Four of the teams that took part in a hackathon at the MIT Media Lab last weekend will go on to present their practical solutions for reducing institutional corruption to a conference at Harvard Law School later this spring.“You did an extraordinary amount of work and solved an extraordinary amount of problems since Friday,” said Bill English, research director for the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics. The hackathon was organized by center and the MIT Center for Civic Media with the goal of turning academic ideas into tangible solutions to problems that lead institutions astray from their original missions.A team called Unearth won the competition, second place went to WeCott, and CampaignCon and Open Think Tank tied for third. The teams of volunteers ― who included students, retirees, members of the government, legal, and medical communities ― varied in size from two to about 20 people.Scholars, researchers, news reporters, and activists have contributed to the Safra Center’s five-year project under the direction of Lawrence Lessig, studying, mapping, and looking for solutions to the institutional corruption that takes place in all corners of the globe. The project will culminate with a two-day conference, “Ending Institutional Corruption,” at Harvard Law School in May. Judges initially planned to let top three teams present their proposals at the conference, but the ideas were so strong that the organizers decided to let all four teams give at least an abbreviated report.“Part of our effort is to take research from the ivory tower and take it to the real world and have an impact,” English said. “Talking to my colleagues, they have been blown away by how productive these 2½ days have been.”Participants started the weekend brainstorming ideas, then broke into groups to work on solutions, said Heidi H. Carrell, coordinator for the Lab at the MIT Center. “We want real, usable tools that will have an impact,” Carrell said. “That’s part of the judging criteria.”Projects addressed issues in government and law; medicine and public health; finance and economics; or nonprofits and academia. Teams within each category worked on their own solutions.In the medicine and public health field, Christopher Robertson’s Unearth team developed an easy way to show doctors — who often look more critically at a report if they know it was funded by a pharmaceutical company — how research studies for new pharmaceuticals are funded. Research projects bankrolled by the National Institutes of Health or independent sources can be expected to be more objective in their conclusions than industry-funded studies, he said, but funding sources and information on whether an author received additional pay from a company can be buried in fine print. Unearth’s program is already available through the Chrome store and can easily be downloaded by doctors and hospital.WeCott created a social platform to help the public boycotts businesses indulging in unfair pricing, poor worker treatment, or other questionable practices. “One of the tools we have to fight corporate corruption is boycotting,” said team member Joseph Schiavone. “But there are certain barriers to boycotting to keep it from being a widely used tool,” including lack of awareness that a problem exists, and not seeing results from a boycott. WeCott’s website shows which companies the public is boycotting, and why.Paul Jorgensen’s CampaignCon focused on tracking federal campaign finance data so the public can see how corporations donate to politicians through a web of private contributions, corporations, and political action committees. The service retrieves weekly updates from FEC reporting and looks for shifts in donations.Brooke Williams led team Open Think Tank, which worked on the website thinktankdonors.org and an app that searches for and explains foreign governments’ donations to nonprofit and academic think tanks.The hackathon was the brainchild of Williams, an investigative reporter who is now a fellow at public narrative at Harvard.“The best way to help my colleagues was to organize a hackathon where we could bring technologists — and not just technologists but those who want to make a difference — together with amazing thinkers,” Williams said.
Gerry Salole, chief executive of the European Foundation Centre (EFC), which represents 200 foundations across Europe and has advocated an EFS for several years, warned that foundations would continue to hold the Commission to account in finding solutions to serving the public interest across borders.He said: “This decision sends a signal that goes completely against the concept of building a citizen-led Europe. If EU institutions together cannot uphold a Regulation that facilitates public interest work by and for the citizens, they will have to find other avenues, with the sector, to address the issue.”If enacted, the EFS would remove the requirement for foundations operating in different jurisdictions to set up separate legal entities in each country, if they chose to do so instead via an FE.There would be a single set of rules for FEs, helping to reduce the costs and uncertainty involved in cross-border activities.However, the EFS would not replace existing national laws, but would be optional and complementary.In a statement, the EFC said: “The majority of member states are supportive of the policy objectives of the EFS initiative, even though member states could not see eye-to-eye on the EFS proposal itself.“The EFC believes the decision has more to do with the mechanics of policy negotiations (unanimity requirement) than with the policy proposal itself – its actual objectives and value.”Eight member states reportedly rejected the proposal tabled by the Italian EU presidency in November: Austria, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia and the UK. Some of these wished to see further changes in the EFS text, and three of the 28 member states said they doubted the value of an EFS per se.The EFC said: “Given the somewhat secretive character of the negotiations, it is difficult to assess which aspects of the text specific countries wished to alter, and which concrete proposals they put forward to do so.“Such questions should be addressed by way of negotiations, finding a compromise between the parties to achieve a common objective – i.e. facilitating cross-border philanthropic work in the public interest in Europe.”The EFC outlined several options to move forward.It highlighted the meeting of the European Parliament Legal Affairs Committee on 1 December, which discussed the EFS, the first time the newly-elected European Parliament (EP) had addressed the matter.The EFC said: “Overall, EP representatives from the various political groups who took the floor supported the EFS initiative, and wished to ensure its adoption. “While some MEPs questioned the ‘secrecy’ of the negotiations at the Council and asked for clarification regarding the reasons put forward by a minority of member states to reject the proposal, they also believed there is still room for discussion.”The EFC said the enhanced cooperation procedure – where nine member states can choose to agree a piece of legislation between them – had also been suggested as another possible legal avenue.It said: “The EP has a consultative role in this specific field but cannot ‘co-decide’ with the Council.“However, it can give its opinion, and had already done so in 2013 in favour of the initiative.”Meanwhile, once the EP has voted on the Commission’s new work programme in January, the EFC will – along with the Commission – assess whether other legislative options are possible technically and politically at the EU level. If not, the EFC said it would have to review national regimes and their cross-border-friendly (or unfriendly) character, pushing for changes where needed.Alongside this, the EFC will continue working to facilitate tax-effective cross-border giving, monitoring the implementation of the European Court of Justice rulings on non-discrimination. The European foundation sector has attacked the decision to drop the European Foundation Statute (EFS) from the European Commission’s 2015 Work Programme.The EFS proposal, which establishes a constitution for a pan-European foundation (FE) operating across borders to support general interest causes, is one of 80 proposals that have been withdrawn from the Commission’s legislative agenda, published in mid-December.The withdrawal is permanent unless the Commission wishes to reopen the file.It can publish a new proposal or review the matter if it believes the political context has turned in a more favourable direction.