benefits. Also, the authors focus on how governments should open data, provide information, and improve e-transparency (Dawes et al., 2016; Ruijer et al., 2017), with less emphasis on how users of OGD platforms can monitor the scope of future commitments that governments have made to society and, the constraints to citizens’ use of OGD. We investigate this issue, by working with civil society and developing a method to guide the use of OGD through a design science process.

2.1Public budget and education policies in Brazil

In Brazil, the public budget has three instruments: the annual budget, also known as the Annual Budget Law (LOA), which is the budget per se, lasting for one year, the Law of Budgetary Directives (LDO), an instrument that operationalizes programs for sectors and regions in the medium term, also lasting for one year, and the Law for the Multi-year Plan (PPA), the framework for national plans in which large objectives and goals are set together with strategic projects and basic policies, lasting for four years (Giacomoni, 2002). The budget contains financial information on revenue and expenditure. Expenditure appears in different ways in the budget, such as a functional classification, comprising functions and sub-functions for each main government area or public policy, such as education, health, public safety. A function is the highest level of expenditure, such as education, with a sub-function immediately below the function, which explains the nature of the government action such as primary school education. Combining functions and sub-functions means asking in which areas of expenditure the government action will be taken, for example, the amount of expenditure in education for primary schools (Giacomoni, 2002). However, these instruments that make up the public budget are difficult to understand by people not specialized in the subject, therefore, the elaboration of a step-by-step method for collecting information can help the CEDIN team in their monitoring activities.

The federal, state, and municipal governments share the responsibility for public education in Brazil, which comprises basic and higher learning. Basic education includes elementary school, junior high, and high school. A proportion of the resources earmarked for basic education comes from the federal government budget, while states and municipalities share the remainder. All government levels are obligated to invest a specific budget percentage annually, with states and municipalities spending 25% of the annual budget and the federal government must invest 18%. The federal government, together with the states and municipalities, has a specific law for public education policies, the NEP. The law, in force from 2014 to 2024, contains ten objective directives, with twenty goals and specific strategies for their implementation.

The importance of monitoring education policies, like de NEP, in Brazil, lies in the historical needs and challenges that the country has yet to overcome. The goals of the NEP are to universalize youth education and eradicate illiteracy by 2024. However, according to information from the federal government, almost 40% of young people aged up to 19 years old, about 1.1 million people, did not complete high school in 2018. Additionally, 24.2% of young people until 14 years old, 790 thousand, did not finish elementary school and in 2019, 6.8% of people over 15 years old, 11.3 million, still do not know how to read or write.

Social movements and organized groups have worked to establish a dialog with the government to discuss the current problem of insufficient funds for education and its monitoring. These groups propose bolder goals, and for this, there is a need to analyze their technical and budgetary feasibility. Therefore, one of the more controversial issues (Oliveira, 2013) is monitoring budget execution to achieve these goals. Without feasible investments, the NEP goals will not be achieved.

OGD platforms are one of the tools used to monitor the future accomplishment of NEP goals, assisting in gaining access to certain information and presenting it more clearly, thereby affecting a civil society organization’s ability to understand the challenges and implications in the decision-making. Access to information on OGD platforms could also enable them to work on and influence the education policy.

2.2Design science research in e-government

There are different approaches to design what was classified by van Buuren et al. (2020) as ‘design as exploration’, ‘design as co-creation’ and, ‘design as optimization’. Design as exploration relates to ‘learning-by-doing’ approaches to solve perilous issues and involve living labs, design charrettes, policy experiments, prototyping, and other innovative ways of finding solutions for contemporary policy problems. Related concepts generally are design-thinking, open innovation, design as imagination, and research methods used are tools that foster out-of-the-box thinking and innovation (van Buuren et al., 2020).

Design as co-creation is characterized by a strong focus on co-design, which refers to the inclusion of multiple stakeholders in the design process. Related concepts used in this perspective are co-design, collaborative design, participatory design, and the research methods are tools for dialog and interaction (van Buuren et al., 2020).

Design as optimization arises from a rational design perspective. A formal design methodology is based on expertise, objectivity, and rationality. Accordingly, the design is a matter of search and discovery, it is about developing systematic search approaches that help to simplify or even solve complex problems. The main concepts related to this perspective are evidence-based design, scientific design, knowledge-based design, design as problem-solving and the research methods used are tools to translate formal knowledge into artifacts (van Buuren et al., 2020). In this article, we anchor the research in this latter approach, in particular, DSR, a formal method of academic research, common in the area of information systems, focused on solving specific and/or real problems since the elaboration of an artifact (Hevner et al., 2004).

DSR is a rigorous process of designing artifacts to solve problems, evaluate what has been designed, or is in operation, and communicate the results obtained. In this paper, we use the definition of March and Smith (1995) and Hevner et al. (2004) for artifact: it can be a construct, a model, a method, or an instantiation. In this definition, ‘methods’ are used to accomplish the activities directed to the objectives, which are the necessary steps to carry out a certain task, which can be represented graphically or in specific heuristics and algorithms.

DSR is frequently used in e-government studies (Fedorowicz & Dias, 2010). These studies focus on the best way to design and implement ICT tools and help people use the information to organize and conduct their work efficiently and effectively, such as the empirical research of computational artifacts, prescriptions for systems implementation strategy, prescriptions for the design of artifacts, organizational processes and structures, and conceptual frameworks. Digital government research focuses on understanding the rules, policies, and institutional structures in which ICT and digital government systems must work. Under the DSR paradigm, the focus is expanded to include the artifact and its interaction with the environment. Due to its nature, e-government research will continue to be a focus of the study of artifacts to understand and benefit from the distinctive characteristics of ICT, both the construction of process and product artifacts (Fedorowicz & Dias, 2010).

More recently, DSR has been used to map the phases of development of a project-based learning activity about mobile development for e-government (De Jager & Van Rensburg, 2019); process steps of suggestion, design and observational as well as analytical evaluation of design theory artifacts in the field of e-government theory (Vidmar, et al., 2019); design a model specifically developed to evaluate e-government platforms regarding their potential to promote commons in smart cities (Rotta et al., 2019). Those studies have discussed relevant concepts, explored applicable theories, and presented them in terms of DSR frameworks, encouraging discussion concerning electronic government and related theories, past and existing electronic democracy initiatives, and DSR methodology (Papp et al., 2019).

Using DSR, we developed a method to envision the future outcomes of public policy by extracting information from investments planned by the government. Thus, this may allow a civil society organization, CEDIN, to exercise greater participation in influencing the public policy of education and participate in government decision-making. The proposed method materialized in a flowchart tool, describes step-by-step how CEDIN can use the information available on OGD platforms. Furthermore, some constraints in the use of OGD platforms were revealed, especially important in these types of applications.

3.Methodological procedures

In this article, the case was selected from a criterion based on pragmatism and analytical need. On a pragmatic level, the case was selected because research funding from Marist Solidarity Foundation specified the themes to be investigated in the research call. Concerning analytical needs, the selection of the case helps us to understand how a civil society organization can monitor the future outcome of a public policy through OGD platforms.

The Marist Group is part of an international catholic organization and has more than 11.000 employees in the Brazilian South Province. The Marist Solidarity Foundation and the Marist Center for the Aid and Support of Children (CEDIN), one of its units, is a non-profit organization working in education, promoting programs, projects, and actions to support and help children and young people. The foundation is an active participant in education policies at the federal, state, and municipal levels of government, monitoring education policies to ground their actions on thematic councils that discuss the direction of education policy. More recently, they also wanted to monitor the future of Brazilian education policy outcomes, that is, to envision the possibility of the government (federal, state, or local government) to accomplish the NEP long-term goals from the investment forecast. The organization aims to identify problems and suggest alternatives to modify the trajectory of public policy. The methodology used in this study to design the method is that of Pfeffers et al. (2007) developed for research in DSR, comprising six stages as summarized in Fig. 1.

Figure 1.

DSR process framework, adapted from Pfeffers et al. (2007).

DSR process framework, adapted from Pfeffers et al. (2007).

A qualitative approach was followed in the execution of the first five stages (the sixth is dissemination). Three meetings, with a mean duration of 1.5 hours, were held with three managers and five CEDIN employees, which allowed for a deeper understanding of the activities they develop for monitoring the public budget. Three in-depth semi-structured interviews were also conducted with two managers and one CEDIN employee with an average duration of 1 hour to identify the method objectives. The semi-structured interviews were divided into 1) the history of CEDIN, mission, and vision; 2) the activities developed for monitoring public policies using e-transparency tools (Bertot, 2009; Jaeger & Thompson, 2003; Singh & Sahu, 2008); 3) the participation activism in education public policies decision-making (Oliveira, 2013; Cunha & Miranda, 2013); and 4) the artifact developing expectations (Pfeffers et al., 2007; Hevner et al., 2004). Table 1 summarizes the data collected in each stage.

Table 1

Data collection

StageData collection
Identify a problem and motivateThree meetings with the technical team and board of directors of CEDIN:

  • 1. Presenting a research project proposal for Marist Foundation Board Committee

  • 2. Understand CEDIN’s activities and needs to monitor the education policy

  • 3. Presenting the DSR process methodology and defining the scope: four NEP goals selected

Define objectives and a solutionThree in-depth semi-structured interviews:

  • 1. CEDIN Manager

  • 2. Analyst responsible for monitoring budgets

  • 3. Representative of Board Committee of Marist Foundation

Design and development

  • Documents: the set of documents comprising three instruments that constitute the public budget and the complementary budgeting laws and manuals, the PPA 2012–2015, LDO, and LOA of 2013.

  • OGD platforms: four platforms from the national government were consulted:

    • Federal Government – SIOPE

    • Federal Transparency Portal

    • Education Ministry – SIMEC

    • National Congress Portal – SIGA Brasil

Demonstration

  • A meeting with the CEDIN manager and an analyst for improving the flowchart tool.

  • A second meeting conducted with CEDIN staff and two representatives of the Marist Foundation Board Committee to evaluate the first version of the flowchart tool.

All comments and suggestions were transcribed in a research field diary.
EvaluationA functional test Black Box was conducted, using as a data source, the 2013 federal budget.

The researcher’s field notes, budget documents, and interviews were analyzed using qualitative analysis software Atlas.TI®. First, the meeting notes were analyzed to understand the needs of CEDIN to monitor the education policies, and NEP goals for monitoring were selected during the meetings. Second, the content of interviews was analyzed to better understand the activism of CEDIN, its staff’s perceptions about e-transparency (Bertot, 2009: Jaeger & Thompson, 2003; Singh & Sahu, 2008) and expectations about the development of a method to monitor the NEP goals (Pfeffers et al., 2007; Hevner et al., 2004). Third, the documents comprising the federal government budget were analyzed to understand how the different expenditures are linked with the public education policies and the NEP goals. Simultaneously, four OGD platforms were analyzed to determine the best option to capture budget expenditure information. Finally, the first version of the method was designed, represented in a flowchart tool, and presented to the CEDIN staff for demonstration and evaluation. The stages of constructing the method were executed over 15 months in 2013 and 2014.

To aid the development of the artifact, construction, justification of relevance, and later evaluation of the results, the seven guidelines proposed by Hevner et al. (2004) were followed (Table 2).

Table 2

The application of the guidelines for DSR

GuidelineDescriptionApplication in this research
Design as an artifactDSR must produce a viable artifact in the form of a construct, model, method, or instantiation.We produced a viable artifact: a method, represented in a flowchart tool, to monitor the NEP goals.
Problem relevanceThe objective of DSR is to develop technology-based solutions to important and relevant business problems.The artifact developed in this research helps to solve an internal issue of CEDIN: to have a tool to monitor the NEP and, since the development of the tool, we discuss the importance of e-transparency and Education policies in Brazil.
Design dvaluationThe utility, quality, and efficacy of a design artifact must be rigorously demonstrated via well-executed evaluation methods.We demonstrate the efficacy of the method of executing a black box test with CEDIN staff.
Research contributionsEffective DSR must provide clear and verifiable contributions in the areas of the design artifact, design foundations, and/or design methodologies.Our contribution was verified:

  • By CEDIN staff that use the flowchart tool as a method to monitor the NEP goals.

  • In the master’s degree defense, when the committee approved the contributions for discussions about e-transparency.

  • By the Marist Foundation, when it uses the research results to provide recommendations to the National Conference on Education.

Research rigorDSR relies upon the application of rigorous methods in both the construction and evaluation of the design artifact.We conducted rigorous methodological procedures as demonstrated step-by-step in this article (Fig. 1 and Table 1).
Design as a search processThe search for an effective artifact requires utilizing available means to reach the desired ends while satisfying laws in the problem environment.We faced some challenges in constructing the artefact; for instance, the difficulty to understand the budget laws and regulations, and the blurry connection between the budget expenditures and public policies. Therefore, it was necessary to conduct qualitative research and we took 15 months to finalize the research.
Communication of researchDSR must be presented effectively both to technology-oriented as well as management-oriented audiences.The research results have already been communicated:

  • As a master’s dissertation

  • In the DSR, at an Information Systems and Technology Conference

4.Findings: Designing a method and addressing OGD platforms constraints

Education is a relevant topic in the Brazilian context and the civil society organization, and CEDIN has an interest in monitoring the achievement of the NEP goals. In this section, the findings of this research are presented aiming to develop a method to support the organization’s work.

4.1Designing a method

This section describes the development of the artifact, following the five steps proposed by Pfeffers et al. (2007).

4.1.1Identify a problem and motivate

CEDIN operates in state councils and in partnership with other agencies in making investment decisions for public resources earmarked for education. However, to provide better support for its decisions, CEDIN needs to collect information on the budget execution for education, which to date, has proved difficult. To obtain data on budget execution, the technicians need to consult a few OGD platforms, facing some problems of navigation and data manipulation, difficult understanding of information, and alignment among the data sets. Also, the technicians visit public agencies to request information in the form of printed reports, meaning unnecessary costs and time-wasting. Hence, it was necessary to develop a method that would facilitate the search for information and organize activities.

At the first meeting, a proposal to study the government’s budget and financial execution for education and the goals of the NEP was presented to the Marist Foundation Committee Board. At the second meeting, CEDIN’s staff defined the interest to monitor the budget for children and adolescents’ education because they are directly linked with the areas of education policies in which CEDIN has an interest. Finally, after defining the levels of education, a third meeting was held to analyze the NEP and identify which goals were linked to the development of education at these levels. The NEP is structured in ten guidelines divided into twenty specific goals for different levels of education (Law 13005/2014). The goals, in turn, have qualitative and quantitative strategies for their achievement. Four goals were selected that are directly related to basic education and the strategies that can be quantitatively measured by the investment made and these goals were linked with the areas of education policies in which CEDIN has an interest (Table 3). The expectation of the members of CEDIN is that budget analysis will become more efficient, enabling the monitoring of public education policies and public investments.

Table 3

Selected goals of the NEP

Selected goalsDescription goal of the NEP
Goal 1To provide Education in pre-schooling centers for all children aged 4 and 5 by 2016 and increase the offer of children’s Education at crèches for at least 50% of children under the age of 3 by the end of this NEP.
Goal 2To provide 9 years of fundamental schooling for all children aged 6 to 14 and guarantee that at least 95% of students conclude this stage of their Education at the recommended age by the end of the current NEP.
Goal 3To provide schooling for all young people aged 15 to 17 by 2016 and raise, by the end of this NEP, the net rate of enrollments in high school education to 85%.
Goal 6To offer full-time Education in at least 50% of public schools in order to include at least 25% of students in basic education.

4.1.2Define objectives and a solution

From a wider perspective, the interviewees hoped that internal actions, such as the method for monitoring the NEP, will help citizens to understand budget execution and learn more about it. The interviewees recognize that the method has its limitations because it depends on the information available on OGD platforms, and that understanding the budget is a complex matter. “Our role as a result of all this learning is, along with other organizations, to make the information available to more people []. The systematization of the method can act as a guideline for other organizations” (interviewee 2 – CEDIN Manager). “I believe that the method, besides monitoring data and NEP initiatives, can be replicated for other public policies, I think []” (interviewee 3 – Marist Foundation Board Member). The main successful indicators identified by the interviewees were: i) efficiency in the search for information in OGD platforms; ii) the method should be easy to understand and to operationalize, and iii) the reliability of the data collected in OGD platforms using the method developed.

4.1.3Design and development

In this stage, the method was constructed, represented in a flowchart tool. Documentary analysis of the three documents that compose the Brazilian public budget, the PPA 2012–15, the LDO, and the LOA of 2013, was performed. The year 2013 was selected since the fiscal year was closed, which allowed an evaluation of the results achieved. Also, the NEP 2014–24 was analyzed via qualitative analysis by reading all texts comprising the mentioned laws, LDO and LOA, to determine the associations between them and the NEP 2014–24.

After analysis, it was possible to establish links between the budget items and the NEP goals. The PPA has programs, objectives, and initiatives that receive codification, which is replicated to the LDO and LOA, which are in turn, dismembered into budget actions. The shares are broken down by geographic location of application and receive the functional classification by the function (Education) and sub-function (Basic Education) of government, with the forecast of the amounts to be spent (Table 4). The action can be analyzed and linked to the NEP Goal and Strategy (Table 5).

Table 4

Results: alignment between budget instruments

ItemCode
PPA
 Program2030 – Basic Education
 Objective0596 – Increase school attendance by promoting access to and permanence and completion of basic education.
 Initiative02BP – Technical, pedagogical, and financial support to the public-school physical network for constructions, renovations, extensions, and acquisitions of equipment and furniture, including for the training of education professionals.
LDO
 Program2030 – Basic Education
 Objective0596 – (ibid)
 Initiative02BP – (ibid)
 Action20TR – Support for the maintenance of early childhood education
LOA
 Program2030 – Basic Education
 Action20TR – (ibid)
 ExpenditureUS$ 89,680,000

Table 5

Results: alignment between budget instruments and NEP Goals

NEP GoalLOA action linked to Goal
Goal 120TR – Support for early childhood education
20RV – Support for the maintenance of early childhood education
20RP – Infrastructure for basic Education
12KU – Implementation of schools for early childhood education

The flowchart tool comprises two stages: the first is the qualitative analysis of the budget documents and the NEP; the second is the quantitative analysis of the budget. In the first stage, we performed a qualitative analysis of the budgetary documents and the NEP and established the linkages between the budgetary actions of the LOA and the strategies and goals of the NEP. The final output of this step was a list of the budget actions planned for execution during the year and to which NEP targets these actions meet (Table 5). This list was used in the second step to analyze the sum of the amounts paid per budget action and to verify which NEP goal was prioritized. It is recommended to conduct the qualitative analysis at least once a year after LOA approval.

The second stage aimed to capture information regarding the execution of budget expenditures on the SIGA Brazil, an OGD platform, and analyze the expenditure with the NEP. The issuing of the report must be requested by a specialist login and the expenditure report should be filtered by government sub-functions. The following should also be used: 1) program, as provided for in the PPA; 2) initiative, foreseen in the PPA; 3) budgetary action, as provided for in the LOA; 4) economic category, classified by current or capital expenditure; 5) initial allocation, the amount in real currency broken down in LOA expected to be executed in the year; 6) authorized, records the sum of the values of the initial allocation with cancellations and re-assignments of values; 7) additional credits, a sum of supplementary credits; 8) commitment, a sum of committed values; 9) liquidated, a sum of settled values and; 10) payment, a sum of the amounts paid. The detailed flowchart tool of the activities that compose the NEP monitoring is presented in the next section (see Figs 2 and 3).

Figure 2.

The flowchart tool – qualitative stage and the respective constraints addressed.

The flowchart tool – qualitative stage and the respective constraints addressed.

Figure 3.

The flowchart tool – quantitative stage and the respective constraints addressed.

The flowchart tool – quantitative stage and the respective constraints addressed.

4.1.4Demonstration

The flowchart design was presented to the CEDIN team for review and the main modification they suggested was to include an evaluation of the PPA to compare the percentage of expenditure forecast for each year with the values executed in the budget. We also identified a limitation of the method, the non-identification of eventual expenditure applied by other public departments that are not subscribed to the education sub-functions, but this limitation could not be resolved.

4.1.5Evaluation

Based on the indicators from Stage 2, the effectiveness of the method was evaluated. Following the recommendations of Hevner et al. (2004), a functional test (Black Box) was conducted to execute the method, completing the flowchart activities step-by-step. The flowchart tool proved to be quick and efficient at obtaining information, without the need for time to search for data. Using the data from 2013, and following the flowchart tool, a total of US$ 10.8 billion on three sub-functions was analyzed. From this total, the expenditures on goals 1, 2, 3, and 6 of NEP summed US$3.1 billion. The results of the functional test are presented in the Appendix.

4.2Findings regarding e-transparency during the method design

Although the method and the flowchart tool were effective with satisfactory results to capture the investments made by the government, some constraints related to the use of the OGD platforms to envisioning the future outcomes of policies were revealed: information granularity, traceability of changes, the alignment between long-term goals and data, and accessibility and usability limitations. We developed the method in the context of these constraints to address them by design at each stage (see Figs 2 and 3).

The first constraint regarding the use of OGD platforms to monitor the future reach of long-term goals is the lack of information granularity. During the document analysis, three instruments were examined that comprise the Brazilian public budget, the PPA 2012–2015, LDO, and LOA, which are composed of objectives, goals, initiatives, indicators, and investment values. An initiative described in the PPA is transcribed for the budget (LOA), where it is unfolded in actions with corresponding forecasts for expenditure. However, the budget actions are very generic, and the value forecast for a given action can be applied in numerous ways, with information granularity being absent.

The second constraint is the traceability of the legal changes. One characteristic of the budget is its dynamic nature, it is necessary to track the frequent legal and budgetary changes. There was a series of legal alterations since 2007 in the budget legislation which hindered the listing of expenditure on education. Before these changes, each phase of basic education (children’s, elementary school, and high school) had separate lists of expenditures but now the entire expenditure is concentrated in one sub-function (368 – Basic Education). All the values transferred from the federal government to the states and municipalities are listed in sub-function 847 – Transfers. However, it is not possible to trace the origin of the budget information for each action or program due to the multiple legal changes.

The lack of alignment between the long-term policy goals and the data available on the OGP platforms is the third constraint. There was a subtle relationship between the budget tools and the NEP goals, with a lack of alignment between goals and budgetary actions, hence there was no alignment between these and the open data available on OGD platforms. Goals, indicators, and stored data need to have a common element that allows the tracking of information. It cannot be pointed out that a specific part of the budget (LOA) is earmarked to achieve a goal of the NEP, consequently reducing the possibility of participating, criticizing, and proposing new courses of action. It is not possible to ascertain how much and how the policy is implemented, so with no information, any counterargument serves to make unfeasible a demand for more effective actions.

A series of accessibility and usability limitations were also identified. OGD platforms have multiple access points, information systems, websites, and apps. However, a non-specialist cannot easily navigate the online systems and the information is not easy to manipulate. The platform storing the planning and budgeting data (SIOP) is highly complex with many filters and no adequate explanation for their purpose. There were also accessibility problems, e.g. more than three attempts necessary to obtain a password to the site; when accessed, the platform presented execution problems. Even when it was easy to access one platform, the reports, or the generated databases, largely made their analysis difficult. The platform maintained by the Ministry of Education was difficult to access, and despite persistent attempts, it was not possible to access without a login identification and password. The SIGA Brazil platform was the exception, with facilitated access to the budget databases, and with a login ID and password, it was possible to create and save reports and files with the variables desired.

In short, the method design enabled us to identify and address constraints to anticipate the long-term results of education policies. There was some difficulty in finding the transcription of the NEP in the main instrument for public policies, the PPA, a lack of granularity. There is no assertiveness in the budget goals, and the connection between the budget instruments is loose. The constant changes in legislation also affect the quality of the transparency of public expenditure on education, and no traceability feature is available. OGD platforms can be challenging to manage and require information technology skills.

5.Discussing e-transparency and OGD platforms: A method to envisioning the future policy outcomes

E-transparency mechanisms in Brazil and most countries are used to follow the government actions being carried out or already concluded. The logic is to monitor the present and the past. The motivation of the organization with which we developed the flowchart tool is different, they wanted to examine the future outcomes of policies, as they are active participants in the educational forums intending to influence the national education policy. They need to check if the committed long-term goals can be achieved based on what is being conducted in the present and planned. The practical objective of this study, designing a tool, takes us away from the perspective of transparency seen as control (Bertot et al., 2010), bringing us closer to the approaches that treat transparency as a democratic potential, or empowerment (Lopes, 2009; Bezerra, 2008; Merry, 2011), enabling social actors to participate more directly in government decision-making (Cunha & Miranda, 2013; Heald, 2006; Ribeiro, 2013).

The result of a study in DSR is both an artifact and a process that guides the construction of the artifact (Hevner et al., 2004). The main finding of this study is the method for monitoring the NEP itself, represented in a flowchart tool, already discussed in the prior version of this study (Przeybilovicz et al., 2017). Going further, this work also contributes to the field of transparency and describes some constraints of OGD platforms to envision future outcomes, making it more transparent.

The method developed in this study is specific for CEDIN to monitor the public budget for education. In the qualitative stage, the method is explained step-by-step in which documents related to the NEP and the public budget should be collected and how to analyze them. At the end of this stage, the user can identify in the public budget what expenses need to be monitored and which are related to the achievement of NEP goals. The second stage explains how the user should consult the OGD platform to extract information about the budget expenses and analyze them. Ultimately, the user can compile a report that allows comparisons about which NEP goal receives more or fewer financial resources and make comparisons between the expenditures planned by the government and those incurred, thereby envisioning future achievement of the NEP goals.

For e-transparency, we have presented the intention of CEDIN, or any civil society organization to utilize the information available on the OGD platform to envision the future of achievement of NEP goals and its implications, moving toward the possibility that, based on e-transparency tools, particularly OGD platforms, civil society organizations can influence long-term policy decision-making.

During the first five stages of the method design, it was evident that transparency needs to be advanced in terms of publicity and in the use of the OGD platform to envision the future policy outcome. The OGD platforms consulted did not adhere to the best e-transparency practices of accuracy, completeness, accessibility, timeliness, usability (Field, 2019). Additional constraints were identified including information granularity, traceability of changes, the correlation between long-term goals and data, and accessibility and usability limitations. The latter are largely appointed in OGD literature, but they had remarkable importance in our case.

Information granularity allows the user to identify the expenditures and budget for specific actions and could be included in the definition of completeness (Drew & Nyerges, 2004, Field, 2019) but it has particular relevance for informed participation and influence in decision-making. Traceability of changes is the characteristic of a budget database, making it possible to track all the regulation and budget changes in the long term. Again, it could be part completeness (Field, 2019) but important in dealing with long-term goals. The lack of correlation between long-term goals and available data are due to commitments or international agreements like the sustainable development goals and the pre-existing sets of data. It is more than accuracy (Jaeger & Bertot, 2010; Field, 2019) and stresses the need for data governance at a national level, even multinational. Accessibility and usability have been significant issues in e-transparency literature (Bertot et al., 2010; Field, 2019), however, current tools lack these features, remaining a constraint for more active use of OGD platforms for informed participation in policy decision-making (Table 6).

Table 6

Constraints of OGP platforms

ConstraintDefined as
GranularityA lack of proper scale or level of detail present in data sets in OGD platforms
TraceabilityA lack of quality of having origin or course of development of data that may be found or followed in OGD platforms
CorrelationA lack of connection between the long-term policy goals and the data available on the OGP platforms
AccessibilityA lack of easy navigation or data manipulation on OGD platforms
UsabilityA lack of information in an accessible format on OGD platforms

Despite the constraints, the interviewees representing CEDIN recognize e-transparency as being beneficial to social monitoring and control, with a positive view of empowering citizens in the democratic process (Lopes, 2009; Bezerra, 2008; Merry, 2011) through e-transparency and OGD platforms. The transparency of public information depends on a set of factors that exceed the wording of a law. The literature presents transparency as a potential for access to public information (Cunha & Miranda, 2013; Heald, 2006; Ribeiro, 2013), thereby empowering citizens (Lopes, 2009; Bezerra, 2008; Merry, 2011) with greater social monitoring and control. Nonetheless, the way information is presented on OGD platforms is an important issue.

Electronic transparency, as well as the OGD platforms, are positively recognized and important aspects of transparency by the interviewees. The source of data is varied, generally obtained from OGD platforms, but not limited to them, the publicity for public information is still viewed as insufficient. There are differences in the publicity of information from one branch of government to another, with some being more advanced, reinforcing that OGD platforms are often limited by legal and political contexts (Bertot, 2009; Jaeger & Thompson, 2003; Singh & Sahu, 2008).

Transparency is possible only through primary data access. In fact, even if public information is widely available, if its format is not adequate, OGD platforms will not ensure transparency. During the construction of the flowchart, although the information on basic education expenditure was available through OGD platforms, the way the expenditure was grouped did not illustrate how the federal government spent or will spend the money.

Additionally, this research demonstrated a new aspect regarding e-transparency: the possibility of OGD platforms to improve civil society’s ability to influence the future of public policy outcomes. The recognized benefits of OGD platforms are the broadening of access to public information, the massification of access, and growing efficiency when interested parties obtain information. Available online information means more analytical capabilities, faster decision-making, and better qualification in participating in public policy decision-making, going further than facilitating the monitoring (Bimber, 2001) and vigilance of representatives and institutions (Bezerra, 2008).

6.Conclusions

This study investigated how to monitor the future outcomes of national education policy through e-transparency tools. A method and an effective flowchart tool were designed to monitor financial and budgetary planning and execution, which was used to determine if the information on government investments in education was effective. The design process revealed some implications of e-transparency and the use of OGD platforms to monitor and envision education policy accomplishment in the Brazilian context. In conclusion, a civil society organization can monitor the achievement of education policy goals using the information available on OGD platforms following the developed flowchart tool. Furthermore, when monitoring is possible, civil society is interested in using budget transparency to foresee future policy outcomes rather than only monitor the past, which creates a feature in envisioning the accomplishment of future public policy, thereby contributing to the literature regarding e-transparency.

Moreover, some constraints of OGD platforms in this particular case were identified, including the difficulty of accessibility and usability, lack of granularity of the information, lack of correlation, and traceability of information on the open databases. The results indicated that OGD platforms do not fully achieve the intentions of a tool that acts for the empowerment of citizens, thus, the potential of e-transparency for monitoring and projecting public policies in the context analyzed, a global southern country such Brazil, remains challenging, thus more effective mechanisms are required to promote transparency.

In summary, e-transparency in the budget execution of public policy can enable civil society to monitor government capability to accomplish education policy. Moreover, e-transparency and the use of OGD platforms can initiate a cycle of envisioning the future of public policy outcomes and dissemination among the various actors in society and contribute to participation in the political and democratic sphere, demanding more efficient government actions and creating monitoring capabilities.

This informative case study of one particular e-transparency tool in a specific context revealed five constraints that may affect e-transparency and OGD platforms use in other contexts, which should be investigated in future research, as well as using DSR to investigate other domains that do not include ICT or information systems, management, and propose new methods for research in these specific areas. The use of DSR is also an approach that enables and encourages discussion concerning e-government and related theories, as well as electronic democracy initiatives. The developed tool could also be explored in future research when transforming the method into an information technology tool.

Acknowledgments

We extend our thanks to Prof. Albert Meijer for his comments on this paper, to the Marist Solidarity Foundation, and to the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) for funding the research project, grant 2015/22960-1; grant 2017/09343-2.

Adapted by permission from [Springer]: [Nature] [Lecture Notes in Computer Science 10243] [Budget Transparency for Monitoring Public Policies: Limits of Technology and Context, Erico Przeybilovicz, Maria Alexandra Cunha, Angela Póvoa], Springer International Publishing AG 2017.

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