Poland COVID-19 Cultural Support Fund assessments blasted as unfair

Occurred: November 2020

An automated system used to award cultural support funding in Poland during COVID-19 was criticised as opaque, unfair, and politically-driven.

Poland's Ministry of Culture announced the beneficiaries of the country's PLN 400 million (USD 106 million) Cultural Support Fund (FWK) in November 2021. The fund was intended to help struggling arts organisations recover from losses incurred during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The 2,064 beneficiaries and their levels of compensation had been calculated algorithmically using accounting and statistical data for the previous year (2019), including criteria such as the decrease in revenue, the number of people employed, the number of canceled events and the impact on the local community.

The publication of the beneficiaries' names caused controversy as it was seen to be granting large sums to established stars whilst many Poles and the country's healthcare service continued to struggle. The system was also criticised as opaque and politically-driven, with large sums granted to 'disco polo' and other genres favoured by the government. 

Facing uproar, the ministry suspended payments from the support fund on November 15, saying the list of beneficiaries would be submitted for 'urgent reverification' and that 'every effort' would be made to ensure the audit was carried out as 'efficiently and meticulously as possible.'

Poland's culture minister and deputy prime minister Piotr Gliński argued the algorithm was the fairest way to divide the funds as it did not look at names or the size of the organisation but transferred money on equal terms to everyone.

The Polish government has not revealed how the algorithm worked.

System 🤖

Operator: Ministry of Culture
Developer: Ministry of Culture

Country: Poland

Sector: Govt - culture

Purpose: Calculate revenue loss

Technology: Algorithm
Issue: Fairness; Bias/discrimination - economic, political

Transparency: Governance

Page info
Type: Incident
Published: January 2023
Last updated: January 2024