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CASE Ukraine’s “The Price of the State” Project

Location

Formed in 1999, CASE Ukraine is an independent, non-profit organization based in Kiev, Ukraine.  CASE Ukraine specializes in economic research and fiscal policy, operating with the mission to “assist the implementation of comprehensive economic reforms for sustainable development and welfare growth” ("About"). In recent years, the CASE Ukraine team has become increasingly aware that it is difficult to promote economic reform when the financial literacy of the population is low. This awareness turned into a desire to make Ukrainian budgetary practices more accessible to the general public,thus prompting CASE Ukraine to develop a Facebook page as well as the “Price of the State” website, which launched in September 2014. The “Price of the State” website offers interactive tools such as “Receipt from the State” and “Pension Calculator” which enable Ukrainians to see exactly how the government spends their tax dollars. The project has existed formally since January 2014 when it received a grant from the European Commission funding the initiative through December of 2015. Since then, the CASE Ukraine team has also attracted additional donors. As such, this remains an on-going project which seeks to continue beyond 2015.

Key Lessons Learned:

  1. Information of any kind (particularly that relating to public finance) has to be comprehensible in order for it to be effective.
  2. When delivering information to the public concerningbudgeting practices, it is critical to find a balance between what is simple and what is informative.
  3. In addition to being simple and educational, the material must be made interesting or else it risks going unnoticed. By using aesthetic graphics, straightforward language, and interactive tools, users learn the information in a way that feels less like a chore and more like a rewarding activity.

Actors and Stakeholders:

The “Price of the State” initiative is one of CASE Ukraine’s many projects. It is also worth noting that CASE Ukraine is part of a larger CASE network that operates in other Eastern European and Central Asian countries such as Poland, Moldova, Belarus, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, and Georgia.

The “Price of the State” project is funded by a variety of donors, the chief donor being the European Commission. Other partners and sponsors include Open Society Foundations, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Ukraine National Initiatives to Enhance Reforms (UNITER), and the Eurasia Foundation (EF). In addition to funding in the form of grants, the “Price of the State” team is currently working to enlist support from local businesses. By maintaining a dialogue with representatives from the government as well as the business community,the team is able to gain additional insight into current economic issues and explore how thesemay affect the daily lives of Ukrainian citizens.

Objectives:

The ultimate goal of the “Price of the State” website is to combat financial corruption in the public sector by making government practices more transparent. The CASE Ukraine team seeks to achieve this goal by providing citizens with the information they need in order to hold elected officials accountable to their fiscal policies. By developing a tool that is both simple and informative, Ukrainians are able to educate themselves and form their own opinions about how the government is using public funds.  As such, the project operates with a single objective:

“Our mission is to paint a clear picture of how the government spends your tax money by breaking down incomprehensible economic figures and providing them in a manner that the average citizen can understand” ("Our Mission").

Project Execution:

The initial stages of the project occurred in 2013 when CASE Ukraine published a report titled How Much Does the State Cost or What Am I Paying Taxes For?  The popularity of this report reaffirmed CASE Ukraine’s belief that Ukrainian citizens are eager to oversee and reform their government, they simply need the tools to do so. The idea behind the report soon evolved into something bigger; the CASE Ukraine team began to reach out to the public through social media while they set to work on building the “Price of the State” website. The inspiration for the site came from a similar initiative by the Institute of Economic and Social Studies (INESS) out of Slovakia.  CASE Ukraine Executive Director Dmytro Boyarchuk states that “perhaps the most crucial element that we have borrowed from our Slovak colleagues reflects the adage of “the simpler the better”—easy to understand information will have more impact on ordinary people than any technical analysis could hope to” (Boyarchuk, 2014).  After receiving a grant from the European Commission, CASE Ukraine was able to put together a team of experts, including a social media manager who has helped the team maintain direct contact with the public. Mr. Boyarchuknotes that “this more lighthearted approach lets us stay in touch with people, directly answer their questions, and gather their feedback” (Boyarchuk, 2014).Additionally, they routinely publish blog articles to keep the public informed about relevant issues. 

The team works offline as well, regularly visiting universities and meeting with journalists in an effort to spread the word about the tools on the Price of the State website. Among these is a budget database which provides users with information on revenue and expenditure that is organized in a simple and straightforward manner. Lastly, the Price of the State team regularly brings in volunteers who wish to assist in the project’s mission. Their website includes a survey feature which allows prospective volunteers to submit information about what they have to offer that would be of use to the project. For example, some volunteers may wish to help with the translation of materials for the website, or offer the use of a space for presentations and workshops on public finance.  

Evaluation of Results:

            Reform of any kind is generally a slow process, and fighting corruption in government is a never-ending mission. Because economic reform does not happen overnight, the CASE Ukraine team works toward the specific goal of spreading awareness and equipping citizens with the information they need to ensure that their government operates honestly and efficiently. As such, they focus on reaching as many people as possible and getting them to take advantage of the tools available on the Price of the Statewebsite. As of March 2015, roughly 200,000 people have visited the Price of the State website and over 11,000 people are following the project’s Facebook page. As previously stated, the project is still on-going, but its steady rate of growth over the past six months indicates that it will continue to garner attention and succeed in its mission tospread awareness about public financethroughout the Ukrainian population. 

Insights:

            Iuliia Shybalkina, a CASE Ukraine economic analyst and key member of the Price of the State team,   was interviewed for this case study. When asked about what insights this project has afforded the CASE Ukraine team thus far, Ms. Shybalkina stressed the importance of “putting yourself in [the everyday Ukrainian’s] shoes” and tailoring the work to be something that people will understand(Shybalkina, 2015). She explained that it is a constant challenge to create something practical to their audience, meaning that the team must continually adapt to the needs of the public and deliver the information that Ukrainians deem most valuable to their daily lives. Furthermore, this information must be delivered in a way that is simple, straightforward, and informative. As stated by Ms. Shybalkina, “whereas investors will read long economic analyses, the public will not”(Shybalkina, 2015).

            Taking into account the success that the project has enjoyed thus far as well as the insights offered by one of CASE Ukraine’s very own, it is clear that a project that keeps its audience in mind is more likely to be successful. By designing a project that recognizes that the common citizen is not well-versed in macroeconomics or fiscal policy, the CASE Ukraine team has been able to more efficiently educate Ukrainians about public finance in a way that will undoubtedly have a real and lasting impact.

 

Sources

About. (n.d.). Retrieved March 27, 2015, from CASE Ukraine: http://www.case-ukraine.com.ua/en/pro-nas/

Boyarchuk, D. (2014, October 28). Ukrainians to Learn the “Price” of the State. Retrieved March 27, 2015, from Open Society Foundations: http://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/voices/ukrainians-learn-price-state

Our Mission. (n.d.). Retrieved March 28, 2015, from The Price of the State: http://costua.com/en/about/

Shybalkina, I. (2015, March 27). Analyst, CASE Ukraine. (L. Bach, Interviewer)