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Where Does My Money Go? Prototype Launched

We’re very pleased to announce the first full release of our Where Does My Money Go? prototype. This is now online at:

Tom Watson MP, commented on the new release:

Where Does My Money Go represents another milestone in the UK’s transparency movement. We know that transparency changes individual and institutional behaviour and this new tool will have a big impact on the way the public sector is held to account by UK citizens.

As well as being a great public benefit, Where Does My Money Go is also an immensely complicated tool to code and design. I applaud the team behind the project for their commitment and hard work. They’re leading the way in transparency and making a difference for the country.

Our press release below contains more background information on the new prototype. For all you microbloggers out there, here is a 136 character version of the project announce:

RT @jwyg: New visualisations of #ukgov spending! See @okfn‘s Where Does My Money Go? #wdmmg

WDMMG Screenshot

Press Release

Now more than ever, UK taxpayers will be wondering where public funds are being spent – not least because of the long shadow cast by the financial crisis and last week’s announcements of an estimated £850 billion price tag for bailing out UK banks. Yesterday’s pre-budget report also raises questions about spending cutbacks and how public money is being allocated across different key areas.

However, closing the loop between ordinary citizens and the paper-trail of government receipts is no mean feat. Relevant documents and datasets are scattered around numerous government websites – and, once located, spending figures often require background knowledge to interpret and can be hard put into context. In the UK there is no equivalent to the US Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, which requires official bodies to publish figures on spending in a single place. There were proposals for similar legislation in 2007, but these were never approved.

On Friday 11th December the Open Knowledge Foundation will launch a free interactive online tool for showing where UK public spending goes. The Where Does My Money Go? project allows the public to explore data on UK public spending over the past 6 years in an intuitive way using an array of maps, timelines and graphs. By means of the tool, anyone can make sense of information on public spending in ways which were not previously possible.

For example, while playing around with the tool, we noticed:

  • Total public spending as a percentage of gross domestic product this year increased to levels not seen since the recession of 1992.
  • Healthcare spending in real terms under New Labour has almost doubled since they came to power in 1997. Education spending has increased by 75%.
  • The UK spends more on old age than on education. The amount of money spent to support those in retirement is £87bn compared to the £82bn on the whole of education.
  • £665 was spent in Northern Ireland on housing and amenities for every man, woman and child in 2008-9, compared to £413 in London. Spending per capita in Britain’s capital on housing, transport and public order and safety all exceeded the national average by over 60%.

Notes to editors

The Open Knowledge Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to improving the way knowledge is shared. The Where Does My Money? project was a winner of the Cabinet Office’s Show Us A Better Way competition. The project benefits from an advisory group which includes leading transparency advocates and information visualisation experts. The prototype was conceived by the Open Knowledge Foundation and developed with data visualisation specialists iconomical, based in Amsterdam. The Foundation is also currently working with the UK Government on the technology behind the new data.gov.uk site.

Currently the Where Does My Money Go prototype is based on data from HM Treasury – but the project team is working to collect, aggregate and incorporate much more fine-grained information, including on local spending. On Monday Gordon Brown announced plans to publish much more detailed information on public spending in a more systematic way as part of the Smarter Government initiative.

WDMMG Screenshot

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  • Nick Fraser

    This is an excellent resource, well done to all who have worked on the prototype.

    It would be great if you could also develop a similar resource which breaks down the sources of government revenue (tax and non-tax revenue) so that the public can easily see how much various taxes (income, NI, VAT, community charge, duties, green taxes, etc.) and charges contribute to the overall purse.

    It would be even better if you could develop an interactive tool which allowed the public to play with the levels of tax (including the different tax bands and allowances for income tax) and non-tax revenue to show what changes in available government revenue might theoretically mean in terms of funds available for service provision. An extension of this idea, would be to then give the user the task of balancing spending and revenue (e.g. if they make a tax cut, they then have the task of making spending cuts to a combination of departmental budgets to close the shortfall in receipts).

    A really sophisticated tool, might even serve as a crowdsourced input to real government policy making? That is, tax and spending decisions of many thousands of users, be made available to treasury and government officials for their consideration.

  • http://www.twitter.com/rantersparadise rantersparadise

    Yeah, great stuff.

    Agree with Nick Fraser too…details…more details…

    • http://www.facebook.com/ Kairii

      Thanks for writing such an easy-to-undetrnsad article on this topic.

  • http://mjr.towers.org.uk/ MJ Ray

    Apparently my money goes on “Click here to download plugin”.

    When will the site work with only W3C technologies?

  • http://www.premierfurnitureltd.co.uk/ A Mir

    It is very true to say that transparency changes individual and institutional behaviour, but when it comes to understanding where and how public money is spent, gaining statistics that reflect a true perspective will be difficult. The Open Knowledge Foundation seems like a great initiative but surely has it’s work cut out if it intends to improve the way government knowledge is shared.

  • http://okblogfarm.org/members/admin/ Open Knowledge

    @MJ Ray: we understand your concern (you’re not the only one to raise it!).

    The problem is that for rich internet applications, the choice is between Flash and Javascript. Of the two, Flash is generally regarded as the industry standard, due to its flexibility, powerful capabilities, and browser penetration. There are other options (Java, SVG, Silverlight etc) but they don’t have the same market coverage.

    Our priority was to visualize the data we had as effectively as we could. We chose to use Flash because it is faster for rapid prototyping, and we can guarantee access for 99% of users [1]. The application would not be as complete, or work as smoothly had we used Javascript, and given our limited budget and timeframe, we could not have supported IE6 [2].

    To sum up: we too would prefer HTML+javascript but at the present time javascript visualization just doesn’t cut it in the way Flash does. If you, or anyone else, had suggestions on this score we’d love to hear them. We should also emphasize that we’re making all of the data we’ve got available so that others can visualize it too. For example, here’s a separate visualization of the departmental spending breakdown: http://www.openeconomics.net/wdmmg/overview/department

    [1] http://www.adobe.com/products/player_census/flashplayer/version_penetration.html [2] http://about.digg.com/blog/much-ado-about-ie6

  • http://okblogfarm.org/members/admin/ Open Knowledge

    @Nick: completely agree that including revenue as well as expenditure is a key next step.

    Also really like the idea of an interactive app that would allow people to play around with the budget or signal their preferences for how money was spent. We’ve already had some discussions along these lines in the form of: “What would happen if you cut X budget by 20% and re-allocated elsewhere” or “What would happen if life-expectancy goes up by 20 years”.

  • http://mjr.towers.org.uk/ MJ Ray

    @Rufus Pollock: I was listening to a podcast this morning where one of the speakers says that the biggest challenge for open content is access. The podcast was a recording of an Open Knowledge Forum (I think) and the speaker was Rufus Pollock! So why lock anyone out unnecessarily?

    The 99% Flash support figure is from Adobe and it’s only about US desktop PCs if it’s the survey I’ve seen before. On the whole, I feel single-vendor-supplied user numbers are often about as reliable as tobacco company smoking safety figures from the 1940s. More realistic estimates I’ve seen were in the 75-90% bracket (it depends if you count installed-but-disabled copies as installed IIRC). How are you “guarantee”ing access for 99%? Can you claim on that guarantee?

    If people want to use an obsoleted standards-unsupporting browser like IE6, then I think that’s their odd choice. Anyway, as you probably know, Microsoft’s Windows Update service has been pushing IE8 out fairly aggressively and IE6 usage is now estimated at only 8% by some sites (http://www.w3b.org/technik/firefox-setzt-langjahriger-internet-explorer-dominanz-ein-ende.html for example), so even if you wanted to support majorities instead of open standards, then I’m still not sure you should have dropped the 10+% of non-Adobe browsers instead of 8% of IE6.

    Anyway, so there’s alternative ways to access the data. That’s great! How should I have guessed that? If you visit http://www.wheredoesmymoneygo.org/prototype/, you get a whole-window “Click to download plugin” symbol. There’s no need for that. Set alternateContent to something more useful than “go to Adobe, go directly to Adobe, do not pass Go” and/or make it 95% height and put a small link to non-Adobe access routes, please.

    Can the data be uploaded to CKAN so citizens won’t need to register personal info with Google (which seems required to access the OKFN PESA extraction AFAICS), please?

  • http://okblogfarm.org/members/admin/ Open Knowledge

    @MJ Ray: I’m glad to hear those podcasts didn’t go in vain ;) Let me reiterate that our preference is also for something more “open” than Flash such as HTML+javascript.

    On broswer support I take your point but that’s really a secondary issue. The main problem is that, AFAICT, it is just not possible (or at least much much harder and time consuming) to produce the kind of rich interactivity being required here in HTML+javascript with any reasonable level of browser support.

    On the data points: I think you’re right that we should probably have linked to the front page of the site in addition to (or instead off) to the Flash prototye.

    On the Google docs point I note that you should be able to access them without any need to sign in. However, also agree that it should all be able elsewhere such as via CKAN and will be looking to do this asap.

  • http://mjr.towers.org.uk/ MJ Ray

    Well, I can’t really comment on the “kind of rich interactivity being required here” point because all I saw was a blank screen, which doesn’t demonstrate any interactivity at all. I can achieve that level of non-interactvity by switching the computer off! ;-)

    The screenshots don’t show anything which can’t be done in HTML with a web application and some good caching, but maybe there’s something going on which I can’t see and isn’t being communicated by the descriptions.

    Thanks for reading and I look forward to the Google docs login requirement being removed and/or data appearing somewhere like CKAN.

  • matt

    Well unfortunately the prototype doesn’t work on my machine. I am running Adobe Flash player 10.0 r42 on Firefox 3.5.7pre on Ubuntu Jaunty with updates.

    Pity, I was really looking forward to having a look at the data.

    matt

  • http://www.okfn.org/ Rufus Pollock

    @MJ Ray: re the data, as I said in my previous response, you don’t need to login in to google docs to get at the data in google docs spreadsheet.

    Regarding interactivity I’d note that the screenshots (which are necessarily static) don’t show off much of the interactivity! However I can assure you it is there :) I reiterate that we would really like to do this in HTML + javascript (and will continue to look into doing so) but at present this option is a long way from matching what is available in flash.

  • http://www.okfn.org/ Rufus Pollock

    @matt: I’m really surprised the prototype is broken on your setup since we’ve tested on jaunty and it worked fine (we were using flashplugin-nonfree package).

  • matt

    @Rufus: I just checked it again now and it is working fine. Either you changed something and it fixed it for me, or the Firefox update I did yesterday fixed it. Looks really good; thanks for putting it together.

  • http://mjr.towers.org.uk/ MJ Ray

    @Rufus Pollock: I don’t know why you think that. http://spreadsheets.google.com/ccc?key=0Aon3JiuouxLUdFI1a0g2UDJkUnZDMGhsMEllX2FkdGc (linked from http://www.wheredoesmymoneygo.org/data/ ) asks for Google Account details.

  • http://okblogfarm.org/members/admin/ Open Knowledge

    @MJ Ray: it hasn’t asked for login/google account details on any machine where I’ve tried :) (and yes, I’ve made sure I’m not logged in on those machines!). There is a “Sign In” link at the top right but you can view the whole spreadsheet (and edit I think) without logging in …

  • http://mjr.towers.org.uk/ MJ Ray

    @Rufus Pollock: after your message, I retested and it did it again. It appears that one has to accept google’s cookies and permit google’s scripts to execute to view the spreadsheet, else get redirected to a login page. Damn that invasive infosilo!

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  • http://de-polyurethan.co.cc/ Ching Millholland

    Ohh … buen puesto, pero en realidad? /? : P

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  • Keith MacDonald

    An excellent site, thank you! Is the software used for the site also available as open source?

  • http://okblogfarm.org/members/rgrp/ Rufus Pollock

    @Keith: the answer regarding open-source is basically yes. The basic site is just wordpress. If you’re asking after the data/visualization side of things then see http://www.wheredoesmymoneygo.org/dev/ (links to hg repo etc)

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