Texty.ua was established in 2010 as an NGO by Anatoliy Bondarenko and Roman Kulchynsky (Editor in chief). They both have a background inside Ukrainian media outlets, Roman as Editor in Chief at the Ukrainian weekly, Tyzhden. Anatoliy has served as an editor and programmer with a scientific educational background.
Texty decided to pursue procurements, as this proved to be the best possible way to cover public spending due to the fact that transactional spending is not available. The result was z.texty.org.ua, a searchable database for public procurements completed in the spring of 2012. The database is updated weekly and contains procurement data from 2008 onwards.
State and local budgets also remain priorities for Texty, though they do not currently have the resources to conduct analysis more frequently than once a year. The state budget process in Ukraine is complex and difficult to follow, so the site is currently monitoring changes to the budget, and Texty would like to play a role in this.
Texty work on budget and procurement data with a variety of tools.
Open Refine: working with raw data
R: analysis of data
D3.js: online data visualization
Texty sustains its activities by providing data analysis and visualisations for both CSOs and media outlets. They delivered data analysis for Forbes Ukraine concerning concentration in procurement contracts within the business elite.
Texty points to the lack of resources in the data journalism field as the biggest challenge. While both data and tools are available, the lack of resources for completing the required data analysis currently hinders more elaborate projects on spending transparency. While CSOs and media outlets regularly source data investigations with Texty, the demand is currently not enough for taking advantage of the data actually available. Texty is supplementing their investigations with offering data-journalism trainings.
Open database for public procurements in Ukraine
In 2011, when Texty began working on public procurements in Ukraine, getting the data was a top priority because of the huge volumes available and rumors about massive corruption in the field. In 2012, spending on procurements was approaching 40% of the GDP of Ukraine, which could be one of the highest in the world.
Problems with the govermental site
http://tender.me.gov.ua, the source of procurement data, presents several issues. It requires an account and login, and it only gives access to the data via an HTML table with max 100 results from one of the issues of the official bulletin about public procurements. No tables are sortable, and no records have been linked to one other. Finally and most importantly, the data is dirty; you can, for example, easily find several different versions of the same supplier (company) name.
Getting data from the government site
The Texty team wrote a Ruby script to mimic user login, check for updates, and to scrape data from HTML webpages, all of which had a different structure. After cleaning, they imported the data into a relational database as normalised data, for example creating links between records for each participant. The database is updated approximately twice per week.
The tool stack:
From the main page, it is possible to explore data about tenders in realtime and to change the textual query and immediately get information on the total volume for a particular industry, participant, and/or period of time.
Additionally, clicking on total volume yields all tenders therein. For each company participating in a tender, the database contains information on all other deals which the company has won. Recently, an “advanced search” page has been added, with the possibility to export result in form of a simple and portable CSV format
Impact and coverage of the project
One year into the project’s existence, the site reached about 1,500 daily users per day, despite having almost zero advertising. It has gained attention and been used by investigative journalists as well. Some stories were published in the biggest independent internet outlet, Ukrainian Pravda, which has approximately 200,000 readers per day.
In Autumn 2012, a joint project with Forbes.ua called “Champions of tenders” was launched. The Texty team shared the open part of their data, information about deals from their database (including the names of firms and volumes of money), through a simple web API. Next, the team from Forbes.ua used the data in their database to link firms to names of owners—Forbes.ua mantains a proprietary database of these. The Texty team also made an interactive visualization of this data for Forbes.ua.
Impact of open tender data
Since 2008, when information about tenders became openly available for the first time, there has been a shift in public opinion about tenders and public spending on procurement. Today there seems to be a real awareness about corruption in procurements, though still not a clear idea about the actual scale of the problem. For example, there is even a TV-programme on the channel TVi, opposing the government, called “Tenders News”.
Ukraine has a couple of projects about tenders, though Texty appears to be the most sizeable and complete database. There has, however, been continuing lobby attempts to close down access to as much information about tenders as possible, and many of these have unfortunately been successful. The most recent example was a law accepted by a majority of the Ukrainian parliament in Autumn 2012, which meant that 35% of all volumes of tenders would be hidden from the public.
The ongoing hope for transparency in public procurement is based on a proposed agreement about association between Ukraine and the EU, which includes requirements about transparency in tenders.